Schools adopt creative techniques to teach geography

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From 11/14/06

(Host) Last fall, Governor Jim Douglas kicked off National Geography week by visiting the Neshobe elementary school in Brandon.

As VPR’s Nina Keck reports, schools across the country used a variety teaching tools to boost kids’ world awareness.

(Keck) Mary Cassarino is passionate about geography and teaching something she did for over 40 years. Now as Vermont’s liaison for National Geography week, she says she can put the two together.

(Cassarino) “Every good interdisciplinary unit is based on geography. I can’t think of how many times I would be teaching a geography lesson and use math, or technology or language arts – it’s there.”

(Keck) Most Americans know very little about geography. To remedy that, the National Geographic Society has been training teachers across the country. Mary Cassarino attended one of their intensive workshops in 1992. She now travels across Vermont, training other teachers.

(Cassarino) “And we’ve found that at least with older kids – 5th, 6th graders – if you do some work with them, for example on demographics and things like per capita income or infant mortality rate, all of a sudden they start getting curious ‘why is it different in that country?'”

(Keck) Geography is part of Vermont’s Framework of standards. But Cassarino says because of the emphasis on language arts and math under the current No Child Left Behind policy, many schools struggle to fit social studies in. She says having schools participate in things like national geography week help. But she says it’s only a start.

(Cassarino) “Surveys are showing that a lot of American kids could not find the United States on a world map.”

(Keck) Cassarino says parents can do a lot to help their kids at home. Buy a map, she says. Play geography games or read the newspaper with your kids and talk about where a particular news event happens. A little knowledge, she says, can go a long way.

For Vermont Public Radio, I’m Nina Keck in Rutland.

State finals for the 2007 National Geographic Bee will be held Friday, March 30 in Burlington. For more information, please visit

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