By Bryan Gentry, email@example.com | October 7, 2020
More than maps
This fall, public school students across South Carolina are studying geography as never before.
They’re not just memorizing state capitals and maps, although that’s part of it. Third graders are plotting the journey of rubber ducks floating through the Pacific Ocean. Seventh graders are researching to find out who “owns” Antartica and, therefore, how you would seek permission to mine for iron there. Some have been mapping the coronavirus.
The state’s new learning standards for social studies now include geography. Jerry Mitchell, a University of South Carolina geography professor, was one of the driving forces behind the new standards, and he says the lessons will teach kids more about how to navigate the world ― and not just by following routes on a map.
“In order to solve world problems, you must know something about that world," Mitchell says. “You’re going into a globally connected world. We have to prepare our students to know what those things are like. Why are places the way they are? Why does something that happens in one place impact what happens in another, and why should we care about that?”
His impact has influenced us, and therefore we will influence our many students that we will encounter across the nation.
— Dena Stanley ’20
In September, Mitchell received the Governor’s Award for Excellence in Scientific Awareness from SC Governor Henry McMaster, which recognizes contributions to science education. In addition to helping design the state’s standards for geography in public schools, he has led the SC Geographic Alliance for 16 years. The alliance's workshops and resources help teachers learn more about geography and integrate it into their curriculum, whether they’re mapping the setting of a novel or sending students on a GPS-guided scavenger hunt.
“Geography has applications all the way from ‘Where should I put a new business?’ to ‘How should I track a disease?’” Mitchell says.
Teachers and students Mitchell has worked with described his passion for the subject as “infectious” and “contagious.”
Dena Stanley, a recent UofSC graduate from the middle level education major, says her class with Mitchell made her look forward to covering geography in her future classrooms. “I felt not only informed with up-to-date geography practices, but I also felt excited about trying them,” she says. "This course taught me how to approach geography in an entirely different way, in fact, it can be fun.
“Now that SC State Standards have been shifted to encompass geography, this information and enthusiasm Dr. Mitchell fosters in rising educators is necessary.”
Danielle Hance, assistant principal of River Springs Elementary School in Richland County, says Mitchell helped her see geography in a new way when she was a classroom teacher. “Previously, I thought of geography as memorizing borders and states,” she says. “He helped me see the human element: the economics, landforms, languages, conflict, cooperation.
“Geography is the greatest uniter and is cross-curricular in a way that people do not see.”
She says Mitchell has been instrumental not only in helping write the new standards for geography, but in preparing teachers to engage students in lessons that use geography. “He is always willing to support teachers and help them get the resources they need,” Hance says.
Stanley agreed. “Dr. Mitchell manages to inform and inspire each student about geography practices, and make those crucial real-world connections,” she says. “Because of his passion, modeling, and excellent teaching, he has inspired us to make our students aware as well. His impact has influenced us, and therefore we will influence our many students that we will encounter across the nation.”
In order to solve world problems, you must know something about that world. You’re going into a globally connected world.
— Jerry Mitchell
Visit scgeo.org for more information on the SC Geographic Alliance and resources for geography education.