National Council for Geographic Education

President's Column - November / December 2017

December 12, 2017

November / December  2017

"Food for through" by Gary Gress, NCGE President

As we are in the holiday season I can’t help but think of food. Probably not in the sense that you’re thinking when you heard the word “food”. Demographically, I would suggest the majority of our readership is well enough off to eat a decent healthy meal if they choose to, more than once a week. It’s that time of year when food pantries and community shelters make us keenly aware of those in need. We know it ought to be more than just a “one-shot” November or December though, but instead a yearlong act of benevolence. Food is a big deal. Teaching about food and the geography of food should be an even bigger deal. Every day we are bombarded by an unending litany of choices of what to eat, including food that may not be the best for us. “Live Mas”, “Finger-Lickin' Good”, “America Runs on Dunkin”. You get the idea. I know we’ve all indulged, but these places aren’t supposed to be everyday options or choices, right? Besides, fast food can get expensive!

So where does our food come from? How is it processed? What constitutes a good diet, or healthy eating? Do we really know? Surely it’s not consistently eating sugar, trans fats or sodium-laden food that has been overly processed with preservatives we can’t even pronounce. Okay, I know the answer as most folks do. What we’ve been told is to eat from these four main groups: meat, dairy, grains, fruits, and veggies. If you consume those you’re generally on the right track, unless of course, you go over 1,600-3,000 calories, depending on your recommended intake.

Seize the opportunity. I suggest that we go beyond the occasional week or month of school awareness regarding food donations, issues, and education. Why not teach the geography of food whenever and wherever we can? It’s hard to think of a subject where the geography of food couldn’t be taught from a local or global context. Still, in many of our classrooms, students don’t know about healthy eating or the problems associated with food insecurity, malnutrition, hunger and other related medical issues. I’m sure some of our own students experience these challenges on a regular basis. Educating our students and all folks on food issues will help to intensify awareness and understanding. Knowing what’s at stake, finding solutions and hopefully solving some of these problems will create an active and engaged classroom.

Population, low access to store, 2015 via USDA

A teaching idea: One of my colleagues recently was relating to me how prevalent “food deserts” are here in the United States. In fact, the eradication of these food deserts is becoming a USDA national priority. It’s a term that has been around for a few years. A food desert is where there is a lack of access to affordable vegetables, fruits, and whole grains for a healthy diet. You can easily find food desert maps and related stories online. Availability of healthy foods is both a rural and urban dilemma. The USDA definition states that food deserts are “usually found in impoverished areas,” which is generally linked to socio-economic problems. Many reasons abound for these “deserts”. For starters, lack of thoughtful urban planning, availability of urban land and dollars for stores, high costs for healthy food, decreasing rural population and transportation issues. In my home state of Oklahoma, we rank at a miserable 46th with regards to the availability of healthy food. However, thanks to a growing awareness of this issue, Senate Bill 506 was signed into law this past June. This bill encourages the construction and expansion of grocery stores, farmers’ markets, and accessibility to affordable healthy foods in “desert” areas. Thankfully, many states are beginning to take action regarding their own food deserts.

This holiday season could be the best time to educate folks about food. Not in an effort to deprive ourselves of enjoying great traditional food, but rather to become more aware of what food issues surround us. Helping students see the relevance of geography, becoming informed and being part of a solution is so important. I encourage each of you to relate not only the issue of “food deserts” to your students but also find out about food in your own “backyard”. What are your community’s food needs and delivery systems to those experiencing food insecurity and hunger? Everyone deserves access to healthy foods and healthy eating. A little food for thought. Happy Holidays and warm blessings to you and your family!  Gary


President's Column - October 2017

October 24, 2017

A note from NCGE President Gary Gress: Within the past two months, America has witnessed Hurricane Harvey, Hurricane Irma and disastrous fires in California. Clean up, repair, and some sense of normalcy will take months and years as thousands recover. Many of our family, friends, and acquaintances were, and are impacted directly and indirectly as all of us are. The calamities of any disaster require a process of repair for people too. In the following article, Ron Hagelman addresses America’s responders, the “second responders”. I want to thank Ron for being so gracious in volunteering to write this timely and insightful guest column. -Gary


When the line forms to witness on behalf of our country’s First Responders, I would like to be near the front. The law officers, firefighters, emergency medical personnel, engineers and community leaders who arrive first when disaster strikes deserve our respect, appreciation, and support. I am consistently humbled and inspired by the risks they take and the sacrifices they and their families make on our collective behalf.  However, I also believe that as the shock and awe of a disaster fades, we easily forget that there is an equal army of teachers, counselors, church leaders, parents, and community leaders who, as the dust settles and the ground dries, march onto evolving disasterscapes with a commitment to helping their communities heal, recover, and thrive once again. I write today on their behalf, especially the public school teachers and the staff members who are tending to the many communities damaged, physically and psychologically, by the recent spate of natural and social disasters.  I write to say thank you and to enumerate what I believe is the hidden work of our nation’s Second Responders.

There is a vein of research imbedded in hazards studies relating to the temporal aspects of disasters. Disasters, of nearly all types, tend to follow a somewhat predictable sequence of events starting with emergency response and stretching toward the elusive idea of a “return to normal.” Most news coverage, social media posts, and public discourse on disasters fades precipitously following the initial event and the immediate relief efforts. During recovery and reconstruction, our short attention-spans drift to the next actual disaster or the next disastrous tweet. For some, it is almost an instinctual drive to try to put things back together as quickly as possible. For others, it is an absolute necessity that they return to their homes, jobs, and schools quickly. However, when we do return to our usual routines, we do so having experienced a terrible shock and, for some, unthinkable losses. Support comes from friends, family members, churches, charitable organizations, employers, workplace colleagues, and government staff. But, for many school-aged children and their parents, a return to the safe and familiar routine of the school day is one of the greatest services we provide in post-disaster settings.

Schools are familiar and, with rare exception, safe places. Parents benefit by knowing that while they are battling the lingering effects of the disaster, their children are in a safe place cared for by trained professionals who know their child. In turn, children benefit from being in a familiar place with friends, engaged in familiar activities, and supervised by familiar people in charge of their day. The therapeutic values of this return to the known and the predicable are only achievable if teachers and support staff, who may be victims of the disaster themselves, put on a happy face and lead their diminutive followers through the day’s lessons and activities as if business were usual in their community. Teachers are often the first to see the effects of post-traumatic stress on their students. Teachers are often the first person of authority to really try to explain the trends and forces that led to the disaster. School counselors are often the first to see changes in behavior or needs that are derivative of the child’s experiences in the disaster.  School kitchen staff may be among the first to serve students a balanced, hot meal in the immediate days and weeks after a disaster. And administrators find themselves involved in helping students’ families to access services and support well beyond their normal range of duties. Food, shelter, comfort, support, a loving hug…Second Responders do it all, and they do it for weeks and months after the news cameras have left town.      

In our rush to return to normal, we often off-load the responsibility of comforting and counseling our youngest citizens to teachers, staff, counselors, and administrators who were already under siege from legislatures, school boards and concerned parents before the disaster added to their responsibilities.  Time and time again and across communities of all shapes and sizes, teachers and school staff step up. They address the immediate and lingering challenges of their students, and they serve their communities. Teachers and school staff take the handoff from our First Responders and provide the warmth, clarity, leadership, and strength that is so important to young people when their worlds are damaged and disrupted in ways that they never imagined possible.  Teachers are our nation’s uncelebrated Second Responders, and for anyone who would like to join me in thanking them, the line forms here…

About the Author: Ronald R. Hagelman, III is an Associate Professor in the Department of Geography at Texas State University in San Marcos, Texas 78666. E-mail: Dr. Hagelman's research interests include environmental hazards, disaster recovery and reconstruction, and the management of urban environments in a changing climate.

NCGE President's Column - September 2017

September 15, 2017

NCGE AND YOU by Gary Gress, NCGE President

As I was writing this column, epic climate-related events were unfolding in Texas and Florida. Many of us, myself included, have family and friends that were impacted by the sheer magnitude of this event, that will take years to recover from. It’s tough to be strong with such life-changing forces happening on a personal basis. Many organizations and individuals with compassion and love stepped in, for which all are truly grateful for. Thank you! We’re all reminded that change is a constant, and how we respond is important. 

The focus of this column was actually about the foreseeable NCGE “changes” that were inspired by alliance coordinators and members alike, prior to and after our summer conference in Albuquerque. First of all, “we hear you” be it Zach, our board, past presidents and those that are most important, you. Though still in embryo mode, there are 4 main areas of focus that NCGE would like to assess and make changes where needed as we move forward, in this evolving geographic education environment. If you frequent COSCO or

SAM’s on any given Saturday, this discussion is just intended to be a “taste” or a brief sample of our thinking. More definitive specifics will be coming in the following months, as our staff, board and all suggestions are reviewed. The 4 areas of focus currently will be membership, community, resources, and professional development. As your “go to” organization we will always focus on what we do best and has been successful, popular and supportive for your professional and organizational needs.

1) Membership:  Membership is changing. What it means to be a member of a nonprofit association, such as ours, is not what it was a decade ago. With the ever-evolving educational landscape, access to new technology, plus the largest generational workplace shift from Baby Boomers to Millennials any of us will ever see, it’s becoming clear that all associations today are struggling with dwindling membership numbers. Previously when NCGE has faced similar problems, the quick solution was to simply raise membership dues. This, however, had the adverse effect of making our membership less attractive to the people we value and serve. In order to grow, we must remove as many barriers to joining NCGE as possible. Currently, our staff and board are designing several sample membership programs that will strive to accomplish the goal of providing more NCGE accessibility to our members across the country. 

2) Community: We have heard from many NCGE members, partner organizations and state Alliances that NCGE would best support their work by serving as the national voice for geography education, establishing collaborations when possible. What truly separates NCGE from everyone else is that we are the only organization in the United States whose sole purpose is geography education. It only makes sense for us to serve in this capacity. With a small staff and limited resources, that will create some challenges. We will be working to scale up our communications and be advocates and partners. We’ll target various local, regional and national issues of concern and bring diverse voices from across the country to national attention, becoming even a more relevant organization than before. The development of grant writing partnerships and co-hosted events will also be a top priority and will be explored.

3)  Resources: Geography Education Resources are so very important for everyday curriculum development and classroom delivery. Resources need to be easy to find, simple to use, and effective in the classroom. The first step in this process is a long overdue update to our website. must not only provide relevant resources but help educate the general public on what geography is and why it’s important. In addition to updating our website, we are also exploring the possibility of, expanding the popular “bell ringer” series to include all resources for different K-12 educator’s levels, while maintaining our two popular publications (Journal of Geography and The Geography Teacher).  We’ll be looking at expanding our online NCGE store, to include more tools for your (K-20) classroom and professional area(s) of development. Be it beach ball globes, books, publications and maps, we will be looking at the best options for you.

4) Professional Development: Lastly, professional learning will be expanded. Besides more diverse webinar offerings, travel learning experiences will still occur such as Cuba or Iceland. Other considerations include the idea of certificates in various areas of geographic specialty, expanded partnerships with like-minded organizations, and involving businesses or persons that can offer their expertise to NCGE. With a “critical mass” of people, on-site geography and related training at various regional venues may also become reality.

Again, all of these exciting opportunities and ideas have been generated from you folks, our membership. It will take time, talent, commitment and of course substantial funding for many of these options to happen. We’ll still be offering tried and true programs and events, but will prioritize and offer new exciting “stuff” with your help and thoughts. It was a wonderful venue and conference this summer, thanks for all of your wonderful conversations! As we move forward we will announce specifics in the many months to come.

May you be experiencing a wonderful and meaningful new school year!


NCGE President's Column - August 2017

August 15, 2017

CUBA THE PLACE by Gary Gress, NCGE PresidentPhoto by Gary Gress

This past July I had the wonderful opportunity of being a part of an NCGE field experience to Cuba. The trip included fantastic experts (Drs. Johnny Finn and Jeremy Stalker and our lesson facilitator Amy Stalker). They designed various content and teaching strategies via a daily field guide relating to the places and people we experienced. When I initially envisioned this column, I intended to relate only my thoughts and observations, however I soon realized, as with any place, the diversity of the people and places we visited needed equally diverse thoughts and impressions from other folks too!

Three volunteers without any arm twisting who also presented their insights at NCGE in Albuquerque, will be part of this narrative. I’m calling this article “Cuba the place” and I may add its people. Many thanks to Johnny Finn, Barbara Boone, and Richard Katz.

People in the United States have I think limited knowledge of this island 90 miles South of us. The scope of their knowledge may be from a historical perspective: what they were taught in school or if old enough, was what they experienced prior to and during the 1959 Cuban Revolution, the 1961 end of formal relations, and the Cold War with the Soviet Union. More recently the visit and warming of US relations by President Obama and currently the uncertainty of US-Cuban relationships in the news is renewing attention to this place and its people.

One thing for certain, Cubans are interested about our leadership and future relations with them. They most certainly don’t live in a vacuum and have a sense of regional events possibly more than some Americans do. As Johnny reminded us during our adventure, the 2015 stanza penned and read by Richard Blanco at the reopening of the US Embassy is one of many connections with America. “The sea doesn’t matter. What matters is this… That we all belong to the sea between us”. For Americans, we see Cuba in a “time capsule”. As Johnny puts it, “our narrative is a dominant narrative of separation, isolation embargo, blockade, and distance.” But Cuba is and has been in survival mode, since our embargo, making the best of their situation, adapting, having relationships with other countries and corporate interests.

We saw evidence of China, France, and other countries investing in Cuba and its future via its infrastructure, businesses, and trade. During our travels, we witnessed solar technology, sustainable agri-businesses, entrepreneurial enterprising people, and most importantly the expression of the arts and the prominence of families. It is no paradise for many who find innovative ways to exist on 30 or so government dollars a month, creating “on the left” business opportunities for survival.

Many of us saw the importance and opportunities with US relatives of Cubans playing out in Florida airports as we left Florida bound for Cuba. As Barbara explains “Cuba certainly benefits from the free market in America via their relatives. Upon entering the terminal at the Miami to Havana flight, Cubans were checking in enormous boxes of items for their families, even sets of automobile tires!” Those much needed durable-consumer goods involve a once-a-year trek (vacation) to the United States for those fortunate enough with American connections.

Our travels as a group included a blend of cultural, historical and physical geography, taking in all of the sights, smells, and activities on an up close and personal level. We walked the streets of Havana, visited the US Embassy, and observed the effects of state-led urban and private restoration projects. Additionally, our group visited an “Airbnb”, one of the fastest growing tourist industries worldwide, where we talked to the owner and had opportunities to ply the local markets and enjoy Cuban cuisine.       

We ventured to both urban and scenic rural landscapes across Cuba. Our group visited The Bay of Pigs and a nearby museum, traveled to both private and state operated sustainable farming operations, experienced Karst Topography while spelunking through limestone formations and later stopped at a tobacco farm with the owner personally rolling cigars for us…this is the stuff dream trips are made of. 

Throughout our 10-day journey, our itinerary was interspersed with Cuba’s most important asset, talented people, young and old who displayed their culture through art, craft and dance. My attempt at Salsa was a miserable failure, even though my dance teacher kept saying “you’re doing great! You can do this!” (at least I hope that’s what she was saying in Spanish!)

I think Richard sums up Cuba best. If I may paraphrase,” Cuba is a land of contrasts, producing the finest cigars, and rum, yet struggles to offer their populace [affordable] fresh fruits and vegetables, because it is so expensive on prevailing wages. It is in serious need of urban infrastructural help, many beautiful and historically significant buildings are at risk, potable water, waste [management] and reliable electricity included. Lack of investment, mainly in part by the US embargo forces Cuba to be a cash only society. The people are 

hardworking, confident, ambitious, well-educated and entrepreneurial. Cuba is rich in soil [and mineral resources], K-20 education, medical research and possess a joie-de-vivre that is amazing.”

NCGE “field adventures” will be continued to be offered as part of our programming. As many of you know our trips to Iceland have been as equally popular. As I travel I’m always reminded that people are not necessarily representative of their political system’s rhetoric or an outsiders stereotype. To travel as a participant, not as an observer, is truly life changing.

2017 Conference Attendees: Learn why you recieved a free copy of "Civil Rights Memorials and the Geography of Memory" in your conference bag!

August 7, 2017

Those attending the recent NCGE meeting received a free copy of Civil Rights Memorials and the Geography of Memory.

Why? The National Geographic Network of Alliances for Geographic Education selected “Geography of Civil Rights Movements” as a featured theme of this year’s Geography

Awareness Week (Nov. 12-18, 2017).  NCGE invites you to explore diversity, inclusion, and social justice from a geographic perspective.  This complimentary book focuses on the African American freedom struggle yesterday and today.  Keep the book for personal reference, use it in the classroom, or donate it to a library.  

Complimentary copies of the book are available from the authors for use in your classroom and Geography Awareness Week events. Authors: Owen Dwyer ( and Derek Alderman (
For a discussion on how to approach a civil rights Geography Awareness Week, see a recent guest column published by the American Association of Geographers, Visit the web site hosted by Kansas State Alliance to disseminate civil rights-related teaching resources and free readings. Feel free to contribute your own lessons and ideas to the web site creators. 

NCGE Editor Sought for the 'Journal of Geography'

August 5, 2017
The National Council for Geographic Education seeks applications for Editor of the Journal of Geography. The new editor will first serve as an Associate Editor before moving to the position of Editor-in-Chief in 2019 for a three-year editorial term. The appointment will be made in the Fall of 2017.
The Journal of Geography provides a forum to present innovative approaches to geography research, teaching, and learning. The Journal publishes articles on the results of research, instructional approaches, and book reviews, and is one of the foremost journals related to geography education. Older than the NCGE as an organization, the journal has the distinction of being the oldest journal in the United States devoted to the teaching of a particular school subject.
The Editor manages new and revised manuscript submissions, producing three volumes (18 issues) in a 3-year term; determines the content and overall format of the journal; encourages the submission of high-quality, well-written manuscripts on geographical issues and educational solutions; and secures well-qualified reviewers to ensure that submitted manuscripts are expediently processed through a peer review process. Applicants should be established and well-networked scholars who appreciate the full range of geographic inquiry, especially as it relates to teaching and learning in geography.
A letter of application that addresses qualifications for this position should be accompanied by a complete curriculum vitae and a letter of institutional support. Applications should be submitted by Monday, October 2, 2017. Please e-mail applications or letters of nomination to Audrey Mohan at The NCGE Board of Directors will review the applications and notify applicants of their decision by November 9, 2017.

NCGE President's Column - July 2017

July 29, 2017

Places by Gary Gress, NCGE President

Summer is upon us! That very word summer conjures up words and thoughts like vacation, time off, adventure, relaxation and travel for most of us. Every chance I get depending on those two dreaded variables time and money, I try to travel and explore. It may be a new local place, possibly a special event, something food related, possibly having historic-cultural significance or involving a unique landscape. Some places in our own “backyard” are oft-times unknown. When discovered the sometimes prove to be the most interesting. What is unique or special to your local area or state that you haven’t experienced? What places kinds of places are fascinating and most interesting to you? Chances are places you explore and find unique may be great places for your students to learn about too.

My family always groans about my “excessive” picture taking on trips, pulling over just to snap that geographic moment in time. Yeah, I’m addicted, a geo-junkie looking for stuff to take back to my classroom and plug into my curriculum. Admit it, some of you may be too. Rural landscapes, urban conglomerations, people modifying their places, environmentally fragile spots, touristy, ethnic, historic, resource driven places, thriving and decaying places, some with music, some with food…all qualify for the question “why is this here?”  Speaking of food: why would a thriving French chic restaurant, attached to a truck stop gas station in rural North Carolina be there? Or a wildly popular cooking channel “Pioneer Woman” be living of all places in Pawhuska, Oklahoma? A Jelly Belly factory in wine country, California, you ask? These are great examples of finding out “why are they there?”, involving exciting geo-detective work. Do these examples represent migration, push-pull factors, economic issues, a strong sense of place or cultural factors? The power of curiosity, the mystery of the unknown and personal investigation are powerful hooks as teaching tools. This is what makes geography relevant, a “here and now” subject, when trying to hook students (parents and others included) on the importance of our curriculum content and concepts.

I’m probably preaching to the geo-choir, but If you haven’t dabbled much with this photo approach, give it a shot (literally too) with your camera or iPhone. Ask questions from local people, about the place where you are photographing, if that’s appropriate, how wonderful is that? Take your images and experiences into your classroom.

Our upcoming conference in Albuquerque (hope you’re coming) would be a fantastic place to start. Our field trips to Santa Fe, Taos Pueblo, Tent Rocks National Monument, the city tour and the Hopper Brew Cruise are waiting for you to explore. Maybe walk Old town near our hotel, take in a museum, or time permitting before or after the conference, ride the Sandia Peak Tramway, all would be great places to visit. A myriad of opportunities awaits you.

Remember all places have stories, and are all unique, no matter how large or small, significant to some folks or not. That sense of place, those sounds, smells, images and people make geography come alive, geography is contagious! Have an adventuresome and safe summer. 

NCGE President's Column - June 2017

June 12, 2017

Time to Refuse by NCGE President Gary Gress

As we leave Memorial Day behind and approach Independence Day, I am reminded that it’s time to take it easy. Summer is upon us! Three words reflect takin’ it easy: Relax, Rejuvenate and Rediscover-these are three things I find difficult to do most of the time, however I’m going make a concerted effort to do this, as I hope you will too. Thanks to recent timely national and international events, I’ve also been reminded of three other words relating to our environment. Those 3 R’s are, Reduce, Reuse and Recycle and I should also add Refuse. Refuse is the sometimes added 4th R, which relates to limiting or not buying products that are known to be especially harmful to us and our planet, such as the excessive love we have with that convenient stuff we call plastic. As these global events unfold, we as geography educators should refuse to accept environmental decisions that impact millions of people, based on the economic or political gain. Environmental policy shouldn’t be a politically partisan issue.

To many of us, it is surprising that America is now one of 3 countries that doesn’t support the 2015 Paris Accord. This wasn’t the first time nations have discussed and made pledges (and sometimes empty promises). Although this was a non-binding agreement, this was one of the few times the United States was going to be on board as a global leader, during a time when many nations truly believe that surmounting climate evidence must not be ignored. Previous administrations, as believed by many, have not truly embraced the realities of climate change. This, in conjunction with a polarized Congress, has created inaction. Sure many of the stipulations in this accord will take years to implement, but this accord seemed to have movement, a perceived new start, a real impetus to change the way we think about life and this planet. Whether the accord is symbolic or not, the good news is that many folks have been, and will continue to be dedicated in various ways to preserving and improving life on this place that we’ve inherited. Yes, carbon dioxide levels are increasing. The many scientists and IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) folks can’t be that wrong.

Is it really an “inconvenience” to face up to environmental truths as was documented and popularized in the 2006 Al Gore inspired movie titled “An Inconvenient Truth”? Are we really bolstering our economy and providing more employment, and not recognizing what the vast majority of countries support? Is it inconvenient to conserve? Are we that selfish and arrogant, thinking that we’re in control and not really part of nature and natural forces? Is Pope Francis wrong in his encyclical’s blueprint? (See for the best short summary of this document.) Is the Royal Society, the US National Academy of Sciences and many others wrong? Are 67% of all climate scientists also wrong?

How much climate proof is needed? According to NASA, ( no genius is needed to figure out that things are changing. Ask the folks in coastal areas, or those that report on ocean acidification, carbon emissions or temperature increase. Ask a Polar Bear about his home! More than ever we as geography educators must get the word out through our teaching and actions. Many US governors and major corporations are speaking out. In the past, I’ve stated that we are an active discipline, exploring, seeking out why things happen, where they take place, and in many scenarios involved with creating solutions.

Even if you have friends or colleagues that are convinced that all of this is some sort of a charade or political conspiracy, perhaps ask them why we shouldn’t conserve Earth’s gifts anyway? A personal budget example may be analogous to this discussion. Would they constantly overextend their bank account, use up all of their resources, declare bankruptcy and possibly never get anything back? What about those kiddos’ that are new members of this world, will there be enough resources for them, and for how long?

This issue isn’t like flipping houses on HGTV, as some of our country’s leaders are recently doing. I hope that beliefs and opinions regarding climate change are genuinely sincere. Our actions do speak louder than words. We should strive to encourage meaningful discussion and actions both individually and collectively. We need to refuse narrow thinking.

If you would like to expand your knowledge on our relationship with our environment and climate, and if you have time, I encourage you to do a little summer reading. You might try a google search: “recent best-selling books on climate change” for starters. Enjoy, and take your thoughts into your classrooms!

Coins for A's by Rod Gillis, American Numismatic Association

May 24, 2017

I have been involved in the hobby of coin collecting for forty-four years. There have been times when I put my collection on hold. Sports was my main focus in high school. Paying for college and meeting young ladies forced me to put the hobby on the shelf in my early twenties. Then there was the matter of getting married and raising a family.

I’m sure that my story has been told countless times. Rarely can a coin collector devote all of his/her time and resources to the hobby. I started at the age of twelve, and while I never left numismatics totally, it wasn’t until I was past my youth and had a small amount of discretionary income before I was able to return to collecting in earnest.

I’m very fortunate to be the Education Director of the American Numismatic Association (ANA). I am truly blessed to be involved with my two passions, coin collecting, and education. The ANA is a non-profit organization whose main mission involves the study of money in all of its forms. We are a member-based organization that helps collectors of all levels learn about and enjoy their hobby more fully.

Youngsters are an important part of numismatics. It is crucial that we get as many children involved in the hobby as possible or eventually coin collecting will die. As an old public school history teacher, childhood education has been a concern of mine for my entire professional career.  Getting youngsters involved in coin collecting is no easy task. Many of today’s children are involved in pastimes that offer immediate feedback, often with bells and whistles and computer graphics. Coin collecting is a rather pedestrian hobby that requires study and patience. It is not glamorous.

Coins for A’s was developed as a way to get students into the hobby. Any student who earns three or more “A’s” (or their equivalent) in a marking period can earn a world coin by sending a copy of their report card to the ANA. We keep all student information confidential. Students can send report cards for as many times as they qualify and they will receive a different world coin each time. The first time a youngster submits a report card, they will also receive an application for a free initial one-year membership to the American Numismatic Association.

Many educators have noticed for the past few decades that with emphasis on science and mathematics, history and geography have sometimes taken a backseat in school curricula. Coins for A’s addresses this problem by challenging the students to learn as much about the location and the history of the country that minted their coin as they can.

Many collectors see money as primary sources of information. The designs on coins are windows to our culture and the cultures and history that surrounds us.

As we close the 2017 school year, there are over 1,400 active participants in Coins for A’s nationwide. Youngsters are from public, private and charter schools. Approximately one-quarter of the children are homeschooled.  I believe it is truly a win-win program. Parents love Coins for A’s because it promotes academic excellence. Children love the program because they get interesting and valuable coins for their efforts. In an age of immediate gratification, who among us does not enjoy receiving an occasional surprise the old fashioned way, in the mail.  

Click here to learn more about the ANA's Coins for A's program

About the Author

Born in Baltimore, MD. Rod Gillis is the Education Director at the American Numismatic Association in Colorado Springs, CO. He enjoys collecting stock certificates and playing competitive tennis. He and his wife Wendy are celebrating their 30th anniversary this year. He is the proud owner of a 1951 Buick Roadmaster. 


NCGE President's Column - May 2017

May 4, 2017

"The Comeback Kid" by NCGE President Gary Gress

Lately, I’ve been reminded of the “ugh factor” that the word GEOGRAPHY in the United States evokes in many folks. Forget the word “lately”; there doesn’t seem to be a week that passes where I’m reminded by my peers that geography has an identity and relevance problem for the average guy on the street. How many centuries do we have to endure this tragedy or this predicament? Is this really so? Are we reading the “tea leaves” differently than we should, or in fact is a Geo-Renaissance occurring?

As early as 1843 Jared Sparks the future president of Harvard, called attention to the importance of geography, advocating the subject be part of the school’s curriculum. Six years later The Department of Geography at Harvard University was established under his presidency only to be abolished in 1948. In 1985 National Geographic and Gil Grosvenor established The Geography Education Program and the State Geographic Alliance Network rekindling the importance of teaching geography in our schools. The year 1993 saw the establishment of the “Rediscovering Geography Committee” which attempted “to identify ways to make the discipline more relevant to science, education, and decision-making,” specifically targeting non-geographers. 

Historically, past presidents of NCGE and AAG (the Association of American Geographers), among others, have voiced concerns dealing with “[the] misunderstanding, neglect, state of and relevance” of geography education. So where is the disconnect? We as geography educators and professionals know how exciting and active of a science geography can be--right? 

The “average Joe” (or Jolene) may still need to get the message. We “get it,” our students “get it” once they discover geography, but are we letting others know? We should always be the new revolutionaries and become what some might perceive as pleasantly obnoxious, in certain scenarios. We should inform regular folks when a geographic moment occurs, explaining “that’s geography” whenever appropriate. I vividly remember a “that’s geography” moment while visiting a geo-buddy in St. Louis in the late 90’s. While at a local establishment, after ordering a bottle of Tequiza (a lime-flavored Mexican sounding beer made by Anheuser-Busch in St. Louis), I was told that since it was an “imported” beer, I would have to pay two more bucks! I explained to management that it was “imported” from the brewery just a few miles away and as stated on the label, it was “made in St. Louis.” This led to a surprisingly great discussion about geography with both the waitress and management, even though I still had to cough up the extra two bucks, which was suddenly worth it. 

Another strategy I’ve been trying out is the “what did you say you do?” approach. “I’m a place systems analyst” or “I’m a Geo-Detective” I’ll say, explaining that I analyze places. Many times this leads into how Geographers look at both physical and human attributes, provide factual and perceptual information about places, facilitate understanding, and provide possible solutions regarding the activities of that place. To some, this idea may be a little far-fetched, but I suggest it may be worth a try. 

As many of us do, I always will say to folks that “geography is the why of where,” or as Charles Gritzner so wonderfully stated in his 2002 Journal of Geography article, geography looks at “what is where, why [it is] there and why [we should] care.” Sometimes I will hold my fist up and say “This is the physical stage we’ve inherited: the geology, climate, natural resources, etc.; “When people (Humans) interact and modify that stage, that’s really geography! Geography is everywhere”. 

Geography IS the comeback kid and, we are the change agents. Many students realize that Geography is an integrative and problem-solving science. I believe we are at the right place (Planet Earth) at the right time (the Anthropocene?). Suddenly the Renaissance is already happening thanks to more attention focusing on our fragile environment, the addition of evolving technologies, urbanization, globalization and resource extraction. The demands of corporations and organizations are driving new jobs and new curriculum/course offerings at all grade levels, especially on the collegiate level. As of 2006 Harvard University founded The Center for Geographic Analysis. The Bureau of Labor Statistics, AAG and “” are stating that the Job outlook for Geography and geography related professionals will experience an impressive growth rate through 2022. Interestingly the number of AP Human Geography exams this year is expected to top 200,000! It’s not just students, corporations, and businesses paying attention. More “regular” folks ARE involved within their communities with recycling, gardening, conservation and becoming more interactive with this planet that we’ve inherited.

It’s not your grandparent's or parent’s geography anymore or maybe even yours. Geographers don’t just (ugh!) memorize, we also analyze. Geography is the “comeback kid,” so be a revolutionary and let folks know “that’s geography” whenever possible!

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Blog posts July 2017

NCGE President's Column - July 2017

July 29, 2017

Places by Gary Gress, NCGE President

Summer is upon us! That very word summer conjures up words and thoughts like vacation, time off, adventure, relaxation and travel for most of us. Every chance I get depending on those two dreaded variables time and money, I try to travel and explore. It may be…

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