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Member Spotlight

Amy Stalker

I’m lucky because I teach what I love, and I have the opportunity to learn more about geography every day.  I guess I first discovered geography as a little girl.  I was extremely fortunate and had the opportunity to travel to distant places and experience other cultures from an early age.  My mother wanted to be an archaeologist and loved ancient culture.  She passed this curiosity on to me.  My parents would take us to every ancient ruin that was anywhere close to where we were vacationing.  As a family, we would learn about ancient cultures.  We climbed up the pyramid in Tulum, and climbed down the cliffs of the Anasazi.  My grandfather used to stockpile National Geographic Magazines.  I loved looking through those magazines when I was little, dreaming of faraway places.  When I was 5, my fascination with physical geography began.  I was spellbound by the lava in Hawaii. My family and I climbed into the caldera of the Mona Loa Volcano and I was hooked. When I was 8, I collected water samples from all over Mexico to do a science project.   When I was 12, I wanted to know everything there was to know about the layers of rocks that I could see in the Grand Canyon.  I fell in love with the petrified wood in the Petrified Forest, the Painted Desert’s colors and the Meteor Crater in Arizona.  My mother told me that I always had an unusual fascination with rocks and strata.

When I was in college I loved my Introduction to Earth Science class.  I had a wonderful professor and mentor, Tony Brunello, at Eckerd College.  He opened my eyes to the wider world of Human Geography and Political Science.  I was also fascinated with human studies.  I majored in Psychology and minored in Anthropology.  I began teaching in 2004.  The first few years I taught history, but then the opportunity to teach AP Human Geography arose and I pounced on it.

Most of my students do not have the chance to travel extensively, and have a narrow view of the world around them.  I have the opportunity to open their eyes beyond the small suburb that they grow up in.  Florida has written geography out of required k-12 course requirements.  In October 2015, the US Government Accountability Office released a report on the lack of geographic proficiency in the US.  This report saddens me.  I feel so strongly that geography education is necessary to being a competent global citizen.  When I look at my students, I realize that I am teaching the only geography course that many of them will ever probably take.  It is awesome to watch lightbulbs go off, and to see students question the way things are.  I think it is imperative that we help students develop the critical thinking skills necessary to thoughtfully analyze and criticize why things are the way they are, how they got to be that way, and how to make a better world.

My passion for Human Geography has led me to become a Member of the Florida Geographic Alliance (FGA) Advisory Board and Leadership Committee, FGA AP Human Geography Liaison, Newsletter Editor, and member of the Outreach Committee.  I am also the Jacksonville United Nations Association President, and a Girl Rising Ambassador.  In 2015, I was selected by Dr. Stoltman and the Northeast Asian History Foundation as a delegate to the South Korea AP Human Geography Trip.  That was an amazing trip.  I highly recommend to teachers that want to expand their cultural experiences that they apply for that trip.  I am also a World Affairs great decisions teacher.  I highly recommend that if you have a World Affairs Council in your area, you consider becoming a Great Decisions teacher.  It is a wonderful opportunity for your students to examine critical, current global issues, interact with college professors and attend talks given by influential government officials, distinguished experts, and globally minded members of the business community.

I have been an NCGE member since 2009.  I have greatly benefited from the teaching resources found on the NCGE website.  NCGE has contributed so much to the geographic education community, and I appreciate the resources that are found on their website.  Their annual conference is an awesome opportunity for teachers, and brings together some of the best and most motivated teachers and professors from around the country (and world).  The conference gives teachers a chance to network, learn from leading APHG teachers and Test Development Committee Members, as well as exchange lesson plans and ideas.  Members are so generous and willing to share strategies and lesson ideas.  NCGE membership and member collaboration are an invaluable resource for teacher success.

My desire for meaningful learning and global citizenship has led me to become Project Coordinator, Web Curator and Designer for the Global Bridges Project.  The Global Bridges Project was created by Lili Monk, and is endorsed by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization, Florida Geographic Alliance, and iEarn (International Education and Resource Network).  The project connects American classrooms with classrooms overseas.  Classes participate in curriculum based cooperative activities using video conferencing technology to communicate with students in foreign countries about parallel themed research projects. The projects require that students research pertinent local issues and make connections globally. Students work cooperatively and creatively with others to communicate and articulate thoughts and ideas clearly and effectively through the presentation media. It personally empowers students to become responsible world citizens, allowing them to create informed solutions to global challenges. The cultural exchanges make the curriculum authentic and meaningful while helping students to develop an understanding of other cultures and perspectives through direct interaction and contact.  This approach allows students to achieve a more diplomatic and intellectual approach to world issues.  So far, teachers have done projects on historical migration patterns, local urban morphological patterns, and impacts on local populations, global conflict and local refugee populations, population and sustainability, and women’s empowerment locally and globally.  It is an excellent way to teach students about globalization, and interrelationship between local and global issues.  I also encourage international travel and student exchanges.  This type of study abroad is an excellent opportunity to visit some of the places we have been learning about in class.  Through active learning experiences such as this, students’ are immersed in foreign culture.

Two of my students approached me a couple of years ago and asked if I would sponsor their “Girl Up” geography club.  Girl Up is a United Nations Foundation Organization.  Girl Up supports a comprehensive approach to ensuring that adolescent girls in developing countries reach their full potential.  I was so excited that they wanted to make an impact on the world beyond what they had learned in class.  Besides fundraising, the club raises awareness by presenting at festivals.  They also hosted a discussion for the Jacksonville United Nations Association.  Two of the club members were selected by the Secretary’s Office of Global Partnerships at the US Department of State to attend the three week long 2015 Girls STEAM Camp in Rwanda.  There are so many opportunities for students that want to become active in the community.  I recommend offering an after school geography club to help students get more involved in geographical issues, as well as offering them additional opportunities.

The study of urban geography is of particular interest to me. I am interested in how economic and sociological processes have led to de facto spatial racial segregation and economic stratification in large urban metropolitan areas. In my class, I use local, urban examples to help my students translate abstract concepts and models from the textbooks into real and relevant issues that affect my students locally.  “By connecting the real world to academic knowledge, students will have a better chance of understanding and using the model or theory.” (Ken Keller, NCGE Webinar, March 23, 2011 Prepping for the APHG Exam)  Field trips or Goggle Earth virtual field trips are excellent ways to help students analyze real-word issues, cultivate a spatial perspective, and understand how events and processes at different scales are interrelated and influence each other. Urban Geography comes alive as students engage in authentic field work and original research through the use of photography and the interactive multimedia formats of maps, text, audio, still images, animation, graphs, charts, geo-spatial representations of information, and video.

In order to ensure my students’ success, I feel it is really important to focus on literacy skills and the process of dissertation.  Writing enables students to think critically by pulling together, integrating, assimilating, analyzing, interpreting, and synthesizing information to communicate their ideas effectively.  Evidence supports that students retain subject matter information better and longer when they engage in meaningful reading and writing activities.   Literacy skills are necessary for high order problem-solving, success on the AP Exam, and are important for college and workforce readiness.  I utilize writing activities and free response questions (FRQ’s) often.  Students apply principles learned in class to new conditions and practical real world situations.  The FRQ’s I pose include material from the prior day’s instruction, activating students’ background schema (experiences and knowledge), priming them for the current day’s lesson. These questions ask students to synthesize, evaluate and draw conclusions from multiple sources of information.  Free response questions ask higher- order questions that require elaborate inferences that go beyond what is explicitly taught.  Students are asked to compare and contrast ideas and to explain and support their answers with sources and information.  Students who think critically do better on Advanced Placement Exams than students who concentrate only on rote memorization of information.

In my classroom, I use formative real-time assessment tools like Qwizdom (student response system) clickers.  I pose questions to students with the student response system as I lecture.  This captures instant assessment data to gauge student comprehension to immediately identify individual learning needs and address any student misconceptions.  This enables me to alter instruction ad hoc and tailor it to student needs.  Students receive instantaneous feedback via the LCD screen of a correct/incorrect answer.  The questions also allow students practice answering AP exam type multiple choice questions.  Students may and do ask questions for clarification.  If a significant portion of students chose the wrong answer it allows me to clarify the points that I made in class.  Identifying misconceptions and providing frequent feedback is an important step in teaching. Clickers also engage students who are more introverted and uncomfortable verbally engaging.

My advice to new geography teachers would be to take a summer seminar in geography.  In order to fill a need for professional development in FL, NCGE is offering a one day professional development to teachers on July 27th in Tampa, FL.  The cost is minimal, but the course will be awesome for both new and experienced teachers.  Past and current members of the College Board APHG Test Development Committee, as well as other distinguished teachers and professors will offer best pedagogical practices and lesson ideas to teachers.  Teachers that attend this event will leave with ready to go lesson ideas that are tied to the objectives laid out in the APHG course outline.  I also recommend that teachers read the course outline every year and notate changes in order to modify class curriculum accordingly.  At the professional development given by NCGE in Tampa, Nancy Watson, a current member of the College Board’s APHG Test Development Committee, will go over changes that have occurred to the curriculum.  I highly recommend that APHG teachers attend the entire NCGE annual conference, as well as the pre-conference NCGE full day professional development, and the College Board’s ½ day teachers’ workshop in Tampa July 27th- 31st.  Furthermore, I recommend applying to the AP reading after teaching APHG for 3 years.  It is one of the best professional developments for AP Human Geography.  At the reading, teachers make lifelong friends and create a network of highly qualified professionals.  I encourage all teachers to join the AP Teacher Community and to sign up for the free Bell-Ringers from NCGE.  I wrote an article for the Florida Geographic Alliance to help new geography teachers with many good resources.  If you are interested, an excerpt of that article can be found at here.

Amy Stalker