Minot High School-Magic City Campus teacher Jeff Beck thinks more attention needs to be paid to geography.
Beck, a social studies teacher who received a Distinguished Teaching Award in November at the National Council for Geographic Education annual conference, has done his part to make students and teachers more aware of the world around them.
Beck developed and piloted the Ag in the Classroom program, a summer tour program/workshop for teachers that focuses on significant topics related to various regions in North Dakota, highlighting its geography, agriculture and economy.
Andrea Johnson/MDN • Social studies teacher Jeff Beck said geography is more than a place on a map.
Each workshop focuses on how current event topics are impacting things in the region. Following the 2011 Souris River flood, the teachers enrolled in the Ag in the Classroom program examined how the flood impacted agricultural land along the Souris River and industries that worked with agriculture. The tour took them to places like Foxholm, Mouse River Park and to agricultural businesses in the area.
The following summer, the topic was whether farming and oil mix. Teachers on the tour talked to farmers, agribusiness and oil businesses. In Stanley, they talked with school personnel about how the oil boom has brought more students to the area and the impact on the district. They also talked with Mountrail County commissioners and to the owner of the local Cenex station, who told them how diverse his customers have become and how customer demand has influenced what products are sold in the store.
Teachers came away with the impression that whether the oil boom is good or bad for business depends on who you ask, said Beck. Farmers who have mineral rights tend to love it; farmers who don't own the mineral rights to their land and have oil activity on their land may find it more difficult.
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The Ag in the Classroom tour, which has been going on for 10 years, does give teachers an up close view at things that are happening in their state. If the topic comes up in classroom discussion, teachers have stories to share and pictures to show their students. There is a DVD including photos and movie clips produced during the tour that teachers can also use in the classroom.
Beck said those "teachable moments" are important, especially since geography isn't taught formally as it used to be. The focus now is on encouraging all teachers to become teachers of social and cultural geography and to integrate it across the curriculum. Geography is not merely memorizing a location on a map but understanding the world around them.
Beck said he started the program more than a decade ago for those reasons.
"As a high school teacher it was disconcerting that my students were not more aware of the world around them," he said. "The primary goal of this type of field study is to provide teachers real-time experiences that they can utilize and integrate into the curriculum. When one of those 'teachable moments' occurs in their classroom, they can reflect on personal knowledge and experience to better inform their students. Teachers that participate in the tour may experience shearing sheep, milking cows, as well as observe the cattle to market process. They see farms and ranches and visit with people who provide goods and services that make our state unique. They tour key economic and resource centers such as coal mines, oil wells, electric plants, agricultural equipment manufacturers, sales rooms and repair shops."
Teachers receive one college credit for taking part in the tour.
Beck is a long-term member of the N.D. Geographic Alliance and presently serves on its board of directors. He is a member of the N.D. Geographic Alliance Strategic Planning Team and has been a leader and guide in designing long-term goals to raise the level of geographic literacy throughout the state's classrooms.
Beck, who has been a teacher for decades, said the award he received is a recognition of that organization's efforts at continuing outreach as much as it is in recognition of his own efforts.