More than maps By Melissa Wagoner Teaching geography can be difficult, but it is especially tricky when the students are five years old. “We don’t have a specific geography curriculum,” Savannah Sinn, a kindergarten teacher at Bush Elementary School in Salem, lamented. “And they don’t come in with anything.” In order to give her students a more wellrounded geographical education, Sinn has had to think outside the box. Because while she has done some traveling in her 22 years – to Sweden and Germany with her parents and to Spain with her high school Spanish class – she has actually spent time in very few of the places about which she teaches. “It just makes you think about – how can I do more for geography awareness and world awareness,” she said thoughtfully. And that’s where Portland State University’s Center for Geography Education in Oregon (C-GEO) comes in.
Geography curriculum developed with trip to Greece
While Sinn was earning her teaching credentials at Western Oregon State University several years ago, she met a professor who was a member of a unique resource for Oregon teachers, C-GEO. A hub of teacher support based around the topic of geography, the company also hosts several, educational trips for those who teach grades K-12. Sinn’s first trip with C-GEO was stateside to Appalachia and it was great, but what she really wanted was to travel abroad. So this past winter she applied for a 17-day trip to Greece and was accepted. “The application was four questions long,” Sinn remembered. “Their whole deal is to get people out to new places.” Before the trip the teachers were each given homework including a thematic assignment – a three-minute presentation focusing on one aspect of Greek culture that they shared with the group – as well as a location assignment – in which participants were randomly assigned a location in Greece and required to research
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and create a brochure covering all aspects of that place. “We had to become an expert about a place we were going to,” Sinn explained. “It was one of my favorite aspects of the trip,” Carly Fuerst, a fifth grade teacher at Butte Creek Elementary School who also attended the trip, added. “I think I’ll keep referring back to these [brochures].” Fuerst, who is in her 16th year as a teacher, learned about C-GEO from a fellow Silver Falls School District teacher but was less immediately entranced. “I do like to teach the kids the importance of overcoming hard things, and this trip, for me, was overcoming a bit of fear,” she said. But traveling with a group of like-minded individuals who shared a common goal helped Fuerst to become less worried and to enjoy herself. “If I planned a Greece excursion for myself it would have been the beach,” she
laughed. “But getting to go with a focused lens and having a really educated guide – she’s been living there for three years – that was great.” Sinn agreed adding, “It was really neat because we did get to travel all over Greece by different modes of transport. So we got to see the in-between places.” Tiny island towns – like the one where Sinn got to cook Moussaka with a local family – and big touristy cities, the group covered as much of Greece, its land, people and heritage as possible on their short trip. “There is so much history everywhere we went,” Fuerst said, amazed. “They’re subway in Athens goes through an ancient ruins,” Sinn added. “Wherever you go you can find stuff from however many hundred years BC.” Back in Oregon and with the school year kicking off, Sinn and Fuerst are beginning to plan how they will share all that they learned with the students in their respective classrooms.
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10 • September 2019
Our Town Monthly
Our Town Community News serving Silverton, Mt. Angel & Scotts Mills.”