So You Wanna Be A…Geographer!

Here's your nightly math! Just 5 quick minutes of number fun for kids and parents at home. Read a cool fun fact, followed by math riddles at different levels so everyone can jump in. Your kids will love you for it.

So You Wanna Be A…Geographer!

November 14, 2014

Lots of people think that geography means memorizing state capitals, but it’s so much more exciting than that (no offense to Bismarck or Carson City). Emily White leads the South Dakota Geographic Alliance as part of National Geographic’s efforts to help kids have fun with geography. She spoke with us about all the cool places she’s been, and what she’s found there.

Interview with a Geographer

How did you get into geography? Was it something that you were interested in as a kid?

I don’t know that I was specifically interested in geography when I was young, but I’ve always loved to be outside and I’ve always been curious about my surroundings. It wasn’t until college, when I double-majored in earth science and geography, that I realized the full potential of geography and all the ways it could allow me to explore the world.

Geography is a pretty broad topic – what’s your favorite part of being a geographer?

Now I mostly teach students, kindergarten kids through high school seniors, about the creative ways they can use geography, but my first love was and is cartography, or mapping the world.

Cartography in 2014? Don’t we pretty much have everything mapped by now?

Not at all! For example, I worked with a biologist in Maryland to map snail populations. It sounds silly, but snails and other simple organisms can actually tell us a great deal about the environment. And of course, living creatures and plants are always moving and changing, often more quickly than at a snail’s pace, so there’s always something new to map, new connections to make.

And there are new ways to map the world too, right?

That’s exactly right. Pretty much everyone has heard of GPS, but GIS – geographic information systems – are even more useful. These systems are basically layers of data displayed geographically, and you can filter out layers and search for all sorts of different data points. An example of this is a forest optimization study I did to help a timber company sustainably farm wood. After I mapped a forest, the logging crew could sort the trees by species and age, and then simply follow the map to the pockets of trees that are safe to cut down.

And what kind of mapping, or other geographic experiments, do you do with kids?

The great thing about geography is you can use it to explore whatever you’re already interested in – geography literally means “Earth writing.” It usually depends on the kids, but one thing most students enjoy is mapping the playground. That can also help make the playground a more fun place to play. One eco-conscious class mapped all the pieces of litter they found, and then looked at the quantity and locations of trash cans to figure out the best way to reduce litter.

So that’s something kids can do right in their backyards on a small scale – what about kids who like to think bigger?

They can think globally by starting from a very local point. For instance, a pencil that you might use every day almost certainly has parts from different countries all over the world. It’s fascinating to trace the journey of a pencil’s wood, paint, graphite, aluminum and eraser, and then see where the parts come together. Then you can start asking more questions, like “Why did this pencil have such a complex assembly line?” and “Could it be simplified?” and “What impact does the pencil have on the people in each part of the world who work to make it possible?”

Geography is not just memorizing or labeling a map – it’s about exploring and investigating every thing and every place you come across, asking questions, and then making decisions for a better world.

I know it probably depends on the type of geography, but if a kid wants to be a geographer, what math should they know?

Everyone needs to understand basic operations, angles, and measurement math to do any geography or draw any kind of map. An understanding of statistics and probability is also very important, because that gives you more ways to investigate the workings of the world. Since I was interested in earth science, I took a lot of physics classes in college, which required a good deal of calculus and trigonometry.

Ready for your own geography adventures? Be sure to check out, Don’t Worry, Be Mappy, our November printable activity pages.

Image licensed by Ingram Publishing

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About the Author

Derek Stump

Derek Stump

As Staff Writer, Derek strives to bring you exciting Bedtime Math content and keep commas in their rightful place. Previously he helped manage a film studio in the Philadelphia area. Derek holds a B.A. in Communication- Media Production from Villanova University.

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