FAIRBANKS — Geography was everywhere at the University of Alaska Fairbanks Wood Center on Saturday for the GeoFest celebration.
The event, which brought Geography Awareness Week to an end, brings a family-friendly, fun focus to the study of the Earth and its people. Children darted from the Giant Traveling Map of North America to activities designed to get their brains wrapped around geography. Beaming parents watched with pride when wee ones demonstrated their knowledge of global awareness. The theme for this year, as set by National Geographic in Washington, D.C., was “Declare Your Interdependence.”
“It’s great for kids to get a sense of all the ways geography can be used,” said Nancy Fresco, network coordinator for the UAF Scenarios Network for Alaska and Arctic Planning. As she manned a booth with a puzzle map explaining climate change, she brought along her 6-year-old twin daughters.
“Geography is not just maps but the ways people and animals relate to the land,” Fresco said. “It’s also nice for kids to interact with scientists and researchers.”
Another mom said she brought her children to GeoFest in case something fires up their interest. “I want them to understand that it’s a big world out there and there is lots going ion. The more geography they see and do the better.”
Ellen Lopez said her 6-year-old son learned about maps and how to use maps in different ways at the event. “And they’re having fun,” she said.
Dorte Dissing, a geographic information systems specialist at ABR Inc., said, “Anything geography is fun. I wanted the kids to do mapping type things and have fun.”
Volunteers from the Northern Alaska Spatial Data Users Group participate in GeoFest routinely. One of the activities this year was using ArcGIS software to pinpoint locations around Fairbanks. Children were invited to name a favorite spot and then find it on the computer. They learned how to move in computer maps and create a point, selecting places such as Fred Meyer, the donut shop or Pioneer Park.
Dayne Broderson, a technical services manager for Geographic Information Network of Alaska, said he gets involved because of the awareness and outreach.
“We want to introduce kids to remote sensing. Many are very familiar with Google maps and Apple maps,” he said. Visitors were shown aerial photographs of familiar Fairbanks locations and asked to identify them. “We get to show off the neat products we do and parents get engaged, too,” Broderson said.
Immaculate Conception School teacher Mary Vail Butcher had maps for children to color and be creative with. “It gets kids excited about learning geography,” she said. “It isn’t easy to get them excited by talking about it, you have to show them.”
Katie Kennedy, UA geography program education and outreach coordinator, said, “We put on GeoFest every year to shine the spotlight on geography and remind people how important, relevant and fun geographic education is. Geographic education is vital if we want to prepare our students to be effective 21st century decision makers. We need to give students the knowledge and critical thinking skills to understand their world.”
The Fairbanks GeoFest has grown in popularity during the past three years, she said.
“It has gotten to the point that geography lovers are contacting us and asking if they can bring an activity to share, which is so wonderful. I hope to keep up the momentum and to carry on into the future the awareness we’ve developed. The real purpose is to get students, families and educators to see the great need for geographic education, which will hopefully translate to their calling for more of it in our schools.”
Geography Awareness Week and GeoFest were sponsored in Alaska by the UAF geography department, a program of the School of Natural Resources and Agricultural Sciences, and Alaska Geographic Alliance.
Throughout the week of Nov. 12-16, volunteers visited area fourth grade classrooms, taking a National Geographic activity called “Geography of a Pencil,” which explored locations where things that go into making pencils are grown or manufactured.
Nancy Tarnai is the public information officer at the UAF School of Natural Resources and Agricultural Sciences. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.