5 years ago the AP Human Geography teacher at my former high school announced that she would be moving to Rhode Island. She informed me that I would be taking over the course. I fell in love with the material and am constantly looking for ways to make geography more meaningful for students. Every year I feel I get a little better at getting young scholars to think about the five themes of geography: absolute and relative location, place, human/environmental interactions, regions, and movement. Last Friday I had an experience that will forever change to way I teach.

On the second day of the Contested Territory seminar Chris Bunin quickly and effectively taught us how to use ArcGIS software. Groups received an assignment that was due on the first Friday. Our instructions were to focus on one of the five themes of geography and create an ESRI story map based on the territory of SE Asia. Our group chose to focus on bombing in Southeast Asia during the Vietnamese/American War.

Working with my group on the assignment created an a-ha moment. Our topic was unexploded ordnance from the bombing of SE Asia. We all were thinking about human-environment interaction as we scoured the internet looking for data, articles, and images. We worked on how to use the software. We had brainstorming sessions to storyboard our presentation. This is exactly what I want my AP Human Geography and AP Capstone Research students to do.

The biggest a-ha moment came when the other groups presented. I looked at my fellow participants and saw the wonder as we viewed the aesthetically beautiful story maps. I kept thinking, “We collectively created these and they are awesome.” We were not only proud but also amazed at the power of the assignment. We learned from embedded videos, recorded first person accounts, biographies, and multiple maps where the information had probably never been conceptualized in that particular way.

My students will have a-ha moments when they learn how to GIS. It will take many hours for me to be able to do what Chris Bunin did for us. This is an investment of time that I am ready and willing to make.

– Spencer Swindler (Social Studies Teacher, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools, NC)