Scale models of Hocker Grover Middle School that are made with LEGO blocks. Global scavenger hunts. Hands-on learning about the earth through mystery maps.
These are just a handful of the ways middle school students are learning geography from Kimberly Gilman. And it is these precise teaching tools that have made the Hocker Grove social studies teacher this year’s Kansas Geography Educator of the Year. Gilman has been teaching for 14 years.
Gilman received the recognition by the Kansas Geographic Alliance at the Kansas Social Studies Conference in Emporia at the end of October.
“I was really excited; I was actually in Denver when I got the email,” she said. “I had just been standing on a meridian that runs through the Union Station in Denver, and I was trying to get my brother to take my picture because I’m a geography geek (and he’s not).”
Gilman said she was particularly pleased with the recognition because it speaks to her outlook on geography as intrinsic to everyday life.
“Geography isn’t just maps; it’s everything that’s around us, and it connects all of us,” Gilman said. “Sometimes we take it for granted and we forget about it, but then you’re walking along in strange city, and there’s a parallel that you’re walking on.”
Gilman’s teaching style is hands-on application; for instance, students have built small models to scale of Hocker Grove Middle School through LEGOs, and they’ve gone on global scavenger hunts by finding places on maps that directly impact local day-to-day life.
“My favorite part is that it’s about relationships,” she said. “So it’s how humans relate to one another and how humans relate to the environment and how everything that we do as humans affects other humans and also affects the environment, and the environment affects us in return as well.”
She also thinks geography is a great way for students to approach issues of social and racial justice.
“Middle-schoolers are really attuned to issues of justice and equity,” Gilman said. “They’re really naturally curious about the world around them and also the world far away from them, so they want to focus on those things. They want to look at just, not this world that we live in, but the world that they want to create. And geography is a great way to approach those issues.”
Her volunteer work, including starting a geography club for middle school students, as well as her involvement in the Kansas Geography Alliance, supplemented her nomination for the award. Geography club students play geography quizzes and also practice geography bees in preparation for the national geography bee in January.
As part of the award, she also received $200; she plans to ask her students for suggestions on how to spend that money.