It’s been a tough year of teaching across Canada, and educators across the country deserve praise for their perseverance and hard work. Two Canadian teachers are being recognized by the Royal Canadian Geographical Society for their exemplary work in geography innovation and promoting geographic literacy.
Margaret Leland, a humanities teacher at Connect Charter School in Calgary, Alta., has received the inaugural Gilles Gagnier Medal for Innovation in Geographic Education. This award is named in honour of the Society’s former chief operating officer and publisher of Canadian Geographic Gilles Gagnier, who passed away unexpectedly on Sept. 10 at the age of 51. Gagnier was a passionate proponent of geographic education and one of his many accomplishments with the Society included spearheading Can Geo Education’s popular Giant Floor Map program.
“I remember his incredible enthusiasm for having the students come and work at Mount Royal University—we had the opportunity to use a couple of the Giant Floor Maps, and that has been one of my favorite things to do, to get the kids to wander around the maps and look at various aspects of the country,” says Leland, recalling a meeting with Gagnier several years ago on a GIS project.
The Gilles Gagnier Medal for Innovation in Geography Education recognizes an inspirational educator who is committed to advancing geographic literacy through innovative teaching and learning strategies. For Leland, innovation is the process through which she gets her students to understand their place in the world, both geographically and experientially.
“I think there's a couple of things I've seen in education right now that are promising,” says Leland. “One is the purposeful use of technology — to craft the right kind of questions and then use technology to direct them towards that inquiry. But the other is the opposite, which is more land-based education, where we’re getting out in the world and understanding the land that we live on.”
Leland emphasizes the importance of finding meaningful connections between the physical world and technology. Although she has always enjoyed the opportunity to take her students out on the land, Leland values the way in which technology can bring that sense of place and history in a three-dimensional way into the classroom.
“I think technology should be a support, not the basis of learning. The basis of our learning has to come from our environment and how we interact with it,” says Leland.
Randy Wilkie, this year’s recipient of the Alex Trebek Medal for Geographic Literacy, echoes that sentiment. Wilkie is being recognized for his decades-long career in the classroom and in training future generations of teachers. For the past 20 years, he has lectured on geography methodology at Lakehead University in Thunder Bay, Ont., where he has been working to keep teachers as current as possible with tools and technology such as virtual and augmented reality. Like most educators, he starts with the curriculum and then focuses on providing strategies to implement literacy skills and geographic issues in the classroom.
“I call the ministry curriculum the nails and the national geography framework the lumber. Then I start giving them strategies to build beautiful architecture — to build great lessons,” says Wilkie.
Wilkie, who is also a Fellow of the Society, has worked with several organizations, such as the Ontario Association for Geographic and Environmental Education, and produced a number of journal and textbook publications over the years. The Alex Trebek medal annually recognizes an educator who has made significant contributions to geographic literacy in Canada.
“When I was told that I received the award people kept saying it was long overdue — I had to laugh about that one,” says Wilkie. “I’m very humbled to receive an award like that, with all the work that Trebek has done for geography in this country, particularly with Canadian Geographic. To have had a spokesperson like that is a tremendous accomplishment, and that his legacy can go on, well, that’s even better.”
Award winners were announced at the Society’s Annual General Meeting and will be making acceptances during the Fellows Show. To watch the show, tune in on Canadian Geographic’s YouTube channel on Nov. 17 at 8 p.m. EST.