The National Center for Research in Geography Education (NCRGE) has initiated three research networks supporting further implementation of the Road Map for 21st Century Geography Education project’s landmark report on geography education research. 

Geography Education and Libraries

One research group, under the direction of Emma Slayton and Jessica Benner (Carnegie Mellon University Libraries), will focus on developing a community to explore the role of libraries and informal education spaces in supporting geography and GIS education. A network of libraries, data centers, and educators will work to develop a research agenda that focuses on assessing how the non-traditional teaching activities that occur in libraries can feed into and support existing methods of teaching about GIS and geography. The group will initially focus on the following research questions: 

  • What practices/techniques are used to teach spatial concepts in libraries and other informal learning settings?
  • What spatial knowledge, skills, and perspectives are most commonly taught in libraries and other informal learning settings?
  • What are the relationships between informal learning practices in libraries and more formal learning practices in higher education?

Libraries are uniquely situated to act as a springboard for teaching spatial literacy and critical engagement with geographic concepts; however, there currently is no consensus about how librarians should teach geography and GIS. A multi-level approach to networking will include libraries on a national level, across the state of Pennsylvania, and locally in Pittsburgh to determine the broad state of the field for GIS and geography education in libraries. Outcomes of the network’s activities will include a refined research agenda, an open access workbook and repository of pedagogical materials, and a series of face-to-face meetings to discuss the current practices and roles of libraries in geography and GIS education. 

Powerful Geography

NCRGE is also coordinating a research network supporting further development of the Powerful Geography curriculum project. 

Powerful Geography is an effort to align the geography curriculum with the diverse aspirations and job prospects of students. The research draws on recent work in GeoCapabilities and science education that suggests conveying applications of science is a key factor influencing students’ attitudes and aspirations toward science and science careers. Through this approach, the project aims to produce a curriculum model and strategy to achieve broader diversity in the discipline and workforce.

The Powerful Geography group based at Texas State University (Dr. Richard G. Boehm, Dr. Thomas B. Larsen, Dr. Michael Solem, and Dr. Joanna Zadrozny) is currently gathering information about students’ aspirations toward different careers and their interests in various social and environmental topics. Teams of researchers will then work to identify applications of geography that align with various aspirations and interests. As teachers in participating schools convey geography applications in their classrooms, a variety of methodologies, including questionnaires, interviews, and classroom observations, will explore and measure potential gains in key student attitudes (i.e., students’ interest in geography, perceived utility of geography, and confidence to do geography). 

The practical value of Powerful Geography will be in the form of enriched state standards and curriculum guides that provide teachers with evidence of geographic topics and applications that associate positively with students’ aspirations and attitudes. Work is currently underway with schools, undergraduate students, and professional geographers in Texas, with additional states and collaborators set to join in future phases. 

NAEP Geography Assessment

The National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) is a periodic, nationally-representative assessment study of student achievement in various school curriculum subjects. To date there have been five NAEP Geography Assessments: 1994, 2001, 2010, 2014, and 2018. Over that period, NAEP has repeatedly reported low levels of student proficiency in geography, especially among minorities. For example, Hispanic 8th-graders as a whole have barely scored above the “Basic” proficiency level (partial mastery of subject matter), whereas African American students as a whole have never even reached the “Basic” proficiency level.

While the outcomes of the NAEP Geography Assessments are available to the public, researchers may apply for a license to access raw, restricted NAEP data from the Institute of Education Sciences (a research entity within the U.S. Department of Education). The restricted data include highly detailed background data on students, teachers, and schools participating in the assessment. Educational researchers in fields such as history, math, and visual arts have in the past acquired restricted NAEP datasets to conduct exploratory statistical analyses aimed at identifying student-, household-, and school-level factors that associate with varying levels of student achievement.  

With support from the National Science Foundation, NCRGE is implementing a project designed to build the capacity of geographers to carry out similar research. A core activity of this project will be an exploratory multi-level statistical analysis of all available NAEP Geography Assessment datasets. The analysis will for the first time provide a national inference of factors associated with varying levels of student achievement in geography. This information will set the stage for future lines of research that attempt to replicate the correlational findings with data and methods that potentially may support causal claims about specific educational factors and student learning outcomes in geography. 

The NCRGE projects described here will be highlighted in a special track of sessions being planned for the 2020 AAG Annual Meeting in Denver, Colorado. This track will also feature keynote speakers, paper and panel sessions, and grant-writing workshops for geography education researchers.

About the National Center for Research in Geography Education

NCRGE is a research consortium with headquarters at the American Association of Geographers and Texas State University. Funded by grants from the National Science Foundation, private foundations, and other agencies, NCRGE works to build capacity for transformative research in geography education. 

AAG members and others interested in geography education research are encouraged to join the NCRGE research coordination network by completing an application at

The NCRGE research coordination network is supported by a grant from the National Science Foundation’s Geography and Spatial Science program (NSF Award BCS-1560862). 

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