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September’s GIS Ambassador: Anne Mansfield

Meet Anne Mansfield September’s GIS Ambassador of the month! Find out how this passionate educator has been working to keep geography relevant in Ontario and across Canada.

Anne Mansfield (née Smith) is a passionate geographer from Kingston, Ontario and this month’s GIS Ambassador. In her roles as a high school teacher, a lecturer at the Faculty of Education at Queen’s University, and as a member of the Canadian Geographic Education Executive, she has been engaged in keeping the subject of geography relevant in Ontario and across Canada throughout her professional career. We have had the pleasure of working with Anne since 2006 through the Ontario Association of Geographic and Environmental Education (OAGEE) and the Faculty of Education at Queen’s University.

We recently caught up with Anne to learn about her extensive career as an educator and geography advocate.

Tell us about your geography career

Geography education is my passion! Second to my husband and daughter, teaching geography is what I love to do! I started my career as a geography teacher in 1987 at Port Hope High School. A few years later, I moved to Bowmanville High School where I was the Geography Department Head from 1990-1998.

Anne is pictured here in Peru in 2018, enjoying a tropical drink. “My interest in geography goes back a long way into elementary school! I remember I loved social studies and learning about different
parts of the world and the amazing cultures.”

Early in my career, I was frustrated with what was happening in geographic education. In 1994, I came across a flyer titled “Geography for the 21st Century Institute.” I attended this special two-week intensive institute in Kingston organized by the Canadian Council for Geographic Education, now known as Canadian Geographic Education (CGE). This experience was life and career changing as it was my first opportunity to network with like-minded educators from across Canada. These were educators with the same passion and goals of strengthening geographic education. Some of the important “movers and shakers” across the country came out of these institutes. Many of us have become good friends.

Once I became involved with the people and organizations such as CGE and OAGEE, I was able to pursue other opportunities.  In the spring of 1995, I applied to attend a month-long geography educator training program at the National Geographic headquarters in Washington, D.C.  It was a dream come true!  Once again, I was immersed in an extremely intensive, high quality professional development opportunity with like-minded individuals, but this time from across North America.  To this day, my roommate from South Carolina and I remain good friends and colleagues. What a support system and network we are part of!

My journey as a geography educator has provided me with many opportunities and experiences. I believe those who have an opportunity to teach geography should be excited about it and my goal is to provide my students at Queen’s with the best tools and resources as they begin their journey!

These two professional development experiences early in my career inspired me to continue the work to ensure geography education matters in Canada. Below are some of the opportunities that have come my way to step up. When a door opens, don't be afraid to walk through.

Anne in the Sir Christopher Ondaatje Reading Room at The Royal Canadian Geographical Society headquarters in Ottawa, 2018. “One passion which I have been able to realize over the past few years as a geographer has included opportunities to travel to New Zealand, Britain, Morocco, Peru and the Amazon, Cambodia, Vietnam and throughout Canada and the US.”

Connecting with other geography educators is important to Anne. Here she is with Joseph Kerski, Education Manager from Esri at the Esri Canada GIS in Education and Research Conference in March 2020.

Tell us about the program at Queen’s that you teach

I currently teach the pre-service level Intermediate Senior Geography Curriculum program for the Bachelor of Education at the Faculty of Education at Queen’s University.  The focus of my course is for those teacher candidates who have “declared” one of their two teachable subjects in geography and wish to be certified in Ontario to teach grade 7-12 geography.

Why is GIS/spatial tech important to include in the program? And how does it enhance the program?

I cannot imagine any new geography teacher today not having some background or knowledge in the area of GIS/spatial technology.  This area of geography is very important, as we use it every day in the “real” world and it is so embedded in our lives that I don’t think most people even realize it!  Incorporating GIS and the “Concepts of Geographic Thinking/Inquiry” into our geography classes are a natural fit.  I believe strongly that all my students need to be at least familiar with the basics which they can use in their own classes when they are teaching.

Anne is always involved in promoting geography. She worked at the OAGEE booth at a regional conference (pictured here). This was a joint meeting of the 2018 International Geographical Union’s (IGU) Regional Conference, Annual Meeting of the Canadian Association of Geographers (CAG), and the Annual Meeting of the National Council for Geographic Education (NCGE). This joint meeting offered a range of sessions in geography education, field trips, workshops and other opportunities for social engagement. August 2018, Quebec City.

The scenario I face in my classes is the lack of GIS experience of my students.  It really varies year to year on whether the students have any background in GIS from their undergraduate programs because their primary degree is often not in geography.

What are the plans for the upcoming year with facilitating a GIS workshop for the students?

The K-12 group from Esri Canada have been supporting this workshop annually for at least 10 years now. They will be facilitating an online workshop in the new year.

I cannot express my thanks and gratitude enough to the staff who have been a tremendous support to me and my students. As the importance of GIS continues to grow, I am thrilled to say, the last couple of years we have been able to have a team member (Thanks Jean!!) come for multiple classes.

What is your outlook on geographic education in Canada?

My hope is that educators and curriculum consultants in Canada will continue to fight and advocate for geography to be a core subject in high schools in their province or territory. Globally we are at a crossroads. The importance of understanding our world is now more important than ever.  Geography is the key to understanding so many of the world’s problems, from climate change to global pandemics.

A few weeks ago, Forbes posted this article on Why Geography Should Be Part Of Every 21st Century Education. It would be great if every educator read this to see how relevant geography is and to connect it to what they are teaching.

I ask that educators support organizations like OAGEE that work very hard to ensure students and teachers can continue their path towards geographic literacy.

Thank you, Anne for the work you have done and continue to do to ensure the subject of geography stays on the map in Canada! We know this post will inspire educators to keep the geography spirit alive in their teaching! Follow Anne @gphy4me.

Check out other inspiring stories of GIS Ambassadors supporting the use of GIS and geography in their community.

This post was translated to French and can be viewed here

About the Author

Angela Alexander is a K-12 Education Resource Developer on the Esri Canada Education and Research team. She has over six years of experience working with educators across Canada. Angela is responsible for producing geographic information system (GIS) and curriculum specific resources, conducting and creating custom workshops for educators and judging and developing the question for the annual GIS Skills Ontario competition in Waterloo, Ontario. Angela has a Bachelor’s degree in Geography and Sociology from the University of Western Ontario and completed the Applied Digital Geography and GIS certificate program at Ryerson University.

Profile Photo of Angela Alexander