GeoInspirations: Judy Mraz - Promoting Geography Education in the Southern Hemisphere and Beyond

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Editor’s note: Thank you for joining us for this edition of GeoInspirations. Today our distinguished columnist, Dr. Joseph Kerski, features Judy Mraz, director of projects for the Geography Teachers’ Association of Victoria, Australia.

About a decade ago, I began reading journal articles and other resources written by the Geography Teachers’ Association of Victoria. To my surprise, they were interested in publishing several articles of mine, and I greatly enjoyed interacting with this community of geography educators, including participating in the GTAV conference in 2017. Through our electronic interactions and finally meeting Judy face-to-face, it is apparent to me that Judy has been a longstanding leader and advocate for geography education at all levels. Therefore, it is my great pleasure to introduce Judy to Directions Magazine readers and, through her story, inspire you to make a positive difference in our world.

I asked Judy to describe the association and her role. “I am the director of projects at the Geography Teachers’ Association of Victoria in Australia,” she said. “The GTAV is a professional teacher organization – a dynamic, not-for-profit, member-based association of national and international standing. The GTAV provides a leading role in geographical education in Victoria, is the largest geography association in Australia, and is a member of the Australian Geography Teachers’ Association.  The GTAV’s vision is ‘Geographically literate and informed Victorian students’; its Mission is to support teachers of geography and promote the importance of geography through the publication and production of high-quality resources and cutting edge and relevant professional learning sessions for teachers.”

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Judy had this to say about her professional pathway: “I began my career as a geography, biology, and science teacher after having completed a teaching degree in environmental studies. I began my involvement with this dynamic organization having joined the GTAV as a committee member in the 1980s.”

“Place is very important to most people. Our early experiences and memories are closely linked to places and, when we revisit them after many years, we often experience strong emotions linked to locations and people. For me, travel at an early age meant trips to Italy (my parents are Italian) and journeys exploring other places. I loved these travels, in particular the natural landscapes of the spectacular Dolomite Mountains in northern Italy.” (Joseph’s note: Indeed! See the spectacular photograph of Judy in these mountains.)

“The town I grew up in is in a coal mining region of Victoria in Australia and there were always plumes of smoke and those large, black holes in the ground. So, when my parents took us on picnics and walks to the local Tarra-Bulga National Park – with its giant mountain ash trees, beautiful fern gullies, and ancient myrtle beeches (some of the best examples of original cool temperate rainforests of the region) – I fell in love with this type of environment and with the color green. It is little wonder that I have lived for over 30 years in a similar environment in the cool mountain forests to the east of Melbourne.”

“Those early travel experiences also nurtured my love of maps and atlases. I remember looking at maps from an early age and learning to read about places near and far. Many years later, it was such a thrill to be invited to work with other geographers to produce a new school atlas for (then) Heinemann publishers. Part of our work was to gather together exemplary copies of atlases from around the world, so my private atlas collection grew very quickly.”

“These strong feelings about places attracted me to my tertiary course study in environmental studies and to teaching. Teaching both geography and biology meant that I could teach about the natural and human environments that I loved so much. Geography fieldwork with students was always such a joy; it was always rewarding taking students out to experience, observe, and measure the places they were learning about in class. And they loved it too. It was whilst I was teaching that I attended school camps that involved activities such as bushwalking and canoeing – beginning my love for all things outdoors.”

I asked Judy to name the most influential people and moments in her career. “I have been very fortunate in my geographical career. My early teaching years were influenced by strong collegiality through the GTAV,” she replied. “Geographers such as Rob Stowell, Rob Berry, and Peter van Noorden became strong mentors, encouraging me to get involved in all things geography, including writing, particularly chapters for geography textbooks. To work with such a strong team of dedicated and selfless people encouraged me to join the GTAV committee and eventually to become vice president of the organization. In 1990, I was enticed to a new, permanent position at the GTAV as a project officer, producing geography resources for teachers and students.”

“Thus began my true geographical journey: authoring and co-authoring numerous school geography textbooks; producing all things geographical for the GTAV – textbooks, posters, brochures, topographic maps, teaching kits, and more; and producing and co-editing GTAV’s quarterly journal, Interaction, which I have now been doing for over 20 years. It has been insightful to see the growth in the use and influence of spatial technologies and their true application in geography. As more and more teachers become familiar with, and get access to, GIS maps, the greater the relevance and influence of geography to students. We are lucky in Victoria that the use of spatial technologies in geography is embedded in the curriculum. This means that students are more likely to use these in their geography classes.”

What project is Judy the proudest of being a part? “I am working on three projects now for the GTAV that I think are important and can have long-term benefits for our subject. One is a dedicated website that will include classroom activities using all types of spatial technologies and linked specifically to the geography curriculum. The second is a dedicated online course to help out-of-field (non-geography trained) teachers to learn some of the knowledge and skills of being a geography teacher. This course includes a module on spatial technologies and their use and relevance to geography. The final project is titled “I am a Geographer . . .” which makes links between people who have studied geography and their careers. These careers are currently profiled in Interaction and will have a more dedicated online space on the GTAV website.”

I asked Judy to share her thoughts on what we need to work on as a geographic community. She replied, “We need to continue to work hard at making strong links between geography and career opportunities. This is best done by outing all the people in our community who don’t call themselves geographers, yet their work is intrinsically geographical. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if all these people – geospatial analysts, meteorologists, demographers, volcanologists, geoscientist, environmental/urban planners, environmental engineers, town planners – identified as geographers? A study of geography enables people to view the world in unique and holistic way and provides an insight into analysis and problem-solving that many others do not have. Spatial applications are critical in enhancing these skills.”

“My advice is to keep geography relevant to all – students, family, friends, and colleagues. Continually link geography to current affairs – what is happening to our human and natural world all has relevance to our subject and we need to keep reminding people of this fact.”

Judy shared this quote:

We tend to think of landscapes as affecting us most strongly when we are in them or on them, when they offer us the primary sensations of touch and sight. But there are also the landscapes we bear with us in absentia, those places that live on in memory long after they have withdrawn in actuality, and such places retreated to most often when we are most remote from them are among the most important landscapes we possess.” –Robert MacfarlaneThe Old Ways: A Journey on Foot


Judy also shared this quote from John Collins, late life member of GTAV and one of its founding members. John’s views were most powerfully expressed in the conclusion of his Founders’ Keynote Address at the 2015 GTAV Annual Conference when he said:

. . . Without passion you will neither disturb nor convert! With passion, based on understanding, you will have the power to not only change attitudes but outcomes and maybe, just maybe, Australia will have a chance to grow up, preserve what’s left of its tender physical landscape, respect its original inhabitants, argue for and achieve a fairer distribution of the economic pie and rid itself of the many prejudices that seem to shroud its path.”

Resources:

The Geography Teachers’ Association of Victoria

Past editions of Interactions

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