Remembering Kristi Alvarez

Kristi AlvarezIt is with a heavy heart and deep sadness that I share with you that Kristi Alvarez (National Council for Geographic Education President, 2010) died on January 26 in Redlands, California. Kristi died at home after a short, valiant battle with cancer. She is survived by her loving family—husband Ron; daughters Paige, Lexi, and Mary Beth and their husbands; and two precious granddaughters. How fortunate we all were to have been part of her extended geo-family.

Kristi was an exceptional teacher, leading us to know and understand so much about our world and about life. She constantly demonstrated how to live with joy, enthusiasm, and curiosity and taught us all, these last few months, how to exit this life with grace, courage, and, of course, humor. Fortunately, I was able to visit with her just a few weeks ago. I had some complications in getting my rental car and arrived a bit later than she and Ron expected. “Did you get lost?” she quipped as I walked in.

Kristi’s remarkable teaching career began in a middle school special education classroom and continued as a high school social studies teacher in Florida, where she was recognized as teacher of the year at her high school and her school district in 1993. Her students noted how “Mrs. A made learning fun!” After earning her Ph.D. from the University of Southern Mississippi Kristi continued her career in the Department of Geography at Keene State College from 1999 to 2009 where she taught numerous courses, worked with student teachers and touched the lives of countless students and teachers through her role as the New Hampshire Geographic Alliance coordinator and the organizer of the State Geographic Bee. Her most recent academic home, the University of Redlands in California, allowed her to explore her passion in geo-technologies and spatial thinking, as well as mentor pre-service teachers and initiate a revolutionary graduate program in spatial literacy for educators. Through the years, she served on numerous national panels and committees dedicated to geographic education and was active in AP Human Geography. It is impossible to estimate just how many lives have been positively touched by Kristi’s teaching.

Kristi’s leadership in NCGE was equally stellar, serving on the Administrative Committee as Vice President of Curriculum and Instruction, President, and Past President from 2007 to 2011. Kristi’s unwavering dedication to NCGE was evident in all the projects and programs she coordinated. She logged countless hours and worked tirelessly for the betterment of our organization. She believed so strongly in providing a professional organization dedicated to the teaching and learning of geography and continuously advocated how NCGE met the unique needs of classroom teachers. Her vision helped guide NCGE during transitional years when our Central Office found a permanent home in Washington, D.C.

We could fill pages with all of Kristi’s professional accomplishments, but the true value of our life’s work can never be captured by a list on a CV. Rather, Kristi’s most significant contributions are those she made to the lives of others with her compassion, wisdom, patience, wit, and kindness. It has been said that a life well lived involves laughing often and loving much, winning the respect of others and the affection of children, and giving freely of oneself to improve the lives of others. In reflecting on my dear friend’s life and all she contributed to the betterment of others—her love, her laughter, and the highest regard with which we hold her in our hearts today, Kristi Alvarez’s life could not have been more well lived. I am consoled today thinking of how her light will continue to shine through all of us who were graced by her life.

Today I have an answer for the question Kristi posed to me a few weeks ago. Yes, my friend, I am lost. I cannot even begin to imagine the world without you. I will long for your wonderful companionship on the NCGE field trips that we promised to take together, and I will continuously invoke your spirit as I work to promote all things geography. I take great comfort in the thought that you are off on an amazing adventure where I am sure you are drawing maps, exploring, and asking all kinds of questions.

Safe travels my friend.

—By Jan Smith, Associate Professor at Shippensburg University and coordinator of the Pennsylvania Alliance for Geographic Education

More Information:

The memorial service for Kristi Alvarez will take place on Tuesday, January 31 at 11 a.m. at Trinity Episcopal Church, 419 South 4th Street, Redlands, CA 92373-5952.

In lieu of flowers the family asks for donations to be made to one of the following: Diocese of Florida, “Camp Weed Scholarship Fund”, 325 Market St., Jacksonville, FL 32202 or The University of Redlands School of Education, “Geography Kids Camp”, Attn: Martin Bright, 1200 E. Colton Ave., Redlands, CA, 92373.


Journal of Geography: January/February 2012

In the current issue of Journal of Geography:

  • Integrating Online GIS into the K-12 Curricula: Lessons from the Development of a Collaborative GIS in Michigan by Paul Henry and Hugh Semple
  • Components of Spatial Thinking: Evidence from a Spatial Thinking Ability Test by Jongwon Lee and Robert Bednarz
  • Southern Identity in Southern Living Magazine by Tracy Lauder
  • The NAEP Geography Report 2010: What Will We Do Next? by Roger M. Downs
  • Citation for James F. Petersen, 2011 Recipient of the George J. Miller Award for Distinguished Service by Ruth Shirey
  • You can read those articles and view a stereo image of the Great San Francisco earthquake of 1906 on the journal’s cover.

Journal of Geography Jan/Feb 2012The Journal of Geography, a peer-reviewed journal which covers innovative approaches to geography research, teaching, and learning, is published six times per year. The journal is just one of the benefits of membership in the National Council for Geographic Education. Why not join today!

Geography Course on the Chopping Block in Oxnard?

A high school geography course requirement at the Oxnard Union High School District in California could be eliminated to make way for a new offering designed to help ninth-graders make the transition to high school, according to a recent article in the Ventura County Star.

“What we’re looking at is trying to develop a course for our freshmen to take that would provide what we call 21st-century skills,” said Assistant Superintendent Bill Dabbs. Those skills include creativity, collaboration, technology and a background in how to prepare for college and careers—”a lot of issues in terms of the transition from the eighth grade to the ninth grade and what we can do to increase graduation rates, increase college-going rates.”

According to the article, the district is in the early planning stages for any proposed curricular changes to make way for the “freshman skills” course, but geography supporters in the school are already rallying around the course.

In fact, geography educators argue that the subject teaches some of the most important 21st-century skills. Geography helps us better understand the global economy, complex international relations, and environmental challenges. Geography helps business leaders create and market new products and services. Geography gives people knowledge needed to use natural resources in a sustainable manner. Geography helps citizens make informed decisions about land use and transportation in their communities.

The list of benefits of geography knowledge and skills is long. Let’s work to make sure geography is a robust part of the curriculum for every student—and not on the chopping block any time a school needs to find space for a new course offering.

More on this topic:

The National Council for Geographic Education and the Partnership for 21st-Century Skills produced a 21st Century Skills Map for Geography.

–Tim Hill

Geography Puzzler

Here’s a geographic brainteaser recently featured on Car Talk, the weekly radio show about cars and car repair.

Car Talk Puzzler: Bobo’s “Don’t Look Back” Tour (Week of 1/14/12)
Bobo was told that he had to visit all 48 contiguous states. He could visit each state in whatever order he chose, but he could visit it only once. The company wanted him to start in Delaware, at their headquarters. Where did he finish?

Got the answer? Check the comments below or listen to hosts Tom and Ray Magliozzi to see if you are correct.

(Re)Designing Google Maps

Google City Maps

Google's city maps of Sydney, New York, and San Francisco in 2009 (top row) and in 2011 (bottom row).

Cartographic design choices are well done when they are largely unnoticed by the map user. On maps that are to be used—rather than simply admired for their artistry—the color palette, icons, lines, and layers of information should work together seamlessly to create a clear, accurate, and logical picture of the world.

Google Maps and other online maps provide information about the world’s largest cities and most isolated places. We can plan driving or walking routes, locate local businesses, and “see” the cultural and physical features of a place, all with unprecedented ease. Imagine the challenge of finding a detailed map of Budapest, for example, just ten years ago. Now online street maps and satellite views are available in mere seconds.

Willem Van Lancker, “a user experience and visual designer,” and Jonah Jones, “the lead user experience designer,” for Google Maps recently described the cartographic evolution of Google’s maps in Core77, on online design magazine. They described the challenges Google faces in designing a map that is useful for both local residents and visitors in countries around the world.

The days of hand-drawn maps are long gone, so it’s not surprising that Google’s process involves “hacking rendering specs and tweaking Javascript to produce interactive demos,” but all that hacking and tweaking are used to solve real-world problems.

As Google Maps has broadened in scope, we have also had to address fundamental differences in tasks as basic as navigation and driving directions. We have found that, generally speaking, people navigate primarily by street names in Western countries and by landmarks and points of interest in the East. This is due to a combination of factors including a lack of road names (e.g. in India where locals rely on landmarks) or just a more complex street addressing system (e.g. in Japan where street numbers are assigned by date of construction, not sequentially).

The Van Lancker and Jones article also gives insight into the challenges associated with selecting internationally recognized symbols and how the veins on a leaf helped inspire Google’s “hybrid” maps, which overlay major roads onto satellite imagery.

Whether you use Google Maps for wayfinding or for a bit of armchair travel, which I sometimes do, you’ll enjoy reading Google Maps: Designing the Modern Atlas.

–Tim Hill