WOU in the news: New teachers get hands-on geography lesson

Heidi Wilson and Amanda Mattei

Two teaching graduates from OSU-Cascades returned from their trip to Spain and Portugal last week where they studied physical and human geography with the Center for Geography Education in Oregon at Portland State University.

Heidi Wilson and Amanda Mattei received their Oregon preliminary teaching licenses from Oregon State University this summer and participated in the Southern Iberian Peninsula program with a group of 12 other Oregon teachers. The group visited three cities in Portugal and four in Spain over 16 days, creating lesson plans to implement when they returned to the U.S., Ken Carano, the co-coordinator of the Center for Geography Education, said Tuesday.

Carano said the goal for the three-week program is to help preserve and improve teachers’ knowledge of geography by immersing them in another culture.

“Part of the goal is to get teachers travel experience so they can take it back into the classroom and immerse it into teaching,” he said. “They also write lesson plans to tie back to Oregon, which go on our website so other teachers can use them in the future.”

Wilson, who has lived in Bend for five years and completed her student teaching at Lava Ridge Elementary, said Tuesday that most of her travels focused on comparing the geography of Portugal and Spain with Oregon’s geography. She said the biggest difference she noticed was how transportation and the location of a city affects access to goods.

“My whole thing was transportation,” she said. “It was very interesting to see. Cities closer to the ocean have access to fishing, and the more inland you go the more those resources become scarce.”

Wilson, 27, said her lesson plan was similar to a scavenger hunt intended to help students learn how to read and use maps.

“I’m big into hiking and using maps,” she said. “Whenever we went to another city, we had to navigate using a map. My lesson plan was for a third-grade class, and I was thinking students should learn how to use a map, which is a valuable skill for Central Oregon.”

Seeing the first-ever map of North America in Spain was a highlight of Wilson’s trip, and she said she now has a better understanding of how to incorporate geography education into her students’ curriculum and why it is just as important as math, reading and writing.

Amanda Mattei will begin her first year teaching with fourth-graders at High Lakes Elementary in the fall and agreed that geography education is important but is usually not a major part of kids’ schooling.

“I think most kids don’t know a lot about geography,” she said. “But we saw different geography in Europe and around the world and how the world was built, and we can use that in our curriculum now. It will influence our teaching now and will bring a lot more world knowledge and depth of knowledge to our students.”

Once Mattei, 24, begins teaching, she said she would like to incorporate a geography lesson on a weekly basis: not just about Oregon, but worldwide. She said the biggest thing she learned was taking clean water for granted.

“When you go to a different country, things are so different that we take for granted,” she said. “Even just the water. You have to pay for it no matter what. Now I appreciate water so much more here. They have a hard time getting it into cities. I think that was the biggest takeaway: the importance of resources.”

Carano is an education professor at Western Oregon University and said the Center for Geography Education program has been sending Oregon teachers to institutes locally, nationally and internationally for the last decade. The program is largely funded by the Gray Family Foundation, so almost all expenses are paid.

The programs not only help teachers with professional development, but also enhance geography education for young students overall, Carano said.

“Part of that goal of the Center for Geography Education is to provide instructional materials, professional development, brochures and an annual conference,” he said. “It’s all about continuing to develop and enhance geography education.”

Written by Hayley Sanchez / The Bulletin

— Reporter: 541-382-1811,

hsanchez@bendbulletin.com