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Alex Trebek Medal for Geographic Literacy

2011 Recipient - Al Friesen

Al Friesen
Cutting-edge geography class
Geography teacher Al Friesen recalls a “teachable moment” in 1994, when he found a student skipping his class to play SimCity, a video game that simulates city building. Friesen, of Brandon, Man., took the opportunity to compare SimCity to software used in urban planning, pointing out to his student that he was “skipping geography class but really doing geography!” It was an eye-opener for both the student — who later explored the connection in a project — and Friesen, who began to see the potential of technology as a teaching tool.

That summer, at a Canadian Council for Geographic Education (CCGE) teacher institute, Friesen discovered geographic information systems, which he later introduced to Brandon’s three high schools. Over 30 years of teaching, Friesen focused on linking textbook learning with observation in the real world, starting a Geo-Fair at his school, discussing urban planning challenges through field study and building this experience into Manitoba’s geography curriculum. For his progressive methods in the classroom, Friesen has been awarded the 2011 Geographic Literacy Award from the CCGE.

The award includes $5,000 from the National Geographic Education Foundation, half of which is to be granted to an organization of the winner’s choice. Friesen, who is now retired, is donating the money to the CCGE, which, he says, had a profound influence on his teaching career, giving him “lots of tools, ideas and motivation to promote geographic literacy.”

— Ruth VanDyken

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