• Photo: Andrew Young

Andrew Young is the geography and social science teacher you wish you’d had. At G.P. Vanier Secondary School in Courtenay, B.C., and as a summer sessional geography instructor at the University of British Columbia, Young uses real-world examples to bring the discipline to life. Here are his top five lessons.

  1. Get out of the classroom I had my university students take a photo on campus and explain why they thought it was geography. I try to get them outside so they can see it’s OK for their future students to do the same.
  2. Relate geography to real life My Grade 12 geography students have to determine if a new college should be built in a small town in a valley below a large stratovolcano (such as Mount Garibaldi, in B.C.). The students act as city councillors and decide whether the project should go forward.
  3. Connect geography to other subjects In my junior law class, we map break-and-enters in the Comox Valley and find areas of high risk.
  4. Shares students’ work online My blog is a communication piece for both my high school and university students and their parents to help explain what we do on a daily basis. I update it every day, and include videos and other resources.
  5. Take class trips The best part of my class trip to Washington’s Mount St. Helens is students’ reactions when they see the volcano. As we head up to the Johnston Ridge Observatory, nervous energy ripples through the bus. Just as we come around a ridge, there’s a broadside view of the volcano, and everyone goes quiet. Students are overwhelmed by the reality of the things we talk about in class.

Andrew Young is the geography teacher you wish you’d had. The veteran educator of more than 20 years works hard to demonstrate real-world applications of the subject, showing his students that geography is more than simply colouring a map — it’s all around us.

Young earned a bachelor of education at Nova Scotia’s Dalhousie University in 1992. He was always interested in geography, but it was the influence of two fellow educators and RCGS Fellows — Stuart Semple (Young’s methods professor at Dalhousie) and Dick Mansfield (a prominent geography professor at Queen’s University) — that helped transform Young into a “geo-vangelist.”

“These men reignited the passion for geography I had when I was a little kid, sitting in the back seat of my car on family vacations and looking at my map, trying to find my way,” says Young.

Today, he teaches a number of subjects at G.P. Vanier Secondary School in Courtenay, B.C., including geography, law and political science, and also instructs summer sessional geography at the University of British Columbia.

Young earned the RCGS’s inaugural Innovation in Geography Teaching Award for engaging his students in real-world activities, such as geocaching and class trips to Mount St. Helens, and for his extensive work mentoring other teachers.

“Teaching geography is about teaching how to be a human in the world we’re in,” he says. “It opens our eyes to our place in the world and helps us navigate our way through.”