There is little doubt how Rob Langston feels about geography and the technologies associated with the science.
The Brandon teacher trains students how to use cutting-edge, high-tech tools to solve geography problems, provides workshops on the topic for other educators and gives advice on geographic text. His mission is to develop and promote geographic literacy among both his students and others.
“I grew up spending a lot of time outside and have a passion and respect for the natural world around us,” Langston said about what is motivating him. “These new technologies give us better options in looking after our natural world. It keeps me on my toes, as I’m always learning and seeing the benefits in the kids. I see them take a liking to the science and that’s rewarding as well.”
Langston, a teacher at École secondaire Neelin High School, is being recognized for his commitment to the science with the 2018 Geographic Literacy Award from the Royal Canadian Geographical Society (RCGS). He received the award at a ceremony on Nov. 1 as part of the RCGS College of Fellows dinner at the National Arts Centre in Ottawa, Ont.
The Geographic Literacy Award includes a medal and $2500, which is split between Langston and a donation in his name supporting Canadian geographic education.
“I like using technology to motivate my students to learn geography and to keep myself engaged in teaching,” Langston told the Westman Journal a few days before receiving the award. “We’re pretty fortunate here that I get to teach more geography here than in a lot of other places. I’ve been able to teach the class to Grade 10 students alongside Grades 11 and 12 students as an elective.”
Langston said youth attending Grade 9 use geographic technologies as part of their Social Studies curriculum and interest in the subject has expanded into the local post-secondary sector. The teacher works with the Assiniboine Community College on two geographic information system (GIS) courses.
“I grew up spending a lot of time outside and have a passion and respect for the natural world around us. These new technologies give us better options in looking after our natural world." – Rob Langston
The educator’s teaching methods take students outside of the classroom to learn about geography. As part of the Grade 12 curriculum, students study issues facing Indigenous communities by working with Sioux Valley First Nation Elder Kevin Tacan as they research Brandon’s residential school history and visit Sioux Valley to look at culturally significant features.
Students then use geographic information systems to analyze, organize and present the data they have collected, and develop informational posters on the topic.
“GIS incorporates hardware and computer software to not only make maps, but analyze, manipulate and present data. It’s hard to get across to someone until you’ve used it,” he said.
Langston’s use of GIS is posting results in his students. At recent provincial GIS skills competitions, Neelin High School students have won 29 of 33 medals including 11 gold.
The teacher suggested his success in the field comes from a relationship with Al Friesen, a fellow Neelin, now-retired teacher he worked under earlier in his career. Friesen nominated Langston for the RCGS Geographic Literacy Award.
“We’ve kind of maintained our relationship and he’s been a little bit of a mentor to me,” Langston said. “We’ve had a good relationship over the years and he has stayed interested in my career. We met at the lake this summer and asked if he could put my name forward (for the award).”
In the press release announcing Langston’s commendation, Connie Wyatt Anderson, chair of Canadian Geographic Education and vice-president of the RCGS board said Langston works above expectations generally set for geography teachers.
“Rob is energetic and creative and possesses a passion for geography that exceeds the job description of a typical geography teacher,” she said. “He goes above and beyond the prescribed curriculum and regularly engages his students in robust fieldwork, scientific studies and ever-changing geo-technologies; as well, he is the GIS go-to for Manitoba teachers.”
Founded in 1929, the RCGS educates Canadians and the world about Canada by promoting the country’s natural, cultural and social heritage. The organization works under the patronage of the Governor General.