Turley puts name on state map with prestigious geography award

Chris Turley has mapped out successful learning routes for Lincoln High students with his love of geography.
He received a major award in early November for pointing students in the right direction in all of his classes.
Geographic Educators of Nebraska (GEON) members presented Turley with the Gildersleeve, Stoddard, Stone Award on Nov. 4. Turley was recognized during the organization’s annual conference in Omaha. He was the only recipient from the First Congressional District of Nebraska.
Turley said it was humbling to know other teachers and professors had chosen him for the award. He was grateful for their support of his geography interests.
“I was honored to receive the award,” Turley said. “It always feels good to be recognized, especially by a group like GEON, which is filled with so many people who are passionate about improving geographic education. I know there are many well-deserving geography educators.”
Jaci Kellison works with Turley as the school district’s K-12 social studies curriculum specialist. She said Turley has helped students successfully transition from middle school to high school with his classroom knowledge. He has also had a difference-making impact outside Lincoln High’s walls.
“Chris is an invaluable member of the LHS social studies department and larger social studies community in the district,” Kellison said. “He has expanded access to ninth-grade AP human geography for students at LHS by providing the necessary supports students need to be successful in their first college-level course. He is also a leader in the district on matters related to geography curriculum, instruction and assessment.”

GEON leaders recognize one person from each of Nebraska’s three Congressional districts each year. Recipients have promoted and improved geography education in Nebraska through teaching, research, professional development and field inquiries. Educators from across the state honor them at a conference called GeoFest Nebraska.
Harris Payne is GEON chairman and served as director of social studies at the Nebraska Department of Education from 2012-20. He and Turley work together as fellow members of the GEON Board of Directors. He has been impressed with Turley’s enthusiasm for his trade.
“Mr. Turley is an excellent teacher,” Payne said in his nomination letter. “He cares deeply about all his students and works to improve his craft by attending professional development.”
Turley graduated from Millard West High School in 2009 and attended college at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. He earned a degree in secondary education and endorsements in social sciences and coaching in May 2013. He collected practicum experiences at Lux and Irving middle schools before completing his student-teaching assignment at Lincoln Southwest.
Turley was a substitute teacher in Lincoln, Elkhorn and Gretna after receiving his degree. He joined Lincoln High’s social studies department in 2014 and began teaching world geography and psychology. He has also led courses in human geography, civics and United States history at the school and has been a freshman boys basketball coach.

“Teaching social studies at Lincoln High School is an amazing experience,” Turley said. “The students provide excitement to the classroom and I am honored to be able to teach them.”

Payne said one example of Turley’s dedication was this past summer at the GEON Geography of the City workshop. He created a unique online interactive story map after speaking with residents across the city. Payne said the project highlighted Turley’s ability to master geographic content and explain it in clear and relatable fashion.
“His story map highlighted the unique experiences of immigrant communities in Lincoln, Neb.,” Payne said. “Many of the children from these communities attend his high school.”
Kellison said Turley’s students are collecting valuable skills in his geography courses. In addition to learning about places ranging from the Arctic tundra to the Zambezi River, they are also discovering how human communities and cultures interact with each other and the natural world.
“Geography helps provide context for students to fully understand the human story,” Kellison said. “Geography is not just about memorizing the location of countries or landforms. It sparks curiosity as students seek patterns and connections between people and places across the globe and make sense of their particular place in it.”
Turley agreed with Kellison’s assessment.
“Geography is where it is at!” Turley said. “Geography can explain the current world that we live in, as it incorporates all the other social studies subjects but emphasizes the spatial connection of the world. I challenge my students to find a topic that we talk about that does not connect to their lives, and it is almost impossible in human geography. Geography is a great way to learn about the similarities, differences and connections of people around the world.”
Turley said he has enjoyed helping LPS students put their names on the school district’s geography education map.
“Social studies classes provide so many real-life connections for students, and for many students it allows them to find an interest in what they are learning in school to understand why the world they live in functions as it does. Students can use their own backgrounds as well as their peers’ backgrounds to learn about the world.”
Do you have a story idea? Share it with the LPS Communications Team by filling out this form!

Published: December 1, 2023, Updated: December 1, 2023

Chris Turley smiles during one of his social studies classes at Lincoln High. Turley received an award from the Geographic Educators of Nebraska for his dedication to helping students. He has taught at Lincoln High since 2014.