Mason’s World Ball Project Works to Increase Geography Literacy

Posted: August 1, 2007 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

Coach Jim Larranaga, Allan Falconer and campers
Men’s basketball coach Jim Larranaga and Geography Department Chair Allan Falconer decided to mix geography and sports using the Mason World Ball.
Photo by John Aronson

By Tara Laskowski

When Geography Department Chair Allan Falconer heard that Mason men’s basketball coach Jim Larranaga gave his summer camp kids geography quizzes, Falconer thought: how could we mix geography facts and trivia with basketball and help increase kids’ interest in the world?

Together with Coach Larranaga, Falconer developed the idea for the World Ball — an NCAA-regulation basketball that is also a globe providing a correct scale representation of the location and areas of the continents. This summer, lucky campers at Jim Larranaga’s Boys Basketball Camp, which ends this week, were among the first to get their hands on Mason’s World Ball.

Asking questions such as, “Which continent has the most countries?” or “How many states begin with the letter ‘M’?” Larranaga teaches his campers not only how to improve their basketball game, but also how to improve their minds.

“I believe that the word ‘student–athlete’ is important. You have to be a student first,” says Larranaga. “This is a fun tool to help kids realize that geography is important, that education comes first.”

Mason partnered with the National Geographic Society and geographic information system (GIS) software company ESRI to ensure the ball is both an accurately scaled globe and an official NCAA basketball.

“I thought it was a fantastic idea that had much potential,” says Falconer. “The World Ball can not only help to increase geography literacy, but also create a lifetime link between sports and education.”

camper spinning basketball
He’s got the world at his fingertips: a youngster in Larranaga’s summer basketball camp tries out some moves with the World Ball.
Photo by Evan Cantwell

“We’ve gotten such a tremendous response from the quizzes that I hope physical education and social studies teachers in elementary and middle schools can do this kind of program in their own schools,” says Larranaga.

In 2006, National Geographic released a survey highlighting the extent of the nation’s geographic illiteracy. According to the survey, 63 percent of Americans aged 18 to 24 failed to correctly locate Iraq on a map of the Middle East, despite nearly constant news coverage since the Iraq war began in 2003.

Falconer hopes to draw attention to the importance of geography in our technology-driven society. Over the last five years, enrollment in the undergraduate geography degree program at Mason has increased by 50 percent and in the master’s degree program by 35 percent. The Department of Geography has also added several new key faculty members and recently brought Nigel Waters, who has more than 30 years of experience and research relating to GIS, on board as the new director for its GIS Center of Excellence.

“With the increased use of geographic information systems technology and global positioning systems, students are finding that studying geography leads to an interesting future where career opportunities are rapidly increasing,” says Falconer. “Geography is not just about reading maps — geography students are now being hired in the government sector, engineering firms, nonprofit organizations and science fields.”

For more information about the World Ball, call Jennifer Maloney at 703-993-1210 or e-mail

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