Category Archives: spatial thinking

spatial thinking in movies

As they say, blending architecture and film. When I saw an issue it included diagrams and analysis of people’s movements too.  The Interiors Journal.  An outlet for directors and cinematographers, thinking in space.

spatial AND geographic – moving the space shuttle Endeavor

While listening to this story on the radio this morning, I was struck by how much spatial and geographic planning was involved in this effort.  A great example of how such thinking is part of some people’s everyday jobs.

NPR story on moving the space shuttle Endeavor from LAX to its new home at the California Science Center, a 12 mile journey. 

Connecting spatial thinking and clever thinking – big ideas need space

It’s hard to be creative without some space to explore your ideas, literally or at least figuratively.  Metaphorically too. Why is it so hard to make this happen in our lives, consistently and in a celebrated manner?

H/t to GreatMap, one of my favorite blogs, ever.

How would you define spatial literacy?

I’m always curious about course descriptions whose titles have “spatial literacy” in them, including this one called Introduction to Spatial Literacy and Online Mapping, offered by the Reference and user Services Association, part of the American Library Association.  I’m not sure what their descriptions of “geographic literacy” are, but it seems to be GIS and mapping-focused.

I’ve worked hard on a working definition of spatial literacy that isn’t only geographically-focused.  Spatial literacy is the competent and confident use of maps, mapping, and spatial thinking to address ideas, situations, and problems within daily life, society, and the world around us.

Why is this definition robust enough for me? Because “maps” don’t have to be geographical ones. Concept mapping is hugely spatial, or generating any arrangement of information.

and what’s spatial thinking?

Spatial thinking is the ability to visualize and interpret location, distance, direction, relationships, change, and movement over space. 

Location is absolute and relative, discrete and continuous, metric and abstract. It can be fixed – like our perception of where a monument is located – or floating – like where a cloud lies in the sky at a given moment. It can be geographic – where the line of forest meets a field – or spatially conceptual – where a stack of blocks sits on a computer screen.

spatial vs. geography, in so many words

The differences between “spatial” and “geography” are interesting to me, and not trivial, usually. I’ve definitely noticed the expansion of the use of the word “spatial” overall. When it was part of my dissertation title in 1996, I know it wasn’t nearly as wide-spread as it is now. Here’s a graph that the Spatial Information Management blog created for spatial vs. geographic terms in books, an Ngram. Interesting, for sure. I recreated it for American English (1800-2008) and British English (1800-2008).  Not sure why just “English” has a downturn starting at the year 2000.

Capitalizing the words makes a big difference (here’s British English for Spatial and Geography), so does that mean that titles are involved?  I also like the spikes for the early 20th century American English, when academic Geography in the US was at its peak too.

One project (for my next pocket of spare time, hah) is to scan the titles and abstracts of journal articles from many disciplines over the last 150+ years and see when this “spatial turn” really began, in an academic sense.

Considering Spatial Citizenship

I’ve just completed Day 1 of a SPACIT meeting, the semi-annual gathering of partners working on this Comenius funded project. Very interesting ideas coupled with very ambitious plans! Combining GIS&T, geography, philosophy, politics, the act of “participating” – or engagement, pedagogy and teacher professional development, communication, and other technology, especially via geomedia. Here’s a recent paper, GI and Spatial Citizenship (pdf) authored by 3 of the lead partners, Inga Gryl, Thomas Jekel, and Karl Donert.

I’m contributing on behalf of NCGE, and I have much to learn from these discussions. And did I mention we’ve gathered in Salzburg, Austria, at the university where the GI Forum and AGIT is about to happen?  Geo everywhere.

using Google Maps for non-geographic representations

I just finished teaching our annual Short Spring Spatial workshops, and as usual, I had a blast updating my list of “web mapping” applications and projects. One of the categories of “maps” that continue to fascinate me are those that leverage the Google Maps API for innovative and non-conventional “spatial” thinking.  What I value here is the clever outcome that these developers don’t need to spend time/money creating a “new” platform for navigation, when the Google navigational functionality (expressed via their iconic pan and zoom icons) is all we need.

Previously I’ve known about Google’s Art Project, where you can explore the (indoor) collections of many museums around the world (click Museum View and Floor Plan to put yourself indoors) .  They’ve definitely expanded their museum coverage since last year.  I do find it curious that they’ve bothered to keep the compass functionality (which you can suppress). Perhaps someone might really want to consider whether there are patterns to the type of artwork on southern walls across different museums?  Many art museums don’t go out of their way to have large windows because they’re limiting the amount of sunlight that fades paintings.  We could systematically go through these museums and evaluate this? Maybe a project for someone’s rainy day (but not mine…).

Unfortunately, another very creative Google project using their Maps API, one that allowed you to explore fractals, is now untethered and not kept up. It was a lovely one.  And didn’t have the compass built in!

This year I have found a number of medically-oriented sites, all new to me.  These include the Zygote Body (only works with my Chrome browser), the Genome Projector, the Virtual Microscope, Brain Connectivity, and the KESM Brain Atlas (tiny mice brains).  Most of these are obviously targeted towards a particular audience for specific educational objectives, but I particularly love playing with the Zygote Body site! Clever use of overlay that’s both “horizontal” and “vertical” through the layers.  My biology-studying children found it fascinating too.  No north in these sites!

One of these days I need to teach myself how to use the API so I can have some fun. My first project will be to create Dante’s Nine Circles of Hell, Seven Terraces of Purgatory, and Nine Spheres of Paradise.  Seriously.  It’ll be a great spatial humanities project on my next rainy day.

h/t to GoogleMapsMania for many of these.

Don’t know your way around town? Drive less, wander more.

Should we be surprised that kids who get driven everywhere don’t know where they are?  And by the time they’re drivers themselves, their Google goggles will tell them when to turn left and where the post office is.  Or maybe a little voice in their ear, from their implanted device.  Sigh.

I like the way my teenage son has learned his way around town from his cross country and track team running.  So it’s not from wandering on his own, but often we’ll be out somewhere and he’ll recognize where we are (and know how many miles it is from there back to the high school).

h/t to Geography Education.

California Geographic Alliance, spatial reasoning article, new website

The California Geographic Alliance (CGA) has released its April newsletter, and in it I wrote an item about spatial reasoning.  CGA has been active on Facebook too.  Their old website still has other resources up, as they transition to the new one.  Geographic Alliances are organizations that exist in every state, though some are more actives than others.  Originally launched by National Geography and still strongly associated with them, they’re frequently a great source of professional development for geography teachers.  So is our online program in spatial literacy at the University of Redlands!

marvelous French human kaleidoscope patterns

I *love* kaleidoscopes. I remember spending hours lying on my back and twisting them over my head, towards a sunny window.  Here is an awesome “human” version, done by some clever French folks, definitely thinking spatially!  I’d not have called it an arabesque, thinking only of the ballet position, but seems the word is much broader in its design sense.  Learn something new every day!

Un, deux, trois, quatre, cinq, six, sept, huit.

h/t to Geography Education.