Category Archives: 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!

cool visualization for scale, size and distance

For scanning spatial scales from atomic to astronomical, check out this new Magnifying the Universe. The scrolling exponential bar in the lower right is helpful too.

h/t to Neatorama, where I always find good things.

using memory and imagery to get kids to think about “place”

The last assignment for my EDUC 616 students has been to create their own “When I Was 10” maps.  I always use that age based on the the ideas about the geographies of childhood, inspired by the guidance of Edith Cobb (The Ecology of Imagination in Childhood) and Gary Nabhan and Stephen Trimble (The Geography of Childhood / Why Children Need Wild Places).  Basically, the age around 5th grade, more or less.

My students are making digital or paper versions of their maps.  They’ll likely all use planar perspectives, though in other versions of this assignment I’ve stipulated that students *must* include elements drawn from additional (oblique, frontal) perspectives as well.  Here’s a simple one on Flickr where the mapmaker used transparent areas to indicate location, then annotated.

In the digital world, we can jump down to street view for an immediate frontal perspective.  Here’s a website for a childhood walk that had the idea for narrated descriptions of such places.  Esri is promoting the idea of “story maps too;” their ideas here can readily adapted for youth-oriented projects.

Happy to have stumbled across GIS Stack Exchange

New to me: GIS Stack Exchange. A great site for questions, answers, and thoughtful discussions!

spatial thinking making its way into popular media

Slowly but surely, the ideas and understanding about spatial thinking (cognition, intelligence, abilities, skills, literacy, habits of mind, etc.;  You name it, it’s relevant and connected) are making their way out of the academic file cabinets and into circles of more common knowledge.  Earlier this week a colleague of mine from Esri (Tom Baker, @trbaker) forwarded this around, a Psychology Today article about our undervaluing of spatial intelligence.   It was written by Jonathan Wai (@JonathanLWai), a psychologist whose work I first became familiar with through a National Science Board publication (2010) on Preparing the Next Generation of STEM Innovators.

These documents identify the need to seek out under-recognized spatial talent in order to avoid missing the top fraction of those who would otherwise excel. But I firmly believe that it’s an overlooked component of all education, for all students.

TeachSpatial site revised with new content

The original site has been updated with new resources and ideas for teaching content that has a spatial focus.  In particular, check out the spatial filter for the National Science Digital Library (NSDL) resource content and the (US, K-12) standards browser.

Only over an open bottle might one want to start debating what’s a spatial “concept” and what’s not…

Nice work, Karl.

Framing geo-literacy research

For the last few days I’ve been in DC, participating in the National Geographic’s Road Map to GeoLiteracy Project.   What’s geo-literacy?  Here’s how my colleague Danny Edelson defines it – understanding how the world works, how the world is connected, and how to make reasoned decisions.  He has ambitious goals, to have a large proportion of young people develop geo-literacy competencies by 2025.

Towards these efforts, I participate as a member of the Road Map’s Education Research Group. We’ve been designing the framework for organizing our research agenda questions, likely to be grouped around our abilities to formulate geographic questions, analyze spatial variability, and construct and share accounts  of our interpretations.  We do these things as we understand our world in spatial terms.  Focusing on a K-12 project is new for me, and only infrequently do I come into contact with geography’s well-crafted National Standards.   However, our agenda reaches into higher education as well, especially as teacher preparation is concerned, and this is all highly relevant and significant for our Spatial Literacy for Educator’s program.


finding and learning through patterns

One way that spatial literacy is cultivated is the habit of observing (noting, identifying, recognizing) patterns.  Once that starts happening, they become your frames of reference.  They’re images that your mind draws upon as it makes inferences and organizes information.  Pattern, process, pattern, process.

Most geographers I know chose window seats in airplanes, even the geographers with long legs or small bladders.  Then Google Earth (and its fellow virtual globes) brought the visual exploratory experience to our desktops.  If you find yourself stuck with neither the internet nor an airplane, I highly recommend Bernhard Edmaier’s Patterns of the Earth, and Philip Ball’s Branches and Flow and Shapes. I also like to look through Gregory Dicum’s Window Seat, but I’ve never really used it while I’m flying.  I guess you could build a virtual globe lesson with it too.

Speaking of virtual globe lessons, check out Scott Wilkerson’s DELUGE project, one of the best collections of geologically-focused kml files I’ve ever come across.  He did a brilliant job of gathering and georeferencing topo maps to support 3D- and spatially-based learning.

Anyone know of other such books and resources?

new Spatial Literacy classes to be offered online

The University of Redlands intends to offer its new courses in spatial literacy for educators (pdf) online, maybe as early as September 2011!   We’re very excited about this program, one that we launched in 2010.   Contact me if you want to learn more about the program or its individual classes, or how to sign up!

spatial cognition presentation

Today I gave an overview of spatial cognition research to undergrads from Psi Chi and others from the university community.  A basic summary of findings from studies of spatial abilities, focusing on mental rotation (because I like Tetris so much), embedded figures, and the like.  Much of which I’ve learned myself over the last few years of interacting with the folks from SILC and diving into new areas of spatial research.

I talked about the role of egocentric and allocentric perspectives on You Are Here maps.  Navigation made the list too.  Like the ways in which GPS usage affects brain activity.

We discussed a bit about spatial language, such as our tendency to associate “north” with the notion of up, and a place more difficult to access, and “south” with down, and easy. And the rare languages within the rare cultures of the world that maintain a geocentric grounding, so you can say, “Hand me the cup that’s sitting on the west side of the table” and everyone around you would know which one you meant. The NY Times had a good story on this a while back.

We aren’t doing any traditional psychology research on spatial abilities at Redlands. Rather we focus largely in the area of spatial relations, as described by Golledge and Stimson a while back.  Spatial relations = abilities to recognize spatial distributions and spatial patterns, to connect locations, to associate and correlate spatially distributed phenomena, to comprehend and use spatial hierarchies, to regionalize, to orientate to real-world frames of reference, to imagine maps from verbal descriptions, to sketch maps, to compare maps, and to overlay and dissolve maps. That’s more of what we do here.

So much to learn, so little time.