Category Archives: geography

the NYT and its geography lessons

A great idea for a newspaper, to direct readers to educational activities that link to their own content.  The New York Times just published ideas for teaching geography, with relevant connections to the new national standards in both geography and English & language arts.  Guess this has been going on for a while!  Here are links to geography lessons published at the end of each school year, from 2010 and 2011.

What’s the value of geographic memorization? Practiced and applied, towards geoliteracy.

In my online Foundations of Spatial Thinking class, we’ve been discussing the relative merits of having students memorize places and locations. The 50 States, their capitals, countries around the world and their capital cities too. For me this type of “place name geography” is necessary but not sufficient. Yes, we should be expected to know these attributes of our own country, and (at least the general) global locations. We should begin to memorize them early, in elementary school, just the same way that by 3rd and 4th grade we are memorizing our multiplication tables, how to spell difficult words (handkerchief, neighborhood, independent, committee), and distinguishing among words commonly confused (their/there/they’re; its/it’s).

Mastering these basics are the building blocks for later “literacy” – in math, in writing, and in geographic thinking. The trick is that with our times tables and with spelling, we have countless opportunities to continue to practice and apply these basics, year after year. If we mistakenly calculate the product of 8×7, for example, we will reach the wrong solution in a math equation or hand somebody the wrong amount of change from a cash register, and we’ll be reminded of our error. When we misspell “disseminate” now, our computers will remind us by underlining the word with a squiggly red line.

But there are precious few opportunities to practice and apply the geographic knowledge that we manage to accrue during our early years. And if we never practice recalling and applying those “facts” again, they will, eventually, or even immediately, just slip from our mind, like all the other scraps of minutiae that our formal education presents us with. So isn’t it really part of a much bigger problem, really, that many later forget which one is Iraq and which one is Iran?

There are no “map” checkers built in to our computer programs.  Copy editors are paid to check for careless mistakes before written material goes to press, but there are no such skilled people employed by many media outlets. Mistakes are common (CNN and Fox both make fairly regular errors), and usually more amusing and inconvenient than damaging.  Of course it’s Apple’s maps that are the topic du jour.

So, memorization is necessary but not sufficient. Our geography education should not neglect this process, but it should also and then expect teachers, and students, to master this step and move beyond it to the applied knowledge part. Asking, understanding, and answering questions about our human and environmental interactions, without having to spend precious hours returning to the basics.

One more note on memorizing our States. Peter Gould and Rodney White, in their studies of our mental maps, found that some States are more difficult to learn than others. Shown below are the ones more likely to be confused, at least by college students in Pennsylvania in the early 1970s. Maybe these are the ones for which we just need to practice more. Just like to, two, and too.

an idea worth supporting: an innovative, well-designed, and community-sourced Food Atlas

New to me: the current project being undertaken by “guerrilla cartographers” to create a food atlas. I love the premise, I love the process, and I know I’ll like the product. Go mappers!

this is what a living bridge looks like

A video describing the design, creation, and maintenance of “living” bridges in India.   True geodesign in action.  Marvelous.

h/t to Geography Education.

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. 

Naming streets, counting citizens, and mapping facilities = Empowered improvements

A NYT story about students from Harvard documenting locations and types of toilets available in a Mumbai slum.

“The act of naming streets, counting citizens and mapping facilities turns information into an advocacy tool.”

But what was unexpected, that using toilets lowered some rates of sickness, or that even the poorest of people would pay 2-3 cents to enjoy a cleaner site?

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.

new discovery: Jerry’s map, all 50 years and 2500 plates

I’m sorry I can’t find the first link that directed me to this, but today I took a look at a site I’d tagged to revisit, Jerry’s Map.  I’m loving it. Only map-making, geodesign-inspired, cartographically-motivated, color-exhilarated people might watch all 10+ minutes of his story, on video. Me?  I’m going to watch it again.

I love how he lets the cards direct his movements, and how he’s realized how the combinations from non-adjacent tiles are just as beautiful as art, and how he manages to find his balance between following spatially-autocorrelated rules and taking artistic liberties.

Matt and his dancing antics, back again

These videos  of Matt dancing around the world, in 20052006 and especially the 2008 one, have made me smile, laugh, and yearn to hold on to that sense of feeling at one with humanity. The imagery, the music from the 2008 one, the  vicarious and jealous thrill I felt at someone having the carefree opportunity to visit such places. If we only saw 2 or 3 seconds of a trip to a country, surely there were more than 2 or 3 days that we didn’t?

The 2012 version is now out, and I’m enjoying it as much as the rest.

I learned from Neatorama about the mini-history that Ethan Zuckerman had written for Matt’s videos. Intriguing was the story of the 2008 score which I’ve always adored. I shall purchase a (legal) copy of it, once my sleeping teenagers and their friends vacate the family room and allow me access to the computer with its master music library.