Friday, May 23, 2008

Using GIS in the Science classroom

Spatial Worlds website
Brisbane, Australia: S: 27º 29' E: 153º 08'
Left image: Science teachers at the GIS and Science workshop at Brisbane Boys College on May 23rd, 2008.
Right image: The Patawolonga outlet at Glenelg, Adelaide.

Putting the 'S' into Science!
This weekend I had the pleasure of conducting a workshop for Brisbane Science teachers at Brisbane Boys College on behalf of the Queensland Department of Natural Resources and Water. Mary Rowland, the President of Queensland Science Teacher's Association and Enterprise Education Education Officer was the workshop organiser and is keen to have GIS used in science classrooms in Queensland. The teachers at the workshop went through the GIS skill development process with a special focus on the application of GIS to Science topics. We heavily relied on the Arc Australia GeoScience data and the CityGreen program to explore topics such as earthquakes, geology, carbon seqestration, water quality, aquifers, microclimates, mineral resources, revegetation and much more. Mary in particular was interested in how GIS could be employed in schools for the Department of Natural Resources and Water's Waterwise Program.
As the workshop progressed it beacame evident that GIS is a wonderful tool to use in the Science classroom and is also the tool of the scientist in the 21st Century.
Here is some of the information from the days and some great websites to use when exploring the area of GIS in Science teaching.
1.Oresome Resources: Some excellent geological resources are to be found at
2. The Department of Natural Resources and Water have developed a GIS application relating to ecosystem monitoring. Go to to view the resource.
3. Geoscience data: In the workshop the fantastic Geoscience Australia data of rock types, aquifers, mineral resources, earthquakes, bathymetry etc was profiled and used extensively. To find out about the data and how to get a copy go to : and for the information on the resource.
4. The IrfanView resource is a very useful free image edit program. The program can be used in particular to batch convert image files and crop exported images for GIS. Go to to download this free software.
4. A great resource for free data from the Internet is found at
5. The need for file format translation (such as MapInfo to Shapefiles as for the data above) is always an issue when accessing data from the Internet. The following links provide some options for the translation of one GIS format into the one required. They are: and
6. The skills developed during the workshop related to the GIS skills development process I have developed to get teachers started using GIS in their classroom. Go to if you want to read about this process.
7. The American Forests CityGreen program was profiled as a way to go for Science teachers. Go to to read about this amazing program which promotes fieldwork and high level environmental analysis of vegetation and energy use when using GIS.
8. I feel that much work should and could be done to use GIS in Science teaching. Just like the case with the use of GIS by geographers in the workforce, GIS is increasingly being used by scientist as an aid to their work. To this end I have produced the GIS in Science resource which is being used in schools around Australia. Go to (called Physical GIS under the TECHGEOG label) to view an article on the resource. Several other useful GIS in Science orientated sites/resources are:
* Wisconsin Department of Natural Science at
* Pathfinder Science site by Dr Tom Baker at
* Australian Science orientated GIS projects for:
# Water quality mapping
# Revegetation project
# Pest plant diffusion
9 .Go to ESRI lessons at to view science based GIS lessons.
10. The blog at is a useful resource for science teachers to explore the use of GIS technology in their classroom.

The days were a great opportunity to meet Science teachers in Queensland and to discuss the use of GIS in Science. Thanks to Mary Rowland and Peta Jackson from Education Queensland for organising the workshops and enabling me to travel to Brisbane for the activity.

Tuesday, May 6, 2008

AGTA 100 meeting in Melbourne

Spatial Worlds website
Melbourne, Australia: S: 37º 47' E: 144º 58'
Left image: The AGTA Board hard at work in Melbourne.
Right image: Nick Hutchinson, AGTA President cuts the AGTA 100th Birthday cake.

The Australian Geography Teachers Association (AGTA) conducted its 100th meeting of the Board in Melbourne on the weekend of May 3rd and 4th. The meeting involved GTA delegates from all the states and as always was a truly representative meeting of Geographers from around Australia.

For those not aware, AGTA is a body which seeks to:
• foster the teaching and learning of geography in Australian schools and enhance awareness of its applications in society
• promote and circulate the results of research into geography education
• maintain a professional network through which teachers of geography in Australia may express opinions on educational matters
• represent the interests of its member affiliates on national education decision making bodies.

In 2008 AGTA has a combined membership of 1721, which encompasses teachers and professionals who are members of affiliate Geography Teachers' Associations (GTA's) in New South Wales(476), Victoria(595), Queensland(228), Western Australia(250), South Australia(160) and Tasmania(12).
In this day of national curriculum discussions it is imperative that a body such as AGTA is in existence and most importantly healthy and active. As usual the meeting in Melbourne was full of information and pro-active plans to promote geography in Australia. Here are just some of the meetings discussions and actions:

1. An Australian Geography careers website has been developed by AGTA. Rob Berry, the web manager of the AGTA website has done a great job in putting together the Geocareers website at The site is a very ‘user friendly’ and useful site for learning about geographical careers. The Geocareers website contains resources links and case studies of young people who have done geography at school and see a link between what they learnt in geography and what they do in their job. A great site to pass on to the career counsellor/s and subject/career selection personnel in your school

2. AGTA Board members have represented Australian geography teachers on a range of national bodies since the last meeting of the Board (meets twice a year). AGTA is a member of the Australian Federation of Societies for the Studies of Society and Environment (AFSSSE at ), the Institute of Australian Geographers (IAG at ) the National Education Forum (NEF at and the Spatial Science Institute’s Spatial Education Advisory Committee (SEAC at

3. In September 2008 AGTA is conducting its bi-annual conference in Queensland on the Sunshine Coast. The conference planning by the co-convenors, Rebecca Nicholas and David Lergessner is well underway and an exciting program has been developed for the week commencing September 29th. For information on the conference go to

4. A new publication titled ‘Keys to Fieldwork’ is presently being produced by AGTA. The book is being edited and written by members of the AGTA Board and is to be published by MacMillan. The book looks to be a great enabler of the fieldwork component in the teaching of geography in Australia and is due for release in October.

5. AGTA is working towards developing a strategic plan for the promotion of geography in Australian schools (and hopefully the community). AGTA is working with marketing professionals to develop a strategic plan to increase the profile and community awareness of what geography in the 21st Century involves. Hopefully such marketing of the ‘geography brand’ will aid the penetration of geography as a dynamic and critical subject area in the new national curriculum.

6. The National Geographic Channel Australian Geography Competition ( was again conducted by the Queensland Royal Geography Association with the collaborative support of AGTA. The competition continues to grow and gain status in the Australian education scene. In 2008, 89,645 students from 819 schools participated in the competition. The winners for the 2008 competition will receive their awards in Sydney on June 16th.

7. Beijing Olympics materials: AGTA is presently producing resources in conjunction with the UK Geography Association to support the teaching of the geographical perspectives of the Beijing Olympics. These materials build on the successful AGTA Olympics kit which was developed for the Athens Olympics in 2004.

8. Each of the States reported on their happenings and initiatives. A lot seems to be going on in geography teaching in Australia. If interested go to to read the delegates reports in AGTA’s ‘Geographia’ publication.

9. AGTA’s annual journal titled ‘Geographic Education’ has recently be distributed nationally and internationally. The publication continues to receive good academic and school based feedback. A theme is presently being discussed for the 2008 publication. Go to if you are interested in subscribing – all AGTA affiliates receive a copy of the publication.

10. AGTA is involved as a partner in the Australian Research Council Linkages grant program to develop standards for geography teaching. The project involves video recording classroom teachers at work across Australia and for panels to view the videos and develop standards for teaching school geography. Volunteer teachers are presently being taped and panels established to carry out the process. AGTA considers such research will provide a rich resource and delineated standards for the advancement of geography teaching in schools in Australia. Contact Jeana Kriewaldt at if you require more information on this project.

11. Significant discussions were conducted at the meeting in regards to the national curriculum and the place of geography. Most importantly there was discussion on what geography should look like when established as a subject in the national curriculum. Several delegates considered there is a need for members of the AGTA Board (and thus the states) to have considered discussions on what skills, knowledge and approaches should be advocated by AGTA as a united voice. Although the recent Erebus report (go to to read the report) delineates many of these points, there is a need to distil what the report found in a considered manner to reach some form of consensus on AGTA as to the preferred geography model for schools.

As usual a very important meeting for geography teaching in Australian schools to ensure that the states are united in progressing the need for the teaching of geography in classrooms across Australia.