Saturday, December 26, 2009

To be contestable or not contestable?

Picture descriptions:
Left image: Image from the December 23rd Port Lincoln bushfires.
Right image: The city of Port Lincoln, South Australia.

Related sites to the Spatialworlds project
Spatialworlds website
21st Century Geography Google Group
Australian Geography Teachers' Association website
'Towards a National Geography Curriculum' project website
Geography Teachers' Association of South Australia website
Email contact

Where am I??
Port Lincoln, South Australia: S: 34º 42' E: 135º 52'

To be contestable or not contestable?
Many in the community consider that the study of geography is a nice ‘safe’ and established body of knowledge to learn and know. For those teaching geography nothing could be further from the truth! Geography is a dynamic and more often than not contestable study. Such contestability of geography is at the core of what the discipline of geography has become for many practitioners. Before going further let’s clarify what we mean by contestability. Any topic or study is considered to be contestable when there are clearly a range of views and/or interpretations. Such views and/or interpretations can create a degree of dispute and tension requiring discussion and maybe resolution. Inevitability this contest can involve values and beliefs and end in some form of political stance by those discussing or attempting to resolve. In modern geography there is rarely a topic to be studied that does not involve some degree of contestability. In fact to enliven and make relevant any geographical study, teachers have the opportunity to draw out the contestable nature of the topic. Such contestability can be drawn out by the posing of questions and/or developing some form of problem solving within the inquiry methodology often used by teachers. Whether talking about climate change, inselberg development, population limits, urban design, energy options for the future or industrial location, the student of geography is presented with options and viewpoints to deconstruct and analyse.
As Robert Butler says in his article, ‘Geography is the new history’; “….it is getting harder and harder in conversation to raise one or other of the most basic subjects in geography – agriculture, glaciation, rivers and population – without a flicker of panic crossing the other person’s face. You are no longer talking about a neutral subject.”

The degree of contestability in geographical matters was particularly highlighted to me this week when in Port Lincoln. By chance we arrived on the day of some devastating bushfires on the outskirts of Port Lincoln which saw 13 houses and much property lost and damaged. The reporting was initially on the extent, ferocity and cause of the fires but then moved onto contentious and contestable issues such as:
* The disaster response planning was inadequate.
* People had not responded to requests for clearing prior to the fire.
* The greenies are at fault with their vegetation conservation measures.
* The government has pandered to the greenies by not allowing clearing under vegetation clearance laws.
* People should not be allowed to build in bushfire prone areas.
* People did not evacuate when requested.
* Bushfires in eucalypt bush are desirous and property damage is just one of the consequences for those foolhardy enough to build in the bush.
During the week the reporting and discussion focused on these very geographical issues and resulted in a very lively and at times enlightened debate (other times not quite so enlightened in terms of an understanding of native vegetation, vegetation clearance laws, town planning and disaster response). All interesting fodder for a class study of the Port Lincoln bushfires beyond the happening itself.

In his article, Butler also made the observation that geography is becoming increasingly topical and relevant to the general community by the fact that it is often the source of the lead items on the news (heatwaves, bushfires, natural disasters, cyclones, earth summits) rather than just the footnote as part of the weather forecast at the end of the news. Butler predicts that the study of geography in the future will be the core news item since the geography of the environment will determine the future of humanity rather than the day to day political happenings in society.
To create an informed citizenry it is imperative that the subject of geography does more than just impart knowledge of the world and associated processes. The study of geography needs to be presented within a framework of contestability. The skills of discussion, problem solving and policy development are as relevant to the classroom as to society in general. The young citizens we teach have a wonderful opportunity through the study of geography to synthesise and analyse the issues and questions facing society and societies in the future.
Geography is not, and nor should it be a ‘safe’ subject for ‘polite’ discussion. The study of geographical topics/phenomena needs to be framed and presented to students as contestable, based on sound geographical knowledge, understanding and skills. The teaching of geography is a subject in the school curriculum capable and beholden to go that extra distance with students. The contestable nature of geography makes it one of the most dynamic, creative, relevant and engaging of all subjects (but I am biased!).

Monday, November 23, 2009

No theme to this post, just some sites to play with!

Picture descriptions:
Images: Spatial technology everywhere when flying. Thank goodness!!

Related sites to the Spatialworlds project
Spatialworlds website
21st Century Geography Google Group
Australian Geography Teachers' Association website
'Towards a National Geography Curriculum' project website
Geography Teachers' Association of South Australia website
Email contact

Where am I??
Adelaide, Australia: S: 34º 55' E: 138º 36'

No theme to this post, just some sites to play with!

1. The Geographers Craft website
Some excellent teaching materials on GIS and the Geographers Craft from the University of Colorado. Some good information and notes for students on GIS applications and general modern day geographical skills.
The site is called the Geographer Craft and is at:
The section of the site relevant to GIS is:

2. The Mappery site is an inter-active map contribution site of real life maps. This site allows you to explore thousands of real life maps from around the world.
• tourism maps
• ski trail maps
• park maps
• college maps
• subway maps
• world maps
Also maps by country are avalialable and you can sign up for your own "map room" featuring maps and comments you add to the site.Great for a classroom activity and collecting map resources.

3. The future in spatial technologies in phones - GIS in action. Just imagine if students could develop maps from phones for various field trips etc.

4. Some amusing little Geography things from Youtube. Why not make it entertaining?

5. Have you registered on ‘My Wonderful World’ website yet to access great information and activities to promote spatial awareness?

6. Is this healthy? A young geography genius on Youtube!

7. Amazing collection of Google Earth images can be found at and

8. Not spatial but lets be a little green!

9. Some great GIS materials done by the Eastern Cape Dept of Land Affairs in South Africa. A ready made GIS course.

10. A website for geography teachers called GeoTube

11. A great site for video resources etc on geography from David Rayner in the UK.
Go to David’s sites at have a look:

12. This is a great geography relevant site that does a “mash up” of google earth maps and flickr images.

13. Satellite tracking site It apparently updates every 30 seconds and shows the path of each satellite etc. The site provides an enormous amount of real time data on the satellite and its path.

14.The use of spatial technology in newsroom communications Reuters AlertNet site: Alerting humanitarians to emergencies. It includes an interactive mapping tool (fed from MS Virtual Earth) and viewable by conflicts, storms, food security, health etc.

15. It is worth looking at the exciting materials and buzz on the ‘Geography Teaching Today’ website in the UK. The sections on resources for Early years and Primary, Middle and Senior are particularly useful.

16. The TED Talks website is a great source for little snippets on ideas and technology. Really worth a look to see what is posted. In particular the talks on mapping New York pre-settlement, Al Gore on climate change, the 1918 Flu The orb, data visualisation , tools for a better world and global issues much more.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Geographers, the locational sleuths

Picture descriptions:
Images: Data rich locations -just different intelligence required!

Related sites to the Spatialworlds project
Spatialworlds website
21st Century Geography Google Group
Australian Geography Teachers' Association website
'Towards a National Geography Curriculum' project website
Geography Teachers' Association of South Australia website
Email contact

Where am I??
Adelaide, Australia: S: 34º 55' E: 138º 36'

Locational intelligence and geography
As with any new term there are a range of term owners, all with their own interpretations. I thought it would be quite simple to do an entry on the ‘buzz word’ Location Intelligence. I thought I knew what it meant from my own extrapolation of what I know of geography, GIS and the word intelligence. However as I researched I came to realise that the term has a very business origin and hence many of the definitions and descriptions of the application of the term relates to the application of spatial technology for only business/insurance applications. One commentator said that:
“The first and most significant difference is that GIS starts with geography and location intelligence doesn't. Location intelligence starts with a business problem.”

This really got me thinking! So, what is being said is that we have to come up with the problem first and then look at what geography we have to access via technology such as GIS. This may seem a rather simplistic back to front approach but not all that different to what I have been advocating with the meaningful use of GIS in the classroom. That is, we must develop a context for the use of GIS before we start to just use the technology and expect the geography or GLAT (Gee look at that!) factor to provide deep learning for students. Although still business focussed the following descriptions of Locational Intelligence are getting closer to the classroom application for the term Locational Intelligence.
Location intelligence enables you to answer a fundamental, yet complex question faced by nearly all organisations: Where? It's a critical factor in countless strategic and operational decisions in business and the public sector. Associating your organisational data with location is the foundation for making critical decisions that improve performance.”
Location Intelligence is the capacity to organize and understand complex phenomena through the use of geographic relationships inherent in all information. By combining geographic- and location-related data with other business data, organizations can gain critical insights, make better decisions and optimize important processes and applications. Location Intelligence offers organizations opportunities to streamline their business processes and customer relationships to improve performance and results.”
But, my favourite description is about the providing of context:
“Providing context is what location intelligence is all about. But providing location context involves more than delivering a picture or a map. Location-enabled self-service portals or applications should have access to all the relevant content there is. Ensuring collection of all information relevant to the context of location requires the ability to query and present content.”

My next question is, can a location be intelligent? Or can a location be un-intelligent? If intelligence relates to being clever and with intellect, then the amount of data we can access connected to place can enhance our understanding of a place in functional and creative terms. I see much of what we have been doing with GIS in schools over the years is to show students that the data crunching and representational ability of GIS has increased our knowledge and understanding of place and places. An intelligent location is one which we can find heaps of data about and hence develop a range of problem solving scenarios for students to analyse. I like the term Locational Intelligence in its broader educational sense because it gives a life to a place and insinuated action and application in response, as if a place or location has a brain and unique quality. We all know that every place has a sense of uniqueness and this is determined by the data we need to uncover for such a place. An unintelligent location would be one which we cannot uncover adequate data – such a location is just place with no intelligence on it. So what is intelligence in the broader sense
“Intelligence is an umbrella term used to describe a property of the mind that encompasses many related abilities, such as the capacities to reason, to plan, to solve problems, to think abstractly, to comprehend ideas, to use language, and to learn.”
Although a general description of intelligence, this definition can be as equally applied to the use of GIS as a problem solving tool in the classroom!
As geographers we need to be intelligence gathers (overt and covert) on place. To carry the ‘CIA’ analogy even further we need to interrogate the data uncovered to ensure we have a real and objective understanding of the data collected – not false intelligence! Geographers are locational sleuths and we now have the tools to uncover a huge amount of locational data and in turn have an enormous amount of intelligence on a location. This broader conceptual definition of Locational Intelligence can be applied to the classroom as an action-based approach for learning:
Today, Location Intelligence is used by a broad range of human endeavours. Applications include:
• Communications & Telecommunications: Network planning and design, boundary identification, identifying new customer markets.
• Financial Services: Optimize branch locations, market analysis, share of wallet and cross-sell activities, mergers & acquisitions, industry sector analysis, risk management.
• Government: Census updates, law enforcement crime analysis, emergency response, environmental and land management, electoral redistricting, tax jurisdiction assignment, urban planning.
• Healthcare: Site selection, market segmentation, network analysis, growth assessments.
• Hotels & Restaurants: Customer profile analysis, site selection, target marketing, expansion planning.
• Insurance: Address validation, underwriting and risk management, claims management, marketing and sales analysis, market penetration studies.
• Media: Target market identification, subscriber demographics, media planning.
• Real Estate: Site reports, comprehensive site analysis, retail modeling, presentation quality maps.
• Retail: Site selection, maximize per-store sales, identify under-performing stores, market analysis
When you consider that as much as 85% of the enterprise data companies and governments use already have a reference to location, then Locational Intelligence using spatial technologies such as GIS is inevitably going to become a core skill and application in society when making critical decisions in terms of:
o Increasing revenue and optimising capital investments
o Improving planning and customer/social services
o Decreasing the impact of natural/human generated disasters and crime

The following ESRI Australia links on the practical application of GIS and Locational Intelligence give an excellent insight into the importance of Locational Intelligence in our society today.

Preparing for the population explosion
In 2050, it is estimated that Australia's population will explode to 35 million, with the world's population set to top 90 billion.
But how are government organisations, businesses, scientists and environmentalists preparing to meet this demand?
Find out how location intelligence is playing a key role in equipping our decision makers with comprehensive and accurate information to help better converse, sustain and manage the environmental challenges of a growing world.

Pandemic planning
From swine flu and the SARS virus to localised legionnaires disease outbreaks, a year doesn't seem to pass without a serious epidemic. But how does the world react to control the spread?
Get behind the scenes of how location intelligence is used for early detection, tracking, response and control of infectious disease outbreaks.

To follow-up this blog posting on Locational Intelligence consider visiting the ESRI spatial round table forum. Have your say on the hot topics in the spatial industry at. ESRI's Spatial Roundtable provides a great opportunity for you to share your points of view about concerns, trends, challenges, and technologies.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Time to talk about the big questions in Geography

Picture descriptions:
Images: Geographers talking in person over a wine. Google Groups not as much fun but probably more effective!

Related sites to the Spatialworlds project
Spatialworlds website
21st Century Geography Google Group
Australian Geography Teachers' Association website
'Towards a National Geography Curriculum' project website
Geography Teachers' Association of South Australia website
Email contact

Where am I??
Adelaide, Australia: S: 34º 55' E: 138º 36'

Time to talk about the big questions in Geography
Several weeks ago I launched the Google Group titled "21st Century Geography in Australian classrooms". With so much happening with geography around Australia and the Web 2.0 capabilities constantly being talked about I thought it was time to establish a forum for geographers to discuss happenings and ideas. Hopefully the group will also provide the latest updates of the progress of the National Geography Curriculum and be a conduit for feedback and the clarification of ideas. On the Google Groups description I wrote:
"This group is to encourage teachers in Australia to discuss matters relevant to the teaching of 21st Century geography in Australian schools. The group aims to develop a network of like-minded teachers to promote geography in the curriculum. In particular, the incorporation of spatial technology and spatial literacy ideas into the geography curriculum."
After two weeks the "21st Century Geography in Australian schools" Google Group has 102 members and already there has been some really vigorous discussion on the topic of:
“So what are the big questions we should be posing in the geography classroom in the 21st Century? As people talk about and construct a possible geography curriculum for Australian students, it would be an interesting discussion to consider what would be the “die in the trenches” questions we would like students to be asked during their geographical education? The questions need to be “big” enough to enable a multiplicity of pathways for exploration by students and adequately provocative to engender issue based discussion, lateral thinking and creative enquiry. In the eyes of the proposer, the question should be considered to be a non-negotiable question to be explored in the national geography curriculum – somewhere and somehow! Ideally the final list compiled from the responses should cover all the branches of geography (not just the environment)”

Already we have the questions posed:
* Should Tourism be encouraged?
* What should the population of Australia be? What is sustainable and how should it be achieved?
* Globalisation - a necessary evil?
* Are soils more important than drainage basins?
* Is managed retreat the saviour of our coasts?
* Will migration save Australia?
* Are natural hazards unmanageable?
* What is the sustainability of farming in Australia?
* How should drainage basins/coastal areas be managed for a sustainable future?
* Should what is to be grown based on sustainability and not the free market economy?
* Does intercultural understanding require geographical knowledge?

We also have had some reservations expressed to the big question approach from some of the groups contributors. They are:
* It doesn't always matter what the actual content you are studying is, as long as in this case there is a local case study you can get the kids thinking about...
* Can geography as a discipline alone adequately address questions such as Australian (or world) population carrying capacity, growth, and what can be done about it because it has to include perspectives of ethics, politics, religion, culture, economics, history, philosophy, science, technology, media, sociology.
* I have deep reservations about issues based geography while I think its good to have the discussions surrounding globalisation, tourism etc. Geography is part of the puzzle in responding to these issues.
* I think questions date easily and are often value laden. Better for students to come up with their own questions, with relevant hints at the time, if needed.

All good discussion! As I said in an entry today, “I think these are discussions on the big questions we need to have before we develop the "will be taught" aspects of a curriculum. Why are we teaching geography? Do the courses we develop reflect the challenges of the 21st Century? What is the role of geography in a student developing as active citizens in the 21st Century? Maybe it is the discussion (not recession) Australia has to have!”

I look forward to the continuing discussion over the next months on the Google Group. In particular, I look forward to the discussions morph and expand as more and more Australian Geographers (and international) get involved. Hopefully the discussion informs and supports the development of the National Geography Curriculum. Most importantly the Google Group can provide a process of democratisation which gives more than just the perceived experts a voice.

If you want to join the “21st Century Geography in Australian schools" Google Group just go to

Whilst on the democratization process provided by Web 2.0 capability, have a look at the one hour documentary film titled "Us now" about the power of mass collaboration, Government and the Internet.

Other forums to join to discuss geography/matters spatial
Martin Pluss (GTANSW) has established a great Ning titled “Australian Geography teachers” To join this group just go to

South African geography teachers also have a Google Group going. It is interesting to see how many of the issues and concerns of these geographers in another part of the world have similar concerns and issues to us in Australia. Go to

The spatial round table forum
Have your say on the hot topics in the spatial industry at ESRI's Spatial Roundtable provides a great opportunity for you to share your points of view about concerns, trends, challenges, and technologies.

Some Wikispaces from Rob Marchetto (GTANSW)

Saturday, October 31, 2009

A mobile world diminishing in size!

Picture descriptions:
Left image: World air traffic visualisation
Right image: Traffic at Heathrow Airport, London

Related sites to the Spatialworlds project
Spatialworlds website
21st Century Geography Google Group
Australian Geography Teachers' Association website
'Towards a National Geography Curriculum' project website
Geography Teachers' Association of South Australia website
Email contact

Where am I??
Adelaide, Australia: S: 34º 55' E: 138º 36'

A mobile world diminishing in size!
The spatial representations of air traffic movements are a great indication of the changed mobility of people, good, ideas and microbes around the world every day. The spatial perception people have about the size of the world is vastly different to what it was 100 years ago(40 years ago for that matter). Not only does the telephone and internet enable us to talk (and see) someone on the other side of the world, we can hop on a plane and be on the other side of the world ourselves in 24 hours. Air travel has become increasingly accessible and affordable for a large number of the worlds population and hence the interchange of ideas, people and even diseases has increased remarkably. Many observers say that the resulting changed spatial perceptions of the world has been a major driver of globalisation phenomena over recent years. The world is a "mobile feast" with all the associated good and bad consequences.
Of interest to this blog is what is the impact on a persons spatial perception of the world and space as a result of this changed and ever diminishing "tyranny of distance"? Do people actually see the world as a smaller place. Just consider the following spatial representations of air traffic every 24 hours and some of the facts about air traffic in many of the countries of the world.

Air traffic visualisations and information on the links and the range of ways to show global flight movements.
The yellow dots are airplanes in the sky during a 24-hour period. Stay with the picture. You will see the light of the day moving from the east to the west as the Earth spins on it's axis. Also you will see the aircraft flow of traffic leaving the North American continent and travelling at night to arrive in the UK in the morning. Then you will see the flow changing, leaving the UK in the morning and flying to the American continent in daylight. It is a 24-hour observation of all of the large aircraft flights in the world, condensed down to about 2 minutes. From space we look like a beehive of activity.
Such visualisations are wonderful ways to explore the related issues of increasingly world mobility with students.

World flights in 24 hours

United States Air Traffic in 24 hours
Europe Air Traffic in 24 hours in 3D!

Some facts about air traffic

From the National Air Traffic Controllers Association

On any given day, more than 87,000 flights are in the skies in the United States. Only 35 per cent, or just over 30,000 of those flights are commercial carriers, like American, United or Southwest. On an average day, air traffic controllers handle 28,537 commercial flights (major and regional airlines), 27,178 general aviation flights (private planes), 24,548 air taxi flights (planes for hire), 5,260 military flights and 2,148 air cargo flights (Federal Express, UPS, etc.). At any given moment, roughly 5,000 planes are in the skies above the United States. In one year, controllers handle an average of 64 million takeoffs and landings. Passenger and freight traffic forecasts projecting that in 2011 the air transport industry will handle 2.75 billion passengers (620 million more passengers than in 2006) and 36 million tonnes of international freight (7.5 million tonnes more than in 2006).
International passenger demand is expected to rise from 760 million passengers in 2006 to 980 million in 2011 at an annual average growth rate (AAGR) of 5.1%.
International freight volumes are expected to grow at an AAGR of 4.8% over the forecast period, supported by economic growth, globalisation and trade.
Total international passenger numbers are forecast to be around 105 million in 2011, an increase of 30 million over 2006 levels.
"The numbers clearly show that the world wants to fly. And it also needs to fly. Air transport is critical to the fabric of the global economy, playing a critical role in wealth generation and poverty reduction. The livelihoods of 32 million people are tied to aviation, accounting for US$3.5 trillion in economic activity,” said Giovanni Bisignani, IATA’s Director General and CEO. 

 A recently released site exhibits a very interesting map from the1932 Atlas of the Historical Geography of the UnitedStates showing the rate of travel by rail from New York City in 1800. As you can see, in 1 day you barely got out of the city by today's standards, and it took weeks to get only a couple states over. Time must have travelled slowly in those days and distance perception must have been so different to what we have today. A great example of time space compression change.

So how do we and will we see the world spatially in the future? Is the world getting smaller in our brains?? Interestingly there seems to be a lack of research on this change in peoples spatial perception as a result of the real and virtual mobility around the planet. I will keep looking for the research but at this stage I have come up with only commentary but not research.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Free GIS activities downloads for the classroom

Picture descriptions:
The importance of maps in the De-militarized Zone between North and South Korea. In fact, it is critical to know where the 38th parallel is!!

Related sites to the Spatialworlds project
Spatialworlds website
21st Century Geography Google Group
Australian Geography Teachers' Association website
'Towards a National Geography Curriculum' project website
Geography Teachers' Association of South Australia website
Email contact

Where am I??
Adelaide, Australia: S: 34º 55' E: 138º 36'

Free GIS activities downloads for the classroom are now available from the Spatial Worlds website. The website is linked to this blog and over the past years has been a source of articles on using GIS in the classroom and spatial literacy. A page on the website now provides free downloads of GIS classroom activity's in GIS in geography, historical GIS and urban geography. Copyright on these chapters remain TECHGEOG's but you can download and use with ArcView 3 or adapt to your needs using ArcGIS or any other GIS software. The activities provide some useful templates to design a GIS course for physical geography, historical geography and urban geography. The only thing TECHGEOG asks is that you do not on-sell the activities once you have re-designed. If you wish to use in your school that is fantastic.

The resources include chapters from the:
GIS in Physical Geography/Science book on:
* The basics of ArcView
* An excuse to hug a tree: using the CityGreen program
* Water matters
* Earthquakes
* Rock mapping
* Aquifer mapping
* Australian minerals
* Micro-climates
* Ocean floor mapping
* Internet sites.

Many of these chapters use the free Australian GIS data from the GeoScience website

Historical GIS book
* Cemetery mapping
* Exploration routes
* Building heritage mapping
* Battlefield mapping
* Mapping Change over time

Urban Geography
* Streetscapes mapping

If you are interested in the TECHGEOG resource written for ArcGIS 9 download the attached order form (includes all TECHGEOG resources on CD/DVD).

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

How to create the need to know?

Picture descriptions:
Left image: The importance of a map! Especially to lost geographer tourists wandering the streets of Seoul!
Right image: Motivated students in South Korea learning the geography of Australia. Is such compliance on the "need to know basis" or just the "need to achieve" imperative?

Related sites to the Spatialworlds project
Spatialworlds website
21st Century Geography Google Group
Australian Geography Teachers' Association website
'Towards a National Geography Curriculum' project website
Geography Teachers' Association of South Australia website
Email contact

Where am I??
Adelaide, Australia: S: 34º 55' E: 138º 36'

How to create the need to know?
One of the challenges always facing geography teachers is convincing students why they need to know what we think they should know. The simple question of how to create the need to know in your classroom takes us down some interesting pathways. As teachers, if we cannot articulate why something is important for a student to know, then we must challenge ourselves as to whether we should be teaching the content or skills we are. This question becomes incredibly pertinent when one considers the discussions in relation to the national geography curriculum. Whilst not advocating that we only teach what student want to know, we must be conscious of the responsibility we have as educators to create an environment in the classroom which develops a curiosity and desire to want to know amongst our students. We should not expect students to be powerless receivers of the content we wish to teach! The context and reason for the importance of the content and skills we plan to teach needs to be created at the beginning of every course, topic, activity and experience. The national curriculum’s remit that they are developing content which needs to be taught and skills which must be acquired is a worry if it is not supported by a rationale that clearly and realistically explains why the curriculum is important for the young person on the receiving end. As a citizen of the 21st century it is imperative that our students receive geographical education which is relevant and useful to them as an individual living in an increasingly complex and demanding world.
So how do we create the need to know? This question takes us to the heart of learning and that is motivation. If motivated students are prepared to learn anything! I often hear one teacher say the kids found the topic boring and another saying the kids loved the same topic. It often is not the content that has changed but the context. The teacher who motivates can transfer their enthusiasm for a topic to a group of students regardless of the content. As a person who loved teaching soils and rocks I certainly know that others find such topics a challenge to teach! As well as authentic (or faked) enthusiasm on behalf of the teacher, students can be motivated by the plethora of technology now available to the geography teacher to make learning more relevant, inter-active, autonomous and exciting. The technologies often referred to in this blog, whether spatial or communication (wikis, blogs etc) are ways for students to see the inter-section between what they are studying in the classroom and the “real world” they live in. The technologies enable students to move beyond the classroom and see that the topic and skills they are learning have an application in the working world, family life and social functioning. As the American educator John Holt said:
“The child is curious. They want to make sense out of things, find out how things work, gain competence and control over themselves and their environment, and do what they can see other people doing. They are open, perceptive, and experimental. They do not merely observe the world surrounding around, they do not shut themselves off from the strange, complicated world around them, but taste it, touch it, heft it, bend it, break it. To find out how reality works, they work on it. They are bold. They are not afraid of making mistakes. And they are patient. They can tolerate an extraordinary amount of uncertainty, confusion, ignorance, and suspense ... School is not a place that gives much time, or opportunity, or reward, for this kind of thinking and learning.”
Geography with its traditional tendency towards exploration and curiosity about the world is perfectly positioned in the curriculum to enhance this aspect of student learning and have students engage in the world. Geography is not static and something to be learned within four walls only, it needs to be dynamic, interactive and explorative. Any geography curriculum developed must create in the students a "need to know" mentality. Allied to this needing to know, is the previously mentioned concept of nurturing the "discomfort of not knowing" with students. The inquiry methodology employed in geography is ideal to create such an environment for student exploration and learning. Spatial Technologies available to the teacher of geography is a wonderful tool to enhance student inquiry and exploration via software such as Google Earth (Google have recently developed a site for educators on how to use Google Earth in the classroom).
For learning to be engaging and motivating for students the content and pedagogy needs to be:
* Personally meaningful
* Integrated
* Coherent
* Transformative
* Transferable

Geography has traditionally done all of these things, plus being fun! Just for the fun of learning also check out the Lufthansa virtual pilot site (beats photocopied maps of Europe to learn places). I hope these thoughts are the premise we begin to write our national geography curriculum.
David Lambert, Chief Executive of the Geographical Association in the UK has written an excellent article on the “The World in the curriculum: why geography matters”. His discussion on the role and nature of geography in the curriculum is interesting in the context of this blog. While on the GA and organisations working at making geography a core ingredient of the curriculum, the following information is of interest.

* The world directory of Geographical Societies and organisations and other geography sites. A source for all aspects of geography.

* New GA Website Launched in September 2009

The website of the Geographical Association has been redesigned and restructured to give it a fresh new look and make it easier to navigate.

It includes a range of exciting new features including:
* Lively homepage highlighting new additions and popular content
* Resource Finder tool allowing users to search the GA’s vast collection of online resources using a variety of criteria
* Tabbed Shop panel listing new books, recommendations and shopping basket contents
* Members’ panel containing personal account details, bookmarks and recently viewed pages
* New look Journals area with easy access to articles and associated resources
* Cloud tags – a new way to find similar content using keyword matching
* RSS Feeds – sign up for the latest website updates

The Geographical Association is a subject association with a mission to further the study, learning and teaching of geography.
The website is a popular resource, used by teachers in more than 200 countries and receiving an average of 3000 pageviews a day. Our website keeps the geography teaching community up to date and provides a wide range of high quality resources, including our three well-respected journals.

A free guide to the new website is available to download and further information about the Geographical Association can be found on the site.

Geography - teaching - excellence
Find out more about A different view: a manifesto from the Geographical Association

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Books are where data goes to die!

Spatial Worlds website

Melbourne, Australia: S: 37º 47' E: 144º 58'

Left image: A shop just selling rocks in rural South Korea.
Right image: Some great visual art at the Seoul Tower

Thought I would share the quote,"Books are where data goes to die!", from Mark Sanders at The Learning Federation Data Visualisation workshop in Melbourne yesterday. It got me thinking about how much we now rely on technology to transform data into an understandable visual for us. The days of mulling over data tables in books is long past with the public expecting to be informed, if not entertained, by the data being represented in graph form, maps, simulations over time or other original ways on the Interent in particular. In a previous blog posting I have listed many excellent visual representation websites available to the public on the Internet. Sites such as Gapminder, Worldmapper and Wordle provide some great data visualisations. Before listing a few more great sites for developing the visual and/or spatial literacy of your students (or yourself) I thought I would just examine the issue of visual literacy and spatial literacy and their relationship.

Many consider that visual-spatial intelligence is the new citizenship skill; the 4th R! Citizens of the future must not be helpless blind users of technology. The writings in this area go on to say that for a young person to acquire visual-spatial intelligence they need to develop/acquire visual and/or spatial literacy.

"Young people learn more than half of what they know from visual information, but few schools have an explicit curriculum to show students how to think critically about visual data"
Mary Alice White, researcher, Columbia Teacher's College

Visual literacy is the ability to evaluate, apply, or create conceptual visual representations. To use visualisations to create and communicate knowledge, or to devise new ways of representing insights.

To be considered ‘spatially literate’, an individual must have the ability to capture and communicate knowledge in the form of a map, to understand and recognise the world as view from above, to recognise and interpret patterns, and to comprehend such basic concepts as scale, projection and spatial resolution.

Such spatial literacy is even more important in the modern world because the spatial information revolution has resulted in eighty per cent of all information gathered today has a spatial or geographical component. This means that most information is tied to a place. To read, interpret such visualisation of data requires a high degree of visual literacy.

Some commentators consider that there is no education available which prepares children for the world of images, how to understand their meaning and judge their value. “Spatialogists” suggest that with visualisations which are increasingly prevalent in the media, on the internet and incorporated into everyday technologies (mobile phones, cars, prisoner tagging) there is a special way of thinking. This is called spatial thinking or spatial literacy, which isn’t a way of thinking that is naturally gifted to everyone and needs to be taught and facilitated.

Proposition: All spatial literacy requires visual literacy skills but not all visual literacy requires spatial literacy skills???

As a way forward Goodchild advocates a visual-spatial approach with data that enables us to find meaning in pictures, images, and maps. Visual-spatial intelligence is more important than ever, as life itself becomes more and more an image in television, video games, and virtual environments.

Here are some fascinating sites related to data visualisation and its potential:
* Some great spatial simulations of Swind flu, Melbourne trains and weather at Flinklabs (beyong the bar chart)
* The Durham University has developed a freeware software though its Smart Centre
* Have fun with the Baby-name Voyager facility. The graphs produced (although not maps) give an interesting usage perspective of names across time.
* For those wanting some engaging statistics for students to use relating to crime go to the Australian Institute of Criminology site.
* The suburban profiler site in the UK.
* The Surname profiler site for the UK (about to go global!)
* Using data visualisations via spatial technology to show climate change data.
* A Youtube video on the great Gapminder site.

Natually, there are tons more visual representation sites on the net. What it shows us is that as time goes by, the general public and students will just expect to see data represented as a graph with an associated map! There will be a need for citizens to have high level visual and spatial literacy to interpret this new form of data presentation.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Geography: More than meets the eye!

Spatialworlds website

Picture descriptions:
Left image:From the Seoul Tower: Issues of pollution and urban design.
Right image:Cultural place amongst the beauty of the South Korean countryside.

Cairns, Australia: S: 16º 57' E: 145º 45'

This weekend I have travelled to Cairns to attend the Institute of Australian Geographers (IAG) Council meeting prior to the IAG conference. The program of the conference started me thinking about the question of what fields of endevour gather under the banner of geography and what gives them the credential to consider themselves geographical.
One of the great misunderstandings about the discipline of geography is that it is only about the environment and the earth sciences. Naturally geography involves the study of the environment but in a very multi-dimensional and diverse way – everything is geography if it is studied in a geographical way. That is, the study is undertaken through the spatial lens with the associated connections and inter-dependencies. It is not such much the topic that identifies a geographical study but rather the parameters within which it is studied.
Just looking at the IAG conference program show the diversity of topics which are connected as geographical studies. They are identified as such because the geographer will ask spatial questions over and over as they examine and unravel the inquiry.
For example the topics listed below are all geographical studies presented at the conference. To the outsider they would not immediately identify themselves as geographical studies – but they most certainly are!

* Human rights in place? Anti-racism, exports, damage limitation, choices
* Stewardship among lifestyle oriented rural landowners
* Regional sustainability and the Great Barrier Reef
* Creativity without borders? Re-thinking geographies of remoteness and proximity
* Aid cultures: Chinese aid to Cambodia
* Fired up? Understanding the disconnect between bushfire awareness and preparedness amongst diverse rural landowners
* Building resilience to coastal hazards and climate change: Lessons from post-tsunami efforts in the Indian Ocean
* State housing authorities and natural disaster preparations and response in Australia
* Traditional knowledge systems and climate change in the Torres Strait
* Using visual methodologies to study abject non-heterosexual performativities
* The self as informant in geographies of remembering
* Engaging the community in social research using data visualisation techniques
* How do you discover the nuances of social networks? A case study of Sudanese refugees in Colac, Victoria
* Tasmania’s ageing population: Non-metropolitan patterns and trends
* The meaning and importance of 'place' for older people living in rural areas: A WA case study
* Reconsidering financial globalisation in the developing world during the global financial crisis
* Anti-racism: Building evidence and utility for “what works”
* Everyday multiculturalism, Islam and the politics of ‘mixing’
* Leveraging sustainability: Communities of knowledge in the architecture industry
* Creative cities making a major contribution to urban sustainability
* Stepping out: A study of how urban design affects walkability in Sydney
* Environmental justice, ethical construction and gender
* Scrap: The revaluing of used household goods
* “Somewhere nice to go”: Garden making and home making in Hamilton South
* “A bottle of wine in front of the TV”: Material geographies of domestic alcohol consumption
* Masculine meanings of home: Preliminary results from an inner Sydney case study
* Mapping truffles in Australia
* Mapping historical tropical successional forest cover with satellite imagery
* Implications for the second Kyoto Accord and land-use/cover change geography
* Multispectral remote sensing applications for live fuel moisture content estimation in Sydney Basin bioregion
* The settlement geography of African refugee communities in Southeast Queensland
* Harmony, trust and participation in culturally diverse cities
* Exit strategies for ageing male farmers in Australia
* Identifying and meeting the care needs of older Indigenous people in a remote setting
* Gambling venue usage and problem gambling amongst grey nomads and itinerant construction
* Workers on the Sunshine Coast
* Using the coupled ‘human-environment systems framework’ for exploring issues of hazard and risk
* Groundwater fees in the North China Plain and its impact on irrigation practices
* Measuring potential of a residential neighbourhood for local food economy
* Urban food security: Community strategies and alternative food networks enterprises
* Sacred landscapes in secular society
* Designing sustainable cities using information technologies: Building information modelling and geographical information systems
* Teachers and the emotional dimensions of class in resource affected rural Australia
* The Pacific as a ‘development disaster’: New Zealand’s retrograde constructions of Pacific problems and solutions
* Invasion and spread of Australian White Ibis in south-western Australia
* Exploring the effects of 'sea- and tree-change' phenomena in far North Queensland
* Can tree-change development and rural production values co-exist?
* Refugee dispersal: Burden sharing, exclusion, or opportunity?
* Invisible Australians: The female Chinese in white Australia
* Migrancy, mobility and diasporic travel
* Curves of the lifeline: A drawing of the betweenness of place
* Can you interview my husband?: The problem of trusting one’s spouse in a tourism locale
* Intimate geographies of touch
* Sustaining tourism to diversify the local economy
* What makes a rural community resilient?
* Complex entanglements: Race, gender and spirituality in Aotearoa, New Zealand
* “Thai men no good”: Exploring representations of Thai and Western masculinity among women on Samui Island, Southern Thailand
* Towards a critical geography of gambling in remote Australia
* Health tourism as a discursive resource in the fostering of post developmental healthcare-consuming subjects in Malaysia
* The making of moving pictures: The rickshaw art of Bangladesh
* Regulating Rover: Legislating the public place of urban pet dogs
* World heritage listing: Blight or blessing? Three examples from Western Australia

All of these topics can be classified under the broad 'schools'or branches of geography identified by the discipline. These branches are often listed under hte broad headings of Physical and Human Geography. These divisions of Geography are quite false in many ways because due to the inter-connectedness of the discipline of geography it is impossible to study just one branch in isolation because they are invariably connected to other branches through 'the tree of geography'. How can one study pedology without looking at the relationship with agricultural, cultural, geomorhological and biogeographical impacts of soil on a place?
Here is a list of some of these branches – by no way the definitive list!
* Cultural Geography
* Social Geography
* Environmental Geography
* Biogeography
* Hydrology
* Demography
* Coastal Geography
* Transportation Geography
* Geomorphology
* Oceanography
* Industrial Geography
* Economic Geography
* Historical Geography
* Spatial science
* Geotourism
* Climatology
* Regional Geography
* Hazard Geography
* Urban Geography
* Development Geography

In fact, to demonstrate to students the diversity of topics in geography it would be an interesting task for a geography class to classify the IAG conference workshops into the various branches of geography listed above. In 2008 the Geography Teachers Association of South Australia (GTASA) produced a CD called Surfing Geographical. The CD organised over 1000 Internet sites under the main branches of geography. Go to to the GTASA site to view the information on this excellent resource for students to use in their geographical research.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

Visualising data: making data spatial

Spatialworlds website

Left image: The Wordle visualisation of this entry.
Right image: The visual representation of the Spatialworlds blog hits via Clustrmaps. Hits on 264 computers across 11 countries in 2009.

Adelaide, Australia: S: 34º 55' E: 138º 36'

An important aspect of geography is the geographer’s ability to visually represent data and to interpret such representations. The geographers’ graphicacy and mapping skills are critical components of the geographer's toolkit. With over 80% of data now being attached to place, the growth of visual representation technology and their presence on the Internet is amazing. People expect to see data represented visually when they visit a website and/or view documentaries and news reports on the television. Via Internet based technologies and spatial technologies we are seeing a revolution in how we view and process information and data. The opportunities provided by geography and geography related technologies and skills are central to this revolution! The work in Neuroscience on the processing of such visualisations and its impact on learning and perceptions is a rich field of research. Such research is critical to our understanding of what is happening in regards to how people view the world and their spatial thinking. More about that later!

The following websites are great examples of how data can be represented by spatial technology and other forms of visual representations.

An interesting program which turns a piece of writing into a visual representation is wordle. What wordle does is give the words a spatial dimension to allow the reader to see where the emhasis in a piece of writing is. For example the wordle art of what the piece of writing on this posting looks like is shown at the beginning of the posting(interesting you turn words into a "looks like" context)

National Geography Curriculum keeps moving forward

Spatialworlds website

Picture descriptions:
Images: AGTA at work

Adelaide, Australia: S: 34º 55' E: 138º 36'

Things have been moving forward over recent months in relation to the development of a national geography curriculum in Australia. The Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority (ACARA) process is well underway and on track to implement the national geography curriculum into Australian schools from 2012. This article will give a brief background to the work of the ‘Towards a National Geography Curriculum’ project in 2008 and 2009 and the on-going work of ACARA in developing a national geography curriculum for Australian schools.

The ‘Towards a National Geography Curriculum’ project

As you would be aware the ‘Towards a National Geography Curriculum’ project was established in October 2009 to inform ACARA of the views of geographers around Australia prior to the commencement of ACARA’s work to develop a national geography curriculum. The project involved the Australian Geography Teachers’ Association (AGTA), Institute of Australian Geographers (IAG) and the Royal Geographical Society of Queensland (RGSQ). The project aimed to develop a united and coherent statement from the Australian geographical community’s that provided a rationale, possible curriculum structures, preferred pedagogies and suggested implementation strategies for a national curriculum in geography.

Between November 2008 and May 2009 the project undertook extensive consultation across Australia involving input from teachers, students, academics and other community members. The project would like to take this opportunity to thank teachers, academics and community geographers for their participation in the consultation forums and comments posted on the ‘Towards a National Geography Curriculum’ project website. The enthusiasm of those attending the forums and the number of on-line responses was very encouraging for the project and showed the depth of interest and concern for geography in schools across Australia. The results of the consultation and supporting literature reviews and research by the appointed project writers Rob Berry and Roger Smith were presented as a background report to the ‘Towards a National Geography Curriculum’ project steering committee in May 2009. In turn, the steering committee synthesised and added to the background report, resulting in a final paper titled ‘Towards a National Geography Curriculum for Australia’ which was presented to ACARA in June 2009.
For more information on the work of the ‘Towards a National Geography Curriculum’ project and copies of the two papers go to the projects website at

ACARA’s curriculum development process

In May 2009 ACARA commenced its work on the Australian Curriculum: Geography when it appointed Lucie Sorensen as the Senior Project Officer Geography. In July 2009 a Geography Reference Group was appointed and met for the first time on August 25th, 2009. Lucie and the reference group used the ‘Towards a National Geography Curriculum’ reports as part of their literature review as they worked on identifying key issues needing to be addressed prior to the substantive work on the geography curriculum commencing. Following the second meeting of the reference group on September 14th, 2009 the ACARA Board was presented with a Geography Position Paper on October 6th. In October the lead writer for the Australian Curriculum: Geography and an Advisory Panel were appointed by the ACARA Board. On behalf of geography teachers and students in Australia we wish those involved all the best with their work on the shaping phase of the Australian Curriculum: Geography.

The following draft ACARA timeline will give an idea of the 2009-2011 progression with the writing process for the national geography curriculum. Naturally, the timeline may change as time goes by but at this stage these are the dates, events and milestones ACARA has mapped out for the curriculum development process.
o October – December 2009: The appointed writer and advisory panel develop an Initial advice paper for the national geography curriculum.
o February 2010: National Forum to gather responses to the Initial advice paper.
o February - March 2010: Development of The Shape of Australian Curriculum: Geography paper.
o April 2010: National consultation to gather responses to The Shape of Australian Curriculum: Geography paper.
o June 2010: The release of the final The Shape of Australian Curriculum: Geography paper.
o June – December 2010: Appointment of writers and an advisory group to develop the scope and sequence for the national geography curriculum. The writing to be accompanied by a consultation process for the scope and sequence document.
o January – June 2011: Course writing in line with the final scope and sequence document for national geography curriculum.
o June 2011: Publication of the national geography curriculum.

We encourage all Australian geography teachers to keep informed of the ACARA process by registering on the ACARA website at and take advantage of the opportunities provided by ACARA and geography teachers’ associations to feed comments and ideas into the process.

An opportunity

Over the next few years, issues associated with the implementation of the Australian geography curriculum are likely to dominate the work of AGTA and affiliates. This is a once in a lifetime opportunity to develop a ‘state of the art’, contemporary, ‘worlds best practice’ geography curriculum for the 21st Century. Exciting times are ahead for geographical education in Australia!

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

...and there is more.

Spatialworlds website

Picture descriptions:
Left Image: The train bridge in the demilitarised zone between South-North Korea.
Right image: Hopes for re-unification.

Seoul, South Korea: N: 37º 01' E: 126º 36'

More than just geography!
In previous entries I have outlined areas with direct potential for geography classes to study. However there are other aspects of the Korean experience which are worthy of note for study. They are foreign relations, ancient history, military history and democratic studies. Whilst not wanting to go into great detail in relation to these areas of study it is warranted in this entry to provide some useful case study links.

Foreign relations
Korea has played a strategic geographical role over the centuries between China, Japan and Russia. Purely because of its geographic position at the centre of this area, Korea in the modern era has had a pivotal role in the Russo-Japanese War, World War 2 , Korean War and the so-called Cold War. Interestingly this disputed geographical role is still being played out on the issue of the Korean Islands called Dokdo. The study of this present day contentious issue on the ownership of the Dokdo Islands provides a fascinating case study.

Ancient History

Korea has a rich ancient history involving the stories of dynasties, Kings and invasion. One of the most interesting talks we had on the study tour was by Moonjong Choi from the Ewha Womans University in Seoul who traced Korean history from the earliest times through the study of Korean art and pottery. The background to Korean art and pottery provided by this talk was supported by visits to the Seoul Museum and other cultural visits on the field trip. The approach was a very engaging way to learn about the history of Korea by linking the preservation of art with history. One of the highlights for me was the visit to the burial mounds of the Silla Kingdom at Gyeongju . These burial hills had all the mystery, wealth and intrigue of the Egyptian Pyramids. I had never even heard of them before this visit! With the added wonder of the Buddhist religion and relics as evidenced at the beautiful Seokguram Grotto, the study of Korean history is indeed a rich one, comparable with those we are so familiar with from Europe.

Military History
Naturally the Korean War of 1950-53 plays a key role in understanding modern day South Korea. The trip to the 38th parallel demilitarised Zone gives a great insight into the tension between North and South that still exists today. Only the week before our visit the North Korean launched missiles into the Sea of Japan, causing considerable news coverage and restrictions on the areas we could visit. The American teachers on a similar study tour were not even allowed to visit the zone (we could but they couldn’t- much to their disquiet!). The North Korean tunnels, the Freedom Bridge, and lookouts over North Korea are amazing living relicts of the Cold War. Equally eerie was the visit to the massive Dorasan Station which was opened in 2002 for rail traffic between the North and South. With only a few trains a day, this station is an amazing edifice to the hopes of re-unification. The study of the Korean War opens the door to examine related issues of nuclear disarmament, US-Korea relations, China-North Korea relations, the nature of communism in North Korea and the attitude of the South Korean Government to the North Korean regime.

Democratic Studies
South Korea has a rich modern history in relation to liberalism and democracy. The 1960 'People Power' democracy riots which resulted in the April Democratic Revolution (which started at Korean University where our lectures were) and the 1987 Democratization Movement are interesting case studies for the students of revolution in sociology and history.

Despite the comprehensiveness of the program, one of the puzzling factors for the geographers on the trip was the lack of geography as a component of learning. At no time were we introduced to the internal geography of Korea as a topic and there seemed to be a total lack of spatial discussion of the Korean Peninsula, spatial representations used or discussion on environmental sustainability. For a country going through such enormous economic development and cultural change many of us thought that a study of Korea through the lens of geography would have been a necessity. Was this lack of geography and sustainability discussion just an oversight or is it way down the list of priorities for modern South Korea? As an aside to this discussion is the fact that in the Korean countryside postal numbers are based on the year the house was built rather than its location! Does this fact further support the view that history is more important in the Korean psychie that the location of place and their apparent dis-regard of geography? Just a thought!
Again, more questions than answers requiring another visit to Korea in the future. In the meantime I have found the book by Jennifer Barclay: "Meeting Mr Kim, or how I went to Korea and learned to love Kimchi" as an excellent read. As well as being inspiring and amusing the book also gave a great account of the history and culture of Korea and answered many questions I had after my visit. A well worthwhile and enjoyable read!