Monday, June 27, 2011

Geographical bits and pieces: Networking resources

Left image: Perfect Sunday in Central Park, New York.
Right image: Grand Central Station, New York.

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'

Geographical bits and pieces: Networking resources

The sites of interest keep on coming. However they don’t just appear! They are the result of an incredible networking of geography teachers around the world who are keen to share what they find. The geographical bits and pieces of this posting are accumulated from the South African Google Group postings, the Geography Teachers Association of South Australia website newsletter, the Geography Association of the UK blog page and the ESRI Community blog from the US. All fantastic sources of Internet sites, resources and inspiration regarding geography. What the Spatialworlds blog tries to do is consolidate the resources into one site and if possible give them a theme. This posting has no theme and hence called ‘bits and pieces’. If you have any links or resources don’t hesitate to pass on via the comment section below. There have been over 1500 hits on this site over the past two months but no comments – it would be great to hear from those reading the blog and even get some resources which Spatialworlds has not come across! Well, here are some sites of interest and I am sure of great use in the geography classroom, some using spatial technology, while others just some great geography.

1. The Guardian Teacher Network: A great repository of teaching resources. You will need to register (free) but well worth the trouble.

2. Crime data released:
A site to help show what crime has been committed in neighbourhoods across the UK. Crime information can be shown on a map shaded to show crime rates in each area compared to the average across London, or as text

3. Human Planet Explorer Discover amazing human stories from around the world through television and radio clips from BBC programmes such as Human Planet, Amazon with Bruce Parry and Tropic of Cancer. Human Planet Explorer enables you to browse a selection of clips that showcase man's relationship with the natural environment.

4. Chilean Volcano:
Thousands flee their homes and flights are grounded as Chilean volcano sends plumes of ash showering down. Booming explosions echoed across the Andes as toxic gases belched up from a three-mile-long fissure in the volcanic complex .

5. The Chocolate Map:
Features over 2000 chocolate shops and growing each day! Whether at home or on the road, it's easy to find a chocolate shop near you.

6. National Public Toilet map:
The National Public Toilet Map (the Toilet Map) shows the location of more than 14,000 public and private public toilet facilities across Australia. Details of toilet facilities can also be found along major travel routes and for shorter journeys as well. Useful information is provided about each toilet, such as location, opening hours, availability of baby change rooms, accessibility for people with disabilities and the details of other nearby toilets.

7. Sentinel:
A national bushfire monitoring system that provides timely information about hotspots to emergency service managers across Australia. The mapping system allows users to identify fire locations with a potential risk to communities and property.

8. Cyclone tracking:
An archive of tracked severe weather activities. A site for those fascinated and wanting to observe severe weather occurrences.

9. Visualising Projections: A short video on projections. The projections morphs into another to show drastic differences in how we see the world geographically

10. Google Earth Outreach Showcase:
Explore how other non-profit and public benefit organizations are using Google Earth and Maps to visualize their cause. You can see both Earth and Maps projects, and read about the impact the organizations have had using these different mapping technologies.

11. Mapping the future of countries
Parag Khanna - Geopolitical expert Parag Khanna foresees a future with maps. Many people think the lines on the map no longer matter, but Parag Khanna says they do. Using maps of the past and present, he explains the root causes of border conflicts worldwide and proposes simple yet cunning solutions for each

12. Collecting data with the latest mobility devices:
Use iGPSGIS to easily collect data for utilities, wildlife, natural resources, land management and other applications. Tag the data with date, time, GPS coordinates and pre-defined descriptions. Organize the data in topic layers displayed with colorful symbols and text labels. iGPSGIS will import data in Shapefile format. You will also be able to digitize points, lines and areas on top of a background map. You will be able to view the area and perimeter of an Area Feature on the spot. Please keep in mind that continued use of GPS running in the background can dramatically decrease battery life. iGPSGIS lets you easily toggle the GPS on or off. Following the release of the iCMTGIS for the Apple iPad, Corvallis Microtechnology, Inc. has announced the release of the iGPSGIS application software for use on the Apple iPhone. Like the iPad app, iGPSGIS allows the creation of GIS data in the field, including the export and import of shp files. The app has several useful features, including creating sampling grids, displaying a Google Map as the background map, collecting multi-layer GPS/GIS data, digitising points, lines and areas, assignment of symbols and attributes to features. You can of course view/edit any collected data from the device, and view the area of an enclosed region.
The free iGPSGIS Version 1.0.0 is available from the App Store at: And the iPad version is available. For additional information.

13. Realtime weather: check out the local weather conditions. Maps and charts weather conditions.

14. Environmental case studies galore:
A website from the American University which has published case studies since 1997 about major environmental issues affecting regions around the world. Topics include climate change, impacts and role of nature, conflicts over use and pollution of rivers, wars and environmental impact, border disputes, nuclear energy, forest depletion, etc.

15. The S.A. Weather and Disaster Information Service(SAWDIS: Images of Eritrea’s Nabro Volcano. This service is made possible by amateur radio operators and private citizens around the country that volunteer the use of their weather and radio stations, weather and disaster photographs, data and information for educational and research purposes.

16. Just nonsense but fun:
Sometimes the networking involves a little pressure release –just some useless fun activity. Give theses a try. Nothing to do with geography or spatial technology but how can resist swatting a fly – an environmental act!

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

The phenomena of technology anxiety: sifting resources of worth

Left image: Protest American style, Washington, USA.
Right image: Pefect mountain scence in South Korea.

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'

Addressing technology anxiety: sifting resources of worth

It never ceases to amaze me that spatial technology sites suitable for geographical education I have never seen keep turning up. The problem is not the dearth of sites but rather the need to just check out their quality and application potential. In fact, sifting through all the available sites can create a degree of technology anxiety amongst teachers who are searching with limited time for useful (and exciting) sites for their teaching. The anxiety grows considerably when the site is not user friendly (although disputed, some say that most people only want to click a maximum of 3 times before giving up on a site) or when the site requires downloading or locating plug-ins. I can feel the anxiety growing already!

It is important that as we seek resources for the Australian Curriculum: geography that someone – maybe Education Services Australia, jurisdictions or geography teachers associations- sift through the sites available free on the Internet and give a quality rating, provide an application guide, reduce the technology hurdles and provide guides to make it easier for teachers to access and use. We do not have to write new resources to any extent to service the new curriculum but just create a user friendly environment for teachers to use the plethora of great spatial technology sites (and other great geography sites) available to be used for free on the Internet. It is the application of these resources via quality geography pedagogy for the areas of study identified in the Australian Curriculum: geography that should be the focus of resource development – not the creation of new resources; they are already there in buckets! The last thing we want is for teachers not to engage in using spatial technology because they are overwhelmed by the number of sites to review and that they cannot see the forest for the trees! Technology anxiety must be averted by a considered and coordinated approach to the location and use of spatial technology and geography sites readily available for schools.

This posting just highlights a few of these wonderful sites which are perfect for exciting learning for students when the Australian Curriculum for geogrpahy is up and going.

1. Mapnificent is a useful and clever spatial technology site: Mapnificent is an application that shows the area one can reach with public transport from any point in a given time. Watch the video which explains the application

2. Mapumental is a realtime version of journey time maps.

3. OpenStreetMap creates and provides free geographic data such as street maps to anyone who wants them. The project was started because most maps you think of as free actually have legal or technical restrictions on their use, holding back people from using them in creative, productive, or unexpected ways.
OSM Australia is just a basic website to gather all the various Australian-related output from the OpenStreetMap project, and make it available from one place.

4. GeoCommons is the public community of GeoIQ users who are building an open repository of data and maps for the world. The GeoIQ platform includes a large number of features that empower you to easily access, visualize and analyze your data.

5. Quantum GIS is open source software available under the terms of the GNU General Public License

6. Volcanic Ash Advisory Centres (VAACS) site: Interesting spatial technology site regarding the volcanic ash hazard. Nine VAAC's have been designated by the International Civil Aviation Organization to provide their expertise to civil aviation in case of significant volcanic eruptions. They are a basic part of the IAVW(International Airways Volcano Watch). The area covered by the Darwin Volcanic Ash Advisory Centre includes Indonesia, Papua New Guinea and part of the Philippines. This area has seen some of the biggest eruptions known to history.

Friday, June 17, 2011

The data visualisation revolution: coming to geography!

Left image: Ancient data: Rosetta Stone, British Museum, London.
Right image: Government, home of data! Parliament House Canberra, 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??
Adelaide, Australia: S: 34º 55' E: 138º 36'

The data visualisation revolution: making sense of data, any data in the information culture

It is often cited that “85% of data in the 21st Century is attached to place”. Regardless of the source of this quote, few would argue with its truth. It seems that tables alone of data does not ‘rub it’ any more for us. People expect to either see the data associated with a visualisation or in some cases just the visualisation will do to give an idea of what is happening. To meet this trend software developers are working on creating free visualisation tools for us to turn data into visualisations using just a few clicks. This data visualisation revolution has huge potential for geography classes to tap into a plethora of unique data (often citizen entered data sets) and to turn the data into visualisations across space at a range of scales depending if the data is local, national, regional or global. This posting highlights just several of the newly created data table repository and visualisation sites which are increasingly accessible and functionally friendly (still a way to go though!). As the on-line data visualisation revolution continues I am sure they will become more extensive and user friendly with greater functionality. It is worth those interested in spatial technology and geography to get a start with these sites now and think about their application in the classroom.

In relation to this revolution, Alex Howard, government 2.0 beat writer for O'Reilly Media says:

"One of the biggest challenges government agencies, municipalities and any other body has is converting open data to information which people can take knowledge from. One of the most powerful ways humanity has developed to communicate information over time is through maps. If you can take data in an open form - and CSV files are one of the most standard formats available - then you have an opportunity to tell stories in a way that's relevant to a region and personalized to an individual. That's a meaningful opportunity.”

Here are just some of the sites to get started.

1. Factual: constantly evolving data on thousands of topics.
Factual provides simple application programming interfaces (API) for building Web and mobile apps. For instance, it provides data on local geographies. According to Factual, the datasets include businesses and points of interest (parks, airports, theaters, tourist attractions, etc.), and attributes include: name, address, phone, category and latitude/longitude

2. Yahoo pipes: Pipes is a powerful composition tool to aggregate, manipulate, and mashup content from around the web. Learn How to Build a Pipe in just a few minutes on Yahoo!

3. Stunning data visualisations of everything!

4. Google Fusion Tables Google Fusion Tables is a Google Labs project. It is a data management tool to host, manage, collaborate on, visualize, and publish data tables.

Fusion Tables is a service for managing large collections of tabular data in the cloud. You can upload tables of up to 100MB and share them with collaborators, or make them public. You can apply filters and aggregation to your data, visualize it on maps and other charts, merge data from multiple tables, and export it to the Web or csv files. You can also conduct discussions about the data at several levels of granularity, such as rows, columns and individual cells.”
Here is a brief Youtube and tutorial on Google Fusion – as it grows, just watch this sopace as a great resource for schools to thematisise data.

5. OpenHeatMap: Custom heat maps for geodata: turning data into maps.
OpenHeatMap has been called 'YouTube for maps'. If you have location data in an Excel spreadsheet, you can save it out as a CSV file, upload it to OpenHeatMap and get an interactive online map that you can customize, share and embed.

“Curious about where people around the world are Tweeting about a particular topic the most? Want to see world income levels as reported over the last 100 years by the World Bank, playing forward like a little movie map? Got your own data set you want to put on a map? That's what OpenHeatMap can do."

As with all these tools a degree of computer expertise is required (re: uploading apps, downloading plug-ins etc). This video may help the learning curve.

6. Socrata is one of a handful of companies and organizations that are shaping the open data movement in government. The company provides ways for federal, state and local governments to make data available online in a simple-to-use. No wonder freedom of information is such a hot topic in our society these days!

It is also opportune while on this topic to refer to the Educational Services Australia (ESA) Data Genie which is a great data resource for geography and the fact that the ESA is about to launch Spatial Genie next week. Will keep you in the loop when it is live.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

A one-stop 21st Century geography resource from AGTA now available

Images: Buddhism and stacking rocks in South Korea.

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'

The new AGTA Exploring 21st Century Geography DVD resource

AGTA has released a resource to support 21st Century geographical thinking and approaches.

As you can see this site does not normally dabble in advertising any products. However because of the role of the Australian Geography Teachers Association (AGTA) as a non-profit organisation in promoting geographical education in Australia I have made this one exception. Hope you don’t mind.

AGTA has recently released a DVD titled ‘Exploring 21st Century Geography’. The DVD was produced for the AGTA 2011 conference in Adelaide in January 2011 and is now available for purchase on-line on the AGTA site. The DVD costs only A$95 (including GST and postage for Australian purchasers) and A$105 (including postage to anywhere in the world) for overseas purchases. The DVD comes with an unlimited site license and copying rights for an educational institution.

The DVD has been developed to support educators and schools to explore 21st Century geography. Such exploration involves considering ICT use in geography, spatial technology integration and capacities, discussions on the nature of the 21st Century learner, classroom, pedagogy and curriculum for geography and access to resources and approaches available for the teaching of a 21st Century geography. To these ends the DVD contains:
* three books and interactive CD’s on the use of GIS in geography (GIS skills development processes, GIS in Historical geography and GIS in physical geography)
* an interactive CD on the use of technology in geography
* articles on 21st Century geography pedagogy and curriculum
* Internet links to hundreds of resource and teaching sites to support 21st Century geography
* a 21st Century audit tool
* Internet links to geography curriculums around the world
* student project samples and processes.

AGTA is proud to launch this product to support the teaching of a quality and engaging geography in our schools. Most importantly it is hoped that the resource supports schools as they grapple with the demands and directions of the geographical thinking and ICT capacities stimulated by the development of a 21st Century Australian Curriculum for geography.
Go to the Geography Teachers Association of South Australia (GTASA) to view a user guide and flyer for the DVD. For more information on the resource email or comment on this blog posting – happy to answer any queries on behalf of AGTA.
Naturally AGTA would love to have any feedback on the resource to inform any future resource development to promote quality geographical education in the 21st Century.
Just a reminder, go to the AGTA site if you wish to purchase a copy of the DVD.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Thinking, not things to learn!

Left image: A wordle of the heirarchy of geographical concepts - an insight into geographical thinking.
Right image: Questioning geography?

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??
Sydney: S: 34º 0' E: 151º 0'

Thinking geographically via SPECISS

As the realisation dawns in schools that geography is part of the Australian curriculum and in turn will be taught in all Australian schools from F-10 I have started to think; what does that mean for the non-geographically trained teacher? In my day job I am frequently working with primary teachers and society and environment teachers in secondary schools who feel somewhat uncomfortable with delivering a rigorous discipline based geography curriculum. They have obviously been teaching the place, space and environment strand of SOSE but they have been able to manoeuvre content and approaches to suit their expertise, interests and geographical understanding. ACARA consistently says that the Australian Curriculum for geography being developed is based on discipline expertise and rigour requiring an understanding of the concepts, skills and content specific to geography. Such a statement will understandably create a feeling of unease amongst ‘non-geography’ teachers. Yes, there are geographers in our schools who feel very comfortable with the expectations of a disciplined based geography but it is fair to say, compared to other learning areas in Australian schools, including history, geography is an area which will face significant challenges to deliver the curriculum for geography to the level expected by those writing the curriculum. The question being repeatedly asked by geographers is how do we support teachers to not necessarily know the content but to think geographically when working with the content. As mentioned in a previous Spatialworlds posting, when we talk about the teaching of geography, it is not so much about the content but how we approach the content. The science, history and geography teachers may be teaching the same topic but will do so in quite different ways. For example, in regards to the teaching of earthquakes and volcanoes teachers tend to be in agreement that the history and science teachers will treat the topic quite differently. However the teachers I have recently worked with seem less confident about how the science and geography teachers will treat the topic differently.

So then, what makes geography geography? What is the lens a geographer views and works with the content. This is lens of geographical thinking I wish to explore in this posting.

Inextricably tied up with geographical thinking is the conceptual thinking associated with the way geographers view any event, phenomena or even actions of an individual or group. This conceptual thinking involves the interplay of key concepts which resonate with the geographer. As mentioned previously, the listing of the key concepts is contestable amongst geographers around the world but there tends to be agreement on what the broad range of geographical concepts are.

Geographers really are arguing about how long the list is and what concepts nestle within others or are a key concept in their own right. After viewing a range of geography curriculum around the world, with trepidation, I propose a list of the 12 most popular key concepts.
1. Space
2. Place
3. Sustainability
4. Interconnection
5. Change
6. Earth processes
7. Systems
8. Scale
9. Environment
10. Diversity
11. Relational thinking - cause and effect
12. Values and valuing

After mush debate at the Advisory Panel level of ACARA, a draft list of 7 (this could change as the consultation process proceeds) has been developed. They are: Space, Place, Sustainability, Interconnection, Change, Scale and Environment. As we always want to do, maybe the acronym for geographical thinking in Australian schools could be SPECISS or even PISSECS? Anyway, the important thing is that these concepts provide us with the lens to develop geographical thinking. In the following summary of SPECISS you will see that other concepts are nestled within related key concepts i.e. risk is nestled in environment. As professional learning is developed there will be nothing stopping us highlighting these second tier concepts and even elevating them when appropriate as fundamental to an understanding of what is studied. For example when geographically studying earthquakes and volcanoes and the interplay of the physical and human environments, the concept of risk becomes of first order significance.

Since these are the 7 being proposed by the ACARA writers, when we talk about geographical thinking in Australian schools these 7 should provide the conceptual lens for teachers when they are developing and teaching geographical content in the classroom. I would also suggest that an understanding of these key concepts (and their ‘dovetailed’ related concepts) should underpin the professional learning to be conducted with teachers tackling the geographical thinking learning curve. Whatever content being explored during such professional learning should be through the lens of the key concepts. Only then will teachers be thinking geographically as they explore the topics of the Australian Curriculum: geography with students. The focus must be on thinking geographically and not just learning things.

Peter Jackson’s discussion in is his excellent article titled, “Thinking Geographically” says that:

“… to think geographically provides a language – a set of concepts and ideas – that can help us see the connections between place and scales that others frequently miss.”
So it may be suggested that to think geographically we are required to view everything we study through the following key concepts (note that the related concepts really provide a practical insight into the nature of the key concept):

* Space: The examination and exploration of an area or space of the earth’s surface through the spatial observations of location, distribution and pattern.
(related concepts of absolute location, relative location, distance, association, proximity, agglomeration, time-space convergence, distribution, diffusion, interdependency, spatial pattern, density, clustering, dispersal, segregation, diversity, spatial justice, urban and environmental management, representations of space).

* Place: The observation and analysis of identified localities on the earth’s surface (across and in space) which have been given a particular meaning, shape and perspective by humans. People identify with places, using and experiencing them in response to cultural perceptions and human needs(related concepts of region, territory, boundary, perception, identity, interconnection and interdependence, sense of place, cultural understanding, diversity and similarity).

* Environment: Involves examining how we perceive and experience environments, how people and environments are interconnected, and how we think about our relationships with and responsibilities towards the environment(related concepts of human environment, human-physical environment, change, dynamic, cultural environment, landscape, earth processes, natural environment, management, mitigation, perception, biophysical environment, interdependency, relational thinking (cause and effect), risk and sustainability).

* Change: The perception that the world is complex and dynamic and that various rates of change is natural and expected in a complex interconnected world(related concepts of dynamic, equilibrium, interdependence, risk, relational thinking (cause and effect), time, technological impact, globalization, pace of change and societal change).

* Interconnection: Awareness that geographical phenomena, people, places and spaces are connected to each other in complex and often reciprocal ways – that nothing can be viewed in isolation(related concepts of process, interaction, relational thinking (cause and effect), scale, regional, global, interdependence, system, enabling technology, scale, sustainability and flow).

* Sustainability: To view a location, environment or phenomena in terms of their capacity to maintain human life and system quality into the future(related concepts of values and valuing, economy, long term/short term perspectives, social/economic/political/environmental sustainability, generational equity, development, social justice, contestability, globalisation, world views, change, interdependence decision making, technological change and capacity, planning, management, diversity, relational thinking (cause and effect), risk, renewable resources, technology, non-renewable resources, modeling, perception and preferred futures).

* Scale: To study and map geographical phenomena at various levels of scale from the local to the regional, national, world regional and global - the zoom tool perspective(related concepts of local, global, national, regional, small/large scale, impact of technology of scale perception, time-space compression, spatial perception, distance and map representation of the earth surface and geographical phenomena).

If we modeled geographical thinking when studying a volcanic event, students would explore the human attachment and perception of the place where the volcanic activity was occurring (place), the location, distribution and pattern of the volcanic activity (space), volcanic activity frequency, amplitude and impact over time (change), the capacity of humans to live in the volcanic zone (sustainability), the relative scale and reach of the volcano (scale), the relationships and interdependency of the volcano with local, regional and global biophysical and human environments (interconnections) and the impact on the environment of the volcanic activity (environment). Needless to say, it is the role of the scientist to go into great details on the working and origins of the volcano –such knowledge is background for the geographer but not their core business.

How do we explain and model such thinking to the primary teacher attempting to get their head around geographical thinking before embarking on teaching the Australian Curriculum: geography. It is not that they have not been doing some great work related to geography in their classrooms over the years but has it involved ‘deep’ geographical thinking to the level required by the curriculum which is being written. The writers are not shying away from using geographical terms, concepts and approaches because that is what makes geography geography. I am sure the English, science, mathematics and history writers were not open to a suggestion that they should not include discipline specific language, skills and approaches because teachers may not have understood or been familiar with them. Such characteristics are what makes a subject a discipline and should not be watered down to accommodate those who are not familiar with the discipline. The need to support teachers in moving along the geographical thinking learning curve is the challenge of professional learning which faces us. The premise for the professional learning we develop and conduct for teachers should be informed by this piece of writing by Peter Jackson again:

“The public perception of geography is as a fact-based rather than conceptual discipline. Geography enables a unique way of seeing the world, of understanding complex problems and thinking about inter-connections at a variety of scale. Demonstrating the power of geographical thinking might be one way … of increasing our confidence to take more risks in what and how we teach.”

It is this dynamic conceptual view encapsulated by geographical thinking is the professional learning in geography required for the implementation of the Australian Curriculum: geography.