Thursday, March 31, 2011

Taking stock of use

Images: Canal trade in northern France. The Riqueval Tunnel at Bellicourt, Picardie, France. Built by Napoleon in 1811 and still in use!

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'

What is happening with the use of spatial technology in schools?

It amazes me that after writing this blog for almost 4 years that new sites keep appearing to pass on. It looks like I will never run out of spatial orientated sites for this blog – and I am only touching the tip of the iceberg. After several ‘thinking’ blog entries over the past few weeks on ‘Risky geography’ and ‘Spatial Justice’, I thought a blog entry just to play with some new sites (and old) to gather resources and information (or just spatially play) would be a good way to go.
Before playing it must be asked; considering the plethora of amazing spatial and neogeography sites on the Internet in 2011, how many of them are being used in schools? Hopefully lots but I am not totally confident that is the answer we would get. It would be good to get some quantifiable data on usage and then maybe map it to show the penetration of spatial technology and the visualisation/spatial sites now available for our schools to use - free of charge and totally accessible on the most basic Internet link in 2011. Probably it is time to get such data to see what the status quo is; what sites are most used, where the greatest use is in the curriculum (year levels/subjects), what areas are they being most used (in spatial terms)and where are the gaps across Australia. If we are on about spatial justice in education across Australia, such a map and spatial analysis is critical at this stage, as we develop the Australian Curriculum for geography. Who wants to start this research? Could be a great Doctorate topic (but have we got time to wait?). With today’s technology of tracking sites and on-line surveying, such a task should be quite achievable. Anyway here are some sites schools should be using to enhance spatial and geographical learning.

* An Interactive World Map, Grid Arendal United Nations Environment Programme,
This is an interactive world atlas with country statistics related to sustainable development. Globalis aims to create an understanding for similarities and differences in human societies, as well as how we influence the planet. A number of map layers are provided. Globalis also allows the user to display a number of thematic and statistical maps according to indicators. A written description appears beneath each map, explaining what the map shows

* Free and Open Source Software for GIS Education:

* The earth from above! Understanding and viewing satellite images. Some great use of satellite images from the USGS at:

* If it were my home: Country comparison tool

* Free trial of eSpatial tool

* Visual Assessement: A simple way to understand world facts

* NASA satellite tracking in real time at:

* It's a good idea to have a meeting place in case of an emergency and you get split up from your loved ones. Safety Maps, a straightforward application, helps you tell others the safety location.

* Hazards GIS

* Create a digital history with History Pin: Want to know what was happening on the corner of your street a hundred years ago? Now a new online project will let you ‘pin’ historic photos to images on Google Streetview giving you a snapshot of that particular location throughout history. The HistoryPin website encourages web users to upload their archive photos and ‘geo-tag’ the modern-day locations onto their modern Streetview locations. The site allows users to share images from their personal photo albums and wants them to include the stories and history behind them.

* The Intergovernmental Committee on Surveying and Mapping (ICSM) has designed this site to provide a comprehensive general overview of maps, mapping, cartography and map production. It is not intended to be a definitive reference, but rather to supply a consolidated summary of mapping concepts, principles and practice. Hyperlinks are provided to other sites which offer more detailed information. Also, it is planned that existing pages will be continually up-dated and additional pages added from time-to-time. The site contains an overview to the fundamentals of mapping, history of mapping, types of maps, earth's coordinate system, datums, surveying for mapping, about projections, maps as a summary of the world, making your map and cartographic considerations.

* Catching those criminals with spatial technology. Crime locations mapped by UK Police Dept. Go to and do a street search. Certainly beats the pin maps we used to see on ‘The Bill’! An interesting use of data and maps with spatial technology.

* This site is a toolbox developed by Westone in Perth. It is designed to provide assistance with training across 5 units of competency in the spatial information service qualification.

* Japan quakes over past months in real time

* Target map is a platform for community to share. Just choose a country and a way to create your map by color, type values or by uploading your excel files (you can even use your zip/postal code column to get the best and most accurate maps!)

* The worlds fresh water interactive map

* Geography of Slavery in America
This website provides transcriptions and images of more than 2,400newspaper advertisements between 1736 and 1777 regarding runaway slaves. The maps section is a great example of the incorporation of the spatial in history.

* New York affordable housing. Who lives here? Who can afford to live here? This site looks at income demographics and rents in neighbourhoods all over New York City. Click on the precinct and the statistics chart across the bottom.

* The London Profiler site shows data for London overlaid on Google Image of London. Crime, health and deprivation are just some of the indicators.

* From Scotland (National Collection of Aerial Photography), some great aerial imagery for historical geography in particular

* A brief history of time Zones – an interactive globe.

* Reading Topographic Maps: A Free On-Line Book on How to Read Topographic Maps and Use a Compass. Historically, the development of highly accurate, detailed topographic maps has largely been driven by military requirements. Army map reading training developed to a high degree of proficiency for the same reason. The information contained in this website comes from actual U.S. Army map reading training manuals, but it is also applicable to such civilian uses as hunting, fishing, camping, hiking, backpacking, mountaineering, hill walking or any other use where precise, accurate land navigation is desired or needed.

* Tiny Geo-coder: A simple site that converts location to decimal degrees of latitude and longitude. Search by address, place name, or by latitude and longitude.

Some old postings but worth repeating

* MapCruzin:
An excellent spatial technology overview blog containing free GIS, map downloads, GIS/GPS tuition, GIS news, RSS feeds and much more

* The earth from above! Understanding and viewing satellite images. Some great use of satellite images from the USGS

* NASA satellite tracking in real time at:

* The ESRI blog is a must to keep up to date with and be a follower. Have a read of the Fun with GIS’ postings – full of ideas. New things posted every week.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

The justice of spatial

Left image: Survival in a hard place: Flinders Rangers, SA.
Right image: Art work of spatial type in Seoul, 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'

"As an analytical tool, academic discipline and type of justice – the spatial has been disrespected and disregarded". Edward Sojo

It is often said that the world is “not a level playing field”. As geographers we are fully aware that things vary across space and that ‘things’ are not the same from one place to the next. In fact, this spatial diversity between and across counties, cities, suburbs or even streets are what makes geography fascinating for many of us. To know that we will always see change and diversity as we travel is the great stimulation of travel. However such spatial variation has recently been the source of much study and consideration by geographers. Geographers are interested in not only diversity across space, but the implications of such diversity and what can be done to reduce diversity if it is determined as detrimental to those occupying that space. This posting is about the growing field in urban planning, development geography and government services (to name just a few) of the concept of spatial justice.
When I first came across the term I scurried for the dictionary for the meaning of justice which means many things to many people. The aspect of justice which spatial justice focussing on is that of:
• the quality of being just; equitableness
• to act or treat justly or fairly.

When applied to the study of space, spatial justice as a term challenges geographers to quantify and consider the link between social justice and space. As Henri Lefebvre said in 1968;

“The organization of space is a crucial dimension of human societies and reflects social facts and influences social relations. Consequently, both justice and injustice become visible in space. Therefore, the analysis of the interactions between space and society is necessary to understand social injustices and to formulate territorial policies aiming at tackling them. It is at this junction that the concept of spatial justice has been developed.”

Spatial justice involves asking questions about spatial or socio-spatial distributions and working to achieve an equal geographical distribution of society's wants and needs, such as job opportunities, access to health care, good air quality, access to technology, education access etc. This is of particular concern in regions where the population has difficulty moving to a more spatially just location due to poverty, discrimination, or political restrictions. Not everyone has the capacity to relocate themselves to a more “spatially just” place. For example to move out of a ghetto, leave a poorly developed country, move from a remote region to a city. In fact much of the history of the last century has been the struggle of humanity to move to more ‘just places’, whether it be migrants trying to move to a ‘have’ Nation or the massive urbanisation processes as people move to cities from the country.

Spatial technology has played an important role in recent years to help quantify and visualise inequities across space. The power of spatial expressions of inequality lies in the visualisation capacity of maps and the ability to capture the powerful role played by geography.

Spatial justice resources are focused on providing statistical methods of representing, communicating and measuring spatial inequality. The use of data indicators related to health and services (number of employed medical practitioners relative to population, hospitals by separation from population, mortality rates by causes of mortality) have been powerful in showing the inequities that social justice geographers and policy makers are most concerned about.

As Sojo’s says in his book, Seeking Spatial Justice:
“justice has a geography and that the equitable distribution of resources, services, and access is a basic human right. Building on current concerns in critical geography and the new spatial consciousness, he offers new ways of understanding and changing the unjust geographies in which we live.”

Two projects from Australia are interesting in that they have been able to show the inequities of services across Australia and their implications to liveability of human settlements (human health and well being).

The liveability work by the Australian Government’s Department of Sustainability, Environment, Water, Population and Communities used mortality, hospital access, aged care, disability services, mental health facility indicators to determine the non-surprising finding that:

“Access to most health workers is generally poorer in rural and remote areas than in the major population centers. Shortages are often more significant in outer metropolitan, rural and remote areas and especially in Indigenous communities.”

GISCA at Adelaide University developed an Accessibility/Remoteness Index of Australia ARIA which has been very influential in the development of government policy in addressing spatial justice issues across Australia in recent years. ARIA is an index of remoteness derived from measures of road distance between populated localities and service centres. These road distance measures are then used to generate a remoteness score for any location in Australia. Again, not surprisingly “localities that are more remote have less access to service centres; those that are less remote have greater access to service centres.”

Another project, this time out of the US is the Neighborhood Diversity Project. This is a web-based mapping project for exploring neighborhood diversity and transportation options. Users of the website can view Diversity Scores based on household income, family type, and ethnicity. The project used Census 2000 tract data for the Seattle-Tacoma, Washington-Baltimore and Chicago areas. Other related projects include dot density maps of poverty levels and a series of maps of racial/ethnic segregation for some of the largest US metropolitan areas.

All of these projects work from “the notion that justice is, and should be, a principal goal of planning in all its institutional and grassroots forms. As the work of the geography has progressed in this area it has become obvious that social inequalities do exist and that they are generally spatialized.”

More important than just showing spatial diversity and its implications is how we address the inequities across space. Urban planners and governments are certainly using the work of geographers researching in the area of spatial justice. The Australian Government is certainly using the work of GISCA with their ARIA index as they plan the future or Australia in terms of resourcing and servicing.
In summing up this area of geographical thought and work the Los Angeles Journal of Urban Planning says:

“Renewed recognition that space matters offers new insights not only to understanding how injustices are produced through space, but also how spatial analyses of injustice can advance the fight for social justice, informing concrete claims and the activist practices that make these claims visible. Understanding that space – like justice – is never simply handed out or given, that both are socially produced, experienced and contested on constantly shifting social, political, economic, and geographical terrains, means that justice – if it is to be concretely achieved, experienced, and reproduced – must be engaged on spatial as well as social terms.”

As a practical demonstration of the role of spatial technology, the area of spatial justice is an interesting one to explore for the geography classroom. In fact on the scale of a suburb, we can see significant diversity across space and the concentration of services and resources in certain areas. This would be an interesting GIS project for a class to map the services across a suburb and then develop a crude index of remoteness on the suburban scale - and to explain the reasons why such spatial variance occurs and what can be done to redress the inequities with a spatial justice headset.

Friday, March 18, 2011

Risky geography

Left image: Devastation in Japan, March 2011.
Right image: Professor Iain Stewart at large.

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'

With the recent heightened profile and awareness of natural and human induced disasters around the globe it is interesting to contemplate the concept of risk in relation to geography. Several leading geographers have included the concept of risk as one of their key concepts in geography. Whilst for some the presence of risk as a concept amongst the frequently identified geographical concepts of place, space, connection and change may seem puzzling, I feel that the concept of risk is one warranting examination. In fact, the presence of risk as a key concept provides a degree of dynamism and edge which may in fact provide a real engagement component to a developing curriculum.
Risk is a term associated more with business and insurance but it is increasingly turning up associated with phenomena of geographical significance. For example we talk about ecosystems at risk, areas associated with significant environmental risk in terms of natural hazards and diffusion of disease or environmental hazard i.e. nuclear contamination or oil spills for example. How do such references come about? To answer that question we need to look at what the definition of risk is really about.
Risk has been defined as:
• the potential that a chosen action or activity (including the choice of inaction) will lead to a loss (an undesirable outcome). Almost any human endeavour carries some risk, but some are much more risky than others
• future issues that can be avoided or mitigated, rather than present problems that must be immediately addressed
• a combination of the likelihood of an occurrence of a hazardous event or exposure(s) and the severity of injury or ill health that can be caused by the event or exposure(s)
• a state of uncertainty where some of the possibilities involve a loss, catastrophe, or other undesirable outcome.

In this age of rapid change, uncertainty and continuing interference of humanity with natural and human systems, the concept of risk is omnipresent when we look at almost any geographical phenomena. The geography of risk is only just becoming a thread of thought for geographers but the concept does provide an interesting lens to observe, analyse and suggest possible futures for the earth and its peoples. Current issues being debated such as population growth, climate change, migration, endangered species, mining, genetic engineering, nuclear power and deforestation all can be viewed via the lens of risk. Every action has a consequence and by our very presence on earth we create risk in terms of altering connections and interdependencies which leads to a state of “uncertainty where some of the possibilities involve a loss, catastrophe, or other undesirable outcome”; a state of risk.
My thinking on this topic has been stimulated by the wonderful BBC series How the Earth Made Us (2010)and the work of geologist Professor Iain Stewart. These five one-hour episodes on how geology, geography and climate have influenced mankind are wonderful examples of looking at past, present and future in terms of risk. I suggest his series is a ‘must see’ by geographers to get an understanding of the risk concept.
As Iain Stewart said in a recent address to the Geographical Association in the UK;

“It would seem that there is something deeply engrained in human nature that makes us wish to push down the recognition of risk and instead choose to ignore it. At all times, and all over the world, people have made lives for themselves in high risk areas. Sometimes this can be accounted for through poverty (people having little choice as to where they live), or, at the other end of the spectrum, prosperity (having such financial means that loss or damage of property is insignificant). Sometimes, however, it would seem that pure place attachment alone is the key.”
In the first episode of the series on plate boundaries Iain explained that the attraction of water supply at the plate boundaries has seen the clustering of populations but also has seen human populations being located in the most dangerous places on earth in terms of natural disasters. Ironically this episode aired in Australia only several days before the cataclysmic events of March 11 in Japan.
In fact “hazards are predictable and recurring events, often returning to the same region, and yet knowledge of this fact does not stop people from continuing to rebuild in the same place. Therefore, there must be another factor, or a multitude of factors, that are resistant and that compel people to remain in areas of high risk.” Moreover and somewhat ironically “it is often the wealthy that choose to live in physically hazardous settings, convinced that it is safe to build palatial homes on hurricane-prone shores, perched precariously on steep unstable slopes or amidst incendiary scrub. They do so, partly because their affluence can buy superior engineering, which affords some degree of protection, but more because the social and economic resilience of the owners offsets their acute physical vulnerability.”

So Iain’s claim that “hazards emerge from nature, disasters are made in society” resonates with the geography of risk with populations having an understanding of the extent of the risk they face as a result of their increased geographical knowledge. For example, despite the dangers of living on the plate boundary in Japan, people continue to live there because of the benefits and attachment to place. The people of Japan have considered risk and “the potential that a chosen action or activity (including the choice of inaction) will lead to a loss (an undesirable outcome)”. No longer is risk in the hands of “God” but a considered response by populations to geographical phenomena of place and associated risk analysis.
However the geography of risk goes beyond the risk of location. A recent conference in Portugal called the ‘Geographies of risk’ broadened the reach of the concepts to be a interdisciplinary way to examine the manifold ways in which humanity engage with the notion of risk The conference covered topics as different as the representations of colonial and post-colonial spaces, gambling, terrorism, migration and border patrol, ecosystems at risk, endangered species and genetic engineering. The conference decided that “migrants settling in foreign countries and border patrols, pirates and insurance companies, biologists and ethicists, scientists and environmentalists, merchants and poets, terrorists and governments share a common activity: the assessment and management of risk. Perceptions of risk and risk-taking permeate everyday life, from the public sphere to the most intimate realms of interpersonal contact.” In turn, the focus on geography in the context of risk is related to an understanding of the “term as a practical inquiry deeply rooted in the notion of space. Indeed, space is already a representation of risk insofar as it represents (or at least speaks to) border and border crossings, containment and mobility, the limits and conceptualizations of the body, and the location of collective and individual memory.”

The whole area of risk in geography provides a dynamic lens to view and study geography and geographical phenomena. Literature on the topic is limited but I am sure it will grow significantly as the concept of risk gains currency in geographical thinking and curriculum development.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Geography, building understandings

Images above: Peaceful South Korea, close to the tectonic plate which has just devastated eastern Japan.

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'

Another disaster and even more footage and visualisations. As the media goes into a frenzy reporting the disaster as a type of 'infotainment', geographers consider the importance of understanding for students on the causation, impact and recovery aspects of such an event as the Japanese earthquake, tsunamis and volcanic eruptions (not to mention the nuclear issue). As always geography is the subject in the curriculum to deconstruct the event for students and to provide ways forward in understanding where to next for the people in Japan. As mentioned in a previous posting, the spontaneity of geography is critical to enable teachers to stop what is happening in the prescribed curriculum and explore the current geographical event in a non-infotainment manner. Ironically the capacity of spatial visualisations such as satellite imagery to show in dramatic form the impact of such an event just adds to the medias hook of showing events as almost a recurring science fiction event. It certainly is not and the work of geography in the classroom is to look at such an event as not only natural but quite predictable for a region such as Japan. That is not to diminish the human suffering and devastation of such an event which needs to be appreciated by us living in a tectonically stable region such as Australia. Whilst on the role of geography for 'citizen understanding' of the earth it takes me back to 2005 and the story of the 10 year British girl in Thailand who saved hundreds of peoples life’s on the beach by her geographical knowledge of tsunamis. As she said,
"Last term Mr Kearney taught us about earthquakes and how they can cause tsunamis. I was on the beach and the water started to go funny. There were bubbles and the tide went out all of a sudden. I recognised what was happening and had a feeling there was going to be a tsunami. I told mummy."

It was probably because of the UK National Curriculum for geography this girl had the opportunity to study geography to any depth and consistency. The article from the National Geographic takes the discussion of geography and understandings of such events and happenings a step further and may be of use as a hook into a story.

It is such understandings that geography can provide young people and the broader citizenry prior, during and after such an event. Can we rely on the media to do the job of geographical education as opposed to entertainment? Hopefully the creation of a geography R-10 curriculum will enhance the geographical understanding of young people.

Naturally there are heaps of sites on the Japan quake. Here are just a few at this early stage:

* Japan quake alters coastline and changes earth's axis:

* Rescue operations continue - has a link to Fukushima nuclear plant video and a heart-rendering photo album.

* The tsunami hits
* Drag the slider across to show damage

* Great satellite images of Japan Before & After

* An article with some useful links

*A Youtube on the Ring of fire put together many months ago as a teaching aid. Is this infotainment or just trying to get the message across?

* For anyone interested in the shortened day as a result of the earthquake

* The New York Times, Learning network: Great site for teaching resources on the Japanese situation.

* Finding loved ones: A practical application of spatial technology on the ground and functional . If you are looking for information on people in the quake zone, Google has opened a Person Finder page. Ushahidi a crowdsourcing mapping tool, has set up local platform for Japan that allows people in the area affected by the earthquake to text the location of people who may be trapped in damaged buildings.

* Japan quakes in past months and in real time

* An extremely informative video on the Japanese earthquake. Just on a lesson length!

* Weblinks galore on the Japanese disaster at Edutopia.

* Some amazing 360 degrees visuals of the Japanese disaster zone.

* A vast field of debris, swept out to sea following the Japan earthquake and tsunami, is floating towards the U.S. West Coast, it has emerged.

* A valuable ensemble of news videos on the Japan tsunami of 2011.

Naturally I will add to this blog posting as new links come on-line, as they will over the next few weeks.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

A mixed bag!

Left image: AGTA Presidents from the past four decades - what a bunch!
Right image: Remnant sand dunes along the Adelaide coastline.

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'

Seems to be that new sites and applications with the capacity to be used in the geography classroom are coming on-line all the time (or I have just come across them via searches or geogfriends in Oz and South Africa in particular). This posting just lists them for you to look at and consider.

* Mapping technology is helping underprivileged communities get better services — from education and transportation to health care and law enforcement — by showing exactly what discrimination looks like

* A TED Talks of interest: How can architects build a new world of sustainable beauty? By learning from nature. Michael Pawlyn describes three habits of nature that could transform architecture and society: radical resource efficiency, closed loops, and drawing energy from the sun.

* Breathing Earth is a real-time simulation that displays the CO2 emissions of every country in the world, as well as their birth rate and death rate.

* Spatial Source: Some good applications of GIS described. A good site to keep an eye or or even subscribe to

* Koordinates: A great site as an interacrtive GIS platform with the potential to add layers. In particular look at the Christchurch map

* Listen to a podcast of David Suzuki presenting The Legacy: an elder’s vision for our sustainable future. The Legacy is David Suzuki’s response to the question, If you had one last lecture to give, what would you say? In his much loved critical and candid presentation style, Dr. Suzuki explores his own life journey in an era that has experienced major social revolutions, scientific discoveries, cultural shifts and political upheaval. His focus also acknowledges the wisdom of his grandparents and moves forward through to the promise held in the birth of his new grandson.

* An amazing photograph of Cape Town. Drag your mouse up and down and to the left and can scroll 360 degrees and then look up at the moon and stars.

* An interactive animated map of human occupation of the earth is certainly an interesting spatial historical representation and would create some interesting topic starters in the class.

* From the Contour Education blog of Mick Law
Queensland floods
TC Yasi
Christchurch earthquake

* Spatial Education and careers resourcesdestination spatial website

* Discovery Earthlive website: Keeping up to date on the state of our planet using spatial technology/

* The Geospatial Revolution from Pennsylvania University
http: //

Some useful applications to use with students in the geography classroom
* Saving Youtube Copy and paste the hyperlink from youtube to download the video on to your PC free and no account required
Useful to avoid viewing the ‘follow-on’ videos and comments

* Capturing video
Capture video of your computer screen free and no account required
Large range of options for embedding and downloading the finished video.

* Word clouds
Create word clouds from chunks of text free and no account required
A great way to get a flavour of what a piece of text (document, project speech, Wikipedia page, website etc) is about. Use the advanced area so that you or students can weight the size/importance of words themselves.

* Collaboration tool
Online collaboration pad - free and no account required. Multiple students can type on the same pad at the same time from anywhere in the world.

* If facebook had been invented by an educationalist - free and no account required. A cross between a social network and a learning platform.

* Online file conversion: Allows you to convert a file from one format to another. Especially useful for converting video files which come in a range of formats.

* Sends smoke-signal messages on a Google map: Choose the location then choose the message. Can make good lesson starters/plenaries.

* Blogging made easy. Easy to create posts. Good way of giving out information to students. Can be up and running within minutes. Allows embedding of screencasts demoing

* Online collaboration with a range of ways of communicating thoughts and ideas about a given topic. Allows documents, images etc to be uploaded and class collaboration via recording, text or drawing. Good tool for peer discussion. Requires careful planning to reap the benefits. Education accounts available but will need teacher-created accounts for under 13s.

* Latest Art offering from Google Google street view but in a range of world-wide galleries. Has the added bonus of being able to zoom in really close to a range of paintings. Good for starters, plenaries, discussions in history, science, English, art

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

The concept of concept in geography

Left Image:Patterns and landscapes.
Right image:The gathered at the AGTA conference listen to Dr Peter Hill, CEO ACARA, January 2011.

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 concept of concept
When is a concept a concept? This is a question which is frequently asked when writing curriculum for any learning area. This is something I have been grappling with recently when considering the issue of what are the key/core/fundamental concepts in geography. The term is used loosely, probably because it is a difficult term to pin down. This posting explores the nature of a concept and what have been identified across the geographical curriculum writing world as the fundamental concepts in geography. Naturally the area of spatial, (is it a concept?) has a prime place (yes, another concept) in the geography curriculum, but there are others which are more temporal and focused on connectivity (however it could be argued that even connectivity is based on the concept of space).

What then is a concept? Here are some of the attempts from various sources to define:
• A general idea derived from specific instances or occurrences
• Something formed in the mind, a thought or notion
• An abstract or psychological thing that can be understood, operate with, apply etc - idea of applicability of the concept.
• General tools of enquiry
• An aspect of thought
• A unit of thought in terms of what one thinks
• May lead into judgments, propositions or even theories
• Helps frame predictions
• Concepts occur within theories but a theory with general acceptance can become a concept
• Concepts have a tendency to be referred to in connection with the general rather than singular terms
• Are often used to organise/group and classify thoughts
• Concepts can be developed, changed, discovered and invented
• Are something understood, reasoned or imagined
• May be based on a generalisation, abstraction or occurrence

Has that helped? Maybe a better idea is look at how the concept of concept has been applied in parts of the world to geographical thinking. One author describes a geographical concept as an abstract idea that are usually emphasised in instruction (i.e. mobility, variation, distribution, energy flow etc). As a result of such a broad interpretation of the concept of concept there has been a huge number of ‘things’ in geography described as concepts. In addition to the four listed above, the list can grow to include hundreds or almost anything we observe and imagine in geography. The Australian Curriculum: geography developed quite a long (but not finite in any way) list of concepts in geography. They were:

* Change, distance, diversity, interaction, interdependence, landscape, pattern, perception location, place, process, proximity, relationship, risk, scale, space, spatial distribution, sustainability and system.

When participants at the AGTA conference in January first viewed this expansive list of concepts they said that there were far too many for a curriculum and we needed to group them. Easy to say but hard to do – but what a great geographical discussion. Naturally geography curriculum around the world has been trying to develop a concise, coherent, workable and relevant list for many years. It seems that a list of 5-7 concepts are about the number when looking at the following lists from curriculums and curriculum writers around the world.

Here are just some of the attempts:

• Cause and effect, classification, decision-making, development, inequality , location , planning and systems (Leat 1998)

• Describing and classifying, diversity and wilderness, patterns and boundaries, places, maps and communication, sacredness and beauty (Rowley & Lewis 2003)

• Space, time, place, scale, social formations, physical systems, landscape and environment (Holloway et al 2003)

• Space and place, scale and connection, proximity and distance, relational thinking (Jackson 2006)

• Place, space, scale, interdependence, physical and human processes, environmental interaction and sustainable development, cultural understanding and diversity (UK 2008 Key Stage 3 Curriculum QCA 2007)

• Location, scale, distance, distribution, region, spatial association, spatial Interaction, spatial change, movement (GTAV Spatial concepts 2005)

• Location, place, human environment interaction, movement and region (National Geographic)

• Importance, evidence and interpretation, patterns and trends, Interactions and associations, sense of place and geographical value judgments (Royal Canadian Geographical Society)

• Space and place, scale and connection, proximity and distance and relational thinking (Peter Jackson, UK)

• Place, space, time, change, diversity, perception and representation and interaction (Liz Taylor, University of Cambridge)

An interesting site to enhance the discussion is TeachSpatial which attempts to delineate spatial thinking concepts from a range of sources and angles.

At a DECS geography Advisory Group workshop held in Adelaide yesterday I presented the task of reducing the concepts to 6 from the 19 that appeared in the shape paper for Australian Curriculum: geography. The 23 educators present (F-12 geographers from across SA working as teachers - early years, primary and secondary, Principals, Deputies, curriculum consultants, teacher educators and GTA reps) did not refer to any other work but just what they thought as experienced geographical educators. Here are the six key concepts they came up with after 20 minutes of discussion
• Change, sustainability, connections, diversity, perception of environments and space
Interesting! Despite the absence of the concept of place in the DECS list and the absence of sustainability in most of the others, there seems to be a degree of agreement on the concepts of space, change, connections/relationships and diversity as we look at all the lists.
What a great task to get geography teachers thinking about the big picture of what we are really wanting students to understand about geographical thinking. It will be interesting to see what the key concepts are when the Australian Curriculum writers settle on a reduced number of key concepts as what seems to be the way to go. Naturally all of the key concepts have related concepts nestled within. The spatial/space concept is a great example of this as shown by the GTAV with their spatial concepts listed above.
We need to have much more discussion on the concept of geographical concepts and their identification and definition. I feel they will be at the core of the professional learning when we get to the stage of implementing the Australian Curriculum: geography. Without the concepts we just have content!! Watch this space for more discussion on this topic as get further into the big ideas of what we want this curriculum to be about!

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

The power of the blog

Left Image: Canberra, symmetrical urban planning.
Right image:Coming into Canberra.

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 blog is being used very powerfully to distribute and discuss the plethora of sites available for teachers to use. Where does one start? I suggest the blog titled ‘Free technology for teachers’ as a great place to start. The blog has been created by Richard Byrne, a full time Social Studies teacher, Google Certified teacher in the US. Over 30 000 subscribe to his blog.
Go to the archives for this blog and you will see an almost overwhelming wealth of sites to use for the classroom. Many of these are related to spatial technology.
Here are just some of the great spatial education ideas from Richards’s postings:
* Geography action free downloads
* US voting on Google. The Google Earth team has mapped historical election results in Google Earth and Google Maps.
* Interactive exploration map
* The world in virtual reality
* Travel IQ? The web's original travel blog
* On-line maps
* National Atlas map maker. Using a GIS viewer to build maps of the US.
* Thematic mapping engine enables you to visualise global data on Google Earth.
*Graphing books? The Books Ngram Viewer provides users with a tool for graphing when and how frequently phrases, names, and words have appeared in the books archived by Google Books.
* Similar site search engine
* Geospace
There are thousands more sites on the blog. Happy viewing.

Following on from my last posting here are some more visualisations. Not surprisingly many of the listed below are also blogs. is a community of creative people working to make sense of complex issues through data and design… and it’s a shared space and free resource to help you achieve this goal. By some estimates, we now create more data each year than in the entirety of prior human history. Data visualization helps us approach, interpret, and extract knowledge from this information. Visualising is a place to exhibit the collective work of your students, organize assignments and class projects, and help your students find data for their own visualisations

Here are some interesting geographical visualisations:
Visualisation of Wireless technology and urban spaces
* Traffic impact
* Treemap of billion dollar amounts.
* Population diversity
* Footprint v’s biodiversity
* GIS mapping technology is helping underprivileged communities get better services — from education and transportation to health care and law enforcement — by showing exactly what discrimination looks like
* Grapes! Recently the Western Cape Department of Agriculture started a new project focusing on operationally monitoring efficient crop water and nitrogen use of grapes in the Western Cape. The objective of the project is to assist grape farmers with the daily management of irrigation water resources and on-farm nitrogen by means of satellite remote sensing technologies.