Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Back to the future with inquiry questions

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

Quality Inquiry Questions:  a difficult genre

In two previous Spatialworlds postings I explored the nature of geographical inquiry and the importance of asking questions. In this posting I will explore the need for and nature of inquiry questions in the curriculum documents of the Australian Curriculum: Geography.

 “The purpose of an inquiry question is more important than its form. They are about meaning-making and not knowledge acquisition.”  Wiggins and McTighe

A contentious aspect of the development of the Australian Curriculum: Geography has been the need and desirability of developing inquiry questions throughout the F-10 curriculum. Over the past two years, they have been in, then out, then in and then … etc.  The reason for this vacillation lies firstly in the conflicting views over the inquiry questions. One argument against them is that they will unnecessarily guide the approach (encourage a teacher directed approach) to the curriculum and take away the opportunity for students to develop their own inquiry questions. On the other hand, some have thought that the inquiry type questions are necessary because they will provide a source of inspiration for teachers to develop high quality geographical inquiry which may be beyond students in the first instance and be required to guide the ‘non-geographer’ geography teacher. The other reason for the in and out scenario for the inquiry questions is that it is extremely hard to develop high quality questions which focus on conceptual understandings rather than just finding answers to content.

This impasse set me on a quest to find out what is being said about developing high quality inquiry questions. This in turn led me directly to the learning design and backward planning gurus of Wiggins and McTighue. 

The following thoughts have been inspired by their work, my own experience in schools and as a curriculum writer in developing ‘questions beyond the worksheet’. It is certainly worth having a good read of their work on learning design and consider the need to start with the end in mind. In the case of the Australian Curriculum: Geography, that end in my view should be the Achievement Standards 

If I was to develop the Inquiry questions for the year levels of the curriculum the question should be crafted to:
·   inquire into the big ideas and understandings of the year level

·    provoke discussion as an open question (never to be a closed question inviting a yes/no response)

·    limit reference to specific content. To do so one needs to blur their eyes to the content. And focus on the learning/assessment requirements (achievement standards in the Australian Curriculum).

·   involve a degree of contestability – making balanced judgements based on content studied

·    make connections to prior learning and possible future connections in the curriculum narrative.

·    stimulate and focus thinking,

·    not require prescriptive answers.

·    provide opportunities to open up inquiry with multiple pathways of thought

·    not be a checklist of the facts to learn.

·    enable the students to extend the question and in turn own the inquiry.

·    focus on meaning-making and understanding and not the recall of facts

·    the question should raise further questions – not just an answer.

·    be rhetorical to promote thinking.

·    3-4 fundamental understanding questions per unit.

·    accessible in terms of language to students and the ‘non-geographer’ teacher.

·   recognisable in the Content Descriptions and Achievement Standards of the curriculum.

·   identify the relevant concepts for the unit in the questions.

·   be conceptual and abstract requiring the teacher to model and develop contexts to demonstrate – not teach them through content questions.

In essence the questions developed must be crafted so that the teacher can understand them – hence these questions are primarily focussed on the teacher to design their program.

To help with developing ‘more than worksheets’ questions I have gathered this list of lead-in phrases – they may serve to steer us away from the ‘teacherly’questions as Wiggins and McTighe call them.

To what extent…?
What makes …?
How can ...?
When is it …?
Why should …?
Why would …?
How does …?
How do you know …?
How is …?
What do …?
When should …?
When is …?
How would …?
What should …?
How much does …?
Is there a …?
How well …?
In what ways might …?
What would happen if …?
Under what conditions …?
On balance …?
Why …?
Why would one say that …?
Why do you think that …?
How would you respond …?
Who is …?
Evaluate …?
How accurate is the …?
How well can …?
When do you …?

Having said all that, it is a huge challenge to develop high quality inquiry questions based on these premises. When writing the questions one often falls back into old habits of focussing on the content of the curriculum, rather than the understandings based on the concepts. I defy anyone to create excellent question without trialing them with teachers and students as they become familiar with the curriculum content. If inquiry questions finish up being in the Australian Curriculum: Geography I suggest that they will have the status of draft for quite some time. Hopefully with trial and error, teachers and students will develop questions that actually challenge, stimulate and draw out the concepts and understandings of the geography curriculum.  With an electronic curriculum which can be altered and updated constantly I would like to think that ACARA will do just that – to ensure that the questions are of the highest relevance to the conceptual aims of the curriculum.  If we cannot develop the highest of quality questions, maybe they should not appear in the curriculum but left to teachers and students to develop as they see fit.  However from the feedback we have received in AGTA there seems to be a feeling that teachers would like to have some guidance about where they should be going as they plan their programs. It will be interesting whether you will see inquiry questions in the curriculum when it is published (hopefully in May this year!?

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Map porn!! Pure GLAT!!!

Image above: The geography of happiness in the US.

Related links
Spatialworlds website
Australian Geography Teachers' Association website
'Towards a National Geography Curriculum' project website
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Where am I??
Sydney: S: 34º 0' E: 151º 0'

Maps you really don’t need (or even believe) but love looking at!

I recently came across the term, 'Map Porn' (defined as the feeling of excitement or joy from seeing maps - a
creative activity of no or limited value other than to stimulate) to describe the ever growing maps appearing on the web which really serve little real purpose other than provide us with a possible conversation (sometimes not even that but someone just had to make a map on something). These maps visually represent the most inconsequential or non-mainstream things and often use quite suspect assumptions and contentious data to develop the data for representations.  However the tendency to create map porn seems to be growing and is a way for people to get across an idea, phenomena or just a thing that they consider of interest ... and it is geography!
This Spatialworlds posting looks at a range of maps which may fall into this category and asks readers to think about what use they could be to you or anyone (let alone a geography classroom). The GLAT (Gee Look At That!) factor is in action here and who is to say that maps must only show serious things which may be used for planning or making the world a better place. The trend advocates that maps can be entertainment and serve absolutely no purpose or maybe a purpose for only a few people. The potential of such mapping to piggy-back on the phenomena of personal geographies is huge. Maybe the worth of a map lies with the beholder, regardless of the need or usefulness. Are such maps are a bad or a good thing? I think not, any excuse to make and/or look at a map. I am amazed by the number of such maps now appearing on the Internet. The following is only the tip of an ever-growing iceberg of map porn - not a bad thing if we want to promote geography as a 'sexy' and stimulating subject for students (being careful with the promiscuity aspect though!).

* The Geography of Happiness According to 10 Million Tweets (see map above) 

* Most popular baby names in the US 

* Who buys all the jewellery and flowers on Valentines Day 

* What your state is worst at ... 

* Maps from left field.   

A really interesting collection of maps on all things, probably not that important for anything than conversation and/or the 'GLAT' factor!.   
My favourites on this site are:
  • World’s Population concentrated into a city of the US (number 4)
  • New Yorker calls to complain (number 7)
  • Most popular sports around the globe(number 16)
  • Worst US light pollution (number 19)
  • World milk consumption (number 24)
  • Most popular surnames in the US (number 25)
  • Land locked countries (number 26)
  • Countries that share just one border (number 27)
  • Countries with a McDonald’s (number 29)
  • The world during the last ice age (number 31)
  • 7 Deadly sins in the US mapped Lust to greed! (number 32-38)


At this stage I need to suggest that there are levels of map porn. Some really are borderline and actually may serve a purpose beyond the GLAT. For example the map porn borderline US Obesity trends and the world Meteorite falls over time maps may be useful beyond just stimulation (not sure what use but someone would see of use I am sure). However at the other end of the spectrum of map porn, what can I say about the European penis size map! Obviously suspect data origin and application ... and the use would be?

There is nothing new with Map porn; as shown by the 1793 map of England firing .... at revolutionary France. This is shown in a Map of England and France: The French Invasion, or John Bull Bombarding the Bum-Boats, a 1793 cartographic masterpiece that depicts an anthropomorphic Britain launching a tidal wave of ...... across the English Channel at would-be French invaders and revolutionists.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Back to basics with GIS

Related links
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'Towards a National Geography Curriculum' project website
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Where am I??
Adelaide, Australia: S: 34º 55' E: 138º 36'

Getting a start with GIS
Whilst I have been working on the promotion of GIS amongst geography (and others) teachers in Australia for many years, this year I am back in the geography classroom and ready to introduce GIS to my students.  Initially I created this posting for my classes GeogSplace blog, I thought it might be a useful starting point for any Spatialworlds readers wanting a nice simple start in using GIS with their class. This posting is very much a what, why and how introduction to GIS for a class using the great mapZone and ESRI education sites.  So here it is.

A GIS starter

Now that we have played with the basics of mapping (grid references, legends, scale, lat/long, topography, contours, site, situation, directions and bearings) it is time to use what all modern geographers use in their work: geographical information systems.

Work through the GIS focus section on Map Zone (from the UK Ordnance Survey). This will get you a good background to the nature and use of GIS

What is GIS? from ESRI. ESRI is the software we will use in class. It is called ArcGIS 10.1. On this site go through the Overview section on:
  • What is GIS?
  • What can be done with GIS?
  • The Geographic approach?
  • GIS glossaries.

Read this page on what is GIS to give you some background on some crucisl GIS terms (Vector and Raster).

Who uses GIS?
GIS is often associated with making maps, but GIS professionals do much more than that. GIS is used to manage human activities. GIS professionals visualize, analyze, and model our world to help organizations make informed decisions.

Watch some of the videos on jobs using GIS

Now go back to the Map Zone site and have a go at one of the GIS Missions on:
  • Flood damage control
  • Wind power location
  • Control and command
  • Shopping for profit
  • Farm management
  • Crime stopper
You should now have some background on the nature of GIS, its application and who uses it. Now it is time for you to learn how to use it for your studies.

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Doing Geogthink

Image above:  The concept wheel of the Australian Curriculum: Geography.

Related links
Spatialworlds website
Australian Geography Teachers' Association website
'Towards a National Geography Curriculum' project website
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Where am I??
Adelaide, Australia: S: 34º 55' E: 138º 36'

Playing with the concepts to develop geographical thinking: geogthink!

Over recent weeks I have been working with teachers in South Australia on the nature of conceptual geography using the seven concepts identified in the Australian Curriculum: Geography.  If you like, doing some geogthink using the concepts applied to a range of resources and websites. Beyond the initial clarification of the concepts, I have challenged teachers to see how the concepts can be applied to differing degrees to just about anything we study in geography. 
At a workshop with final year primary teachers (all non geographers) at Flinders University last Friday I went as far as dividing the students into groups of seven, and giving each student in the group a slice of the above concept wheel. With the slice (or pie) they were to view the chosen topic only through that concept, before putting it all together in a discussion and then developing some 'rich' inquiry questions related to the topic. Whilst initially hesitant and challenged, the students soon were talking like geographers; talking about place,space, environment, change, interaction, scale, and sustainability. This simple activity provided the context for the students to explore a topic geographically, in this case the 'Adelaide water supply'.  I must admit I get quite a kick out of hearing non-geographers looking at an issue through the eyes of a geographer and doing geogthink.  
As a follow-up to this activity I thought it would be interesting to view some great news items, maps and sites I have recently come across and see which of the concepts would be most pertinent to develop some good geographical thinking. The suggested concepts for each site are just my view and I am sure could be geogthought about in many different ways.

Site 1: Space, interaction, scale and change
      Site 2:Place, space and interaction
      Food fights: intersection of geography and culture
There is perhaps nothing more closely bound up with one's national identity than food. Specific local dishes are often seen as the embodiment of various cultures and many nations promote their food as a celebration of national identity. Sometimes, however, a country's cuisine can also be used to highlight national rivalries.

Site 3: Space and scale
Twitter languages in London
a great map (see end of post) visualising the language communities of Twitter. The map, perhaps unsurprisingly, closely matches the geographic extents of the world’s major linguistic groups.
Site 4: Space, environment, interaction and sustainability

Elevated levels of nitrogen dioxide pop out over certain shipping lanes in observations made by the Aura satellite between 2005-2012. The signal was the strongest over the northeastern Indian Ocean.

Site 5:  Place, change and interaction
Change in the ethnic composition of London's population
Of all the changes announced by the 2011 census, one of the most startling is the rapid change in the ethnic composition of London's population.

Site 6: Change, interaction, space and scale
10 counties that disappeared in the 20th Century
New nations seem to pop up with alarming regularity. At the start of the 20th century, there were only a few dozen independent sovereign states on the planet; today, there are nearly 200!

Site 7:  Scale and interaction
Who buys the jewellery and flowers
 Americans like to buy jewelry and flowers all year, not just for Valentine’s Day. How much do they spend annually, and who would probably spend the most?

Site 8:Place, space, environment and scale
Rich blocks, poor blocks
A user-friendly website to map economic census data.  This maps the average household income data on top of a Google Maps basemap that can be centered on any place in the United States. 

Site 9: Space, place and environment
Land Locked country quiz

Site 10: Environment and sustainability
Fresh Water resources:  A Ted talk
How much of the Earth's water is fresh water?  How much of that is used for industrial, agricultural or domestic uses?  Why is groundwater becoming increasingly utilized?  Enjoy this TED-ED video for the answers. 

Site 11: Place, space, change, scale and interaction
The Catholic Church as shifted South
Over the last century, much of the growth of the Roman Catholic Church has been outside Europe, and there are now more than 200 million more Catholics in Latin America than in Europe. Still, European cardinals hold more than half of the votes that will choose the next pope. To be elected, the new pope will need two-thirds of the votes of 117 cardinals.

Site 12: Interaction, change, environment and sustainability

China's new bachelor class
Gender imbalances in China have created a generation of men for whom finding love is no easy task.

Site 13: Space and scale 
Mercator Puzzle
This online game where you return the "misplaced" country on the map is more than just an exercise in locating places (there are many online map quizzes for that sort of activity). What makes this one unique is that as you move the country north or south the country expands or contracts according to how that country would be projected if that were its actual location on a Mercator map.

Site 14: Space and scale
Housing patterns 
This article provides a summary of approximately 20 different housing patterns common in the United States with a visual example demonstrate the impact on the urban footprint.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

Taking a risk

Image above:  Mapping the risk of a coup.

Related links
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'Towards a National Geography Curriculum' project website
Humsteach blog

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

Edgy geography

"Edgy Geography" is a term I have heard from those advocating a geography pushing the limits and promoting engagement of students. The area of risk geography is a way to put the edginess into any geography course. As I wrote in a previous Spatialworlds posting

"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."

The above risk map is an excellent example of a risk spatial study in geography. The map sorts the countries of the world into three groups based on their relative coup risk for 2013: highest (red), moderate (orange), and lowest (beige). It must be emphasised that the map relates to “relative probability” because coup attempts are very rare, so the estimated risk of coup attempts in any given country in any single year is pretty small. For example, Guinea-Bissau tops the list for 2013, and the estimated probability of at least one coup attempt occurring there this year is only 25%. Most countries worldwide are under 2%.
Consistent with an emphasis on relative risk, the categories mapped are based on rank order, not predicted probability. The riskiest fifth of the world (33 countries) makes up the “highest” group, the second fifth the “moderate” group, and the bottom three-fifths the “lowest” group. This forecasting process doesn’t have enough of a track record to say exactly how those categories relate to real-world risk, but based on similar data and models, one would expect roughly four of every five coup attempts to occur in countries identified on the map as high risk, and the occasional “miss” to come from the moderate-risk set. Only very rarely should coup attempts come from the 100 or so countries in the low-risk group.

Such map making based on supposition and probability is contentious and subject to criticism from data and discipline purists, but what a great place to start when talking with students about the concept of risk and how geography and spatial technology can be used to represent and possibly predict futures.

*** Postscript added after the Boston Bombings: Another example of risky geography following the April bombings in Boston:
 Maps show more risk but less fear in cities. Some great use of spatial technology with risky geography.