At the Intersection of Physical and Human Geography

Climate change requires us to think in new ways about how physical and human geographies intersect: how does the one impact the other?  How do human artifacts built for one set of circumstances react to the change in conditions?

Simon Dixon notes on Geography Directions:

We are undeniably living in the age of humankind, the “Anthropocene”, but we are still coming to terms with what this means for the planet and for ourselves. Researchers and policy makers have begun to consider the social and environmental impacts of our increased urbanisation. There are also efforts to understand the impact human activity is having on the surface of the earth more broadly – for example, through the creation of anthropogenic landforms like open-cast mines, and by changing erosion processes in rivers through human activity. However, so far there has been little attention paid to the way earth surface processes are slowly altering and morphing the fabric of our cities to create new, startling and potentially dangerous features.

As his blog post illustrates, using the subject of urban sinkholes, climate change is also a fruitful area of research for geographers and social scientists, because these processes are also happening at/impacting human artifacts and structures.  Remember the giant sinkhole in Japan late last year?

Hakataekimae Avenue near Hakata Station caved in on November 8, 2016, Hakata Ward, Fukuoka City, Fukuoka, Japan. The sinkhole is filled with water. Wikimedia Commons user: Muyo took this photo at the rooftop of Hakata Station JR Hakata City. CCA-SA 4.0

As this post was being written, the nightmare of Hurricane/Tropical Storm Harvey began to unfold, as did the unusually intense monsoon rains in South Asia.  As it affects literally millions of people simultaneously, these events are an even more powerful reminder that physical and human geography intersect in ways that are increasingly unfamiliar.

Houston is a very flat city, as is explained in WorldView Software’s World Geography Case Study: Human Migration: Texas.  Its prosperity has come from the way humans have modified this surface, with railroads, ship channels, and pavement.  However, this makes it prone to flooding when its bayous cannot empty into the Gulf of Mexico.  In a prophetic 2016 series, Pro Publica and the Texas Tribune teamed up to explain why Houston was going to be in dire straits sooner rather than later:

As millions have flocked to the metropolitan area in recent decades, local officials have largely snubbed stricter building regulations, allowing developers to pave over crucial acres of prairie land that once absorbed huge amounts of rainwater. That has led to an excess of floodwater during storms that chokes the city’s vast bayou network, drainage systems and two huge federally owned reservoirs, endangering many nearby homes…

This lack of zoning regulations is one of the factors that made Houston America’s fourth-largest city, attracting builders to the area.  But zoning and environmental planning can be useful in a disaster: see WorldView Software’s Civics and U.S. Government Project: Environmental Impact Statements.  As Ian Bogost writes in The Atlantic,

The natural system is very good at accepting rainfall. But when water hits pavement, it creates runoff immediately. That water has to go somewhere. So it flows wherever the grade takes it. To account for that runoff, people engineer systems to move the water away from where it is originally deposited, or to house it in situ, or even to reuse it. This process—the policy, planning, engineering, implementation, and maintenance of urban water systems—is called stormwater management.

On top of that, climate change enters into the picture when it raises the water temperature of the Gulf: higher temperatures make it easier for the air to contain more moisture and for storms to generate more power.  For example, precipitation totals have demonstrably risen the past several decades in the North Atlantic.

The intersection of geographies raises many questions that your students will have to answer in their lifetimes.  How would you deal with a disaster? Check out World Geography‘s Internet Project: The Devastation of Katrina for starting points on imagining yourself in a crisis.  Because the sooner we start imagining the unimaginable, the safer we can make our future.

[See this list compiled by The New York Times for reputable organizations if you want to help the Harvey victims.]


BulbgraphOnOffHelp ELL students acquire vocabulary by using the glossary’s audio files. Definitions + pronunciation = oral and textual word recognition.


Preview WorldView Software’s programs for free at company logohttp://www.worldviewsoftware.com/preview/

#EdTech Posts of Interest

Two very interesting recent posts from blog Seattle Education about edtech — where it came from, and where it’s going.

computer motherboard

You cannot fully understand what is happening with Future Ready school redesign, 1:1 device programs, embedded assessments, gamification, classroom management apps, and the push for students in neighborhood schools to supplement instruction with online courses until you grasp the role the federal government and the Department of Defense more specifically have played in bringing us to where we are today.

— Source: “How exactly did the Department of Defense end up in my child’s classroom?” by Seattle Education

Focus group results have been refined into sophisticated campaigns designed to convince us that digital education for children is superior to face-to-face instruction with a certified teacher. The goal? Put technology front and center in 21st century school redesign, and push human beings to the sidelines…If it’s innovative, it must be good. Personalization? Bring it on! And for students in underfunded schools with leaky roofs and tainted water, the arrival of technology brings a glimmer of hope that someone actually cares. But are we bridging a digital divide? Or are we setting our schools up for digital dehumanization down the road?

— Source: “Hybrid Learning, Cicada Killers & the Next Big Fight” by Seattle Education

As a very small social studies publisher, we see these developments from both ends: the DoD/DARPA connection is dominated by large companies and foundations with a particular guiding educational philosophy — one we don’t share.  We believe that learning requires true interactivity, and that true interactivity requires software that can respond to different interests.  Our design makes it possible for students and teachers to proceed as they see fit through our wealth of content, whether they want to get a basic grasp of a subject or explore it in depth.  Our software uses your web browser, which makes it as accessible as possible, to as wide a range of students as possible.

And while we provide in-program assessments at several levels, as well as reporting for teachers — although quite rudimentary compared to the meta data and para data described in the post! — we do not envision our software as a teacher replacement.  Everything we design rests on the assumption that a human teacher is guiding the learning process, and will be there to explain, assist, and evaluate.

It is possible to use digital educational tools that don’t demand souls as payment!

Tiny Fish Brain GPS

What’s the value of discovering that fish larva, about the size of my thumbnail, has a compass in its brain?

Source: Tiny Fish Brain GPS

[Great post that ties together basic and applied scientific research, and the importance of both for policy.  Recommended for starting discussions for civics, U.S. government, and economics classes.]

Tuesday #EdTech Round-up

To give everyone a break from election-related news, here are some interesting #edtech things from around the web:

  • Using virtual reality to revisit the scene of Nagasaki post-atomic bomb: with the help of archival photos, Nagasaki University created a 3D model of the city that allows schoolchildren to explore a radius of about 500 yards around the bomb’s epicenter;
  • a lesson plan for coding an interactive map using Scratch from Ryan Smith on Brian Aspinall’s site (this is specifically for a map of Canada, but is customizable);
  • reviews of social studies apps you can use for enrichment from Common Sense;
  • an optimistic article from C|Net on how good online-only high schools can be when everything is working as intended;
  • and on that note, for people implementing online studies, a list of thoughtful questions from the blog Seattle Education that anyone involved with schools should be asking about privacy, the value and goals of data-driven pedagogy, and technology-mediated education in general.

Back to the election. Remember to vote!

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The Eastward Wobble, The Dance of the Earth

The gringa is filled with wonder at how humans remain at the mercy of nature despite all of our technological advances.

Source: The Eastward Wobble, The Dance of the Earth

Some interesting effects of melting ice at the poles!  (You might want to first check out the illustration in Art: Winter and Summer Solstice in WorldView Software’s World Geography, so the discussion of earth’s axis is absolutely clear.)

Internet Trends 2016

Mary Meeker, an analyst at Kleiner Perkins, does what is commonly regarded as an annual tour-de-force presentation on internet trends at Code Conference. The data give a dynamic picture of where the world is and where it seems to be heading.  Why should educators be reading this? Two reasons: it’s a way to introduce your students to forecasting, and it’s a way for you to see how your teaching environment may change with technology.

Meeker’s latest is available here, and we highly recommend you read it.  All 213 slides of it!  (Keep a browser window open while you read — if you don’t speak finance, you’re going to want to do some googling.  There’s a video of her presentation as well, but being able to research while you read will help more.)

First, this is a pretty good preview of what the world holds in store for your students.  Use it to spark debate and discussion — can they dream up ways in which these trends will manifest in their own lives? What alternate futures can they envision?

One way to envision the future is to tell stories suggested by the data.  The National Intelligence Council has been doing this for several years, and the publications in their Global Trends archive are available to the public. In the  report imagining the year 2030, the following scenarios were made into stories, each written in the style of and from the point of view of a different person:

chart summarizing potential worlds in 2030(A new Global Trends report is published every four years following the U.S. presidential election, so the next one is in the process of being prepared.)

Your students can either examine the data presented and evaluate the conclusions, as this commenter did on Twitter recently for Meeker’s Internet Trends 2016 report:

You and your students can take a turn at generating data and telling their own stories of how they think things might turn out.  And remember, it doesn’t have to be global data — it could be data about their school or city, for example.

A terrific example of this type of analysis is Saudi Arabia’s Vision 2030 document, which will be used as a blueprint to determine their political and economic future.  The reformation includes diversifying their economy away from oil dependence, opening their culture (marginally) to women and expatriate labor, and their politics away from dependence on the biggest buyers of oil, particularly the United States.  “Saudi is basically diversifying away from the dependency on one revenue source, one country source, and one market to many markets,” according to one expert.

The second reason to read Meeker’s presentation is because it gives some insight into how the edtech environment is changing, and in what directions.  For example, when she talks about ‘hyper-targeted marketing’ she’s talking about what data can be collected and analyzed to better serve your audience — the same thing can be done for students.

slide titled "Hyper-Targeted Marketing = Driving Growth for Retailers / Products / Brands"
Slide from Mary Meeker’s 2016 Internet Trends presentation.

What will be done with the resulting data that will be collected, aggregated, correlated, and interpreted from everything in or around your classroom?  Aside from the privacy issues, what will it mean for teaching and learning?  What does this mean for the way you assess a student’s grasp of a concept? How will test design change?  How will classroom management change?

Or consider how the growth in video — use of which is one of the defining features of “Generation Z” — will impact your teaching process.  It’s not a question of if you’ll be incorporating video, but how.


BulbgraphOnOffFactual questions test recall — use them to check students’ grasp of the material.


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