Geospatial Games and Crowd Sourcing a Catalog

It’s never too early to get kids interested in geospatial technologies and geography. I was searching for a fun gift for a young kid and ran across the Daily Grommet, which is an online catalog that practices what it has termed “Citizen Commerce”. The site uses crowd sourcing to identify products and companies that people want to support. Their product lineup is constantly changing, but many of them are geospatial in nature. The ones that caught my eye were a number of games that teach 3D spatial skills such as a 3D maze game, the OGO build set which is basically a point, line, and polygon game, and the spatial 3d Challenge game.

The one that I thought might be really interesting was the  GeoPalz Activity Tracker. It combines a pedometer tracker with an online interactive site that allows kids to earn prizes.  When I initially read the description I thought that kids would be able to upload a map of their daily activity to the GeoPalz website and use it for interactive games, sort of like a mash-up of Google Maps with GPS Tracker and a Family Circus cartoon. The site looks like it uses the actual pedometer count,which is still really cool. It just goes to show how much we have come to expect of our geospatial technology in everyday life. More, More, More even for a kid’s toy.

Geographic Travels Geo-Literacy Outreach Awards

Back in the summer we highlighted the Geographic Travels Geo-Literacy Outreach Awards in the podcast as a Tip of the Week, but now as the October 1st deadline approaches, I wanted to provide a reminder. The awards are open to a wide range of groups and individuals who are interested in sharing the word about Geo. There are two awards, a $300 Alexander Von Humboldt Prize and a $200 Isaiah Bowman Prize that will be awarded at the beginning of November to support the implementation of the proposed projects.

If you have an idea to spread the word of Geography, head over and check out the details to submit.

World Water Monitoring Challenge

This is a great education and outreach opportunity to help inform people about water quality issues. It is an extension of the UN’s World Water Day (March 22) which focuses on educating the public by getting them to conduct water quality tests of local water bodies and share the data. The challenge is coordinated by the Water Environment Federation and the International Water Association, and sponsored by organizations such as the USGS and EPA.

As a focus for the challenge, Tuesday, Sept 18 has been deemed World Water Monitoring Day. Thousands of participants, individuals and classes, will be heading out to test water quality near them. You can check the event web site to find out if there is a local event going on in your neck of the woods. If you can’t make it to one of the organized events this week you can also order test kits from the website.

While this gives folks a chance to get a little bit of field experience, there is also a wealth of data, including webmaps, from previous years available to play around with.

Today’s College Freshman and the Geospatial World

Beloit College has released their 2012 list of things that new college freshman have known their whole lives, besides making some of us feel very old, it gives a good overview of the geospatial world today. According to the list, today’s freshman class was generally born in 1990, which would put them in the 1990-1999 GIS history timeline created by the GIS Timeline team at the Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis.   The geospatial elements on the list are a mixture of funny and humbling : 3. They have always been looking for Carmen Sandiego, 4. GPS satellite navigation systems have always been available, 43. Personal privacy has always been threatened, 51. Windows 3.0 operating system made IBM PCs user-friendly the year they were born, and 54. The Hubble Space Telescope has always been eavesdropping on the heavens.

The Mindset List has been compiled by authors, Ron Nief, Emeritus Director of Public Affairs at Beloit College and Tom McBride, Keefer Professor of the Humanities at Beloit College since 1998 to “reflect the world view of entering first year students” born in 1980. They provide suggestions on how the 2016 Mindset List can be used to start conversations and dialogues with students.  In case you were wondering, the class of 2016 have always lived in cyberspace so to them working in the cloud is the natural progression of the technology they have always known.

Geospatial Dolls

The Canadian Globe and Mail newspaper has an interesting article asking, “Do these dolls perpetuate Canadian stereotypes?” It raises the question of Maplelea Girls, which are a Canadian version of American Girls, both doll lines created to interest children in their country’s geography and history. The dolls represent Canadian provinces and backgrounds, but Amanda Kwan asks “But as a whole, do they represent what it means to be Canadian? Can you define a national identity in a 46-centimetre plastic doll?” It is the modifiable areal unit problem (MAUP) in doll form.

Using dolls to teach cultural geography is a long standing tradition and there are many sites online which specifically focus on dolls to increase geographic awareness. These range for the ubiquitous Barbie’s interactive map of dolls of the world to Langley’s Letter Dolls inspired by Kokeshi Dolls from Japan, and the lifelike Your Cultural Gifts geography dolls.  Elementary school teacher, Supattana Bolger, in The Review says that “This was a really great way to teach the students some history, geography and information about different cultures,” she commented. “You’d be surprised at just how much you can learn from a doll.”  The Smithsonian in Your Classroom used Native American doll lesson plans to celebrate the opening of the National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI) in Washington, D.C. because dolls have a universal appeal across cultures.

It is interesting to note that when Mattel created an early 1965 Student Teacher Barbie, she was a geography teacher complete with now rare geography textbook and globe. It was so popular they even made a hinged box stating that “Student Teacher Barbie looks very scholarly as she teaches her 6th grade geography class.” Barbie digression aside, it would be interesting to see a geography doll that represents modern geography and geospatial careers, not just one that portrays historic costumes or traditional concepts of globes and dusty books. Imagine a doll outfitted with gps to track all of its travels. The infamous Flat Stanley paper doll project has already gone mobile, tracking his travels around the globe. Why can’t other dolls join in?

Sim City 5 – Virtual cities like you’ve never seen them before

When I saw the E3 trailer for the next installment of Sim City, due in February 2013, my first thought was – this would be great for an Urban Geography class….or a class on sustainable development…..or a class on government….or a, well you get the picture. Just the short preview that Sim City’s developer released shows a revamped engine for Sim City 5 with nice graphics, physics systems that bump up the realism, and simulation models that really let you see the consequences of your choices in building and managing your virtual cities. For anybody out there who still doesn’t think that the gaming industry has anything to contribute to education or exploring and solving real-world problems, watch this trailer:

Several Scales of the Universe

You have probably seen this everywhere by now. Cary Huang and his brother Michael Huang have an updated Scales of the Universe 2 which puts the scales of a surprising many entities from countries to geographies to planets, people, and protoplasm into perspective. I also enjoyed the many variations of their scales, such as the original Scales of the Universe with the ability to swirl objects or make them fall. It is like being on a roller coaster of scale. On their website, htwins.net, they have other interactive simulations like a Tidepool. According to ABC News, Cary and his brother Michael are brothers who created this projects as a fun activity. It took them a year and a half to collect all of their data and put together the graphics. They were inspired by their biology class teacher to do citizen science.

One of the reasons I enjoy going to the ESRI plenary is the chance to see the great ideas and projects that young geographers pursue after being inspired by people around them. Many organizations have mentoring programs such as ESRI’s GeoMentor Program and the Annual Association of Geographer’s (AAG) Ask a Geographer and other mentoring programs.  When I first used the Scales of the Universe 2, I expected the creators to be college students or adults. The fact that they are young adults, who were inspired to do it by an educator, and then have it go viral, in turn educating many, many other people around the world who otherwise wouldn’t be interested in geography, science, or technology makes it bigger than the interactive simulation itself. It highlights the impact of readily available technology, the importance of mentors, and the one of the roles of citizen scientists in science diplomacy. The Huangs and other young people act as ambassadors for the fields that their projects touch on to the larger world.

I hope that they think about attending the many geography programs for young adults that are available and one day see them up on the ESRI plenary talking about their next big project.

Spatial role-playing and virtual immersion

It is interesting to find that there are many types of spatial immersion projects going on this summer. They provide a good contrast of how creative people can be with spatial immersion as an educational tool and the importance of experiencing an environment to understanding it in a new way.

The original Virtual Trillium Trail was a virtual ecological environment created by Maria C.R. Harrington as part of her dissertation research in Information Science at the University of Pittsburgh. It is represents real world field trips offered by the Audubon Society of Western PA and uses the Pennsylvania Department of Education Ecology Standards. Virtual Trillium Trail has been posted on KickStarter to try to get funding to make it into an online game.

School of Architecture for All (SARCHA) Polypolis is a role playing social simulation that covers different areas of current events. They are currently presenting “Polypolis Athens: Become an Athenian and experience a city in crisis” for the upcoming London Festival of Architecture on June 23-July 8. The theme of the festival is The Playful City and Polypolis is billed as a Playful social simulation, but is playful in the way that serious games allow users to play in a immersive sandbox.

Role-playing and immersion are always great educational tools; virtually or in real life. I have always enjoyed having students create their own role-play activities to share with classmates. I think that both k-12 students and adults respond well to role-pay as an educational activity. A paper on role-playing as an educational technique from 1958 sums it up well, ” Dramatic play has been enjoyed by children- and adults too, if you will — throughout the ages. It is a natural and spontaneous way of learning, but only comparatively recently have educators come to realize its worth as a teaching device.”

Of course, Sue Bergeron and Jesse Rouse have done more than talk about the role of technology, such as the contributions of GIS, to making what educators dreamed about in 1958 possible. There is a good quote from  “Engaging the Virtual Landscape: Serious gaming environments as tools in historical landscape reconstruction and interpretation ”  that says, “Utilizing game functionality we can add sounds, smells, and other sensory input that would be part of such landscapes, and users can begin to experience phenomena that in combination creates a sense of place. ”  It is nice to see how role-playing has evolved as technology and spatial knowledge has evolved. It will be interesting to see what people come up with next.

 

Climate Models Ignored by Media

Ars Technica is reporting an interesting article for science, I think. Researchers at George Mason University have looked at climate reporting in the New York Times, The Washington Post, The Wall Street Journal, and USA Today between 1998 and 2010 to see how often climate change models are referenced. The answer? A depressingly few number of times – 100 out of 4,000. Why does it matter? Well, how can anyone really understand the conclusions without at least understanding some of the methodology that went into the conclusion? Without understanding the utility of models in general and climate change models in particular, it is all too easy to cast aside climate change as junky science.

If you ask me, irrespective of the climate change debate, I fear we don’t do enough to explain the science behind the conclusions, particularly with highly politically charged issues like climate change. It seems a bit disingenuous to me that we would present one argument without explaining the logic behind it. It is then up to the reader to decide which argument makes more sense to them. At the very least, we potentially raise scientific knowledge among the general population, and that can’t be a bad thing.