Caching into Writing

Geocaching isn’t just for science class or the serious geography geek! A cache is simply a hiding place, and caching is hiding something like a treasure. Nature is full of treasures waiting to be explored. A popular movement called “geocaching” gets folks outside with their GPS units to find treasures hidden by other geocachers. If you haven’t tried it yet, it’s great fun! ( Folks are geocaching all over the world!

Many educators are taking that idea to the classroom to do campus investigations. Now you might expect that it’s the science teacher out looking at nature, but surprise your students in English Language Arts class with an outdoors writing assignment! Realizing that not all classrooms are created equally, here are some low-tech options as well as the spiffy high-tech ones. Either have students locate specific cached items or let them explore the landscape for surprises. Anyway you do it, get creative and allow the students to explore their creativity.

Low-Tech1. Create a map of your site with destinations. Use a hand-drawn map with destinations or use a tool like Sketch-A-Map ( to create your map for students.
2. Students can create a poem or story based on the destinations on the map. Nature is an excellent way to pull more adjectives out of a student. I used a similar activity with my students in my book, Reading, Writing and Thinking around the Globe: Geospatial Technologies for English Language Arts Classroom and Beyond ( where students create topographic and geographic definitions for words. Visualizing vocabulary can help cement those words into a student’s personal dictionary.
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To Space and Beyond

Several recent requests for proposals (RFPs) by NASA go along with this weeks theme. They are NASA’s 2011 Research Opportunities in Space and Earth Sciences (ROSES) goals and most of them are spatially related. They include not only Earth surface observations and Earth systems modeling but data analysis and research related to space and MARS missions. According to the ROSES RFP, the NASA Strategic Plan is being revised. Some of these revisions are in keeping with what you hear from other agencies to meet the challenges of climate and environmental change but others are the stuff of kid’s (and adults) dreams. NASA wants to “understand the Sun and its interactions with the Earth and the solar system” is a given but how about search for Earth-like planets and the potential for life elsewhere. NASA is ready to go where no man has gone before and that is definantly a geo-spatial goal worth pursuing.

The Integration of Geospatial Technologies in Professions

I have noticed lately that increasingly conferences outside of the geospatial sphere are specifically requesting geospatially related topics. I think it shows the integration and acceptance or growing need for “every day” geospatial skills and geospatial literacy outside of fields normally thought of as being obviously geo-related. It means that for geospatial users who often could not find people who “spoke their language” except at specialized conferences (American Association of Geographers (AAG), Esri International User Conference among others), there is growing opportunity for learning and sharing skills with other people within their specific profession.

Some of the places I have seen this trend are in the recent Society for Information Technology & Teacher Education (SITE) which has a 20 Year history of technology & teacher education. They included both geospatial technologies, 3D modeling for manufacturing, and serious gaming in their topics for the upcoming 2011 conference. They state that skills in these areas are becoming an important part of education and future job preparation for students.

The prestigious EPA Science To Achieve Results (STAR) Fellowships For Graduate Environmental Study included this special note which states that awards, “may involve the collection of “Geospatial Information,” which includes information that identifies the geographic location and characteristics of natural or constructed features or boundaries on the Earth or applications, tools, and hardware associated with the generation, maintenance, or distribution of such information. This information may be derived from, among other things, a Geographic Positioning System (GPS), remote sensing, mapping, charting, and surveying technologies, or statistical data.”

The 26th International Conference on Solid Waste Technology and Management also created a section for Geotechnical topics due to the increasing number of papers being submitted on the subject of solid waste and geospatial analysis such as route planning, design, administration, and cross-boundary environmental issues.

National Renewable Energy Laboratory

In 2008, Sue posted about the U.S. Department of Energy‘s National Renewable Energy Laboratory Atlas that was in development. I ran across the completed NREL FTP site with geospatial toolkits and GIS data by the NREL GIS team. They analyze wind, solar, biomass, geothermal, and other energy resources and provide corresponding GIS data. This includes a beta version of their MapSearch of maps created by the team. I had the honor of attending (sitting in the audience) a surprisingly tense and exciting National Middle School Science Bowl many years ago, so it was interesting to find out that NREL manages the National Middle School Science Bowl for the U.S. Department of Energy Office of Science.

To Mars and Beyond

As a young girl reading OMNI magazine, I couldn’t imagine saying no to a one way trip to explore space. I’m a little older now and would ask more questions, such as the ones posed in Cosmic Logic on MSNBC. It discusses a paper written by Dirk Schulze-Makuch, Washington State University and Paul Davies, Arizona State University for The Journal of Cosmology about the real life logistics for Mars colonization. They aren’t the first researchers to consider the real life logistics of space travel. For several years, NASA has asked researchers and industry to come up with solutions for everything from cryogenics to remote healthcare to the politics of joint military/scientist ventures. It might not be Stargate but it made my heart jump a little bit when I played the free multi player on-line Moonbase Alpha game developed by NASA and the U.S. Army to realistically simulate space colonization. The game is fun to play but at first I was frustrated because you couldn’t carry the whole toolbox with you to fix pipes. But Frank pointed out that there is no magic bag of holding in real-life and this game is an accurate depiction of the challenges colonists will face. Among the many experts required, they will need good cartographers, engineers, biologists, mechanics, and especially welders with a steady hand.

Inventor of Rubik’s Cube to appear at USA Science and Engineering Festival

You may remember that we’ve mentioned the USA Science and Engineering Festival, which will be held in October in Washington, DC. It is a great idea to celebrate science and engineering, and raise awareness of the importance of STEM education here in the US. There’s already a great lineup of universities, public agencies and private firms participating, and I’m hoping that there will be a strong showing from the Geography, GIS and geospatial community. So far, though, the long list of prestigious participants, like NOAA, NASA, Microsoft, Lockheed Martin, the American Museum of Natural History, UC Berkeley, etc. doesn’t include any of the big players in the geospatial community, even though STEM education will be crucial in training the next generation of workers for the geospatial industry. Still, there’s plenty of time to get involved!

As part of the festivities, there will be a You CAN do the Rubik’s Cube Tournament, with cash prizes and lots of fun for all! The tournament is only open to youth organizations in the Greater Washington, DC area, but the inventor of the Rubik’s Cube, Dr. Erno Rubik, will actually be at the Science and Engineering Festival to meet the winners.

There are tons of other events planned for the Festival, culminating in the USA Science and Engineering Festival Expo on the National Mall on October 23 and 24th. So, if you can get to DC, you definitely have to check out the festival, because it’s shaping up to be a pretty amazing event!

Popular Science Archive now online – and free!

Yes, that’s right, 137 years of awesome issues of Popular Science magazine are now available online by searching the archive at the PopSci website. If you’re a science or gadget nerd, you’ll have lots of fun checking out the science frontiers of decades gone by, and even checking out the advertising and graphics styles for the original issues.

About the only drawback is that you have to enter a search term to get into the archives, as there is no browse function available so far. However, once you’ve searched on a term, such as “rocket pack”, you can browse around through the whole issue using the archive viewer’s navigation.

Via Wired