Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Royal Geographical Society (with IBG)’s Hidden Journeys: Dar es Salaam to Johannesburg

From Blog: Royal Geographical Society (with IBG)’s Hidden Journeys: Dar es Salaam to Johannesburg
Millions of people fly every year completely unaware of the fascinating parts of the world they fly over. The Royal Geographical Society (with IBG) aims to change this with the Hidden Journeys Project.

Hidden Journeys is a not-for-profit resource free for public use, and is one of the Society’s public engagement programmes that aim to foster an informed knowledge of our world. The Society is investigating how best to develop the project further for the enjoyment of air travellers across the world, including looking at how to make the interactive stories, images and maps available on-board aircraft.

The latest guide to be released explores the stunning landscapes, wildlife and human history of eastern and southern Africa between two of the continent’s fastest growing cities: Dar es Salaam and Johannesburg.

In the southeast corner of Africa lie some of the most beautiful natural landscapes and wildlife found anywhere on the continent. From the dazzling cichlid fish in Lake Malawi/Nyasa, to the more well-known antelope, zebra and wild dogs of Nyanga and the Ruvuma basin in Zimbabwe, Tanzania and Mozambique.

The flight path also contains relics of eastern and southern Africa’s human history from the last 1,000 years. For example, beneath the route in Zimbabwe lies the Kingdom of Mapungubwe which ruled from 1075-1220. Across other parts of the flight path are remnants of more recent colonial history, such as in Dar es Salaam, Johannesburg and Malawi.

Indian-Americans Sweep National Geographic Bee in the U.S.

From Indo-Link: Indian-Americans Sweep National Geographic Bee in the U.S.
Washington: Indian-American students have swept the prestigious National Geographic Bee, bagging the top four positions of this year's tough national competition, where US President Barack Obama played a quizmaster. Rahul Nagvekar (14) from Texas bagged the first position, by beating 13-year-old Vansh Jain from Wisconsin at the finals of the annual competition held yesterday. Both are class eighth students.

The third and fourth positions went to Varun Mahadevan from San Francisco and Raghav Ranga from Arizona respectively.

Nagvekar has won a$25,000 college scholarship, lifetime membership in the National Geographic Society and a trip for two to the Galapagos on an expedition aboard the National Geographic Endeavour.

Second prize winner, Jain received $15,000 college scholarship.

13-year-old seventh-grader Mahadevan, who took third place, got $10,000 college scholarship, while 14-year-old eighth-grader Ranga, who bagged fourth place, took $1,000, an official release said.

The winning question was: "Name the Bavarian city located on the Danube River that was the legislative seat of the Holy Roman Empire from 1663 to 1806?", which Nagvekar won by correctly answering as "Regensburg".

"It was a guess, a 50-50 chance. It just happened to be a good guess" Nagvekar said after the competition.

US President Barack Obama asked one question this year via video, quizzing the young contenders on their knowledge of recent events.

Obama asked which Asian capital city on the Han River hosted a gathering of world leaders in March for a Nuclear Security Summit. The answer to which was "Seoul".

Obama said that studying geography is "about more than just memorising places on a map".

Monday, May 28, 2012

World's Largest Statues: the Mamayev Monument


The Motherland Calls, (Russian: Rodina Mat' Zovyot!), also called Mother Motherland, Mother Motherland Is Calling, simply The Motherland, or The Mamayev Monument, is a statue in Mamayev Kurgan in Volgograd, Russia, commemorating the Battle of Stalingrad.

(Note the scale of the people in the photo above. They come up to the base.)

It was designed by sculptor Yevgeny Vuchetich and structural engineer Nikolai Nikitin. Declared the largest statue in the world in 1967, it is the last non-religious statue to be declared the largest; every record holder since has been a Buddhism-related sculpture. Compared to the later higher statues, The Motherland Calls is significantly more complex from an engineering point of view, due to its characteristic posture with a sword raised high in the right hand and the left hand extended in a calling gesture. The technology behind the statue is based on a combination of prestressed concrete with wire ropes structure, a solution which can be found also in another work of Nikitin's, the super-tall Ostankino Tower in Moscow.

Construction and dedication

When the memorial was dedicated in 1967 it was the tallest sculpture in the world, measuring 85 metres (279 feet) from the tip of its sword to the top of the plinth. The figure itself measures 52 metres (170 feet), and the sword 33 metres (108 feet). Two hundred steps, symbolizing the 200 days of the Battle of Stalingrad, lead from the bottom of the hill to the monument. The lead sculptor was Yevgeny Vuchetich, and the significant structural engineering challenges of the 7,900 tonnes (7,800 long tons; 8,700 short tons) of concrete[1] sculpture were handled by Nikolai Nikitin. The statue appears on both the current flag and coat of arms of Volgograd Oblast.

Sculpture name and translation

The duplication of the wording in the title "Mother Motherland" does not exist in the original. The Russian word for "Motherland", "Родина", is derived from "birth" and can be literally translated as "birth place". The phrase:'The Motherland that gave Birth to me is Calling...' might best capture the mood of the piece, but the words 'The Motherland Calls' is clearly more axiomatic.

Sculpture model and inspiration

The model who posed for the statue, Valentina Izotova, a native of the city, is still recognized for her resemblance to the statue. She was recruited by Lev Maistrenko, an artist who was working on the memorial complex in the early 1960s.
According to some sources the statue was partially inspired by the Winged Victory of Samothrace,[citation needed] with somewhat more extended drapery. Marshal of the Soviet Union Vasily Ivanovich Chuikov is buried in the area of the monument, as is famous Soviet sniper Vasily Zaytsev, who killed 242 Axis soldiers in the battle of Stalingrad.

Structural problems

The statue is currently leaning due to groundwater level changes causing movement of the foundations; the leaning is rapidly getting worse.[1] The statue is not fixed to its foundations and is held in place only by its weight. It has moved by 20 centimetres and is not expected to be able to move much farther without collapsing. While local authorities deny that the statue is in danger, conservation and restoration works started in 2010.

Sunday, May 27, 2012

Why do Asian boys rule the National Geography Bee?

My local PBS station is showing the National Geography Bee - not sure if its live or if it took place last month...maybe what Ive been reading in the news is all the "regional" contests, and now they're doing the national one on TV.

Anyway, of the 8 contestants I see during this final portion, one was an Indian girl, and two were Caucasian boys, one of whom has washed out, and one of whom will shortly wash out.

All the rest are Asians - one Chinese American I  think, the others Indian-American (as opposed to Native American).

What's up with that?

Well, it's because Asian minorities put a special emphasis on education, something that apparently can not be said for other minorities or the Caucasian majority. I think the math bees and the spelling bees are also ruled by Asian minorities.

Time for parents of all kids to work with those kids to get them interested in learning for the joy of learning.

Monday, May 21, 2012

I crave your indulgence

My mother's sister is visiting for three days.

My mom's deaf as a post, my dad can't be bothered to get out of his chair, so I will be doing the entertaining - the chauffeuring and the talking and the communicating - for the next three days.

So I'll be posting back here Thursday.

Thanks for your patience.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

‘Miss Amara’ helps second-graders learn geography

From Hudson Observer: ‘Miss Amara’ helps second-graders learn geography
Today’s second-graders aren’t easy to fool.

“Wisconsin,” a youngster named Luke said when the students in Mrs. Julie Warren’s classroom were asked where in the world Miss Amara was.

Luke was the second to volunteer an answer, and he was right.

Amara Treuenfels had been checking in with Mrs. Warren’s class at Willow River Elementary School via Skype over the previous three and a half months as she traveled Europe.

Last Thursday was to be her final video phone report. Each week, the second-graders were provided with daily clues about Treuenfels’ whereabouts, leading up to the Thursday Skype sessions in which students would make their guesses and learn the answer.

No one told the students that Treuenfels had returned to Hudson the previous day (Wednesday, May 2). The plan was to begin the video phone conversation as normal, and then have Treuenfels surprise the students by walking into the classroom.

Thanks to Luke, the suspense didn’t last long. When he insisted on Wisconsin as the answer, the screen on the Smart Board where Treuenfels’ image had appeared went blank. After a short walk from a nearby room, the vivacious coed made her entrance.

Judging from the wide grins on faces and excited chatter, most of the class was surprised – and happy to see Treuenfels in the flesh.

UW-RF International Traveling Classroom
Treuenfels, who just completed her sophomore year at UW-River Falls, traveled to Europe as a participant in the university’s International Traveling Classroom.

Thirty-five students, accompanied by three professors, toured 10 countries, staying in youth hostels and holding classes in whatever space was available.

Their longest stay was in Paris, which they visited for 10 days.

“The benefits of studying abroad are unambiguously clear. You learn more about yourself and other cultures, and develop self-reliance and other skills that can help you both in your personal and professional lives,” a university description of the program says.

The students earn college credits for the experience.

The recent tour was led by Dr. Wesley Chapin, a political science professor specializing in international relations and comparative politics.

Dr. Charles Rader, a geography professor, and Dr. Kristin Tjornehoj, conductor of the UW-RF Symphonic Wind Ensemble, also provided instruction. Tjornehoj, a Hudson resident, was along for part of the tour.
The Traveling Classroom’s bases were in the cities of London, Paris, Brussels, Berlin, Prague, Verona and Vienna.

Honors project
Treuenfels undertook her work with Mrs. Warren’s class as an honors project – in addition to her required studies.

As an elementary education major, she saw it as a chance to apply some of her training and spice up the geography lessons in Warren’s classroom.

Her relationship with Warren goes back to her first year out of high school when she served as a volunteer reading coach at Willow River Elementary.

“That’s how I decided to be a teacher,” she said of the experience. “I hope to be just like Mrs. Warren one day.”

After graduating from Hudson High School in 2009, Treuenfels took a year off from studying to earn some money and do volunteer work before entering college.

Before leaving for Europe last January, she put together a detective journal for the second-graders (titled “Where in the World is Miss Amara?”) and a series of picture clues about the countries she would be visiting.
Warren gave the students the clues to paste in their journals, and assigned them to write down what the pictures told them about the country Treuenfels was visiting.

On Thursdays, Treuenfels would visit with the class for 15 or 20 minutes via the Internet video phone service and reveal where she was. She’d tell them about her traveling experiences and the country she was visiting that week.

The inquisitive second-graders were full of questions, she reported.
Warren is pleased with how the project went.

“It’s been a pretty elaborate collaboration, but it’s just worked so well,” she said. “And the kids have loved every bit of it.”

Warren said the activity fit into her social studies curriculum and helped students develop reading inference skills.

Willow River Principal Peggy Shoemaker, who was in the classroom for Treuenfels’ surprise visit, also supported the activity.

“It’s been a great project in terms of raising awareness about geography,” she said.

Life journey
Life had been quite a journey for Treuenfels even before her travels in Europe.

She lived with mother, stepdad and three siblings in rural Montana through her sophomore year in high school, attending a little school in Stanford, a town of 350 in the central part of the state.

At the start of her junior year, she came to Hudson to live with her dad, Leif Halverson, stepmom Heidi and three younger Halverson siblings. She was eager for life in a city and the opportunities a large high school could provide.

Hudson High School was everything Treuenfels hoped it would be.

“It was great,” she said. “Everyone was super, super nice. I was in volleyball and met a whole bunch of people that way. And then I got into the theater and choir, and that was a whole new group.”

“It was the best,” she said of her high school experience.

Treuenfels’ two Halverson brothers are Willow River students. August is in fourth grade and Jasper is in second grade. Her sister Chloe Halverson is an eighth-grader at the middle school.

Her stepmother, Heidi, suggested that the Star-Observer report on Treuenfels’ project. She’s proud of her.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Marshwood geography bee raises funds for children in Honduras

From Seacoast Online: Marshwood geography bee raises funds for children in Honduras
SOUTH BERWICK, Maine — On Friday night at the Marshwood Great Works School gym, Geography Bee contestants sat at tables in groups of four, puzzling over names of obscure places around the world, pitting themselves against other groups to win prizes and raise funds for children in Honduras.

"This year is the fifth year that we've sponsored the event," said Eliot-South Berwick Rotary Club member William Phipps, who ran the contest. "This year, we're raising money to benefit a local nonprofit charity called Daisy's Children."

Phipps said it was a super event for kids who are not into sports.

"There's not so many events for those kids — if you like to read and do your school work, there's not a lot of things to do at a younger age," Phipps said.

The winning group was Bondgarden Farm, with members Boris Varshavsky, Paul Goransson, Marshwood High junior Jack Constantine and Marshwood sophomore Hannah Bossi.

Organizers estimated the event raised about $1,500.

Constantine is an old hand at the contest.

"It was great," he said. "I've been doing this a couple of years now to help out. It's a great thing they have here."

He said he learned geography by watching "Jeopardy." "I didn't study too much this year, just a quick look over an atlas," he said.

Bossi agreed that it was fun, but said she had to rely a lot on her group. What she liked best was that she "didn't have to answer the questions (herself)."

Daisy's Children founder Sharon Beckwith said she was inspired after spending time in the small mountainous village of Concepcion del Norte, Honduras, to create a program to provide food, clean drinking water and access to education and medical care to children there. Her inspiration was "Daisy" — Deysi Suyapa Madrid Chavez — a mother who gave her life so her three children might have food, she said.

"She was the same age as my son, who is 24," Beckwith said. "I couldn't wrap my head around how does that happen in this world, that somebody that age can die of starvation because she would feed her children and not feed herself?"

When she returned to the United States, Beckwith began fund-raising and eventually founded Daisy's Children.

Phipps said he was grateful to all the sponsors of the event, especially Oscar Stone of the Stone Agency in Berwick, who handmade trophies for the winning contestants.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Can You Learn Geography With Zombies?

From Web Pro News: Can You Learn Geography With Zombies?

Can the zombie apocalypse teach all that you need to know about geography? What about a roleplaying game that requires players to plan their course of action? Can that kind of gameplay reinforce geographic lessons, especially when the roleplaying includes locating “safe zones” survivors can continue to, well, survive in?
That’s certainly what the Zombie-Based Learning Kickstarter project, created by David Hunter, is banking on. While the concept of video game-enhanced learning is not a new concept, per se, applying zombe apocalypse survival specifically to geography is. Aimed at kids who are in the middle school age, Zombie-Based Learning is clear about the goal of giving students an alternative to “boring textbook reading.”
The Kickstarter page reveals more about the ingenious idea:
What we’re doing here, is teaching how to be a geographer by learning skills needed to survive a zombie apocalypse. Imagine being in a classroom where instead of reading about maps, you’re designing them to show the spread of a zombie outbreak. Instead of reading about the distribution of resources on Earth in a textbook, you are researching available resources to plan your post-outbreak settlement. I’m not just talking about learning where places are or memorizing capitals of states or countries, I’m talking about learning the deeper concepts of geography that geographers actually use. And all in an exciting scenario.
Hunter credits both his love of geography and the undead for the appropriate inspiration. He also feels this kind of role-playing/teamwork-based projects are fantastic teaching tool, one he has taken one step further by focusing on a particular subject being “taught” via a specific kind of roleplaying. Hunter also believes combining the two concepts can draw the interest of students who would otherwise ignore their geography lessons:
By building this project, we can show that learning can be done through far out scenarios, or even just based on what students are interested in. I also believe that the Zombie genre has the potential to engage often disengaged students, providing an alternative to boring textbook reading.
There are also two videos describing his idea. One is a shorter one for those interested in the Kickstarter, and the other one is a longer one for teachers who are curious as to how Hunter’s idea would work for their students.
First, the Kickstarter pitch video:

The second video, the one aimed at teachers, is a little longer, coming in at 24 minutes. This, as you might expect, has a lot more detail than the six-minute pitch video:

Hunter envisions five different scenarios with which students can learn from. They include:

Planning for the Outbreak
News of a zombie-like outbreak has reached your community. You are helping to plan in case the outbreak reaches your area.

Post Outbreak Survival
The outbreak has reached your area and chaos has followed. You use your skills to just try and survive and find other survivors.
Finding a Place to Settle
Through surviving you have met with other survivors, now you are trying to decide upon a safe place.
Building a Community
With your group of survivors, you make decisions to build a safe and sustainable community.
Planning for the Future
Based on what you know about Geography, and based on a knowledge of the past, your community makes long term plans for survival and rebuilding a life.
Considering all of that information, what are your thoughts on using the zombie apocalypse as a tool to help students learn about geography? Is this a brilliant idea that’s been long-needed or is just a frivolous exercise on Hunter’s part? Let us know what you think.
For those who are wondering, Zombie-Based Learning has over half of its $5000 goal. Perhaps he should partner up with James Paul Gee.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Crews scale volcano to reach Indonesian crash site

Indonesia, officially the Republic of Indonesia (Indonesian: Republik Indonesia Indonesian pronunciation: [rɛpʊblɪk ɪndɔnɛsɪa]), is a country in Southeast Asia and Oceania. Indonesia is an archipelago comprising approximately 17,508 islands.[5] It has 33 provinces with over 238 million people, and is the world's fourth most populous country. Indonesia is a republic, with an elected legislature and president. The nation's capital city is Jakarta. The country shares land borders with Papua New Guinea, East Timor, and Malaysia. Other neighboring countries include Singapore, Philippines, Australia, and the Indian territory of the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. Indonesia is a founding member of ASEAN and a member of the G-20 major economies. The Indonesian economy is the world's seventeenth largest economy by nominal GDP and fifteenth largest by purchasing power parity. Indonesia is one of the fastest growing major economies in the world.

The Indonesian archipelago has been an important trade region since at least the 7th century, when Srivijaya and then later Majapahit traded with China and India. Local rulers gradually absorbed foreign cultural, religious and political models from the early centuries CE, and Hindu and Buddhist kingdoms flourished. Indonesian history has been influenced by foreign powers drawn to its natural resources. Muslim traders brought Islam, and European powers brought Christianity and fought one another to monopolize trade in the Spice Islands of Maluku during the Age of Discovery. Following three and a half centuries of Dutch colonialism, Indonesia secured its independence after World War II. Indonesia's history has since been turbulent, with challenges posed by natural disasters, corruption, separatism, a democratization process, and periods of rapid economic change.

Across its many islands, Indonesia consists of distinct ethnic, linguistic, and religious groups. The Javanese are the largest—and the politically dominant—ethnic group. Indonesia has developed a shared identity defined by a national language, ethnic diversity, religious pluralism within a majority Muslim population, and a history of colonialism and rebellion against it. Indonesia's national motto, "Bhinneka Tunggal Ika" ("Unity in Diversity" literally, "many, yet one"), articulates the diversity that shapes the country. Despite its large population and densely populated regions, Indonesia has vast areas of wilderness that support the world's second highest level of biodiversity. The country is richly endowed with natural resources, yet poverty remains widespread.
From Herald Sun (Australia): Crews scale volcano to reach Indonesian crash site
INDONESIAN searchers with body bags and hoists have scaled a steep volcano to retrieve at least 45 bodies spread over the jungly terrain where a Russian jet crashed during a sales flight.

The crews were using climbing equipment to ascend the near-vertical face of Mount Salak, a dormant volcano south of Jakarta.

They were believed to be about 200 metres from reaching the first bodies, authorities said this afternoon.

All aboard the Sukhoi Superjet 100 were killed, authorities said on Thursday, a day after the plane slammed into the mountain during a flight that was meant to spur international sales of Russia's first post-Soviet civilian jet.

The military commander of the mission said one team was climbing up from the foot of the mountain, while another was going down from the top.

The difficult terrain over the dormant volcano, which juts more than 2,200 metres into the air and is most days shrouded in thick fog, has been an extreme challenge to the searchers.

The mist had stopped helicopters from getting close to the area, since a chopper pilot first spotted the wreckage on Thursday morning, authorities said.

"The plane crashed into the mountain and slid 250m down," said Colonel Anton Mukti Putranto.

"There is so far no information about (the number of) victims. They could see only the debris of the plane because it's still quite a distance from where they are," Putranto said, referring to the team closest to the site.

Ketut Parwa, search and rescue agency chief for the capital Jakarta, said victims would be placed into body bags, hoisted up the mountain, then carried to ambulances a long distance away on foot.

He said helicopters would then fly the bodies to the capital's Halim Perdanakusuma military airport, where authorities have set up a forensics post to identify victims through DNA samples taken from relatives.

The company representing Sukhoi in Indonesia, Trimarga Rekatama, originally said 50 passengers were on board but on Thursday revised the number to 45. Local rescue officials said the plane was carrying 46 people.

Those on board were mostly Indonesian aviation representatives, but there were also eight Russians - four of them crew and four Sukhoi employees - plus an American and a Frenchman, officials said.

The demonstration flight was part of an Asian tour to promote the aircraft, a joint venture between Sukhoi and Italy's Alenia Aeronautica, which made its first commercial flight last year.

Cascades Volcano Observatory watches more than NW

From Seattle Times: Cascades Volcano Observatory watches more than NW
VANCOUVER, Wash. — The Cascades Volcano Observatory's name suggests an entirely Northwest focus. The file cabinets in John Ewert's office suggest otherwise.

A handwritten label on one drawer simply reads "Colombia." Another points to the southwest Pacific. Ecuador. Peru. Each refers to a far-away place the observatory's scientists have watched over the years, often traveling to support local authorities when a potentially dangerous volcano starts acting up.

Of course, Cascades Volcano Observatory scientists also keep a constant, close eye on the mountains in their own backyard. To walk the halls of the observatory's Vancouver headquarters is to be surrounded by a visual history of each volcano, particularly the Northwest's most famous, Mount St. Helens. This month, Washington marks Volcano Awareness Month as the anniversary of the mountain's catastrophic May 18, 1980, eruption approaches.

"It really started modern volcanology," said Ewert, the observatory's scientist-in-charge.

When the Cascades are relatively quiet - as they are now - volcanoes generally don't land high on people's list of day-to-day concerns, said John Pallister, chief of the observatory's Volcano Disaster Assistance Program. But that doesn't mean communities shouldn't be ready, he said. An active volcano may only give a few days' warning before waking up.

"It's important to have established monitoring systems before a crisis," Pallister said. "That can be a tough sell if there hasn't been a crisis in a while."

The Cascades Volcano Observatory is one of only five volcanic observatories operated by the U.S. Geological Survey. It and other facilities combine a variety of disciplines to keep a finger on the pulse of mountains near and far, and advance ongoing research to better understand them. Among the Vancouver office's 55 or so staff are geologists, seismologists, hydrologists, petrologists and others.

The facility's operations room offers a real-time look at Northwest mountains' constant rumblings. Sixteen flat-screen monitors display seismic readings from several Washington and Oregon peaks, mounted around a pair of digital clocks.

At first glance, the readings may look more dire than they actually are. That's because outside forces such as wind, footsteps or helicopters can kick up "noise" on the graphs. A sort of cheat sheet on the wall shows how to recognize them.

"After awhile, you kind of train your eye to see these things," said Carolyn Driedger, an observatory hydrologist and outreach coordinator.

Seismologist Seth Moran is one of the scientists responsible for monitoring Northwest volcanoes' activities daily. It's no surprise that Mount St. Helens is the best equipped with monitoring gear, but Moran said he'd like to see better investments and equipment at some of the Northwest's other peaks - Oregon's Mount Hood and Washington's Glacier Peak among them.

Like other observatory scientists, Moran tackles regular research and projects as part of his day-to-day work. But when a Northwest volcano does something out of the ordinary - as Mount St. Helens did during its last eruptive phase between 2004 and 2008 - that changes.

"Everything drops," Moran said.

Outside the Northwest, the Cascades Volcano Observatory's international efforts remain active. Several local scientists were recently dispatched to Indonesia for "infrastructure building" to help authorities there monitor volcanic threats. Another group traveled to Colombia to help keep tabs on Nevado del Ruiz, a volcano recently showing signs of a possible eruption.

Both locations are familiar hot spots. Indonesia is among the most geologically active places in the world, and a densely populated landscape only adds to the risk of disaster, Pallister said. It's also been the site of success stories - as recently as 2010, an evacuation ahead of a major eruption saved thousands of lives, he said.

Colombia's Nevado del Ruiz helped spur international action more than two decades ago, after a 1985 eruption and subsequent mud and debris flow that killed more than 23,000 people. The Volcanic Disaster Assistance Program started the following year.

Volcanic activity doesn't always result in that kind of calamity. Many events are much more docile. But just because a mountain isn't erupting doesn't mean it's not talking, Moran said.

"Volcanoes are constantly chattering away," Moran said. "And when they're chattering, we have to pay attention."

Monday, May 7, 2012

Geography lost amid emphasis on other subjects

From 22 News: Geography lost amid emphasis on other subjects
BOSTON (WWLP) - How well do you know your geography? Some students say schools don't teach it nearly enough.

With the Internet and social media, teachers and many students say our world is increasingly becoming smaller, so we should know something about it.

As part of the EarthView Project , educators are touring schools throughout the state, giving thousands of students, mainly in grades 4 to 8, the opportunity to learn about geography from inside a giant model of the Earth. Educators brought their project to the State House where they urged lawmakers to pass legislation to increase geography instruction in primary and secondary schools.

EarthView team members say students from poorer countries, like Mexico, typically score higher on geography tests than students in the U.S.

Quabbin Middle School student Zoe Bates agrees that there needs to be more instruction. “In Massachusetts we need people to know more about their geography, we need to put more of an emphasis on it,” Bates said.

Quabbin Middle School teacher Dorothy Verheyen Cudjoe says that despite geography’s importance, it is often lost with the greater focus on other subjects. “Because we really have an emphasis on science, math and language, so we're here as those people who love geography and love our social sciences, social studies, to promote that.”

Teachers and students say geography is important in understanding the world and our social, economic and political place within it. A 2006 National Geographic study found that two-thirds of Americans aged 18 to 24 could not find Iraq on a map. Another half could not find New York.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Canada: ‘Plaid Avenger’ geography prof brings the world to his students — with the help of Skype

From the ‘Plaid Avenger’ geography prof brings the world to his students — with the help of Skype
Geography professor John Boyer has nabbed Emilio Estevez, Martin Sheen and Aung San Suu Kyi as guest lecturers and plans to try for Barack Obama next.

It’s one of the reasons his Virginia Tech classes have ballooned to 2,700 students — and students still get turned away.

Boyer’s interactive, unorthodox “World Regions” geography class unnerves some educators but its popularity is unquestionable.

“His class is amazing,” student Austin Larrowe posted on The Chronicle, a higher education journal. “He proves higher education can adapt with changing times.”

“This class is truly revolutionary. If students get a poor grade they only have themselves to blame,” wrote student Zach Daniel.

“I learned more about the world in this class than all my other history/geography classes combined,” wrote student Clare Smith.

That, Boyer told the Star, is his point.

“Most Americans don’t follow international news. We don’t have a globally literate group of folks. In a global world, that’s not good enough.”

Estevez and his dad came to class at Boyer’s invitation to talk about their movie “The Way.” A class segment on oppression in Burma inspired students to ask if Suu Kyi would speak.

“At first, I laughed. The students used their social networking connections and it worked,” says Boyer, 42.

The long-imprisoned democracy leader and Nobel Peace Prize winner spoke for a half-hour from Burma via Skype on Dec. 5 to Boyer’s dazzled class.

Far more often, though, the class Skypes with young people around the world who talk about their cultures and lives.

Social networking is a hallmark of making metacourses work, he says. His Plaid Avenger website, named for his trademark loud jackets, aggregates hundreds of videos, biographies and sketches of leaders and country profiles.

Boyer’s instantly recognizable sketch of Moammar Gadhafi turned up on protest posters in Libya.

Students choose their own tests from the website and have to achieve a certain number of points. Pop quizzes are announced via a Twitter blast from Boyer’s technical assistant Katie Pritchard. His office hours are online and he answers questions as long as it takes.

“I never would have attempted a class this size without her.”

Boyer’s route to university lecturer is as unorthodox as his methods. A stint in the U.S. Coast Guard took him around the world. The G.I. Bill paid his way to Virginia Tech, where he studied the state’s wine industry. Through luck and chance, he was offered the World Regions teaching job.

“It’s a pretty standard course and at first I taught it a pretty standard way. But things evolved as technology evolved.

“This is experimental. We’re figuring out how these things work. This is a terribly exciting time in education.”

As word of his high-energy style spread, the course moved from a regular classroom to one that fit 575 students. With a waiting list of 2,000, it moved to a 2,700-seat campus theatre, where it remains for the fall semester. The spring semester is the smaller 575 crowd.

“I still use Boyer’s ‘plaidcasts’ on his website to keep up with world news,” student Nick Enzinna wrote. “But if you think that’s unorthodox, you should see the textbook.”

Boyer writes his own textbooks, which are graphic novels full of data, bios, pictures, charts and history that have been adopted by 20 other universities and colleges in the U.S.

“This is the kind of stuff I think is important,” Boyer says. “In a democracy, it’s a moral imperative that future leaders understand what their government is doing in the world in their name.”

Does that mean his Virginia Tech students know a lot about Canada?

When he stops laughing, Boyer replies, “They know slightly more than the average American and that’s not much.”

But ...

“I will say that every one of my students can identify Stephen Harper by sight and they understand his political position.”

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Giant National Geographic Map of Asia on Display at Tibbott

From Giant National Geographic Map of Asia on Display at Tibbott
Students at John R. Tibbott Elementary School in Bolingbrook have begun exploring Asia in a big way through the world’s largest map of the continent.

The map, which will be at the school until Friday, measures 26 feet by 35 feet and is designed as giant game board to introduce students to the diverse geography of Asia. It is a part of National Geographic’s Giant Traveling Maps program, organized by National Geographic Live, the public programming division of the National Geographic Society.

“These maps teach geography in a way that nothing else does. It is a physical as well as mental experience,” said Dan Beaupré, director of education partnerships for National Geographic Live. “The hands- and feet-on experience makes a lasting impression on students and sparks further interest."

National Geographic’s Giant Traveling Maps program was introduced in 2006 with a map of Africa, and has since expanded to include maps of Asia, North America, South America and the Pacific Ocean. This school year it is estimated more than 450,000 students will interact with one of these maps.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Science and geography exams easier, Ofqual says

From BBC News: Science and geography exams easier, Ofqual says
GCSEs and A-levels in geography and science are easier than they were 10 years ago, the exams watchdog warns.

Ofqual says standards have slipped, with pupils often facing more multiple-choice or short-structured questions, with less scientific content.

It reviewed biology and chemistry GCSEs and A-levels between 2003 and 2008, A-level geography between 2001 and 2010.

The Department for Education said it was committed to "restoring confidence" in the examinations system.

The watchdog said GCSE biology was easier in 2008 than in 2003 as there were more short papers with multiple-choice and short-answer questions.

This made it harder to discriminate between candidates and meant more able candidates had less opportunity to show their knowledge and abilities.

The A-level biology review criticised the Welsh exam board, WJEC, for having a high percentage of short-structured questions, which reduced the amount of information pupils had to read and take in. This made the papers "less demanding", although overall they were deemed to be sufficiently so for the level of qualification.

The CCEA exam board was over-generous in its marking of some questions and had less demanding course work, Ofqual said.

The A-level chemistry review found the exams had become easier between 2003 and 2008, as the questions were structured differently.

Coursework dropped
"In 2008 there were more short-answer questions, involving simple recall, and fewer questions that required students to formulate multiple-step responses."

The A-level geography review found that the removal of coursework from the qualification in 2010 - which was usually a 4,000-word investigation - had made it "less demanding".

It also revealed that between 2001 and 2010, there had been a shift towards "human geography", away from physical geography and fewer subjects were covered.

The review added that in general, the geographical content of A-level geography had "softened" in 2010, and that harder topics, such as ecology or atmospheric systems, had been removed from exams or made optional.

Ofqual said: "GCSEs will be revised following the National Curriculum Review in England and A-levels will also be revised in the near future.

"We will use the findings from these reviews to inform the development of regulations for those new qualifications."

Gradual decline
A spokesman for WJEC said: "Like all the awarding organisations, we work closely with the regulators in England and Wales in order to maintain standards year on year.

"We were pleased that Ofqual were satisfied with the overall level of challenge presented in WJEC's assessments, and we look forward to examining the reports in detail to inform future work in developing new specifications."

A DfE spokesman said: "Ofqual's reports show evidence of a gradual decline in standards and that the exams system as a whole falls short of commanding the level of confidence we need.

"In particular these reports show that in recent years not enough has been demanded of students, and that they are not being asked to demonstrate real depth and breadth of knowledge.

"It is good that Ofqual has already taken action to strengthen the science GCSEs, and we are committed to restoring confidence in all GCSEs and A-levels as rigorous and valued qualifications which match the best in the world."