October 24, 2011 · 1:23 pm
I have friends and family who really enjoy the boardgame Risk. We had the game as a kid and I would play with it, but not by the “rules.” I made my own game by moving pieces around and rolling the dice from time to time. The map both fascinated and confused me (Alberta goes all the way to the Pacific Ocean?) and the colorful little pieces inspired several different games. A map is a natural game board.
Fast-forward to the present: computer games have become ubiquitous (Ever kill time playing a game on your computer or phone?) and we rely on Google maps and GPS devices to get us to where we want to go.
Fast-forward to the future: Computer applications that we interact with are beginning to mash up GIS and other data. (Ever check in to a real place using Foursquare or Facebook?) Games are no exception.
Imagine playing Risk with the borders and armies from 100 or 1000 years ago. Or Monopoly based on real utilities and real estate values. Or Farmville with real agricultural data. Or Oregon Trail with weather and census data from specific dates throughout history.
Ola Ahlqvist, a professor of Geography at Ohio State, is involved in a project to build the infrastructure to make these kinds of games possible. I’ve talked with Ola several times about his games, but his presentation below is a pretty good summary of the process.
This is a great example of learning through games and simulations. Players can see how different factors affect the outcome of the game — develop hyphotheses, then change their strategy for playing the game to test them. Of course, this is how learning occurs outside of games, but by making a game out of a real map, the learning becomes more compelling.
August 19, 2011 · 12:17 am
I don’t recall how I first came across the Find the States game on jimspages.com, bit it has become one of my go-to sites for demonstrating interactive whiteboards.
The game is simple: states appear in random order and the user is asked to place them on an empty U.S. map. Scores are tabulated based on how many miles away from the correct location you place each state. Some states are much easier than others. For example, it’s relatively easy to line up unique features on the coastline, but very difficult to place Colorado without any of the states that border it already in place.
This game is simple, but it demonstrates the use of IWBs quite naturally while providing a fun geography challenge. Can you average less than 100 miles of errors in your placement? Less than 10? Give it a try.
July 18, 2011 · 3:33 pm
How Earth Made Us is a documentary series produced by the BBC. Like many BBC programs, the cinematography is spectacular. But, perhaps more interesting, is the approach the program takes to history. Instead of only examining human interactions, the program focuses on how natural forces such as geology, geography, and climate have shaped history. And, the whole series is available on YouTube.
In the first episode, Water, host Iain Stewart explores the effects that extreme conditions have had on human development. He visits the Sahara Desert, which receives less than a centimeter of rainfall each year, and Tonlé Sap, which swells to become the largest freshwater lake in southeast Asia during monsoon season. The contrast is striking. One interesting factoid is that the world’s reservoirs now hold 10,000 cubic kilometers of water (2400 cubic miles). Because most of these reservoirs are in the northern hemisphere, they have actually affected the earth’s rotation very slightly.
The second episode, Deep Earth, begins in a stunning crystal cave in Mexico, in which crystals have grown to several meters long. The cave, which is five kilometers below the earth’s surface, was discovered by accident when miners broke into it. I can’t imagine what they thought when they first set foot inside.
The third episode, Wind, explores the tradewinds which spread trade and colonization, which lead to the beginning of globalization. This brought fortune to some who exploited resources and tragedy to others who were enslaved. The view from the doorway through which thousands of Africans passed on their way to the Americas is a chilling reminder of this period of history.
Fire, the fourth episode, moves from cultures that held the flame as sacred, to the role of carbon in everything from plants to diamonds to flames. And carbon is also the basis of petroleum, which has powered the growth of humankind. Several methods of extracting crude oil around the world are explored.
The final episode, Human Planet, turns the equation around tying the first four episodes together by looking at how humans have had an impact on the earth. One of the most compelling examples is the Great Pacific Garbage Patch which is the result of ocean currents bringing plastic and other debris from countries around the Pacific rim. This garbage collects, is broken down by the sun, and eventually settles to the bottom to become part of the earth’s crust. This is juxtaposed to rock strata in the Grand Canyon, pointing out that eventually, one layer of rock under the garbage patch in the Pacific will be made up of this debris.
In all, there is almost 5 hours of documentary video here. It is a compelling production with spectacular imagery. There are any number of ways to use these videos with an ESL class. And because they are available on YouTube, there are even more options available to an ESL instructor. Instead of everyone watching together in the classroom, the videos can be posted in an online content management system and students can watch them anywhere, anytime on their laptops and smartphones, if they have access to that kind of technology. And if the videos are being watched outside of the classroom, there are more options for assigning different groups of students to watch different videos and then have conversations with students who watched different episodes. The ubiquity of online video can bring learning to students outside of the classroom.
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