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Friday, November 20, 2009

Geography: Where Dead Authors and Dusty Books Come to Life

“Why do I need to know this?” How often have you heard that question? Geography is not the first-reach resource for most English Language Arts(ELA) teachers, but I’ve found the use of geospatial technology quite powerful with my students. As one of my 7th graders said, “Everything’s mappable, Mrs. Duke!” How do you teach your students to think? I used geospatial technology cleverly laced among the traditional and required content to bring my ELA class into the 21st Century and get my students thinking!

My first GIS experiment in my classroom was integrating it into The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain. My students did the usual reading and class discussions that you might expect in English class but in addition we looked into other aspects related to the story as well as Twain: banned books, historic timelines, etc. With GIS students investigate Twain’s journey down the Mississippi River as a river boat pilot. Twain believed, “Experience is an author’s most valuable asset.” Taking students on that experience down the river gave them a glimpse into his world and how his characters developed. In addition, students can overlay historic maps from the David Rumsey Collection ( Now students can look at change over time as the current data layers interface with historic maps. (Lesson available on ArcLessons or my website)

Speaking of change over time, another way to connect students with literature is setting and context of the story. I created an experience for students to appreciate The Watsons Go to Birmingham-1963 by Christopher Paul Curtis. Students can use either ArcGIS Explorer or ArcGIS to examine the family’s journey, population change and aerial photos of change over time. (Lesson available on ArcLessons or my website) This experience has great opportunities for cross-curricular integration as well.

Also, Jerome Berg’s Google Lit Trips ( are excellent for journey books. These downloadable *.kmz files are easily viewed in Google Earth or ArcGIS Explorer.
Another opportunity to integrate geospatial technology is for research and writing. Students can ask the maps questions and cite their analysis in research projects as well as have more to say in their writings because of proof in the maps. National Atlas Map Maker ( offers some great information as well as Social Explorer (, Nationmaster ( and Statemaster ( GIS is great for creative writing as well. My students explored the Ganges River and had to write about their imaginary journey.
Since 2000, I’ve been using GIS in the classroom, sharing my experiences with teachers, writing curriculum and conferencing on the benefits of GIS integrated curriculum. Ask yourself, “What’s mappable in my curriculum?” You don’t have to be a geography teacher to realize that you need a little geography in your classroom.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

GIS Day at St. Paul's

What a great day to introduce GIS to the faculty at Saint Paul's School Covington, LA in Covington, LA! 
The focus of the presentation was “expanding your borders.”  The staff experienced an overview of GIS which included What is GIS?, GIS tools, GIS in the classroom and GIS for School Projects and Community Service.  We followed the session with homemade cake made by the event coordinator, Mary Pierson.  Everyone left the event chatting about what they were going to do next with GIS and hoping that I can return to do hands-on training!

Monday, November 16, 2009

New My World GIS Versions of our STEM GIS Activities

For all you My World GIS users, the National Center for Rural STEM Education Outreach -Geospatial Technology has just posted the My World GIS versions of their 12 activity collection.  
You can download the activities for AEJEE, ArcGIS or My World GIS.

Google Search for Kids

A colleague here in Lousiana passed this along to me today. For those teaching elementary school or want something better for home...check out

Zoomarrific Historic Maps

Happy Geography Week! If you're interested in historic maps, then check this out! It's an easy to use web map with a selection of David Rumsey's Historical Map Collection on an aerial view of the globe. Once you click on a map point, then you can click again and see the map on the current view of the earth as an overlay. Furthermore, you can play with the transparency of those maps as well. And as my friend Charlie would say, "It's possible with nuttin' but net!" No special software, no special skills, just crank up your web browser, navigate to this page, click and zoom!

Friday, November 13, 2009

Virtually Speaking

I've spent this week with my colleagues, GISetc, at the Region 11 Virtual Technology Conference.  It's been a great opportunity to see many speakers in a new venue for me.  We did two live presentations and several demo sessions on GIS in Education and GIS tools.  Stop by and visit the virtual booth or check out our resources from the conference at .

Friday, November 06, 2009

Geography Awareness Week

This Geography Awareness Week, get lost in mapping! From November 15-21, go to for games, activities, and lessons about mapping that you can do at home or at school, brought to you by National Geographic and partner organizations. Explore maps big and small, high-tech and low-tech!
At, you can piece together a poster-size map for your bedroom wall or a giant map for your school gymnasium. Take a virtual world tour with Google Earth and watch a video that explains how today’s geospatial revolution is changing everything from shipping to warfare. Test your skills with the Expedition 2 game and a Mystery Location quiz. You can even join 100,000 “map activists” by participating in a blog-a-thon, hosting a Geography Awareness Week event, or signing up for the new GeoMentor program. There’s something for everyone at So get lost in mapping: Find your place in the world! 

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Lit Trips and Author's Homes

If you haven't stopped by lately, then you might need to revisit! For those who are new to this fine resource, Jerome Berg has a collection of journeys that open nicely in Google Earth or ArcGIS Explorer. In addition, they now have 3D models of Author's homes created in Sketch Up and placed where they belong on the globe. If your students' personal borders don't extend beyond their community, then this is an excellent way to take them on a virtual field trip and make literature and authors come alive.

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Kiwi and Pear Travel the World

Kiwi and Pear are two world traveling monkeys that spread love, friendship and happiness to everyone they meet.  The book comes with a world map and stickers for children to interact with the book.  Check is out at