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Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Water, Water Everywhere: Cross-Curricular Approaches to Studying Water

Happy GIS DAY!

Geography is never discipline-specific!  Even a theme like “fresh water” should not be narrowed just to the science community.  Embrace the cross-curricular ties that exist within your curriculum.  You don’t have to teach something new, just teach what you already do in a different way.  This type of integration has great powers to teach your students to think, a skill we often expect rather than teach.  Before you decide I’m crazy and reaching for my magic wand, let’s explore the possibilities.  Let’s analyze how studying water can connect with all four core curricular areas.  I have a real-world...already tried great with real kids... example!

Here’s what happened...I was teaching 7th grade English on a middle school team of four teachers.  One afternoon we’re discussing upcoming classroom content.  As the math teacher starts sharing about her water project, the science teacher chimes in, “Hey, I could move things around and do pH studies then.  We can test their home water and compare with school water.”  Not to be left out, the social studies teacher and I start thinking too.  In short fashion, we created a team-wide water unit.  The results were fantastic.  Our students could see the connections across the curriculum, and it prompted them to think about similar connections in the future.  This collaboration led to many other collaborative projects among the four subjects.  The proof was in the test scores at the end of the year!

Math: statistics of home water use
Students collected data in their homes for a week on water usage. Then they used spreadsheet software to organize and calculate statistics.  Then the data was merged with the science data to be analyzed in GIS software.

Science: pH testing
Students collected samples of water around the school and from their homes.  They analyzed the water samples and drew conclusions.  Then the data was merged with the math data to be analyzed in GIS software (more on this below).

English: water art and literature
I had a collection of old calendar art.  I pulled every picture that had water in the art.  Students had to answer a series of questions about the art. Keeping within the confines of my school’s literature texts, students read “The Wreck of the Hesperus” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and “Hurricanes” by Patricia Lauber.  Then students had to relate the text to the art.  Which piece of art best illuminates these selections?  Explain.

What if you don’t have water literature in your curriculum or available art?  If you don’t have art on hand, utilize a resource like the Smithsonian.  Their art collection online is extensive! (  Just search by keyword “water.”
This lesson gives context to Walden Pond along with other English Language Arts topics: (   It’s part of a great educational resource by GIS leader Esri, the Education Community at Esri:

Articles on water related to literature:

Social Studies: how water affects communities around the globe
Because her “location” of study from year to year changed, the social studies teacher focused on the importance of water to the area of the world – her students were studying.  One year that country was India.  The students looked at available fresh water resources and why people lived where they did. (See We even explored the cultural implications of the Ganges River in both Social Studies and English with a part-research, part-creative writing assignment, “Journey to the Ganges.”  (

Geography and GIS: visualizing our water resources
Students took the collected data from math and science class and merged it with census and zip-code data.  Then they performed analysis to determine where the best water was. What factors might influence water quality?  You could perform similar activities with some pre-crafted lesson plans at the National Center for Rural STEM Education Outreach-Geospatial Technology ( – drinking water, aquifers and watersheds are just a few of the 14 lesson collection.  Whether you use a Mac or PC, AEJEE, My World GIS or ArcGIS 9, you can use these activities!  Another good online resource is National Atlas MapMaker (  Quick and easy internet mapping on any data that they keep at the National Atlas.
Remember to teach cross-curricular topics to your students with geography!  Use technology whenever it’s’s a language today’s teenagers understand well.  Students who are connected to their content in a purposeful way are more successful.  Help them discover that their world is connected in many ways.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

To Grandmother's House We Go, again

Do you remember that song?  My students just look at me like I’m crazy if I start singing it.  I was thinking about the world of the song’s creator vs. today’s world.  What elements of geography can we examine through the poem?  Where did the grandparents of this folks song live? 
In case you have no idea what song I’m referring to, here’s a couple of links to jog your memory.

So let’s think… ( I know, alert the media!)

The poem was written in 1844.  What did the US look like at the time? 

Here's a map of the United States and lands from 1845 at the David Rumsey Map Collection online:  You can play with the map here also.

This writer was passionate about ending slavery.  What did slavery look like at that time?  Here’s what Mark Twain’s world looked like. This is an informative, interactive map.

The Virginia Experiment GIS Projects are excellent if you’d like to explore various history related topics:

You could create your own GIS map to look at agriculture, precipitation, forests and rivers!  You can use a full GIS program like ArcGIS or a virtual globe such as ArcGIS Explorer.  (These maps are available online at  

So based on your explorations, where was grandmother’s house?  Where is your grandmother’s house and how do you get there?  What would your song lyrics be?
Think about Thanksgiving from a new perspective!

Monday, November 15, 2010

Geography Collides with Poetry and Art

I love it when curricular lines are blurred especially with the use of geography!  Here's a great resource for any week but especially Geography Awareness Week.

"RIVER OF WORDS:  this site is a REALLY neat site is about “connecting kids to their watersheds and imaginations through poetry and art.”  

The “for educators” tab on the right contains some great resources, including a link to the “signals of spring” website that has lots of great activities designed to increase students’ awareness and ease with earth image data ("

From Dr. Meredith Marsh at Lindenwood University in St. Charles, MO...thanks for sharing!

Geography Humor

In honor of geography awareness week, I'm reposting a little humorous moment from YouTube.  Do you live somewhere that's difficult to explain?

Getting Started with Geography Awareness Week

It’s Geography Awareness Week

Suggestions from Dr. Tom Baker at Esri: 

Theme: Freshwater

Learn about Mapping Freshwater at the GIS Ed Blog:

You can also watch Charlie Fitzpatrick’s previous webinar on the Community Atlas program, ArcGIS Explorer Online, and Freshwater at:

Don’t forget to check out ArcLessons.  Search for “Water” focused lessons for all learners:

You can also search for GIS in education case studies that relate to “Water”:
Be sure to see “Combining Math, Science, and GIS” at:

And finally, there is a flotilla of water related content at – see:

Friday, November 05, 2010

Got Topos?

It's no secret that I like maps...but have you seen the new collection of topographic maps at National Atlas?  This is a fantastic teaching tool.  Especially if you need quick examples!  Just point your internet browser to and select an area.  If you click one of the points on the map you can select specific features or look at different versions of that area.

Think of all the great ways you can use this tool!!!

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Q & A: Global Geology and Topography

My teachers are working on a geology project that they did last year with Texas and US geology maps. They had the students give real world examples of different landforms (volcanoes,  and where they existed in TX and the US. This year they are looking to expand it to world wide examples.
It's for fifth grade and the landforms they will be studying are: archipelagoes, caves, cliffs, deltas, deserts, dunes, islands, mountains, piedmonts, plains, plateaus, terraces, valleys and volcanoes.

Do you know of any resources students and teachers can use for this?

I like the Sketch-A-Map gadget at for explorations.

and from my friend, Dr. Shannon White:

First thing that comes to mind is the National Atlas set of first 25 of the 100 topo maps about land forms – that is good for the US.

Outside of the US – global datasets of terrain are  a bit more tough, I would suggest  checking out the following:

·         Center for International Earth Science Information Network data sets:

·         The data from the global 7-CD set  that is now 1 DVD that USGS put out with American Geological Institute are listed online at:
·         USGS Global Land cover might be helpful (might not)
·         The Landcover institute page might provide some resources:

Monday, November 01, 2010

Nice Math Resource!

Q & A: Nile River Resources

Are you familiar with any lessons and activities related to the Nile - cataracts, delta or the Aswan dam?  This 5th grade social studies teacher has expressed some interest in GIS and I'm trying to provide her some GIS-related activities that go along with her classroom focus.


That is a VERY specific topic.  Joseph Kerski created a lesson three years ago using the NGS MapMachine, an online resource to explore Africa.  Unfortunately, the map machine is no more, but Joseph's lesson is still on ArcLessons and does a nice job of having students walk through different aspects of Africa. 

I would suggest you use his plethora of materials (10 pdfs), but employ a new map gadget. For 5th grade and for an instructor that is just getting started... I like ArcGIS Explorer desktop (a virtual 3D globe) or ArcGIS Explorer online  If your teacher is in a Mac only environment, you'll need to use the online product.  Having students search, add their comments to the map, play with different base maps and make their own presentations about the elements could be fantastic!

Some other goodies around are: