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Saturday, March 31, 2012

Rail Car Geography

Even before seeing these fellows in Cholula in the summer of 1989, I was fascinated with rail cars as a way of exploring landscapes. I wrote about the concept, the hobby, and some lesson plans in Real Toy Trains for Wiley GeoDiscoveries.

EarthView Institute -- March 31

(This is very close to a confluence point. See our Lat/Long post to learn more about defining locations.) 

For four years, the EarthView team has been taking our giant globe to students throughout eastern Massachusetts -- and occasionally beyond. We have been able to reach over 30,000 students directly, and to bring the excitement of geography to several dozen towns.
Young Geographer from BSU Graduate School

The team is small, however, and able to devote only one day a week to the program. Most of the time EarthView is not in use. For this reason, we are very pleased to be offering our first EarthView Institute, in which we are preparing geography teachers from throughout the state to run their own EarthView programs. 

We look forward to learning from these excellent teachers, and to giving them their "EarthView Drivers License."

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Our institute begins on March 31, the anniversary of the birth of César Chávez.

US Department of Labor Mural

What other significant events took place on this day?

Friday, March 30, 2012

Family Geography Night -- South Middle in Braintree

(Learn more about Lat/Long

PHOTO By Lee Gorman. See entire set on Flickr.
This Wednesday evening, Dr. Domingo and I were very pleased to return to South Middle School in Braintree, which we had most recently visited on September 16. This time, we saw both seventh graders and their parents -- more than 100 in all -- who were participating in Braintree's first Family Geography Night. This is a model developed at North Andover Middle School that earned a commendation from the Massachusetts Senate last year. It allows parents to learn along with their students, and to see that geography is a much more dynamic field than they might recall from their own school days.
Thanks to Braintree district Social Studies Coordinator Gorman Lee for his support of geography in general, this event in particular, and the photos he provided of the evening. Thanks also to Mark Henry and the other terrific teachers from both South and East Middle (where we will be going in two weeks) who made this possible, as well as the school principal and custodians. 
And of course, thanks to the seventh graders who showed their enthusiasm for learning about the world and how they are connected to it!

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Wind Maps

WIND MAP of March 20, 2012
Unlike most things that move, winds are named for the direction from which they blow, because that gives some indication of what it might bring. In Bridgewater, Massachusetts, a wind from the northwest is likely to bring drier, cooler air compared to a wind from the southwest, which would usually bring air that is both warmer and moister. Other movements, such as those of a vehicle, human migration, or a herd of caribou, are named by the direction toward which they are moving.

Wind is powered by complex interactions between solar energy -- which heats the air unevenly -- and gravity. Wind is therefore a perpetual resource that humans have used for centuries to power ocean vessels for trade or sport, and also to power land-based activities. In colonial North America, it was often used to grind corn. The gristmill in Eastham on Cape Cod was built in Plymouth around 1680 and is still using wind power to grind grains. Windmills are associated with the Dutch, because wind power has been used to pump water out of the Netherlands for well over a thousand years. In fact, there would be no Netherlands without them!

Wind is a perpetual resource, meaning that it is always available, whether humans use it or not. Renewable resources are those that can be used indefinitely, as long as they are not overused, while non-renewable resources become less available every time they are used. Because it is perpetual, wind is potentially very valuable, but it also varies in strength from place to place and over time. For that reason, people are investigating the geographic patterns of wind in order to find the best places to harness wind energy.

One result of this work -- combined with internet technology and some clever programming -- is Wind Map, an animated page that allows people to visualize the wind conditions in the United States, almost in real time. The gallery shows how much these patterns can change from day to day. This is a very new effort; the programmers are currently looking for sources of data that would allow them to create a similar visualization for the entire world.

Important: Comparing these patterns to national weather maps, one will notice that the wind directions do not correspond exactly with weather patterns and the movements of fronts and storm systems. This is because ground-level winds are measured at 1.5 meters above the surface, whereas weather systems are moved by winds much higher in the atmosphere that are not influenced much by friction and can be strongly influenced by the Coriolis effect.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Wilmington Middle School -- March 23

42° 32' 51" N
71° 11' 17" W 
Learn more about Lat/Long (including how to look them up by address)
Also, compare today's coordinates to those of other recent EarthView outings, near and far!

Movement is one of the five major themes of geography, and the town of Wilmington's situation has given it a very special place in the movement of goods, particularly between the Merrimack River and the city of Boston. From 1803 to 1852, the Middlesex Canal carried many products through the town, including hops and later textiles. In 1835, the Boston and Lowell Railroad opened, also passing through Wilmington, and leading eventually to the closing of the canal. Operating under various names, this is now the longest-running railroad in the United States, and continues to carry freight and commuters through the town.

The railroad, of course, is still quite evident as it passes through the center of Wilmington. The canal, abandoned 160 years ago, is no longer visible, but for the most part it ran very close to the railroad (see the Map Book from Middlesex Canal Commission to see if your house is near the old canal). One place where the canal was a bit further from the tracks is the wooded area shown below. The neighborhood to its south has two toponyms -- Towpath Drive signifies the path along the canal for towing barges by mule, while Apple Tree Lane may be related to Wilmington as the home of the Baldwin apple variety.

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During our EarthView visits, we sometimes mention events of geographic significance that have occurred on the same date as our visit. For the Wilmington visit, one of those events is occurring on the exact day of our program. The European Space Agency will be launching the first of a new kind of rocket from its Spaceport in the extreme south of France. In fact, the space station is being resupplied from Kourou, which is in a part of France most people do not realize is in the country. The Globe Lady is a native speaker of the French language who taught French before becoming a geography teacher. She will be highlighting this special part of France. Our French Prince blog post includes links to a map, a story, and music from French Guiana. This department of France was the original destination of Katie Spotz in her Row for Water project in 2010, though strong currents there forced her to land in Guyana instead.

Also on March 23 ...

In 1965, the United States launched Gemini I, sending two people into space for the first time.

In 2010, President Obama signed the new health-care law.
In 2002, girls in Afghanistan went to school for the first time in many years.
In 1983, President Reagan proposed the Strategic Defense Initiative, known as the "Star Wars" proposal.
In 1982, General Rios Montt took over the government of Guatemala in a military coup.
In 1964, the first UNCTAD meeting was held in Geneva. The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development has been held a dozen times, with UNCTAD XIII coming up this April. The first UNCTAD led to the creation of the Group of 77 a few months later.
In 1957,  the US Army sold its last homing pigeons, though the Coast Guard did try using them again on a trial basis. Pigeon racing continues as an active -- and very geographic -- hobby in the United States and elsewhere.
In 1956, Pakistan became the world's first Islamic republic.
In 1950, the United Nations World Meteorological Union was formed.
In 1948, Jack Kerouac of Lowell (very close to Wilmington) wrote his first novel, which was published two years later. He became his home city's most famous writer, and his later work On the Road popularized the idea of the "road trip" -- an informal kind of long-distance geographic exploration.
In 1942, the U.S. began moving 120,000  Japanese-Americans from western states into interment camps elsewhere in the country. (An official apology came in 1988.)
In 1933, the German Reichstag gave Adolf Hitler power through its Enabling Act.
In 1919, Benito Mussolini began his fascist movement in Italy.
In 1912, the Dixie Cup was invented, the start of a century of increasingly easy access to disposable products.
In 1909, former president Theodore Roosevelt began a safari in Africa, sponsored by the Smithsonian Institution and the National Geographic Society.
In 1857, Elisha Otis had his first elevator installed in New York City. This started a change in the geography of cities that continues to this day, since it allowed for previously impossible densities of population to be achieved.
In 1806, Meriwether Lewis and William Clark, having reached the Pacific Ocean, began their return journey toward the East.
In 1775, Patrick Henry is said to have declared, "Give me liberty, or give me death!"

And finally: 
Although it did not happen on March 23, the first day of spring -- the vernal equinox -- took place earlier this week, at 1:14 a.m (Wilmington time) on Tuesday, March 20. John Roach of National Geographic explains why the days were already slightly longer than the nights by the time the equinox occurred.

Mediterranean Winds

A crossword puzzle clue recently led me to learn that "Sirocco" is the name given to an occasional wind that blows from Northern Africa, across the Mediterranean, toward Europe. It is a southeasterly wind, meaning it blows from the southeast. Geographers name winds according to the from direction, because this usually indicates something about the air it brings -- warm or cool, wet or dry.

We do not often link to Wikipedia articles, but the Sirocco entry is an example of an especially good use of a hyperlinked encyclopedia. The article describes the effects of the wind and lists its name in several languages, according to the places it occurs. It also links to similar articles about the other recurring winds of the region, and to an alphabetical listing of articles about local winds throughout the world.

Note to teachers: This could be a lesson plan that practically writes itself!

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

French Prince

5° 10' N
52° 41' W 
Learn more about Lat/Long (including how to look them up by address)

The Spaceport of the European Space Agency (ESA) is located in France and South America! How is this possible? French Guinana has been a department (state) of France since 1946, and was a French colony off and on for nearly two centuries before that.

Kourou is much better suited as a rocket-launch site than is the European part of France; several geographic reasons for this are explained on the ESA web site. The launch site is in the news this week because a new kind of robotic cargo rocket will be launched from French Guiana to the International Space Station on Friday, March 23.

Of course, there is a lot more to French Guiana than just rocket ships, so the radio program The World took advantage of this week's news to explore some other aspects of its geography. Prince Koloni is not an actual prince, but he is actually French -- a musician from French Guiana who once worked on gold boats that pollute its rivers, and now uses music to help people learn to appreciate the beauty and importance of his country's forests. You can listen to his story and before watching his music video below.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Happy Pi Day

The earth is round, and so is EarthView! Actually, the earth is a very slightly oblate spheroid, but it is more than 99 percent round. EarthView is flat on the bottom -- Antarctica is the only continent that is not hand-painted -- so that we can walk inside.

See last year's Pi Day post for some pi-related EarthView challenges. You can also visit the commercial Pi Day web site for the first million digits of pi and some other fun information.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Littleton Independent Coverage

The EarthView team really enjoyed our recent visit to Littleton, which the Littleton Independent covered both on the front page of the next week's paper and with a short video clip on its web site. Listen to the Globe Lady explain some of the reasons for differences in movement and accessibility in China, compared to the United States.

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Vexillology Map

EarthView students notice that Drs. Domingo and Hayes-Bohanan often wear similar -- though not identical -- neckties for our EarthView programs. Often a student will point out a flag on one tie or the other, exclaiming that is represents the home country of the student or a family member.
At the geography national meeting in 2010. Note the ties!
With us is Dr. Kristin Alvarez (since deceased), an energetic teacher
who taught geography education at Keene State University, NH.
The study of flags is known as vexillology, and as much as we enjoy learning about them, we have to be honest -- we do not know nearly as many flags as we would like. Some of the quizzes on our Geography Games page are good for testing one's knowledge of flags.

We also particularly like the interactive world map of flags from ChartsBin, a web site with thematic world maps on many topics. For the screenshot below, I hovered over South Africa, home of Dr. Domingo and the only country in the world whose flag was chosen by a democratic process. This can be done for any country or territory of the world -- hover over it and see both the flag and the story behind the flag.

EarthView Visit to Littleton

Last week the EarthView team had a very enjoyable visit to Littleton Middle School, where we were particularly impressed with how much the sixth-grade students there understood about political geography and the complexity of some international boundaries.

Becki Harrington-Davis covered the visit for the Littleton Independent, which ran a cover story about EarthView and geography education this week, under the clever title "An insider's perspective."

Elmwood Street School -- March 9

42° 11' 10" N
71° 46' 19" W 
Learn more about Lat/Long (including how to look them up by address)
Also, compare today's coordinates to those of other recent EarthView outings!

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The EarthView team is very happy to be visiting the Elmwood Street School in Millbury. Whenever we visit a school, we try to learn a little about the local geography. The EarthView team is very impressed that the town of Millbury includes its latitude and longitude prominently on the town web site! The site then describes Millbury's central situation in Massachusetts and its links by highway, rail, and air.

As the name implies, Millbury is an historic mill town, one of many whose original industries were powered by the Blackstone River. Many of the paths that were once used for horses to tow barges along the Blackstone Canal are now being converted to bicycle paths that residents of Millbury can use to bike north and south from the town.

One very special thing about the Elmwood Street School is that one of our current geography students at Bridgewater State University was once a student there! Nikki has taken many geography courses and has traveled as a student to Tanzania, Nicaragua, Belize, among other places.

Today's visit is on the one-year anniversary of a tragedy related to plate tectonics: Japan's worst earthquake took place one year ago, creating a tsunami more powerful than anyone had predicted.