Apr 302009

Here’s the first of a series of posts to document an evolving  participatory geography project. Year 8 students will annotate their local area with QR codes that link to web-based work exploring their relationship with place.

QR code

QR code

More on QR code at wikipedia

Introducing the project

The project began with a question for the class “What do you think is meant by the term “Personal Geography?” Having elucidated a number of very interesting and perceptive comments from the students, we settled on the idea that the places in which we grow up shape our values and attitudes, and the way we percieve the wider world.

Next, we watched a short video…

Inspired. Danny MacAskill from dave on Vimeo.

Fortunately none of the students had seen the clip, and although one or two had heard of the rider Danny MacAskill, nobody knew anything about him. Without giving away any clues, I asked the class to make some inferences about the place where MacAskill had been brought up. The class was almost unamimous in their view that it must have been a rural community. There were many reasons including:

“There can’t have been much to do around his house, so he got into riding”

“He didn’t have many friends when he was growing up”

“It would be too dangerous to learn his skills in city streets”

“He treats the city like a playground”

There are a number of framed pictures of various places on my classroom wall and it didn’t take too long for the class to identify correctly the photograph of the place where Danny MacAskill grew up – the Isle of Skye…

The Quiraing

The discussion re-focussed on the idea that many of the objects in our surroundings become familiar, to the point where we cease to notice they exist. However to a skater or bike rider, the same objects become challenges and opportunities. The concept extends to anyone who uses a place for a particular purpose. A dog walker and a surfer arriving at the same beach are focussed on completely different aspects of the environment. Those students who take the bus to school don’t connect with their surroundings in the same way that students who walk to school do. We also discussed ideas of psycho-geography; the way in which places inspire an emotional response.

The aims of the project

I then pitched the idea of the fieldwork project to the class. The aim is to get the students to consider their connections with the immediate environment. They have been challenged to devise a piece of work that will be published on the internet, and connected with the actual location via QR code markers.

Students were given a sheet on which they could sketch out their proposals. I knew that some suggestions might need to be vetoed, or require parental consent. The suggestions were brilliant – in fact I have rarely been quite so excited by the prospect of a fieldwork investigation. Ideas included:

“Cloud 9” A poem about a favourite shop

“Memories locked inside me” – looking at the places that hold my menmories

“A movie about the parts of the town that make me angry”

“Places to ride and jump on bikes” – the outcome will be a map

“Unique Wellington” – a photo essay looking at the aspects of the local area that are unique

“A map of trees my stepdad has worked on or cut down”

“Improving the local park” – a series of interviews and videos about the problems of the local park

“Secret stories of the squared bench” – an intriguing idea for telling some of the events that have occured at Wellington’s favourite hang-out spot

The various outcomes planned include poems, maps, stories photos and videos. I was struck by how intensely personal some of the planned projects are. The “secret stories” idea is uncannily reminiscent of the opening lines in the seminal Headmap Manifesto (link to archived version) from several years ago that presaged the arrival of location-aware mobile computing devices and the social  implications of augmented realities and ubiquitous wireless internet. For the first time the notorious “squared bench” will be able to tell of some of the funny stories to passing adults that regard it as “just a bench”

The students will be working on their projects mainly in their spare time, though I’ll teach them how to create a Google My Map and the other ICT skills that may be needed. The next stage is to spread the word about QR codes via the local paper – since it would be great to engage members of the public into downloading a QR code reader for their phone and maybe even commenting on the students work – which is likely to be uploaded to  Posterous.

QR codes were discussed at the inaugural Geography Flash Meet – see this page for the archive

Part 2 of this post

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