This is a presentation I gave at the Somerset Geographers conference. I’m exploring how to incorporate social networking into my GCSE teaching, while encouraging the learners to make the best use of online resources.
My Year 8 project Wellington Stories aims to create a series of geo-located, short stories, poems and videos; and is reaching maturity. The students have created a really interesting series of short pieces that explore their relationship with place. These have all been mapped and the real-world locations tagged with QR codes. The final stage of the project is to publish a photographic record of the QR codes, and to contact the local press with details of the project. Thanks to all those who’ve commented on the work so far.
For those who haven’t seen “Wellington Stories” yet – here’s a short sample:
Setting up the website:
While the students have been busy creating their stories, I’ve been experimenting with the best way of publishing their work, given the constraints of a filtered network and the e-safety imperative. Originally the plan was to publish the stories on Posterous as this site isn’t filtered (yet) and it offers the advantage of overwhelming simplicity. However it didn’t seem to work well in school (an IE6 issue?) and it doesn’t support the embedding of Google Maps. I was also attracted towards Google Sites because many of the students have Google accounts, and it would have been easy for them to contribute and edit their work and manage photos and video from within the Google network. I wanted members of the public to be able to comment on the students work, but niether Posterous nor Google Sites feature comment moderation, so I looked elsewhere for a solution. I’ve settled on a WordPress.com blog – with just one post on the home page and the rest of the content published as pages. It’s not ideal – for example there’s no point in subscribing to the RSS feed, but it’s easy to manage comments and embedded content, and hopefully I’ll be able to give some of the students authoring rights. The project site is located at Wellington Stories.
The students are busy creating their stories and many have opted to use photos and video. In order to sustain momentum, I got them to produce a short placeholder story for their individual page. Each story gets it’s own page on the blog, a unique QR code, and a placemark on a Google My Map.
I was delighted with the placeholder stories which are short, funny and completely immersed in local place. Try a sample – the poignant My Story of Woolworths, and a response to antisocial behaviour: A tree caught on fire are good introductions.
During the course of next week students will start tagging the physical locations of the stories with QR codes and we’ll start a photographic record of the project. We’ll also start uploading some of the more detailed multimedia work and the local paper will be contacted in order to encourage people to download a QR code reader.
Here’s the first of a series of posts to document an evolvingÂ 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.
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.
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 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 socialÂ 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 toÂ Posterous.
Tom Barrett has mentioned on Twitter the welcome return of OS Maps in Google Earth. The network link is available atÂ Gavin Brock’s Ordnance Survey overlays for Google Earth.
This is really great news – the Â link effectively renders digital maps like Memory Map and Anquet somewhat obsolete, since the OS maps can be draped over 3D terrain. There is a catch though – like the brilliant side by side mapping website Where’s The Path? the link is subject to a limit of 30,000 map tiles per day. Frustrated users are directed to the Free Our Data campaign. Where’s the Path? is so popular that it’s often unavailable in the afternoon.
I’ve been using a couple of useful mapping apps on my iPhone. The useless battery makes it very limited as a navigation device. However if you’re out with a paper map and lost, then GB Locate at 59p (iTunes) will give you an OS grid location with little fuss.
A second useful iPhone App is iOSMaps (iTunes) which provides Ordnance Survey Maps on the iPhone. It works well providing a wifi connection is available and it’s free to download.
iOS MapsÂ Â
Click the icons to go to the respective developer sites.
EveryTrail is one of my favourite iPhone Apps (relatedÂ post) and the good news is that it now appears as an official layer in Google Earth (found in the Gallery layer) It’s a web-based application that lets you create and share journeys, along with associated stories and images.
It’s not necessary to use an iPhone – you can upload any .gpx file from a GPS device to create a trail. If you don’t have a GPS it’s no problem, simply mark a path on the map provided. You can import photos from a Flickr account, and if they’re geotagged, they’ll automatically show up in the right spot.
EveryTrail is a great option for fieldwork notes and images, and is quite simple enough for students to use independently. The ease with which trails can be created shared, displayed and seamlessly viewed with Google Earth make it a really great classroom application.
Until recently the simplest option for getting charts into Google Earth was Frank Macree’s Google Chart builder,Â but it no longer works (except in the Mac version of Google Earth) due to a Flash security update? The alternatives have been Â GE Graph – which is a little too complicated for younger students, but produces superb prism type geo-located graphs, and online spreadsheets that can publish charts such asÂ Google Spreadsheets, however these require an account, and therefore can be impractical in the classroom.
The solution would seem to be Rich Chart Live – as mentioned by Simon Renshaw at the SLN forum and Doug Belshaw at elearnr. This web – based app is free to use and doesn’t even require registration. Just choose a chart style, paste some data from an Excel sheet into a Flash form and tweak some settings. The output from Â Rich Chart Live is embeddable – as seen in this rather silly example:
Â The embed code works in Google Earth placemarks: