May 162009

The personal geographies project outlined in part 1 of this post has now been published.

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 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 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.

View Wellington Stories in a larger 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.

Next steps:
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.

Please visit Wellington Stories and drop the students a comment or two!

Exploring personal geographies with QR codes: part 1

 ICT, mobile, Neogeography, Participatory geographies, Public geographies, Student work  Comments Off on Exploring personal geographies with QR codes: part 1
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

Dec 312008

EveryTrail is one of my favourite iPhone Apps (related 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.

EveryTrail round my block

EveryTrail round my block

I discovered a couple of my Trails in the layer that I created with my iPhone (download above example in Google Earth), though the pictures are (as expected) pretty dreadful.

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.

Sidmouth Flickr images

Sidmouth Flickr images

My Sidmouth photos in Every Trail

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.

Dec 042008

Don’t miss an essential resource for teaching settlement. Dan Raven-Ellison’s latest project, Urban Earth, is a simple, yet inspired concept: to walk across major cities, stopping every 8 steps to take a photograph.

Urban Earth

Urban Earth

The outcome of an Urban Earth walk is a mesmerizing time-lapse film composed of thousands of still images. There’s no soundtrack to divert attention from the journey.

The archive of Urban Earth adventures is bound to grow over time as others take up the initiative. At the moment the project comprises films from London, Mexico City and Mumbai.

Urban Earth films can be viewed and downloaded in very high quality from the page.

Nov 022008

there are notes in boxes that are empty
every room has an accessible history
every place has emotional attachments you can open and save
you can search for sadness in new york

The predictions of the HeadMap Manifesto (recently made available for downloading again) are becoming reality with the onset of location-aware mobile phones. I was recently directed to by Mapperz and was really impressed by the concept of geolocated voices (the echosphere).

Here’s a Woice from my daughter. We’re going to complete a few more from this location. It’s a poem she wrote as an eight year-old visiting Race Track Playa. She left a copy in a kettle at TeaKettle junction!

More from Woices…

An echo is an audio record that is attached to a physical real-world location or object. Echoes are words, left by one person at some precise place, that can be listened to by anyone, as if their author was still there. Echoes can speak about any topic and respond to any user’s purpose. They can speak about local history, art, curiosities, personal memories, and so on. Just something you think its worth to leave that may make the world a more interesting place.
What is the echosphere?

The echosphere is the new virtual space spanned by all echoes left by people. Surrounding earth (and you), the echosphere contains all echoes and can be accessed through your computer or mobile phone.

The site implies that there will be an iPhone client on it’s way. There is a special mobile phone optimized page to access echoes quickly via an ecode. The ecode could be printed off and left at a real location for others to listen to – similar in concept to Yellow Arrow

UK teachers as usual, are very quick off the mark to spot the potential. Tom Barrett has written an inspiring post on how he intends to make Woices part of his digital storytelling project at his primary school. Tricia has created an example of a walk along the Thames. I’m going to use Woices next time I do a local enquiry.

I’ll update the post when we’ve completed our Death Valley walk.

Oct 232008

I’ve reposted (with permission) a recent message to the blog from Jamie Woolley of Greenpeace.

I thought you might be interested in a new Google Earth letter I’ve just
launched, which is following Greenpeace’s ship the Esperanza, as she carries out environmental campaign work, (and created with the Spreadsheet Mapper).

Download it from here, most of the content it features originates on our blog

I’m on board and we’re currently sailing from New Guinea on our way to Jakarta.
The purpose of this trip and the campaign as a whole is to highlight the
importance of forests in efforts to tackle climate change and the threats posed
to Indonesia’s remaining forests from logging and palm oil plantations. We’re
documenting what we find along the way, both the magnificence of the forests
which are still standing in this fascinating part of the world and the rampant
deforestation happening right now. But it’s also about how we can protect these
forests, both for the amazing cultures and biodiversity they harbour but also as
a vital buffer against climate change.

Indonesia is the third largest greenhouse gas emitter in the world and that’s
largely down to deforestation, so what happens to the forests affects not just
local communities (whose traditional rights are being trampled on in the rush
to make money), but everyone on the planet. That’s why Greenpeace is investing
so much time and resources into this trip, and the international make-up of the
crew (including Indonesians, Russians, Argentinians, German and Papua New
Guineans) reflects the global concern around what’s happening here.

I’m posting from the ship and over the next few weeks we’ll be travelling the
length of Indonesia to see exactly what the state of play is. If you’d like any
more information or would like to use any images, please drop me a line (we’re
GMT +9).

We also have a blog running in Bahasa Indonesian
( and we’re also on Twitter

cheers –


PS The Google Maps version is here