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A weblog designed to share Geography resources with students and colleagues

Saturday, May 30, 2009

High Times

Categories: Geography General
I am just getting the blog set up for our Alps trip which leaves on Saturday. I said at the parents meeting that we would be tweeting from France, and I have recently been trying Ubertwitter after seeing Lance Armstrong using it while racing in the Giro d'Italia. What's great about this is that it will allow us to send our tweets with an attached location so that parents will be able to see on a google map exactly where we are at the time (usually high up!). Here is an example of this that I tried the other day. Using this, we can also send geotagged pictures by simply opening Ubertwitter on the phone, taking a picture and writing a message to go with it. I did this today while out with my kids in the tropical weather- which the Alps seems to be picking up from midweek. This means much of what we do will be able to be followed through twitter. Either just type in this blogs address and look at the sidebar for updates, or use your own twitter account and follow us. Be warned, it can become very addictive. I started it for work purposes and have spent the weekend talking about music, the weather, football, books and Glasgow humour! I also said that we would try to show live tracks on a couple of occasions using GPS tracker instamapper, so I am embedding the map here just now and we'll tweet before we turn it on. Apologies about the interrupted track you see just now, I was just messing around with this in the car.

GPS tracking powered by InstaMapper.com

I am doing the same with my qik channel, which, circumstances permitting, we are also going to try to use (although I am mindful that this might be quite costly). I am embedding the channel here, and again, apologies about the dross which is on it just now, just testing my phone by filming my screen!

Not sure where we are going to be staying as I was shocked and also very sad to hear that we won't now be staying at our usual chalets which burnt down last week. We have been guaranteed accomodation either in the same village or Samoens which is 20 minutes along the road, so we will still have access to all the same places and facilities that we have used in the past. Fingers crossed that everything else goes well!

Tuesday, May 26, 2009

El Nino and other things

Categories: Atmosphere, Geography General
I opened my mail last night and noticed in the spam box someone requesting access to the higher wiki. PBworks now require accounts for users or invites, so students can't log on and make anonymous changes anymore, which was one of the features I liked about the old wiki page. It meant that anyone could ask a question without everyone else knowing they were seeking assistance, and also meant that people were more likely to collaborate on an answer as their mistakes weren't public.

Anyway, the question related to El Nino and La Nina, which we covered (not in great detail) when looking at the atmosphere topic. Here's my attempt to explain it:

El Nino and La Nina are NOT surface winds, but are very much affected by the Trade Winds and, in particular, the varying strength of these. In normal conditions, the Trade Winds will push warm water westwards towards Australia and Indonesia. This allows for an upwelling of cold water from the deep ocean basins along the Pacific coast of South America. This brings dry conditions, but also incredibly nutrient rich waters which support fishing industries in countries such as Peru and Chile. The warm water travelling westwards has higher evaporation rates and brings rainfall to the western Pacific. During El Nino, the Trade Winds weaken. This means that the movement of warm water is slower and the effect of the upwelling of cold water is greatly hampered. In the Eastern Pacific, this can result in devastation for coastal industries, but also flooding, as the weather is wetter than normal, while in the Western Pacific, the lack of warm water results in less evaporation, less rainfall, drought and forest fires in places like Australia. However, the change is not limited to the Pacific, and El Nino can result in changes to global atmospheric conditions. La Nina usually comes after an El Nino event, and sees the cold water extending further across the Pacific out from the South American coastline as the Trade Winds strengthen. The science behind El Nino/ La Nina is not precise, and it is difficult to predict the strength or frequency of the events. Hope this helps. You could always listen to the Super Furry Animals take on it instead, Northern Lights...which, if nothing else will be one of the more bizarre videos you'll watch anytime soon!

Best of luck everyone. I'll hopefully be in early providing I remember to plug the alarm in tonight (bit of a rush this morning!), come up and see me if you have any last minute queries.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009


Categories: Geography General

This is my 500th post on a blog I initially started to share a few lesson links with students. I have stated here before that the inspiration of Ewan McIntosh from an in-service at school, and Alan Parkinson from my first SAGT conference were responsible for my decision, and I have found that my blog has become a lot more than I first bargained for. At various times, it has been a sounding board for students, a feedback portal for lessons, a way to share lesson resources easily with students and others, a CPD resource for me as colleagues from elsewhere have left comments and, hopefully, a decent way for students to organise and navigate revision material.

Lately, I have spent a bit less time blogging due to work commitments and, frankly, twitter has taken up far too much of my time. I do think that a blog allows me to be a lot more expressive, so what I am intending to do with this post is expand on a few ideas that I have shared on twitter, particularly in relation to how I think mobiles could be used to enhance a field trip. I'm also hoping to trial most of these in the Alps in 3 weeks, providing my technology doesn't fail me, so I may be hung out to dry here too!

Last year, we tried sending some tweets from our outings. This was OK, but limited because I was on a pay as you go at the time. I'd like to make more use of this with the forthcoming group of students to share their trip experiences and allow parents to see the trip unfold. I'll also be texting brightkite, which will send location updates on to twitter as we check in at certain places. I'm planning on using GPS Tracker from instamapper providing I get a decent internet connection. This allows parents to track us in real time at points of the journey. We won't be using this all the time, as it's a real battery killer, but I thought it would be worth tweeting beforehand and then using on our trip from the station in Chamonix to the Mer de Glace, our boat trip on Lac du Annecy, the walk to the Bosson viewing platforms and our long walk in to Sixt fer a Cheval. I'll be embedding a map here which, hopefully, parents will check on and play around with the view options or export later to Google Earth if they have it. Here is a trial run to my brothers to show how it looked when I did this:

Less likely after using this and the effect it will have on the battery is the option of using qik. It would be great to live stream some trip video back to classrooms and parents, but this might be tricky- I could maybe get a couple of students to do a walking tour of the accomodation and Morillon with this instead?

After the day's exertions, when we have a bit of time at night and the phone has some juice in it again, I would like to use cellspin to try and send audio and pictures to flickr and the blog. Maybe an opportunity for students to be a bit fuller in their comments about their experiences. Parents could leave comments on the blog too if they had a question or just wanted to say hello. As I said before, my experience prevents me from being too hopeful that all of these will work. The first year I tried to use twitter, it didn't work, last year I thought I'd be able to blog, but that didn't happen either, so these are all just my hopes. I really think that this is something which would help engage parents more in the experience of their children, and having the blog is what will (hopefully) allow that engagement to be facilitated in the one place. So. once again, cheers Ewan and Alan!

Exam Leave...

Categories: Geography General
Just to wish my s4/5 and 6 a productive exam leave. Please pop in if you are in need of help, a bit of marking or just want somewhere that you can study in peace. I'll be free during your normal timetabled class for any queries. Best of luck for the future to my s6 students, who I will probably only see when you are coming out of the exams - Anne, Abby, Martin, Siobhan, Olivia, Liam, Anna and Steven (Hoping I have not forgotten anyone here!)- and also my definite s5 leavers, Aishah and Matthew. My best wishes go with you all :-)

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Microclimates and microblogging the urban

Categories: s1 and s2, Rural, Advanced Higher
I had my first negative experience of etherpad the other day, nothing too major and if I'm honest, nor a surprise. I suppose with something that is collaborative in real time there is always the likelihood that someone will misuse the tool, but I think it highlights the need to put clear parameters in place for its classroom use. I also think it reminded me that new is not always better, that I could have achieved better results from a more traditional approach - I think this is something a certain class will see tomorrow!
Judging by the forecast, I think my second s1 class, who are a period or two behind, will be able to go out and do some microclimate work. We are a bit short of equipment for this, but I also asked students to rate some aspects of sites subjectively the last time we were out. We'll begin with the weather overlay on Scotland:

This will give us an opportunity to go over the factors which we decided would influence the weather in a particular place. I'll then zoom slowly in to the school from this initial vantage point. We'll then talk about the idea of places having their own microclimate- we had a good discussion about this with the last class. From that, students were then asked to sketch a map of the school and pick 10 locations as a class that we thought might be a good place to site an outdoor seating area- this is adapted from another activity on the web. We will placemark these on GE and then go out and sample the sites to see which has the most favourable conditions

As a plenary, students can detail their placemarks with climate data and then give a reason why they have chosen a certain placemark as the best location.
I think with Higher we will try a photo zoom in reverse. I want students to think about the rural human landscapes they have studied-the farming system, the associated settlement patterns, field layout etc. We'll start off close in and gradually reveal more of the landscape to test our knowledge.
Advanced Higher will finally have handed in the two folio pieces for SQA and I am sure that we will all be breathing a collective sigh of relief. It has been hard work for all concerned, and I am hoping that what is going away is something which will leave the school with no regrets about what could have been done. Time for a bit of intensive exam revision now.
Finally, as an aside, I am just blogging about a great idea from urban earth to do a mass urban walk where people can connect to others experience of urban areas across the world through twitter. I am not sure whether I will be able to do the first week, as I think I may have a family commitment, but 2 weeks later there is another walk and I'd like to take part in some way here. The result will hopefully be a book of 140 character responses to the urban environments from the senses to the emotions. You can follow the day on twitter by searching #ueday.

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

s1 Mashup

Categories: s1 and s2
I have left myself a little bit short of time with s1 this rotation, so I think we will improvise over two topics in the coming weeks and also try to take any fair weather opportunities to do a bit of what David Rogers might call 'doorstep geography'. Weather and map skills could be taught side by side, especially if we are keeping it local- a microclimate enquiry in the local area, for instance, could introduce lots of mapping skills. I thought about diving straight into this, but the rain clouds made my mind up, and instead, we had an introductory lesson which prompted the use of weather vocabulary, atlas referencing skills, latitude and longitude and factors influencing weather. The slides I used are below:

I gave out a lucky bag of random locations to choose from. The idea was that some people would have pre-conceived ideas about the weather in some places- "Moscow must be cold, because Russia is always cold" was a typical comment here. The atlas was used not just to locate the place, but also to study the influence that things such as relief, distance from the sea, latitude etc might have. Students also used the map of climatic regions and biomes. From this, they formed a clearer idea of what the weather would perhaps be like and why. To finish off, we used Google Earth to create a placemark, switched on the weather layer and wrote a short comment inside the placemark about what we expected and what the weather was actually like. The next step here would be to explain any anomalies, and this could perhaps give opportunity to deepen understanding by discussion of the role of the oceans, regional microclimates etc.