My Trip to Mumbai

Alankrita is a guest blogger for the Geography Awareness Week Blog-A-Thon. Alankrita, daughter of Saraswathi Krishnan, is in class four of The Hyderabad Public School in Hyderabad, state Andhra Pradesh in India. She is eight years old and is a bundle of energy. Her hobby is dancing. She has been learning the classical form of dance called Bharatanatyam for the past 2 years. She is … Continue reading My Trip to Mumbai

A Venture to Realms Unexplored

This post is written by Aakriti, a guest blogger for the Geography Awareness Week Blog-A-Thon. Aakriti is in class nine of The Hyderabad Public School in Hyderabad, state Andhra Pradesh in India. She is thirteen years old and finds joy in dancing, listening to music, swimming, reading, writing and speaking. She is learning the classical form of dance called Bharatanatyam as well as the Kerala martial art … Continue reading A Venture to Realms Unexplored

Natalie Wojinski Part 3: Gardening in small spaces

Previously, I have described my epiphany in France and getting my students to think about why we want to frequent businesses that sell locally grown produce or other foodstuffs. In this post, I will continue my evolution from hapless consumer to backyard gardener.

DSCF0401.JPGI know that my parents were growing veggies in the backyard before I was seven, but the first garden I really remember was the large, organic patch we had in our Livermore, CA yard. We had tomatoes, green beans, squash, asparagus, carrots, and much more. I remember encouraging the family dog to eat the tomato worms and helping to set out pie tins filled with beer to attract the slugs that were eating our crop. As I grew, my family continued to grow gardens that supplemented trips to the grocery store. Once I got out on my own, however, I never seemed to have the time or the space for gardening.

Over the past few years, my husband and I have grown tomatoes and a few herbs but with the downturn in the economy we decided it was time to become more ambitious and expand our garden. We’ve learned a lot over the past few months about gardening in small spaces, composting, and how far we can go to change our shopping habits.

While conventionally started tomato seedlings and basil plants from Trader Joe’s are fun and easy to grow, we wanted more. But how, we wondered, would this happen? We live in a townhouse with a postage stamp-sized backyard in a San Francisco Bay Area suburb. The back yard is covered in brick which we really had no desire to remove. Our answer? Containers!

Continue reading “Natalie Wojinski Part 3: Gardening in small spaces”

Hotspots Guestblogger Ozlem Esckiocak: Take the UN Foundation’s Youth Cimate Pledge!

Today we welcome Olzem Esckiocak from the UN Foundation, one of our My Wonderful World Coalition member organizations. Ozlem shares details of the People Speak, “a campaign to engage young people on the global issues that will shape their future,”and the Youth Climate Pledge. The Youth Climate Pledge is a People Speak outreach initiative designed to empower young people in the battle against global climate … Continue reading Hotspots Guestblogger Ozlem Esckiocak: Take the UN Foundation’s Youth Cimate Pledge!

MIY (Map it Yourself) with GIS

Adam J. Schwartz is My
Wonderful World’s public engagement coordinator for New York City. He teaches Geographic
Information Systems and Global History at the Academy of Urban Planning in Brooklyn, New York, and is an historical tour guide for the Center for the Urban Environment.


We live in an age of maps.
According to author and cartographer Dennis Wood, over 99.9% of all maps ever
created were created during the last 100 years. They surround us in our daily
activities: in newspapers, on weather reports, and throughout our day. With
tools like Google
 and the National Geographic Map Machine  they
are available at the merest click. We are all map consumers, including our

Having a map at your
fingertips is an everyday luxury, but the fact is that someone has got to make
all those maps. That someone could be your students, or even you! Making your
own maps is a great option for teachers who want to create their own materials.
And for students it can be a hook for getting involved in geography and
geographic careers. Many of our students are already interested in technology. So
by showing them how they can apply that to making a map, you open up a whole
new potential career, in Geographic Information Systems (GIS).

So what’s GIS? GIS technology
is the nuts and bolts behind almost every map we use, and is vital for many of
the services we use everyday, both public (power and water systems) and private
.GIS is, at its simplest level, software that combines location and information
in a simple visual format.  And during the last few years, it’s
become easier to access than ever before.

More importantly, Geospatial
Technology, of which GIS is a subset, is one of the fastest growing
sectors of the technology industry
. If a student chooses GIS, the chances
are great that there will be a job waiting for them after college, or even

A tool for teachers and

Vocational education is not
what brings most teachers to GIS. And it doesn’t take any special training for
you to get started using it in your classroom.  I’m certainly no mastermind at GIS, I’m just a
teacher who loves maps, and making them! That’s what led me to take a short
teacher training course with Carol Gersmehl of New  York’s Regents Center for Geographic Learning. Beyond
that, most of what I’ve learned is from the same tutorials my students use. At
the Academy of Urban  Planning, I’m lucky to co-teach
with an experienced geographer, Josh Lapidus, but most of what I have learned
is on the job.

The most important lesson
I’ve taken out of making maps is that while it may be the “long way round”–as
compared to using published maps–you can get much more out of the journey.

As a teacher, GIS mapping can
be the simplest way to get just the right map. Yes, you can Google for hours
for just the right map for that special activity. Or, with a little practice,
you can make it yourself.  And whether
you give your lessons with an overhead, a projector, or a SMARTboard, the
multiple layers of a GIS map enable you to better explain any spatial

For our students, we all want
to make our activities more engaging. And most educators would agree that
students remember more of what they do
than what they read, see, or hear. And they are more interested, too.

Consequently, a student
making his or her own map can build new levels of understanding as they see how
borders change, and how topography, climate, and demographics interact to
explain historic or scientific processes. It’s a constructivist approach to
geography, with the students doing the constructing.

And best of all, when they
are finished with a GIS map, a student has the pride of printing it! These polished
artifacts not only celebrate what’s been learned, they look great on a wall, or
even better, in a portfolio. This year at my school, the Academy of Urban Planning, many of our students are submitting portfolios for colleges focusing on arts,
architecture, and design. And in each of those portfolios is a map they made
with me.

We don’t expect many of our
students to come out of our program as cartographers, but they all come out
with a greater mastery of real world computer skills, better literacy skills
(from all those tutorials!), and a more insightful understanding of the world
around them. I am lucky enough to teach a yearlong dedicated GIS class, but
everything we do is taught in connection with Science (Urban Ecology), AP Human
Geography, and US History. Along the way, our students also develop skills in
technology and geography.

Here’s how it works for us: After
starting with Google Maps and Google Earth, my students worked up to AEJEE, a
very basic GIS program (more on that below). They are currently following AEJEE
tutorials, in preparation for building their own mapping projects. The
published tutorials have dealt with settlement patterns in US history and the US Census. We
have also written our own tutorials on the 2008 election.

As for projects, we start
those in the spring. In past years, we have focused on environmental justice
and local history. This spring, we will be combining both themes by making maps
for a local environmental group that is working to clean up NYC’s dirtiest body
of water, Newtown Creek.

Of course, not everyone can dedicate the
time we do to mapping with GIS technology. But there’s a new place for
it in your classroom. It’s just a matter of getting started!

Continue reading “MIY (Map it Yourself) with GIS”