Monday, November 27, 2006

Photos, GPS and classroom fun

Almost every geography teacher has, at some time, displayed a map, stuck photographs around it, then used lengths of string to link the photographs to points on the map. Many students will have done the same sort of exercise when studying their local area, doing a project or presenting a fieldwork study.

Effective as these annotated displays are, they lack one key feature; the ability to be included in IT based work such as fieldwork write ups, essays and presentations.

There are some web sites that now allow you to 'tag' images with their latitude and longitude, then attach them to publicly accessible maps, coming close to the electronic version of map and string. These, such as QuakeMap and Flickr are good fun, but you don't control the content and their large databases of images can be a mine field when used by a class that tends to wander off course!

An alternative with great potential for teachers with a bit of enthusiasm is a new breed of free software, coupled with the already ubiquitous digital camera and GPS unit.

I know that some geography departments are still lacking these two essential bits of kit, but assuming you have access to them, a whole world of virtual trips, walks around town and mystery tours is waiting for you and your students.

It's now possible to combine satellite mapping, traditional maps and plans, a GPS route and your own photographs to make interactive trails that can be followed by your students. What the students do as they follow your trails is entirely up to you, but could include activities such as describing the location, working out co-ordinates and bearings, matching a view to a map, solving clues as part of a bigger task, or simply becoming acquainted with a new area.

Of course, once you have a GPS route entered in the software, it can be visited again and again, allowing studies to be undertaken over a period of time.This can be great for assessing road use, tourist numbers, changes to vegetation or alterations to a landscape as new homes or roads are built.

Take a look here to see a simple route and photographic annotation.

Two bits of free software are needed, Topofusion and GPS TrackMaker, along with a digital camera and a GPS unit.

The brief introduction to GPS Photo Linking provided by David Goldwasser is well worth reading before you get started, and a Google search for related terms will produce a host of additional resources.

If you have the time, I strongly recommend that you download the free software and see what you might do with it. If you come up with a good use, lave a comment here so others can share your creative genius!

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

Contrasting Images

Geographers often contrast locations and situations, such as the differences between MEDC and LEDC environments, or between climate zones or highland / lowland.

It's perfectly possible to do this without a single diagram or photograph if you subscribe only to the 1890's techniques of statistics and lists to memorize and regurgitate, but I hope there are very few geographers left who are so dull in the classroom!

Using selections of contrasting photographs allows the teacher to present specific information and enables the pupils to learn from their own observations. The technique is as well suited to small groups as it is to individuals, is easily adapted to the most advanced pupil and the one struggling most with the topic, and can be easily extended into homework or future lesson work.

A lesson based on contrasting images requires an enthusiastic teacher, clear objectives and outcomes, and the right images. The downside of such lessons is that they can lose their momentum if the teacher doesn't control them carefully and keep the pace going throughout the activity, so planning, as always, is of key importance.

Imagine a lesson on rivers - investigating a river from youth through to old age, or from source to mouth. We talk about gradients, velocity, depth, capacity and competence first, then hand out a good selection of appropriate photographs, cross-sections, friction and velocity data etc. Ideas to take this forward could include:

Developing their analytical skills and ability to recognize features by simply describing what they can see;

Annotating the images, adding direction of flow, features such as meanders, riffles, or tributaries;

Describing their images to the rest of the class and letting their peers guess what type of river or feature they are looking at;

Placing their images along a map of an imaginary river, perhaps adding extra detail of their own creation around the fixed points given by the images;

Matching the cross sections or friction / velocity information to the images;

Creating 'odd one out' sets where all but one image in a set have a common theme. The rest of the class then guess which image is the odd one out, and try to explain why. For example they might present four images of erosional features and one of an obstruction in a river.

Describe what it would be like to be next to / in the images. For example what would the ground be like, are there likely to be settlements near by, is the water clean or polluted, would it be a 'nice' place to be (environmental quality)?

Younger pupils can relate the photographs to easier concepts such as near the coast, in farmland, up a mountain, good for fishing, excellent for ducks etc. All these observations can lead to further study such as 'how do you know it's farmland, what clues told you that, would you like to live there, and why?

So, next time you think about using a 5 min clip of video, carefully cut to avoid the other 35 minutes you don't need, consider using a few selected still images and a lesson based on investigation and using contrasting images

Sunday, November 05, 2006

Using photographs to form groups

Two fun ways to break a class into groups are to use either 'themed photographs' or 'photograph puzzles'. Both work well as dynamic starts to a session and get students thinking even before the lesson begins.

Themed Photographs
Keep packs of laminated photographs relating to geographical themes, for example selections of photographs of rivers, and of glacial features. Hand out (or place on desks before the group arrives) photographs from a mix of different themed sets (use one set for each group you want). Explain to your students that they will be working in groups and the photographs hold clues to who else is in their group.

Give them a few moments to think about it - then let them move around and form groups based on the images. You can make this as simple or complex as you like. Occasionally you might even choose to use a selection of ambiguous images and, once the groups have formed, have a discussion about the connections your students have found between the pictures.

To form three groups of nine students, hand out nine images based on each of three different themes - twenty seven images in total. Once sorted, the students should be in three groups of nine, each group consisting of students holding photographs with a common theme.

A variation on this can be to use cards with geographical terms on them, such as beach, wavecut platform, swash in one set, and town, hamlet, city, and village in another.

Photograph Puzzles
Take one good size image (A3 is best) for each group you want to create. Laminate the photograph, then cut it up into bits. The number of pieces determines the number of people you will have in a group. Thus, to form a group of five students, cut the image into five pieces.

Hand out (or leave on desks before the class arrives) the photograph sections. Explain to your students that they will be working in groups and the photographs hold clues to who else is in their group.

Give them a few moments to think about it - then let them move around and form groups based on the images. You can make this as simple or complex as you like.

For easiest and quickest results use images that contain clearly different colours, eg:

Green Forest

London Eye

Glacial Stream

To stimulate more discussion and more analytical thinking use more similar images with subtle differences.

Not only are these fun ways to start a lesson, they also promote analytical thinking, geographical discussion, and can serve as basic revision.

For example:

Use images based on previous work to refresh student's memories before moving on to a new topic.

Use images of different types of primary, secondary and tertiary industries to form groups undertaking projects on those types of industry.

NB: Teachers can control the membership of groups by laying out the images before the class arrives. This has the effect of still seeming like random grouping whilst being anything but!

Saturday, November 04, 2006


The Geography Site Image Gallery is a free (yes, FREE) educational resource created by a British Educator, David Robinson, to provide good quality photographic resources for geography teachers and students. You may download and use any of the images in your lessons or assignments so long as you follow our copyright rules.

This supporting blog contains ideas for using photographs in lessons and assignments, occasional 'picture of the week' articles, and notifies you of major additions to the collection.

For information about who owns the pictures, what you can and can't do with them etc, visit the copyright page for further details