Sunday, January 01, 2006

Middle School Geography

browsing Portland's sewer system

The web site I've been working on these last couple of days is more for a computer class than a geography class, but computers now do geography in a big way. Really, the way we used to artificially divide the curriculum into separate subject areas doesn't hold as much water today. Technology is exerting an enormously integrative influence.

What with computer maps, hand-held GPS devices (including some cell phones), more publicly available aerial photography, more travel and tourism, we're becoming increasingly geographically aware as a species. This trend obviously needs to be reflected in our grade school curricula.

I earlier threw together a simple quiz program to test one's knowledge of the USA state capitals (plus a few territories). Here the focus was the behind-the-scenes SQL engine and server-side scripts. Kids need to know about the ubiquity of databases. That's where we store all this geographic data, these latitudes and longitudes, street names and so on.

Where are the sewers? Your municipality should have that info in electronic form, or be working on getting there. Where are the gas lines? World game players need to know.

Likewise our map of the human genome, tons of other biological information, all lives in databases. Indeed, the location of species (in time as well as space), their internal layout, in terms or organs, nerves and so on, is just more geography, if you want to look at it that way.

Understanding GPS also requires an understanding of the satellite constellations, and that gets us thinking about Earth in its solar system context, and the galactic context beyond that. In this sense, geography encompasses both biology and astronomy.

Footnote: Dave Ulmer invented geocaching.