We’ve got the National Geography Awareness Week. We’ve got Kansas Geography Day. But today in Hutchinson, it’s ESSDACK Geography Day.

Four times a year, an awesome group of middle school teachers show up here and we talk social studies all day. And, yes, it is lots of fun. One of the things we’ve tried to do during our sessions is to bring in outside experts from the different social studies disciplines. And today we have Lisa and John from the Kansas Geographic Alliance, sharing some sweet ideas and resources. Get the goodies from today here. Get all of their stuff here.

They shared the prediction that geospatial jobs will be one of the fastest growing jobs over the next 20 years. There is a huge need for kids who understand geography and how it connects to everything. It’s not about the what anymore, it’s about the where.

Need a bit of a taste of their stuff?

We started with an activity that asks kids to think about the places where American presidents are from and what those patterns tell us. I’ve pasted the heart of the activity below:

1. Use a red marker to mark an X in the home state of each president elected in the first era (1789-1861).

  • Which state elected the most residents in the first era?
  • What are some ways the pattern could be described?
  • Of the 15 presidents in this era, compare how many were elected from within the original 13 states versus outside the original 13 states?
  • What are some of the geographic, political or economic reasons this might be?

2. Use a blue marker to mark an X in the home state of each of the presidents born in era 2 (1861-1929).

  • Which state has the most presidents?
  • Who was the first president to be born outside of the 13 original states?
  • What are some ways the pattern could be described?
  • What are some of the geographic, political or economic reasons this might be?

3. Use a green marker to mark an X in the home state of each of the presidents born in era 3 (1929-2009).

  • Which state has the most presidents?
  • What state had the most number of presidents during this era?
  • What are some ways the pattern could be described?
  • What are some of the geographic, political or economic reasons this might be?

I like the idea of having kids mess with geographic data in visual ways. I especially like the writing prompt that ends the activity:

  • What will this map look like in 50 years? Where will our future national leaders come from?

We moved to the Esri site and its very cool StoryMaps page. StoryMaps are exactly what they sound like – telling stories that revolve around the effective use of maps and mapmaking tools. In the StoryMaps gallery, you can browse / search a selection of over 500 story maps created by the story-telling community and by Esri. You can filter the gallery by app, topic and author, or explore an interactive map of location-specific story maps created by Esri and the community.

This is very awesome! I discovered a cool Gettysburg map on the gallery that I had seen before but didn’t realize that it came from ESRI.

You and your kids also have the ability to make your own StoryMaps. This ability to create a product that integrates geography with historical content seems like a no-brainer for teachers looking for ways to measure higher level thinking. Another way to create your own interactive maps is to use the ArcGIS map tool. (Kansas teachers? You can get a free account by contacting the KSDE tech people.) ArcGIS also a mobile app.

John and Lisa then used the National Geographic Mapmaker Interactive tool to discuss the geographic concept of Spheres of Influence. Their first example was to have us think about North Korea and its sphere of influence. What might happen if that country develops the ability to launch nuclear-tipped missiles?

John also talked the Strait of Malacca. The Strait is vital to western interests because tons of oil is shipped through there. The problem? It’s a volatile spot, overrun with pirates and near unstable governments.

  • How does the United States extend its sphere of influence on the other side of the world?
  • Should it extend its influence?
  • What might happen if we don’t?

Lisa also highlighted the very first GIS map, the map created by Dr. John Snow.

snow-cholera-map

Snow created the map to track the deadly 1854 cholera epidemic in London. Author Steven Johnson wrote about the map and its implications in his book, The Ghost Map: The Story of London’s Most Terrifying Epidemic–and How It Changed Science, Cities, and the Modern World. The cool thing about this story is that it’s the map, and the thinking behind its creation, that solved the problem of why so many people were dying.

Very cool conversations that support the idea of historical thinking skills and asking kids to solve authentic problems. 

John and Lisa shared a ton more tools – be sure to head over to the Kansas Geographic Alliance site and get the rest of their tasty tools. And don’t forget to check out their list of map resources.