Sunday, February 22, 2009

Spatial Technologies and Natural Hazards - Bushfire Mapping

I have been a little hesitant about posting on the Victorian Bushfires until now, simply because it was all too sad and too real here in Victoria. As a teacher, and particularly a Geography teacher, it was a topic that was spoken about in classes, but I really did need to think about what I was going to say, and how I was going to deliver this information. For most teachers in Victoria, and particularly Melbourne, we had students in our classroom who were either immediately affected, or knew someone who was affected by the bushfires.

I had Geography on the Friday prior to Black Saturday (7th February). I had no inkling of what was going to occur, but I was introducing the topic 'What is Geography?' to my students, so was showing them the Bureau of Meteorology site and the predicted extreme forecast for the weekend. We spoke about the weather conditions and why extreme fire danger was a real threat to most of Victoria. Following the weekend, a number of students recalled that discussion in class, and I did need to spend some time on it. The lesson was on 'Spatial Concepts', so the class was clearly able to identify spatial associations between Bushfire hotspots and the number of abnormally hot days in Victoria. It was a valuable lesson in the importance of Geography in everyday lives. The continuing news broadcast also displayed the importance of mapping and spatial technologies in both the fire fighting and recovery effort. Many of my students would turn up to school with footage from the news broadcasters that had topographic maps in the background, and online mapping tools as visuals.

So, in saying all of that, there are a number of interactive GIS maps out there on the internet that allow students to look at differing layers of natural hazard data. Following the Bushfires in Victoria, more of these sites emerged. Below, I have outlined some that I have used successfully in my Geography classes. My suggestion is to develop handouts for the students to complete as they look at these sites....

The World Natural Hazards Website provides a global view on natural hazards and disasters around the world. This site is structured like a true GIS based interactive map, allowing the user to turn on and off a number of layers. It also includes demographic data, infrastructure data and operates in real time. Using the Information tool allows the user to find out about specific hazards in specific regions. This site will not be as specific as more local or Australian based websites, but is great to have for the students when studying any natural hazards or disasters.

Sentinel Bushfire Mapping is produced by the CSIRO. This map provides an overview of the hotspots in Australia for the last 24 - 48 hours. The site has basic GIS applications and allows the user to turn differing layers on and off. This site has been inundated in the last few weeks, and therefore may be slow and a little bit out of date.

Google Victoria Fires Map uses RSS feeds from the Country Fire Authority to up-date the map. You can also look at the most recent satellite imagery from the fires. One of the reasons that Google Maps produced this site was to take the pressure off other CFA and Bushfire mapping sites. An article on the development of this map was written by CNet, Google Maps Track Deadly Australian Bushfires.

I found that the ABC News Bushfire Emergency Map, powered by Microsoft Virtual Earth, was also a great map to look at. This provided a little more detail on the human and infrastructure costs, and had links to current news events. This map was utilised by a number of people in the fire affected area. The ABC News site is also one of the best in terms of information about the disaster.

Using satellite imagery is, I believe, the best way to explain the extent and nature of a natural disaster such as bushfires to students. The NASA Earth Observatory is always my first port of call, providing excellent imagery as well as a detailed and easy to understand explanation of how the imagery was collected and what it shows. The most telling image would be the Image of the Day on February 5th - Exceptional Australian Heat Wave, February 10th - Bushfires in South East Australia, February 14th - Bushfires in South East Australia and February 18th - Killmore East-Murrindindi Complex South Fire, Victoria.

I hope these sites are useful! If you know of any others, please comment. The image of the fire above was taken from d200dug on Flickr.

Monday, February 16, 2009

What Type of Technology Should I Use?

One of the tricky things I am finding at the moment is that there seems to be too many types of technology that I can use in my classroom. I am lucky enough to work at a school that promotes risk taking in using technology in the classroom, as well as the resources to support this. Last weekend I spent 3-4 hours looking at the different options available, and how I would use these options.

However, that was what was what made it so confusing. I want to use technology in the classroom, however I want to use it effectively. I want it to be a tool to enhance both student learning and my teaching. I want to use it to develop rich and rewarding tasks and activities. What I don't want it to be is an add-on. A GLAT (gosh, look at that) use of technology with no real outcome at the end. And this is why I did need to spend so much time looking at the use of technology in my teaching.

I eventually decided to work a little bit with trial and error, as well as limit the applications to one at a time. I designed a blog for all my classes, as this allows me to provide an overview of each lesson, add links and it also allows students to add comments. Each of my classes will work to create a class wiki and this will become our main resource for reference and revision. (The school does not use textbooks). And finally, I will definitely be using applications such as Keynote, iMovie, ComicLife and mapping applications (Google Earth, Google Maps and possibly other software) in each of my lessons. My classroom blog can be accessed by clicking the following link - Bec's Classes.

If any of this becomes confusing or is not helping my students learning I will be the first to know. As stated by David Nettelbeck in Computers, Thinking and Learning, "the best ideas get nowhere unless they can be applied, and our most critical audience is always our students".

Something we must remember as teachers is that change is happening all the time, and we must attempt to keep up. This may require a little bit of effort (for me, most of last weekend), however the rewards will be in my teaching. The You Tube below is called 'Shift Happens' and provides an excellent explanation for us all on the exponential nature of change or 'shift' that is currently occurring. This in itself should be a clear indication that any use of technology, however small but effective, is better than nothing.

I wonder if things were this tricky when technology went from chalk and a slate board to pencil and paper....

Image taken from rutty on flickr.

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Google Ocean

Well, it has been a little while since I last posted. I have just started teaching three new subjects (of which all are senior school) at a great new school and I am taking a little bit of time to get my head around it all. I am working with a great bunch of very innovative teachers and students who are definitely keeping me on my toes. Great for this blog as I have plenty of new entries.

Despite having my nose to the grindstone, there was no way that I could miss the launch of Google Ocean earlier this week. This is the latest addition to Google Earth and Google Sky and involves the new installation of Google 5.0. It hit the news with gusto, and articles such as 'Google Earth upgrade opens oceans of possibilities' by provide an in-depth overview on what the new application can do.

Basically, in Google Ocean you can dive beneath the surface and visit the deepest parts of the ocean. It also allows you to explore the ocean with marine experts, and learn about ocean observations (including data on climate change and endangered species). Below is the You Tube launch movie, starring Sylvia Earle (Oceanographer). She is also speaking at this years TED conference.

This is once again a great addition to the geography teachers toolbox. Teaching anything from weather to climate change to endangered species to natural hazards involves various images of the oceans. Now this is available Google Earth style. All I can say, is have fun playing, and don't forget to try out the diving application.