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Geotagging: A Social App for Geography Fun

Oliver CutOutOur knowledge of geography is becoming more sophisticated: If you own a smart phone, like the Apple iPhone 3G or some Blackberrys, the phone will automatically adds geotags – location information – to every photo snapped. But can Americans locate those places on a map? Not likely.

Echoing every major study of geographic knowledge in the U.S. or Great Britain over the last decade, Americans performed dismally on the 2007 Facebook application, “Traveler IQ Challenge.” Out of 193 nations, US players ranked 117th.

2006 surveys indicate that over 70% of US high school graduates couldn’t answer these simple questions correctly (See answers below):

  1. What is the most commonly spoken native language in the world?
  2. What is the largest Muslim country in the world?
  3. What country is the largest exporter of goods and services?

Can Technology Help Teach Geography?

Children’s book author Darcy Pattison says, “I like writing stories for kids that incorporate maps and geography knowledge. I don’t know why I’m drawn to these stories, since I’m not a good navigator. Maybe it’s because maps are a form of storytelling, too.”

The Journey of Oliver K. Woodman, a story about a wooden man who travels across the country to connect a family. In the sequel, Searching for Oliver K. Woodman, Oliver starts cross-country again, but when he’s lost a wooden woman, Imogene Poplar, P.I. searches for him.

It’s not surprising, then, that the main character of her books, Oliver K. Woodman, is the subject of a new Flickr Map Project (www.oliverkwoodman.com/map-project) designed for elementary students.

The Project encourages anyone interested to take a paper Oliver along on their travels and photograph him at landmarks. The key is to geotag the photos and upload them to a Flickr group site: (www.flickr.com/groups/oliverkwoodman).

Geotagging is simply marking a photo as belonging to a specific spot on a map. While smart phones can geotag photos automatically, you don’t need that much technology to participate. In fact, Flickr’s method of geotagging by allowing users to drag-and-drop a photo onto a map is more educational for kids. To correctly geotag, a student must accurately locate a place on a map.

Interactive: Photos + Maps = Better Learning

There are 35 million + photos already on Flickr and even more on GoogleEarth, the other major online photo-geotagging site. Isn’t it enough just to send students to view those geotagged photos? No.

“Geotagging photos is a great interactive tool for learning geography,” Pattison says. “Like other social applications, it depends on the community to generate content. It encourages interest, participation, and facilitates learning.”

Students will be more engaged:

  • “Aunt Jane took this picture in Athens, Greece.”
  • “I took this photo at the best climbing tree in town.”
  • “Our class uploaded and geo-tagged ten photos. Let me show you the one I geo-tagged.”

High interest character. Linking the activity to a favorite children’s book character like Oliver K. Woodman just adds to the fun. Teachers can use the FREE Lesson Plans (zip) available with the project to teach an integrated unit of language arts, math, social studies, art and more. The Oliver K. Woodman Map Project is a small step towards improved geographic knowledge through social apps and is perfect for the elementary school student.

Download the Pattern Now! (pdf)
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Answers to Quiz: 1. Chinese, 2. Indonesia, 3. United States.

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