Sunday, November 18, 2007

Churchill Fellowship report on Spatial Technology

The report of my Churchill trip can be seen on the Spatial Worlds website. In the report I have tried to analyse what I found out via the visits which have appeared regularly on this blog. The report contains conclusions, recommendations and future directions for spatial literacy and spatial technology in schools in Australia in response to my findings on the trip.
I have framed my findings under the original questions posed earlier in this blog and the recommendations under the following headings:
* Across the curriculum approaches
* Data provision
* Teacher training
* Community links
* Skill development
* Teacher networks
* Curriculum materials
* Levels of competencies supported with research
* Resources
* The Spatial industry and Government agencies
* Equity issues
* School/Education authority’s priority setting
* Tertiary sector involvement
* Spatial Learning
* Vocational education

At this stage of my musings I would like to recommend to all fellow geographers to think about applying for a Churchill Memorial Trust Fellowship in 2008. The Fellowship and the Winston Churchill Trust have been sensational in supporting my trip and myself in general during the past 4 months. It has really been a wonderful experience and hopefully what I have found out will go towards the development of geography and spatial technology in Australia. To find out about applying for a Fellowship go to the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust website at and in particular download the application form at . As they say "if you never go, you never know" and "you have to be in to win it".
It would be great to see geographers in Australia heading off around the world to investigate aspects of geography to make sure that geography continues to be an important part of the educational scene in Australia. As you have seen in this blog, Geography does not exist in US schools as it does in Australia and in the UK and Canada the numbers are certainly not growing. With the push by AGTA in recent months to politically promote geography, the more people we have out and about advocating and getting ideas about geographical education would be a positive thing for the growth of geography in Australia. The Winston Churchill Trust Fellowship is one way that individuals can experience and grow as geographers for the good of geographical education in Australia. Think of an area to investigate and put in an application if you see it as something you wish to do. Please contact me to discuss if you want to discuss the application process and the experiences I went through to get the Fellowship. The Fellowship has certainly been a worthwhile experience for me professionally and personally and I would recommend it to anyone. Good luck.

I am keen for this blog to continue to be a vehicle to communicate spatial education ideas and references to those interested. At this stage I am not sure what form this will occur but I am also sure that as I travel through Europe in he next few months things will pop-up to add to the blog.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Weekend in Flanders - a history project

Spatial Worlds website
Lille, France: N: 50º 38.322' E: 003º 04.478'
Amiens, Belgium: N: 49º 53.506' E: 002º 18.561'
Merris, Flanders: N: 51º 42.940' E: 002º 39.644'

Before heading back to Australia I caught the Eurostar train to Lille and then a train to Amiens. What an amazing change has happened in Europe since I last visited in 1976. No seasickness on the ferry but just a two hour comfortable train trip. Also no passport required between countries once you enter Europe and all the same currency - amazing co-operation and a real irony when one considers the European conflicts over the centuries. Naturally I took the GPS to Flanders so that I can incorporate some lat/longs into the war memoir of my Great Uncle and try to develop some battlefield activities for my history classes. I got to the Menin Gate in Ypres on the evening of Nov 10th which was a very moving ceremony with bugles, bands, bagpipes and wreath laying. On the 11th I visited my Grandfathers brothers grave in the La Kreule War Cemetery (near Merris) which has been unvisited since his death 89 years. His story to war is the basis of my book 'Closer to the Cannon's mouth' which is used in Australian schools and in the Australian War Memorial. It was a very moving experience to put some poppies on his grave in the pouring rain, with a bighting cold wind in the middle of a French potato field. What an incredible waste of humanity it all was. The War Graves are immaculate, with a register in each to sign by visitors. Only two Australians had visited La Kreule over the past twelve months but there are hundreds of cemeteries sprinkled all through this area of northern France and Flanders. While visiting the battlefields it became increasingly obvious that some GIS mapping would be an ideal classroom activity to show troop movements and battle stages. Go to my website and download a battlefield GIS exercise I have written to use with students studying the Great War.

I really enjoyed France and Belgium for the short time I was there and must go back. Great old churches, small cobbled streets and the beautiful French countryside(even if wet, muddy and cold) Needless to say my French was a disaster and makes one realise what a handicap it is to be monolingual. It was also much cheaper to travel in France than in England, so the dollar went a bit further with the Euro.
Anyway, one more day in London and then home!

Friday, November 9, 2007

Geography HQ: A visit to the Royal Geographical Society

Kensington, London: N: 51º 30.100' W: 000º 10.541'
Today I had the pleasure of visiting the Royal Geographical Society in London to meet with Judith Mansell (RGS Education Officer), David Rayner (National Subject Lead in Geography) and Noel Jenkins (Court Fields Community School and of Juicy Geography blog fame). It was a very thought provoking meeting with David given his perspective on the educational state of geography in the UK, Judith describing the work of the RGS with GIS implementation and Noel passionately advocating the use of a range of technologies in the classroom. Our discussion was so broad and at times tangential it is hard to summarise what was said but I will just pick out some of the things that stuck in my mind and applied directly to my work in Australia (both with GIS and geography in the curriculum).
* Noel talked about his efforts to use technology such as blogs to help broaden the horizons of students to help them see themselves as a part of the globalised world. He sees all technology as an enabler for students to share and interact across the globe.
* I was interested in the term that seems to be used in the education circles in the UK; “compelling learning experiences”. I am sure this term will turn up in Australia and most definitely relates to the use of technologies such as GIS in the classroom.
* Our discussion on the impediments for innovation and change inevitably moved on to thoughts on the structure of schools and the need to be creative and innovative with timetabling. I was interested in the concept of collapsing school days so that one day a week is not timetabled but rather allocated to faculties to conduct full day activities in and outside of the school.
* We explored the reasons why many teachers find new technology threatening and what is the ‘make-up’ of the teacher who takes up the challenge compared to the teacher who puts ‘up the shutters’ to change and learning new things. Maybe we need to do some psychological profiling of change receptive teachers and work out ways to support all teachers tackle change and overcome technology anxiety.
* Noel demonstrated the use his students make of movie making in geography with geo-referenced links and other spatial components. He uses free software such as iMovie ( and Windows movie maker ( for students to make their own geography based movies. To see some of Noels students work from his former school go to As you will see on this site, Noel is keen to integrate spatial understanding across the curriculum, involving English and art for example in his geography lessons. A centerpiece of Noels teaching is personalising geography for students and encouraging students to make a personal connection with what they are studying. To this end Noel is keen for Youtube to be used as a source of some great geography but is having issues with the use of this technology in schools. More of Noels students work will be appearing on his new student blog site at over coming months.
* David Rayner as the Geography Lead has the responsibility to roll out Geography in the new National Curriculum. He sees this as a great challenge and is keen to have geography seen as a vibrant and positive area of study. Since GIS has been overtly written into Stage 3 of the National Curriculum, David sees this as a great opportunity to move GIS forward in schools. The issue in relation to this is whether the wording of the references to GIS are strong enough to ensure the use of GIS in a meaningful way in the classroom or will just see teachers undertake a cursory treatment of GIS applications.
* The Royal Geographical Society has taken the lead in GIS training in the UK and continues to conduct GIS workshops for teachers. Over the last 5 years the RGS has been funded by Becta and the The Department for Children, Schools and Families ( to provide support and guidance to encourage the use of GIS in the classroom. The RGS workshops called ‘GIS made easy’ have generally been at the awareness stage of GIS implementation with the plethora of software available being demonstrated during one day and evening workshops.
* As many know in Australia, Noel has been extremely innovative in his use of Google Earth. His websites & & are fantastic examples of the innovative use of spatial technology by a classroom teacher.
* David has been also innovative over the years developing excellent teacher resource sites such as the Staffordshire Learning Network ( and a teacher sharing website called Geointeractive (
* The Royal Geographical Society has taken an important role with the Geography Action Plan which was a UK Government programme to promote geography with a range of initiatives. The RGS has been involved in developing geography career resources, Ambassador Schemes, Chartered geographer credentials and establishing quality geography department marks. More on the plan can be found at
* We finished the day with Noel outlining his vision on the massive changes which will happen in the next 5 years. In particular he sees all GIS software and associated data being served via the web and drastic changes occurring with the nature of the hardware used. Such a vision was only the tip of Noels vision of the future and I suggest put Noels website in your favourites because I am sure he will be posting his thoughts regularly on the issue of our technological future. The question is whether schools (more specifically teachers) will be able to adapt and change to accommodate the massive technological changes which will rapidly descend on us over the next decade; changes which our students readily embrace in their everyday life. Traditionally education is slow to react to technological change in society as demonstrated by the introduction of spatial technology. Can we afford not to keep up?
Overall a lot is happening and with enthusiastic and innovative people such as Judith, Noel and David I am sure things will continue to move forward with spatial technology in schools in the UK.

The Churchill Fellowship meetings are over but I am sure the contacts I have made will continue into the future. Hopefully the sharing and networking will help GIS implementation in schools back in Australia. For those who have been reading this blog I hope the information has been useful. As I mentioned at the beginning, the blog documentation will go towards my Churchill Fellowship report. What I need to now answer are those questions I posed in that very first blog. Maybe on the plane home I can start to crystallise my thoughts on the important issue of the implementation of spatial technology in schools to enhance spatial literacy.

Thursday, November 8, 2007

A day in the land of maps: Ordnance Survey in Southampton

Southampton: N: 50º 54.453' W: 001º 24.723'
Today I travelled one and a half hours by train to Southampton to visit Roger Jeans, Education Manager at the UK Ordnance Survey (OS) offices. The Ordnance Survey ( ) is known to many teachers in Australia due to their excellent GIS Zone and MapZone website facility. My purpose to meet Roger was to see how such a pro-active and “student friendly” website came about and to see what the role has been of such a government agency in the introduction of GIS in schools. In all my other meetings in the UK the OS has repeatedly been mentioned as a major player and “go to place” for schools, vendors and associations interested in introducing GIS into schools. I found out much more than just this from Roger and really enjoyed seeing the home of UK mapping and data. Seeing the historical map facility was a real treat!
As background, the UK Ordnance Survey goes all the way back to 1746 and has played a key role during UK military and civilian history of the country. In particular their role during the fires of London, blitz years, tax system management gives an insight into the role of the Ordnance Survey over the years( The OS is a self-funding government agency which naturally has to sell its data and maps to maintain its considerable facility and product base. Today there are approximately 1200 people working in the agency (was over 5000 prior to the digital world) which has seen the amazing transition from hand drawn maps, though scribed maps to today’s digital maps.
In 1991 the OS embarked on its education involvement due to their concern about the quantity and quality of map skills amongst school age children and the perceived future needs of the spatial industry. Hence, the pro-active and networking role they have played in GIS Education in the UK. This focus has continued into the 21st century because of a concern that young people are still not aware of the job opportunities available in the industry and the need to raise community awareness of the work of the Ordnance Survey.
Roger heads up an education team which uses the considerable data, map and expertise capacity of the OS to develop educational materials for schools. Here are some of the activities/initiatives they have been involved in over recent years. All of these initiatives have been undertaken in an effort to create a GIS friendly environment in schools.
1.‘Mastermap’ ( is an intelligent set of data available to schools under license. The data is licensed to local authorities across the UK and then becomes available free to state schools. Private schools need to pay a license fee for the data as a separate arrangement. The previously mentioned emapsite ( ) is the site that schools go to download the data. The site aims to provide a one-stop data shop for schools to access UK and their local data in particular. Such a facility saves school chasing local authorities and councils for data. The data sets include topographic, transport network, administration boundary, street, and postcode layers as well as raster data at a variety of scales.
2.The OS has become a ‘critical friend’ to the geographical education community in the UK being able to network with other government agencies and members of parliament about the importance of spatial skills for students. To this end the OS has organised a meeting in the Speakers House in the House of Parliament on November 22nd to address the question of geography in schools. Michael Palin has been invited with other prominent community members to participate in the presentation.
3.The Survey is soon to conduct its Map Pilot programme which is hoped to provide a webserver facility for schools. If the initial project works then other government agencies could feed their data into the webserver for schools to create an evolving and comprehensive facility for all schools in the UK.
4.To increase the profile of the OS and to ensure all young people in schools have exposure to topographic maps the Survey instituted the ‘Free map scheme’ in 2002 ( The scheme is an amazing commitment to spatial literacy in schools and involves every year 7 student in the UK receiving a free full size topographic map of their local area. All schools have to do is to register their interest and provide student numbers to the OS. 1 teacher map is provided for every 25 students in the school. Even being free with no strings attached only 70-80% of UK schools take up this offer! The maps are worth $20 each and the programme costs approximately A$800,000 annually for the OS to implement. The maps are supported with a student map skills book and a sticker for the students to locate their home with on the map. I am sure all geography teachers would love such a scheme in Australia for their students and it really shows the degree the Ordnance Survey are prepared to go to support spatial literacy in schools.
5.As many already know the Map Zone ( and GIS Zone ( of the OS website is great to use with students but it is worth noting a few other education links on the site (
Go to the Education tab at and check out the following:
* A website workshop document can be downloaded from
* The GTE (Geography Teachers Educators) information page at has other Powerpoints to help teacher introduce GIS into their classroom, an AEGIS viewer workshops materials, the ‘Mapping news’ publication and much more.
6.The OS has also funded and supported GIS days for teachers over the years and this year could only cater for 60 of the 120 teachers who applied.
7.The OS Mapping news is brought out twice and year and can be downloaded as described above. I highly recommend the publication and the information in the following two editions summarising software available to schools ( and the article about helping young people learn about maps ( are particularly useful.
8.The OS website has had a new addition since October which is really a great resource for UK teachers and those GIS mad. This is the 'Explore Portal' at . What is great about this free portal is that it involves maps, GPS, data collection, field observations, image importing and blogging for students and others to use and experience. What a great idea and a really good template for a similar facility in Australia for schools to use. More to explore on that one! Have a good look at it and think of its potential to enhance student involvement in GIS and fieldwork.

As for GIS implementation, Roger considers the digital divide is a great challenge for many teachers to overcome and that considerable work still needs to be done to upgrade the ICT skills of teachers. What the OS is doing is to help support those trying to introduce GIS into schools with accessible data, resources, networking and general support. The OS supplies an interesting role model for us to discuss back in Australia and thanks to Roger for spending the day explaining the role and work of the OS to me.

A day out of the city: Hatfield and the Computers in Education Advisory Unit at the Innovation Centre

Hatfield: N: 51º 45.854' W: 000º 12.928'
Today I had the opportunity to travel by fast train out of the big city to Hatfield, about 45 kilometers of central London. I visited Diana Freeman who heads up the Computers in Education Advisory Unit. Diana has been involved in GIS in schools since 1991 and was one of the pioneers of trying to get GIS into schools. She certainly had plenty of interesting ideas on the matter and was quite positive about the present direction. The Computers in Education Advisory Unit is responsible for the development of the AEGIS (An education GIS) programme. The programme has been designed to be a user friendly mashup type of GIS layout product for students to use in their studies. The programme interface is quite different to other GIS programmes I have worked with because the interface is in a layout mode (called an interactive worksheet) containing digital maps, data tables, pictures, text, legends and titles. The programme can undertake all the GIS processes such as thematic mapping, data searching, data table creation, data table editing, hotlinking, importing of excel worksheets, swipe tool plus all the day to day operational components of a school based GIS programme.
Again, it is not my role or place to make commentary on the pro’s and con’s of various programmes and make comparisons. My purpose with my research is to get a variety of views on the issues of GIS implementation and spatial literacy. What can be said is that AEGIS seems to be another effort by another group of individuals to make GIS accessible and achievable for teachers to use.
Diana has been heavily involved in teacher training and I was very interested in the network of teacher consultants (experienced GIS teachers) her group has established across the UK to mentor and support other schools in implementation. As well as training of individuals Diana believes that training days need to be followed up rapidly with faculty training time in the school. Whilst time and personnel intense, such an approach is definitely the ideal way to go if meaningful implementation is going to happen in schools in an embedded and sustainable fashion. As I mentioned in the implementation stages earlier in the blog, teachers training teachers is a critical stage of the implementation process. To date, 1000 of the 6000 secondary schools in the UK are using the AEGIS programme which makes AEGIS the most widespread GIS programme in the UK. Recently the Advisory Centre has been awarded the tender to implement GIS in SSAT (specialist school and Academic Trust) schools.
The Advisory Unit has also been working closely with the Geographical Association in the process of introducing GIS into schools over the years and has contributed a think piece on GIS to the association’s website
Diana considers a key driver of change is the QCA (Qualification and Curriculum Authority- who as the body responsible for setting all curriculum and assessment criteria in the UK are supportive of using ICT’s such as GIS in the curriculum.
On the methodology front the Advisory Unit has an approach which is based on using GIS for geographical enquiry so that students question, think critically, collect, record data, display information, analyse spatial representations, apply skills and understand concepts to solve problems and make decisions. The unit also sees fieldwork and out of class learning, visual literacy and geographical communication as key components of using spatial technology in schools.
The units approach to learning the GIS skills and concepts in general for teachers and students is also compatible with many others I have spoken to over the past weeks. The Advisory Units document states the following process to attain GIS skills using AEGIS:
1. Use prepared samples to map and search data
2. Practise different digital mapping techniques
3. Add data and images to existing maps and tables
4. Use digital data gathering methods
5. Understand different digital map formats
6. Create GIS case studies for individual enquiries
The unit is also working with the British Educational and Community Technology Agency (BECTA - and the Ordnance Survey to make large scale maps accessible for classroom projects. At this stage the map delivery is limited to only 40 state schools as a pilot but hopefully in the future it will be extended to all schools. is the commercial site for map delivery.

The Advisory Unit considers that teacher attainment of the skills is an achievable goal in the near future with teacher training and advisory support. In fact they consider that because enquiry learning is quite embedded in the UK teaching and learning environment, teachers are looking at the opportunity to develop personalised learning which GIS is able to provide.
The AEGIS web site at has a free AEGIS viewer to download with a range of AEGIS projects and on-line tutorials.
The contact information for Diana Freeman is The Advisory Unit: Computers in Education (

It was great to get out of London and see a bit of the London green belt to the north. Tomorrow I head south to Southampton to visit the Ordnance Survey.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Meeting with ESRIUK and Digital Worlds

London: N: 51º 31.206' W: 000º 07.682'
What a great setting for a meeting. Angela Baker from ESRIUK arranged for me to meet her and Jason Sawle and Richard Pole from Digital Worlds in the central hall area of the British Museum. It was a really lively meeting with some great discussions on the issues facing GIS implementation in the United Kingdom and the efforts being made by ESRIUK in collaboration with Digital Worlds to move forward with introducing GIS into schools. It would be fair to say that the conversation was similar to what I have had in Hong Kong, the US and Canada. That is, industry and key educationalists are working busily in breaking down data, software and technical barriers whilst developing resources for teachers to use in the classroom. However there seems to be a barrier we have all reached at moving forward. I think it has surprised all I have spoken to that the huge development which has happened with software, curriculum support and resources has not seen schools in large numbers rushing to the door of vendors and trainers demanding to get going with GIS in the classroom. It seems that the problem with implementation is the difficulty in getting teachers wanting to be trained and to generally embrace the technology as an integral part of the future of classroom practice. After attempts to interest all UK teachers in the technology the focus has shifted to the geography teachers in particular to see if that group can effect change. In Australia, geography teachers and associations have driven GIS in schools forward and it seems that in the UK the same strategy is presently being employed. I was very interested in the implementation model the Digital Worlds team presented, which puts a new spin on the process of implementation and the implementation chasm that some say we are presently in. The model roughly translates as:
Stage 1: Innovators and early early adopters (5%) (teachers willing to take a risk)
Stage 2: Late early adoptors (10%): (teachers who hear of successes and want to be involved.
***a chasm of implementation is identified as between Stage 1 and 3 and it is suggested that we are presently just on the edge of the chasm (Stage 1 and 2 accounts for 15% of the teachers and thus 85% of the teaching force still not touched by GIS).
Stage 3: Early majority (35%): the next group of teachers to embrace the technology need very solid reasons why they should be involved. Vocational and curriculum push and pull factors involved in this stage.
Stage 4: Late majority (30%): This group is no longer prepared to see other schools have significant success stories and reputation from their efforts and see that they must be involved to be seen as keeping up with change.
Stage 5: The laggards (20%): teachers who need very solid academic and vocational reasons of why they need to use the technology and even some degree of system sanction.

The question is whether this model is real and if so, is the frustration many of those I have spoken to due to the pending chasm of implementation. If true, how do we breach the chasm and move on with implementation without falling in a hole? I feel there are a lot of Indiana Jones’s out there ready to try!
The Digital Worlds team has been working at a way to move forward and bridge the chasm by providing the ‘missing link’ with implementation. They consider that a more “teacher user friendly” programme is required to ease teachers along the learning curve. Jason and Richard have developed a product with ESRI support and blessing which has “trimmed much of the fat” off the full blown ArcGIS product. Their product ‘Digital Worlds GIS’ has been designed to combat the one-size fits all approach in education with a product customised for the classroom setting.

My purpose here is not to review the programme but just make some observations, signpost further reading and summarise some of the key discussion points:
*‘Digital worlds GIS’ uses the ArcGIS interface with many of the functions removed, icons made easier to relate to and language more explicit. Despite this customising, Digital Worlds GIS still undertakes the GIS functions and skills that are required in over 95% of classrooms using GIS. It can create Thematic maps, query databases, create tables, edit tables, hotlink, swipe, import GPS points and all the other day to day functions of classroom GIS.
* As mentioned, the motivation of the Digital worlds team was to create a programme which was easy for teachers to use and provide a link between the ESRI AEJEE (free GIS- see Dallas blog posting) and industry standard ESRI ArcGIS 9 programme. They suggest that when the teacher feels confident with their programme and want to go further they can invest in ArcGIS and move forward with minimum disruption because of the commonality between the two programmes.
* The philosophy of Angela, Jason and Richard was affirming in that they see GIS as a tool to enhance classroom learning and not an ICT focus alone.
* The approach we discussed in relation to teacher methodology using GIS was also in synch. I thought the quote that the teacher needs to stop being a “Sage on the stage and a guide on the side” summed up extremely well the teaching methodology to be employed by a teacher using GIS.
* Angela said that there has been a massive acceleration in teacher ICT skills since 2001 in the UK due to a government initiative to train teachers in ICT. Such an increase in teacher computer literacy was hoped to flow over to the use of GIS but as yet it has been patchy. This and the writing of GIS into the National curriculum ages 11-14 (to be introduced in September 2008) and ages 15-16 by 2009 should see positive results in the implementation of GIS.
i.e. The curriculum should provide opportunities for pupils to: use varied resources, including maps, visual media and geographical information systems (Qualifications & Curriculum Authority, Programme of Study: Geography Key Stage 3)

* In 2003 the Jason and Richard began work on an Anglo-French project (European Regional Development Fund Interreg IIIa community initiative) to examine and develop a GIS programme in Kent and Haute Normandie. The project was designed to break down the barriers for GIS implementation in schools in these areas. The project involved teacher training, software support and the development of a website for these schools to access local data. This includes a variety of digital data, including: aerial photography; large and small-scale maps; administrative boundaries with census, social and economic data; historical maps; satellite images; environmental data; and 3D Digital Elevation Models (DEM). In addition, the site also hosts a series of unique Digital Information Portals (DIP's) in the form of virtual tours for a number of key sites within the Interreg IIIa region. For more information on the project go to
* Part of my fellowship goals was to find relevant research and documentation on spatial literacy and spatial thinking. When asking this question I have been frequently referred to the “Learning to think spatially’ book. It seems to be the major resource available in an area which everyone agrees needs to be further developed. For information on this resource (including a podcast) go to the National academic press at
* ESRIUK has been very active on GIS Day each year and has developed resources to support the promotion of GIS. Go to ESRIUK website at for GIS Day downloads.
* Check out the Digital worlds GIS site: I am not sure about the availability of the free demo CD but go to for the free video and newsletter from the team. If interested it is worth looking at . This educational intelligence website has evaluated the Digitalworlds GIS software

The 6 hours of enjoyable GIS discussion with like-minded souls was very enjoyable after a few days of just walking and not talking. Plenty of food for thought on the implementation of GIS in schools. Again, plenty of parallels with the situation in Australia.

Walking the streets of London

Paddington, London: N: 51º 31.022' W: 000º 10.103'
Central London is like a living museum with people from all parts of the world looking, taking photographs and experiencing the history of the place. Hence seeing I had the weekend in London before my meetings started I thought I would join them. Again, instead of boring details here are just some of my personal highlights and observations from the weekend:
* The transport system in inner London is incredible and really the perfect example of a tourist friendly inner city. Double decker buses seem to be coming every few minutes to the bus stops and it was very easy to find your way around. Inner London is also a great walking city with all the tourist highlights in easy walking distance. In fact getting lost is the best part because you wander into an area off the normal tourist route. Needless to say I did this frequently!
* Public transport is excellent heading out of London as well. The trains are fast and clean but not cheap though. The train to Hatfield, 35 km out of London was A$25. I don't know how people can commute at that price unless they are on a very good wage. The fast trains are pretty amazing an dthat journey only took 20 minutes!
* By the way, London City has encouraged the use of public transport by imposing a A$20 congestion tax on all cars coming into the centre of London.
* Westminster Abbey was an amazing place to visit which brought the history books alive. As most of my generation was brought up on British and Commonwealth history it really was amazing to see this building full of what the textbooks said.
* Walking along the banks of the Thames day and night was a delight and safe. Not sure about the London Eye? To me this is the visually ugly side of tourism but it seemed popular.
* I have visited plenty of museums but my favourite was the HMS Belfast in the Thames and Churchill’s war rooms. Really well done museums with plenty of good information and original items.
* The new British Library is a great venue to work, read and relax. Great old books and the speical collection was full of some absolute gems, such as Lenin's reading room library card and original Beetle lyrics. That is where I am doing my blog each night.
* I mentioned in my last blog that Toronto was multicultural but London is the epitome of a multicultural place. I am staying on Edgeware Road which is a Middle Eastern enclave of London. With the clothing, Hooka pipes in the restaurants and signs in Arabic you would swear you were in the Middle East. All seems to work well though and again little sign on the surface of disharmony. However with the CCTV cameras everywhere, London has worked hard at making it a safe place (apparently 20% of the CCTV cameras in the world are in London). Interestingly I have not once been asked for money as I walk the streets of London compared to the frequency of being asked as I walked around the inner city streets of US cities.
* The Imperial War Museum was worth having a look at and the walk through trench re-creation exhibit was excellent.
* Compared to the atmospheric conditions in Hong Kong, the air in the city of London is clean and clear. The only problem is the number of people smoking. With the huge numbers of European tourists and other groups from the Middle East, smoking is alive and well on the streets of London compared to back at home (even though it is banned everywhere inside).
* Really just walking around the backstreets of London was a highlight for me. By the way the sun at noon is very low in the sky already and it is dark by 4.50pm. I should have expected but still surprised for this time of year. Middle of winter must be very miserable. Luckily I have had sunshine and about 14 degrees max each day I have been here. Very warm for this time of year apparently. Just looked at Bigpond homepage and it is the same in Adelaide today with rain, strange.

Thursday, November 1, 2007

Toronto: a city of diversity

Toronto: N: 43º 39.391' W: 079º 22.833'
Toronto is not what I expected. A huge urban centre with its own vibrancy. Again, I have enjoyed just walking around the city and observing. Here are a few observations I have made:
* As a city of 2.5 million the people (4.5 million as a megalopolis) seem to have a real identity with the place, with a smile on their face. Halloween seems a real hoot and brings out the crazy but village/community mentality in the people. Last night I travelled by ferry out to Toronto Island where kids were going around to houses for trick or treat (mainly treat). Was all rather nice really.
* This part of Canada has been experiencing its worst drought and highest October temperatures on record. All sounds rather familiar. Normally this time of year is much colder and sometimes even snows on Halloween but yesterday was a balmy 18 degrees.
* In the inner city there were more homeless than I have seen in other western cities. A surprising number of people asking for money as I walked around the city but with no angst when refused. One guy destitute sitting on the street tonight asked me for some money, when I said I had no change he said, “have a nice day”. I did not expect that response!
* The inner city is not pristine like the US cities with lots of litter and a great amount of building and road changes going on.
* Despite this the recycling facilities are impressive with the public bins having paper, plastic/metal and rubbish compartments.
* Toronto, I have been told is the most ethnically diverse city in the world. It certainly seems that way as you walk around and it seems to generally work well. This is a result of Canadians very open immigration policy over the years.
* The Toronto skyline is impressive with some very tall buildings in its centre, with many of them being residential. The CN tower is meant to be the tallest building in the world, according to the Canadians.
* The city sprawls over an enormous area as I saw as the plane circled the city on my way here.
* In Canada, remarkably up to 90% of the population lives within 100 miles of the US border. No wonder the US culture permeates Canadian culture so much (as evidenced by the TV full of US shows).
* In the staff room in the school was a poster “Support our troops in Iraq”. Would we see that in Australia? I am not sure. Also of interest is the large number of people in the city who have been wearing the red poppy for Remembrance Day all the time I have been here. Whether this is tied in with the losses in Iraq (75 fatalities apparently) or just normal remembrance of he wars I am not sure.
* The big fuss in the media is the announcement by the conservative Canadian government that they are going to cut $60 billion from the tax collection and lower the GST from 6% to 5%! The debate is about why cut taxes when educational and health infrastructure is great need for an infusion of funds. Instead of cutting taxes, this boom in the Canadian economy should be put towards the people and not the economy and the rich. An interesting debate which seems to be repeated in all booming western economies.
* By the way Australia does not exist in North America. Well that is not exactly true; the only thing I have read about Australia over the past three weeks is that Kevin Rudd eats his ear wax! In fact in the Toronto paper this was third page news with half a page of writing and photographs. This is a worry if that is the only thing about Australia which is newsworthy in North America.

Overall a good place to visit but not the real Canada of wilderness and cold I expected. Very much the urban Canada I have experienced. Must come back to see the vastness of the country one day.

A school visit in Toronto

Toronto: N: 43º 39.391' W: 079º 22.833'
Today I visited the Central Technical School in Toronto. This school is recognised as one of the leading Geotechnology school in Ontario and was a most interesting place to visit. It is no coincidence that Mark Lowry was the HOD of geography at the school before he moved on to the District Board job I discussed in the last blog. Mark has developed a geography faculty of GIS trained teachers who are doing some great work. It was great to see a geography faculty of 6 keen GIS trained geographers all doing some great geotechnology work from years 8-12. The school itself is massive (over 2000 students) and the buildings have a lot of lived in character (old and not pristine as I saw in the US schools). The school had a completely different atmosphere to the US schools, being more relaxed re: security and more casual like Australian schools. The atmosphere was further enhanced because today is Halloween and the students were dressed in all sorts of different garb. It was like a casual day with a horror/fancy dress theme. I spent some time observing the Year 11 Geomatics class and a year 9 geography class using GIS. The faculty members gave me copies of their practical learning activities using GIS which seemed to be innovative and meaningful to the student learning. I will have a good look at these when I get home.
I also spent a lot of time at the school talking to Mark about the structure of the curriculum and the school in general. For example
* the students had an hour lunch at 11.45 with no recess which I was surprised with (same starting and finishing times the same as us).
* The 4 key components of learning the students are assessed on are knowledge, thinking, communication and application.
* Assessment is criterion based with the measures being at 4 levels of achievement.
* There is state based testing of numeracy and literacy at years 3, 6 and 9.
* There are no senior exit exams with the universities doing their own testing.
* Compared to the US and its broad standards assessment in each state this system is more open to innovation in general but still is constrained by the developed criterion based assessment expectations.
On the GIS front Mark and I shared our thoughts on the difficulty of ESL students learning GIS. The Central Technical School has an incredible mix of ethnic groups, as does Toronto in general. These students find it very hard to meet the literacy requirement of following GIS instructions and Mark showed me a technique he uses at the beginning of the courses to help students to follow process. I was also shown the 100 gigs of data in the District Board server which all Ontario schools have access to. The data is amazing and their educational authorities make it all available via their webserver.
What was affirming for me were two things Mark emphasised:
1. We are not computer teachers and therefore not the experts. Again, the type of teacher required to show their vulnerability to students as not the expert.
2. The 3b4me rule he uses. That is all students to ask three others in the class before asking the teacher. This sanctions student cooperation and group work, the greatest by-products of GIS in the classroom.
Mark has also produced in cahoots with some of the staff at Central Technical School, a very useful CD titles the ‘The Geographers workbench’ for use in senior school geography. I have a copy and some of the activities and powerpoints will be of interest to teachers new to geography teaching.
In regards to Civics and citizenship, the Toronto District Board has developed a curriculum which is worth having a look at in South Australia. The Central Technical School has channeled much of their citizenship activities into programmes such as the Toscan Foundation, Free the children and Adopt a village ( and A practical and meaningful approach to citizenship education for students.
I really enjoyed the day with fellow geographers using GIS and as always learnt plenty of new things to try out with students.
Finally a useful resource I came across is the website of the Ontario Geography Association located at Also check out the Canadian Council for Geographic Education resources on the International Polar Year resources at
Also the ‘World in spatial terms’ website is worth a look at
Now a bit of a break until a busy week on GIS in London next week!