Saturday, November 6, 2010

Digital Mapping: So Much Different From Learning to Ride a Bike....

Flickr photo by sean dreilinger

Learning to ride a bike often follows a pattern for children. First of all, they want to learn to ride a bike.  They see others riding bikes and they want the independence that they see others having. There are also great scaffolds built in for kids.  Most bike riders don't start out on a two-wheeler bike. Most young children have riding toys with 4 wheelss then they move to tricycles.  Once they get a "big bike", riders often have training wheels as a support for a while. By the time they are ready to learn to ride the bike on their own, their experiences have set them up for success.

Up until this week, this course's learning has been like learning to ride a bike for me. I was learning new things about things I was somewhat familiar with--tools I had seen used and tools that I already knew held possibility.  I had been scaffolded in my learning by taking things one step at a time and having seen the tools in use. I had already seen the need for many of the tools I was learning.  But, this week's learning was much different for me.  Up until now in this course, I had an idea of what I was getting into. I was already a user of many of the tools or I had seen them used by friends or colleagues.  But for this week, I went into so many tools with little or no knowledge of the tool. I started from scratch. Google Earth was one of those tools that I knew almost nothing about. 

It makes sense that I knew nothing about this tool. I have been avoiding geography my whole life.  I memorized the states on the U.S. map every year in order to get my A on the test, but I never really connected with the whole idea of geography.  After reading the chapter on digital mapping in Berger's and Trexler's book Choosing Web 2.0 Tools for Learning and Teaching in a Digital World,  I realized the potential in Google Earth. They state, "The interactive approach incorporated in Google Earth is especially helpful to engage students  in inquiry learning ." (p. 183)  I then explored with an eye toward inquiry. I wondered how a tool like this could move more traditional projects forward.

It was good for me to have the experience of learning a brand new tool in the midst of this course.  I learned a bit about myself when it comes to learning new tool. I discovered that I have to immerse myself in the tool--read and learn a bit about it and find samples that seem worthwhile to me.  With the past tools, I found myself playing a bit more and exploring a bit less. Since this tool was one I had avoided in the past and one I knew very little about, I found myself reading articles, watching online videos and finding examples of this tool in action. Even with all of that immersion, if I am honest, I must admit that I still don't feel ready to jump in and create and use this tool for myself.

I learned that I have never really learned a tool completely on my own like I did Digital Mapping tools.  I am a social learner.  So, almost every other Web 2.0 tool that I used began in a social context. For some tools, I had friends who were using them and raved about them. For others, a friend and I decided to jump in together after seeing a project or an idea that we liked. For still others, I learned them with students and colleagues in the context of school.  Google Earth was different.  (Luckily, learning alone no longer means learning alone.  I was able to find educators and experts from around the globe who have shared their learning and work publicly on blogs and websites.)

Google Earth
Google Earth was a bit more difficult for me to learn as it required a download. I discovered this by accident after I had downloaded several samples which would not open on my computer. Even though I had read the chapters on Digital Mapping with detailed directions from Berger and Trexler, I had focused my thinking on what the tool could do and had difficulty following the written instructions about how to actually use the tool. So  I searched for a Google Earth video tutorial on YouTube.

I was overwhelmed by the videos available to teach Google Earth and I finally found the following video that made sense to me in order to get started. It is called How to Use Google Earth and is done by Cucumber Tutorials. Many of the others were for more advanced learners or included too much or too little information. I was amazed at how much time it took for me to find a video that met my specific needs.  

Once I installed the software, I realized that I wasn't sure what to do with it.  I also discovered  a great online magazine, Google Earth Across the Curriculum by Richard Byrne made on Yudu (which I would love to explore as I loved the way this magazine was created).  This piece allowed me to see many of the interesting ways Google Earth could be used in the classroom.  
Google Lit Trips
I started by looking at Google Lit Trips because I had heard about them. Even though I had heard about these, I had no idea what they were. Because I did not have a handle on what Google Earth could do, I didn't really understand them. I loved the possibility of a book coming to life in a map. I loved the idea of a map following the path of the story and I really had no idea what to expect. But when I dug in and looked at samples, what I found was that many Google Lit Trips were a disappointment. Many of the trips followed a map of the story and at each stop students needed to answer questions about the story at that point.  This seemed like a glorified worksheet to me and these Lit Trips in no way enhanced the story or a students' understanding of the story. For me, Lit Trips like this were an example of using technology for technology's sake. 

As I kept looking however, I did find some Lit Trips that did extend things for the reader.  One of my favorites was The Lit Trip for the picture book Possum Magic by Mem Fox.  In the book, Possum Magic, several foods popular in Australia are included.  US readers are often confused by these foods and the accompanying Lit Trip can be used as a way to learn more about these foods while also learning a bit about maps. The Lit Trip has information that is not included in the story and and readers can stop at each stop on the character's journey to find out about the food eaten.  I thought that this was a very worthwhile use of a Lit Trip for young readers.

This Google Lit Trip allows readers to learn about the foods Hush eats on her journey.

After spending a great deal of time looking at teacher-created Google Lit Trips, I found a few that were created by students and began to believe that the power of these Google Lit Trips is only possible if we invite students to create them as a way to extend the book in some authentic way. I found one example in particular where students had pulled out a quote for each location on the map. I could only imagine how amazing the conversation between students was as they determined collaboratively which quote to include for each marker.

I could not find any Google Lit Trips that were designed or used outside of a school setting.  I worry about a tool or an activity only done in schools.  

Learning About Community Walk
After spending a long time exploring Google Earth, I stumbled upon a post that helped me see possibilities for writing and that introduced me to a few other digital mapping tools. I learned a great deal from Brenda Dyck's blog post on Education World entitled, Using Digital Place-Based Storytelling to Teach Geographical Thinking.  Brenda Dyck shares some new ways to think about digital mapping and I loved her focus on mapping as as a more personal tool.  Dyck used a tool I had never heard of called Community Walk to create a map of her childhood neighborhood, complete with memories and photos of life there. As an elementary librarian, I saw huge possibilities with this use of digital mapping and its relationship to not only social studies, but as a tool for  personal narrative writing.  So many of our K-5 teachers spend time on units of study in the Writing Workshop dealing with personal narrative. What a great tool to help students think about the narratives they'd like to write. Dyck's reflection tells the power of this type of mapping when she says,   "Back home, I opened up the Community Walk Web site and found out how easy it was to locate the map of my old neighborhood and to create place makers for the places I had taken pictures of. In the place maker space, I downloaded the appropriate picture and wrote a short memory about why that location was significant to me. The result was a map full of memories and meaning. Along the way, I had honed my map-reading skills and learned how place, story, and community helped shape who I am today."

After reading Dyck's thinking about digital mapping, I decided to check out Community Walk.  I was quickly able to locate our local community on the map and I played around with finding various points on the map.  I was quickly able to find and mark our local library, add some information as well as a photo of one of the library's children's librarians that I had in my Flickr account.  It took less than 3 minutes from start to finish.  There are options to add video, sounds, and more on mapping sites like these and the creation was not only easy but it helped me see our community a bit differently.

Dublin, Ohio's library branch with photo of Mr. George, one of our children's librarians

For Use in the Library
Maps are becoming so much more than they were without technology.  Having looked at other tools before looking at Google Earth, I can see the power of using several tools together.  I am intrigued by Will Richardson's suggestion in his book Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts and Other Powerful Web Tools for Classrooms, "Even better is using Flickr with Google Maps and Google Earth to begin to give a global sense of the world in photos." (p. 106) It seems that these tools are not meant to be used alone and I think the combination of tools can be powerful for both students and teachers.

I now see huge possibilities for these digital mapping tool with students.  But I think the key is to find projects that are a match for the tool.  I saw too many examples online of using the tool for the tool's sake.  But I am thinking about several studies done in our school related to geography (community, neighborhood, Ohio, etc.) as well as studies that could be extended with a tool like this. There could be new possibilities if we explored the use of this tool in the  study of Native Americans, Landforms or Weather.  

I would also love to see the power of this tool as a form of Digital Storytelling.  I love the idea of digital maps as storytellers. In her book Digital Storytelling Tools for Educators, Sylvie Rosenthal Tolisano says, "Thanks to a company named Google, we no longer are confined to a photo album, a world map with push pins or a heavy family atlas to connect stories and images from around the world.  Thanks to Web 2.0 tools, we can mash-up media, such as photos, videos, audio and links that take us to explore further to TELL a story in more detail and with more connections to the world around us than ever before." (p. 20) I can see huge power in using maps to support students in telling narrative stories as well as enhancing other types of writing.

After my exploration, I also believe that the power in this tool seems to be in the creation.  This seems to be a tool that does not really invite consuming without producing.  Google Lit Trips seem to be a great option for students in their responses to literature. I can only imagine the conversations that would occur as students worked collaboratively to determine what to include in a Lit Trip map around a great novel. I think the power is in the conversations and creations around this tool.  

I am also intrigued by the idea of Google Earth and other digital mapping tools as a piece of a bigger project.  I can see embedding a Google Map/Earth project into a larger presentation or as a component of a student-published ebook. The possibilities are endless when I consider the ways this tool can be used as a part of something bigger.

Because this tool is so new to me, I imagine more ideas will come as I spend more time with it.  Although I do not see this as a tool I would use often, I do see it as a great match to move beyond traditional projects and assignments in various areas of the curriculum.  I am glad to have this tool as an option to introduce to students and teachers when the opportunity arises.

For Professional Learning
My learning this week was more about what it was like to learn a new tool and what it is like to be uncomfortable with the newness of it. I have been playing with Web 2.0 tools for a few years now and I had really forgotten what it was like to find a tool that I knew nothing about. It has been a luxury over the last few years to explore tools I am interested in and/or tools I had an immediate need for. Pushing myself to learn a bit about Google Earth and digital mapping helped remind me how long it takes for the immersion period of learning.  
I was surprised by the fact that I didn't create any complete products. Instead I played around with pieces and parts of the tools every tool discovering what was possible.  In all honesty, I had no idea about what to create but I know from past experiences, that after living with a tool for a while, possibilities for its uses become more apparent.

I was also interested in my reading behaviors.  I now realize that so much of what I needed to know was written in the books and articles I read, I found that I really needed to dig in and see what this was all about and then go back into the texts and videos as resources for the specific needs I had. I could not take in all of the information at once. I needed a sense of the tool, then was able to dig into the how-to information provided. It was a constant back-and-forth for me as a reader as I was able to take in more about the tool.

In my work with teachers as a librarian and as a colleague/learner, I often forget about the time necessary to become comfortable with a new tool and to realize its possibilities.  In schools, we often don't have the time to explore tools for this period of time. 

I am also reminded again of the time children need to play with a new tool before they can create something worthwhile. I know that we often rush children through the exploration stage because of time constraints. Then projects become more teacher-driven than student-driven.  The library has become a good place in our school for students to learn and explore new Web 2.0 tools.  I am now reminded of how important that time is. I have learned over and over again that given the time and tools, students can be creative beyond our expectations.  Once they see what is possible, they can do amazing things.

Final Reflections
As I've stated before, I don't see Google Earth becoming a tool that I use consistently. However, I have discovered that we now have many more ways to connect to the world because of Google Earth. I have come to agree with what Suzie Boss and Jane Krauss say in Reinventing Project-Based Learning: Your Field Guide to Read-World Projects in the Digital Age, Google Earth makes the world visible and understandable in too many ways to mention."  (170)  This was a huge learning curve for me.   It took me hours and hours to agree with these words about Google Earth as I struggled to understand this tool.  But now that I have given myself the time to explore, I feel confident that this tool will enhance student learning.

Berger, P. & Trexler, S.  (2010)  Choosing Web 2.0 Tools for Learning and Teaching in a Digital World.  Santa Barbara, CA:  Libraries Unlimited.

Boss, S. & Krauss, J.  (2007)  Reinventing Project-Based Learning: Your Field Guide to Readl-World Projects in the Digital Age.  Eugene, OR:  ISTE

Byrne, R.  Google Earth Across the Curriculum. Retrieved from

Dyck, B. (2010)  Using Digital Place-Based Storytelling to Teach Geographical Thinking.  Education World  Retrieved from

Richardson, W. (2010)  Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts and Other Powerful Web Tools for Classrooms. Thousand Oaks, CA:  Corwin.

Tolisano, S. R. (2008)  Digital Storytelling Tools for Educators.  Publisher Unknown.

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