Geolocalize it: The global context of everything

The idea for this blog post came to me after I presented a short webinar on the mapping and drawing application Cartograf last week (Archive available here).   Previously I had published a post about Cartograf’s incredible power for subjects like History and Geography.  (Cartograf info and tutorials here!)  But interestingly my web event attracted educators from a variety of different subject areas.  I thought, why such broad interest in a mapping application?  What relevance did it have for them?  I wanted to find out more, so I gathered together a few friends from different domains to brainstorm some potential uses for Cartograf (and for geographic skills in general) in subjects other than secondary Geography and History.  

Over a few days I interviewed or corresponded with:

  • Annie-Claude Valois, Consultant for F.L.S (French) from RSB
  • Sylwia Bielec, Consultant for the Arts from LEARN
  • Anne-Marie Desilva, Consultant for ERC (Ethic and Religious Education) from EMSB
  • Susan Van Gelder , Consultant for ELA (English) at LEARN
  • Craig Bullet, RECIT and SS (Social Sciences) consultant for the ESSB

Below are not exact quotes from our exchanges, but rather short paraphrases of some of the suggestions they made.


Location, location, location


Paul:   Is location important for your subject area?  Why should students in your subject know where things are taking place, where things are made, created, written, imagined?   In Cartograf you can mark precise points on the globe, and within that “marker” you can provide or they can interpret information in the form of texts, images, even videos.  But why should students care about the where?

Annie-Claude (FLS):   In French it is very important for students to learn about Francophone culture, from here but also from around the world.  Students often read stories that take place elsewhere, or do a formal report on a topic external to Canada, like war, or poverty. Cartograf and the use of Google Satellite view could help students actually see where things happened or where they are happening now.

Craig (SS):  In elementary cycle 1 students learn to construct and represent their space, by mapping simple things like their neighbourhood, key buildings, etc.   Cartograf markers could be used to identify these places even at young ages.  Images in the markers could help teachers convey information.   In their History courses students could tag specific locations too.  For the explorers to New France students could mark where they came from and also where they landed and later settled.

Sylwia (Arts):  If you believe art history is important and are a teacher that likes to provide historical contexts for art, then location is important.  Consider a group like the Impressionists and how learning about where and when they painted will provide a context for what and how they painted.   Location can also be seen an impetus to create.  For example, geographically-based conflicts or events have often inspired artists to create works based on their reaction or interpretation of the situation.  Showing students the location of the conflicts, with specific examples using the marker tools in Cartograf, could inspire them to respond to those conflicts or events themselves. They could also mirror the process and seek out local issues that are important to them and use those as an impetus for creation.

Anne-Marie (ERC):  Location is essential to understanding religions and religious culture.  In the elementary program students need to know how to locate religions in their society and also around the world.  For example they need to understand which countries are predominantly Muslim, Christian, and so on.  They also need to understand information about those countries, like whether state and religion are separate entities.  Students learn also about the founders of religions, so marker points in Cartograf could include information about those individuals, where they were born, how they lived, as well as where and how they founded a religion.  Similarly, students learn about famous religious places.  Cathedrals, mosques, temples of course,  but also sacred regions like Jerusalem.  An explanation of why a site is important to a particular religion could be added to a marker, an image or even a Streetview panorama could provide more information about that site today.

Susan (ELA):  One might forget that in English we often read books from authors outside of Canada.  When reading literature from other countries, students could locate specific scenes on a map, and include images and texts to help them flesh out an understanding of the area.  Similarly, when learning about the authors themselves, students could mark locations for them too.  Have the authors travelled? Has this influenced their writing?  Learn about where they live and how this might relate to their stories.  As a class, using the share codes in Cartograf, we could even build up a common map of the authors we’ve read.


Leaving a trace

New York Simple Map

Paul:   Could tracing routes or delineating territory be useful?  In Cartograf you can draw simple maps, lines and shapes that delineate borders, land use, relationships between territories?  Could these type of cartographic skills come into play in a learning scenario in your subject area?

Annie-Claude (FLS):  Some stories are complex geographically, like one about a Quebecois child, whose parents are of Haitian descent, whereas his grandparents were African slaves.  Using Cartograf we could mark the origins of the family and trace their voyage, their immigrant experience, from one place to another.

Sylwia (Arts):  To understand art sometimes we need to understand schools of art, as they existed in a geographic area.  Think about the Bauhaus movement and the particular German cities in which it developed, the regions in which it took place.   Or think of Rome and the religious art that developed around and along lines marked by the spread of Catholicism.   Students could learn about these types of art and influence through simple maps, or they could trace equivalent patterns of influence today on maps of their own?   These sort of activities could help springboard them towards finding their own “religion equivalent” if you will, their own artistic movement to follow.

image005Anne-Marie (ERC):   At the secondary level students could enhance their understanding of religions by plotting the routes of famous pilgrimages!  Cartograf’s ability to include information in shapes means the route could be explained at each stage.   Another common activity asks students to trace religions down through time, to show how they from one place to another.  Again, information added to each line and shape could note why people moved, how and why beliefs spread and transformed.  Think of the silk roads, think of historical contexts like the Crusades or the spread and retreats of Islam.   And even for the Ethics competencies I think simple maps could be used, to help delineate differences between one country to the next, as concerns children’s rights for example, or perhaps the legality of homosexuals.   Even ethical issues stemming from certain events, like the movement and acceptance of refugees, could also be better explored by tracing maps of their routes and of their origins.

Susan (ELA):  Often the storyline of a book takes us to a variety of places.  Using Cartograf students could trace the routes that different characters take.  Call it a Cartograf lit trip!  Think about books like Underground to Canada, Walk Two Moons, or the Grapes of Wrath.  Sometimes the routes taken are almost as important as the development of character or plot.  Keep in mind too that knowing how to read maps, images, any sort of media or graphic representation, all that could be considered part of ELA too.  “Texts” are much more than just words.


Does an image paint a thousand words?

Sketch on street view

Paul:    Cartograf also contains powerful ways to use and analyze images.   Photographs can be localized and explained inside a marker point (i.e.  “attached” and thus geolocalized to a specific location, a city, a street corner, a cliff side, a mountain top, anywhere on the globe.)  You can also access Google Street panoramas, and insert actual street-level imagery and point of views for consideration, maybe for comparison.  And what is more, you can even sketch on top of images, labeling, tracing shapes, adjusting transparency, using advance drawing tools right in the application.  Could you use images in any of these ways?  What type of learning activities could students do using Cartograf’s image analysis tools?

Annie-Claude (FLS):    We often use images during activities where we pose questions to students.  Sometimes students also use images in order to make predictions.   Images inside localized points on maps could inspire other questions about location and the environment as well.

Sylwia (Arts):  Google Streetview in Cartograf could be used to find and display works of art that are relatively permanent, like a graffiti by someone like Banksy for example!   Or a series of graffiti examples could demonstrate a general street art movement.   Murals on buildings in certain cities, in certain countries, could also be tagged and explained, in terms of location, but also in terms of culture, or local social issues.  In Competency 3 students appreciate an image, and must talk about it in terms of things like artistic techniques.  Certainly the drawing tools could be used to help identify techniques in images they attach to points, the play of light and shadow, pointillism, etc.  As an actual creation tool I am not sure though.  When it comes to using technology, multimedia art teachers are more likely to introduce their students to more specialized drawing or photo editing software, like Photoshop.

Anne-Marie (ERC):  Religious places could be compared by using Cartograf’s image editor, to combine and compare images, like now-and-then image pairs, or uploaded photographs juxtaposed or overlapped with streetview images.  Religious art could also be labelled and thus explored, in terms of location yes, but also as concerns their meaning or significance.  For example, for Michelangelo’s David, you could include it in a point where it was created, then place it again where it stands now, and then make an analysis of the statue using text and drawing tools as well.   Of course there is also religious architecture, its identifying features and making an analysis of individual differences as it appears in different locations.  And finally, at specific sites, or as part of specific cultures, students often identify and analyze religious expressions, like an object, or the way someone prays to express their faith.  Using a tool that also helps localize the religious expression can only help to explain them, to show differences and to show contexts.  For example, an object in a Montreal mosque might be compared to one in a Saudi mosque using two images in marker points at their respective locations.


But why bother learning geographically?  What is the “place value”!?

Paul:  Okay, I always understood that our world is… “a complex battleground of physical and human interactions. [And that]  Local is no longer local, but a collision point for the interaction of many ‘locals’ drawn from a global stage.”  (Tony Cassidy)   But after these few conversations and brainstorming sessions (thanks folks!) I also discovered that what we learn, in pretty much every subject area we learn, is only about our little corner of the world insomuch as it relates  to everyone else’s.  Everything has relative place value.

image009That being said, the question I still asked myself at the end the day was why?   Or for me specifically, why should my son, who is about to graduate high school, care about where things are?   I found some of my answers in how these short reflections show that geography, and the maps we live by, help us understand who we are and what we know, in pretty much every way we learn.   But then I also stumbled on an excellent little video I thought I’d share to end this post, by (who else other than) National Geographic, called “Why is Geo-literacy Important?”    Geo-literacy, it said, is basically about sufficiently informing the decisions we make (where sufficiently now also implies globally) so that we can better take action, and so our decisions are healthy, balanced and real in the global context in which we live.   Pardon me?  What?  Where was all that said again?  Well, in this case, right about here!


Information on Cartograf:

CartoGraf is an interactive web-based mapping application to enhance learning in geography and history classes in schools and colleges. It is free and Open Source and produced by following partners:

Conceived and developed by RECITUS,  in partnership with LEARN and Parks Canada
En français @ et
In English @  and
More information here @ our Cartograf info page >> 

Education for Sustainable Development: Life as a Pre-service Teacher, Part 2

Adam Thomas Young
Adam Thomas Young

This post is part of the Life as a Pre-Service Teacher series. You can read the first post in that series about Experiential Learning  here.

Adam Young is a B.Ed candidate at Bishop’s University in the Secondary Education/English concentration. His main area of research is education for sustainable development (ESD), with a focus on comparative research between Quebec and Swedish educators and school systems. His work has been presented at a number of workshops at Bishop’s and afar. Adam is currently serving an internship as the Sustainable Education Communities Intern. In 2012 he received the SPEAQ Student of Merit Award for his presentation on being “Environmentally-Conscious in the ESL Classroom.”

When I explain to other educators the importance of education for sustainable development (ESD), I tout the deep connections we can make through the Broad Areas of Learning of Environmental Awareness & Consumer Rights and Responsibilities, as well as Citizenship & Community Life. As to how exactly we get educators to become fully involved in this, well, that’s often a different story.

Although most educators can get behind the idea of ‘environmental awareness’, there may be some fear of not knowing enough or having a too limited understanding of the science behind the planet’s countless environmental problems. But apart from the science, what exactly constitutes citizenship, and whose role is it to teach our students to actively get involved in their communities as citizens? Model parliaments and debates in the Contemporary World course are all fine and dandy, as is debating ethical issues in ERC, but what happens within the other courses to truly have students understand the power they hold as citizens? Furthermore, how do we encourage our students to exercise their rights long before they are called on to vote?

On a recent research trip to Sweden I met a series of students who reaffirmed the importance of citizenship within our schools. I was invited to visit a small primary school on the outskirts of the town of Falun, in the centre of the country. There, the students had a school representative council, with members of the council arriving two-by-two every hour to escort me to a different part of the school to show me how they were enacting their ESD-themed goal of Health and Well-Being. The council was valued by all in the school and the greater community as they not only represented the voices of their fellow students, but also were active in planning future projects, such as the renovation of their newly-opened cafeteria, and deciding on the food that would be served.

Citizenship however, takes on many more forms than this. In a high school with which I have been working in Stockholm, half of their school council consists of students, but what about the other students at the school? Beyond the school council, students are bringing about change through involvement with youth wings of larger international organizations or political parties. They are also critically examining the various neighbourhoods of their cities, surveying the amount of green spaces and trees, and proposing to city councillors -who listen to their every word- on what could be improved.

As educators we often see a diversity of different projects that center upon citizenship, and a new project with Learning for a Sustainable Future (LSF) focuses on the projects shaping our own communities here in Canada. The bilingual Our Canada Project was developed out of a series of roundtable discussions with participants from across the spectrum of business, service clubs, educators, and youth in particular. The result is their online project that invites educators to shift into “responsible citizenship”. LSF’s idea centers upon key traits they found from their discussions, such as responsibility, being active, and contributing as a responsible citizen by shifting from knowledge and action to also valuing citizenship. This takes our in-school and extra-curricular projects with students to a different -though more challenging- dimension. It’s one thing for us to do a project with our class, it’s much more difficult however to change one’s values.

our_canadaOnline, the Our Canada Project has a wide range of projects up thus far. From composting and school garden programs, recycling and rain barrels, to creating boardwalks and awareness events on a number of ecological and social issues. While still in its infancy, the site provides a ray of hope in the area of citizenship education and, if anything, can provide some great sources of inspiration for our own community projects. Registering your own group’s project is quick and simple, including uploading a photo and outlining the project, a great activity you could do with your students as a step in development.  The youth-imagined site encourages us as educators to upload our own interdisciplinary projects and recognize that we’re not alone; there is always strength in numbers!

Now in the midst of a provincial election campaign, we are reminded of our collective role as citizens again. Unsurprisingly, one of the lowest demographics of voters has consistently been young people. Traditionally we’re used to seeing that one teacher in our school who teachers about elections, who uses the traditional Canada Votes resources and keeps the fold-up mock polling booths in the corner of the classroom. Developing these skills is crucial, but if our “practice runs” with our Sec 5 students aren’t actually getting them voting once they have the opportunity, it seems a little all for naught.  As I witness in my work in education for sustainable development (ESD), these voting exercises leave the concept to the realm of a  short unit, an LES, or as a subject-specific activity that fails to recognize it as part of a larger Broad Area of Learning across all the subjects, and an essential foundation of school life.

In Learning for a Sustainable Future’s reports on responsible citizenship, they present some interesting facts from the Institute for Canadian Citizenship’s 2012 survey results ( In order of popularity, results suggest that the surveyed top attributes to a good citizen include equality of the sexes, following laws, voting, protecting the environment, and respect for other religions. Surprisingly, some knowledge of Canadian history and being an active participant in one’s community was at the lower end of priorities.  While we’re making gains with many of these issues in society, we might be quick to pigeon-hole them to the responsibility of another subject, such as ERC. But maybe the best way to demonstrate these values to our students is to really get them involved in the community, form meaningful school councils, and make voting for student representatives a larger event at the school.

Beyond the ideas mentioned above, developing citizenship projects that go beyond the school walls and into the community might hopefully have our students reconsider what it means to not just be a citizen, but a change maker. As educators, we need to think beyond our subject content and the limited time we feel we have to get through curriculum. At the end of the day, citizenship is a lifetime responsibility and social contract we make with others and our governments. It requires collaboration and ingenuity, and not sticking to the status quo. Start with the values already in your students, and help them see the bigger picture. Perhaps they’ll see citizenship a bit differently.

To Code: Forward 2014

shelleyI bought my first computer in 1983 – a Franklin Ace 1000. It had 64K of memory. It functioned with floppy 5 1/4″ disks. I started taking classes at McGill in the EdTech diploma programme. One of my first courses was in Logo, manipulating a triangular “turtle”. I can remember going to my computer after putting my children to bed and doing just a little more before I, too, should get to sleep, only to find myself fixing just one more bug and one more bug until my program hummed along. I was hooked.

Soon after that I started volunteering to help with the computer classes at a private school and a few years later I was hired on staff. I taught students from grades 1 – 6 and a large part of my programme consisted of various iterations of Logo (Logo, Logowriter, Microworlds) and later robotics as well. It was easy to integrate the programming into projects already going on in the curriculum. There were not many in Montreal involved in teaching programming at the elementary level and I had to reach out to find like-minded people, attending and presenting at conferences (when I could get to it – the Logosium – a daylong event where educators shared) and reading Logo Express, a journal published by the logo special interest group of NECC (now ISTE).

Fast forward to 2014 and the idea of coding and children is everywhere. There is crowdsourcing to fund programmable toys. I keep seeing articles touting apps for teaching programming. Just recently I read an article about how New York City has started a project to teach teachers how to teach programming. And in the UK, programming is now part of the national curriculum. You can see the primary programme here.

Photo by Paul Goyette under a CC license
Photo by Paul Goyette under a CC license

I loved what programming did for my students. They learned procedural thinking, problem-solving and debugging. They had a chance to create and to control the computer instead of it controlling them. And it enabled me to see a very different side of some of my students than other teachers did. Some students, who did not sit still for other classes, were totally focussed in mine. Their ideas took flight in this new medium.

I spoke with one of my former students, Stewart Adam, who, despite the fact that he is still in university, already runs his own business. He said that the first time he gave the computer commands and it did what he wanted he felt empowered; he could control the computer. He also talked about coding as important for everyone – computers are so prevalent it is important to  understand  at least a little of what is going on in the background. Computers will be part of everyone’s life and jobs. He spoke about critical thinking, logical thinking, building algorithms, computational thinking as important skills that are developed through coding. It’s a unique style of thinking. He also talked about the pleasure of working with a program like Microworlds when he was in elementary school, where all students could accomplish something and be proud of what they did. Depending on the way schools introduce programming could change students perspective on it.

In the article, Learn to Code, Code to Learn, Mitch Resnick states:

I see coding (computer programming) as an extension of writing. The ability to code allows you to “write” new types of things – interactive stories, games, animations, and simulations. And, as with traditional writing, there are powerful reasons for everyone to learn to code.

scratchHis group at the MIT Media Lab, the Lifelong Kindergarten group, is responsible for the development of Scratch, a programming language aimed at children from age 8 and up. Children (and adults) can not only learn to program, but can share their products, their questions and their pieces of code. They can learn together, remix each others’ work and build new projects, just as happens in the Open Source world. Take some time to explore the site. There is plenty there for teachers. Scratch is really yet another iteration of Logo – but with colour coding that helps people understand the logic. What I love about Scratch is, that like Microworlds, creations are only limited by the imagination of the creator. has challenged kids to create code, stating that anyone can learn computer science. Celebrities, both from the digital world and the pop culture world are selling the idea that coding is cool. You can find materials for teachers and students there with lots of ideas of how to implement coding lessons into a classroom.

Too often coding i.e. computer science has been kept to the upper grades of high school with the math and science top students (often male)  being filtered there. Did you know that the first computer programmer was a woman? Ada Lovelace was the daughter of Lord Byron. She worked with Charles Babbage, the inventor of an early precursor to the modern computer.

I spoke with Kate Arthur and Gersande LaFleche from Kids Code Jeunesse about coding and why they felt it was important to teach coding from an early age.

Photo by Vedis Ronald under a CC license
Photo by Vedis Ronald under a CC license

Both emphasized that every aspect of people’s lives involves technology. And both emphasized the many possible jobs open to people who know how to code, everything from game development, design work, 3D modelling, work in medical modelling, animation, etc. There are many opportunities for creativity, not just for those with mathematical aptitude.

Kate, the mother of two young children, got involved because she wanted to empower children to be creative with technology rather than being controlled by it. She emphasized both the basic economics of learning to code (the field of computer science and its related fields is doubling every 2 – 3 years) as well as the self-awareness and self-esteem that comes with learning to code – that sense of empowerment that Stewart spoke about.

Through the workshops Kids Code Jeunesse has given, Kate has witnessed that learning computer programming changes a child’s enthusiasm for learning. She has seen that students tackle quite complex math writing skills via programming and see it as exciting. Other bonuses include students learning to pay attention to detail, to increase their patience as well as to build their trust in technology.

Gersande spoke about the problem of only introducing programming at a later age when many students have been filtered out. Younger children need the chance to explore and play with it to see how computers can be used to create. She talked about getting young girls interested in programming before they are filtered out by gender bias.

If we get kids when they are young they may be more likely to go into STEM fields and explore ways to work on many interesting things. It is opening doors for kids.

Programming classes result in sharing – sharing of ideas and how to do things as well as sharing of finding solutions to why things don’t work. Gersande talked about how the students became a bit competitive about finding solutions to other students’ problems. Everyone got involved, despite the fact that students were working on computers in a 1:1 situation.

Are you up for trying some coding with your students?  Let your students lead you. There are countless videos on YouTube where students share their techniques, whether for Scratch, Minecraft, html or other flavours of coding. Don’t be afraid to let your students learn from others and from each other.


More Articles and sites of Interest:

Teaching Kids to Code: EdSurge Guide

15 Ways of Teaching Kids Coding by Vicki Davis: Edutopia

Schools Aren’t Teaching Kids to Code: Guess who is filling the gap

Coding for Kids – video with Chris Betcher for the K12 Online Conference

This presentation will take you on a guided tour through some of the resources available to your students to help them learn the principles of creating code. We’ll check out a range of desktop and iPad apps suitable for teaching very young students to program, through to tools and websites that can help your older students learn to hack code, and much more.

Create some art with Turtle Art and learn about coding while you play