Improving Your Hallowe’en Haul

Trick or Treat DensityHere’s a take on statistics that will rot your teeth! has created a series of maps that use census data to predict where the best neighbourhoods are for trick or treating tonight. Just visit the Trick-or-Treat Density map, type your city or town into the Search field and away you go! There is also a slightly different version called Trick-or-Treat Onslaught.

It is nothing short of a brilliant implementation and thoughtful use of statistics and GIS (not to mention colour!) using the mapping API from Leaflet. Kids can use geography to predict candy haul based on the density of trick-or-treating-aged kids living in a neighbourhood. To quote

This map shows the number of children of prime trick-or-treating age as defined by Stats Canada per km². In plain terms, we map the percentage of children aged 5 to 14 per area.

CensusMapper Drill DownBe sure to click on a census area for a pop-up with more statistics. And if you are really keen, click on the “more…” button on the pop-up to graphically drill down into the data for that segment – very cool!

Even better, though, at least from an academic perspective, are the myriad other maps has created:

and others that deal a range of topics from religion to young adults living at home. Each map is searchable by place name throughout Canada making comparisons between urban areas and rural and urban areas just a jew clicks away. While many of the topics are beyond Grade 9 Geography, they would be welcome for developing higher-order thinking and conceptualization in senior geography courses.

But in the meantime, hand this over to your kids so they can plan their route for tonight’s Hallowe’en outing. And, while they’re out, have them collect non-perishable food items on behalf of your local food bank and the national We Scare Hunger campaign.

Happy Hallowe’en!


Summer and Waterfalls    

  With the school’s yearbook safely uploaded to the publisher, I can now go back to more routinely posting tidbits of geography. I’ve chosen to “go local” for this post, so apologies to the many readers outside of southern Ontario…

As yet another thunderstorm rolls and bellows overhead, my thoughts turn to the swollen rivers around here. We’ve had more rain than usual; the parks are green, the gardens filled with colour and the rivers high – a great time to go waterfalling – observing the waterfalls, that is, as caution must be exercised around flowing water.
Ontario has one waterfall renowned around the world – Niagara – but there are dozens of others scattered around the province, especially in relation to the Niagara Escarpment. With the escarpment cutting through and around it, Hamilton, Ontario is known as the City of Waterfalls with more than 100 (!) cascades in the surrounding area (maps here). My favourites include Tews Falls, Webster’s Falls in Dundas and Tiffany Falls in Ancaster. Down Stoney Creek way there’s the Devil’s Punchbowl and, on the east “mountain”, where I grew up, visit Albion Falls. All of these are accessible along the Bruce Trail – Canada’s longest and oldest public footpath. In fact, it could be called the trail of waterfalls!

Two websites I turn to for information about waterfalls in this part of the country are Go Waterfalling: Great Lakes Waterfalls & Beyond and the website that supports the book by Mark Harris and George Fischer, Waterfalls of Ontario. Each website has excellent information, maps and details. At Go Waterfalling,there are excellent maps well organized by region and scale including the five Great Lakes, all of Canada and the USA. The label on each map is linked to detailed write-ups for each waterfall and links to the pages of nearby waterfalls – very helpful for planning visits. Waterfalls of Ontario has a slightly different design, using Google maps with pop-up windows, each with a photo and links to longer descriptions. There are also some very helpful lists of waterfalls on their Inventory page (although I notice some of the links are dead; hopefully it’s just temporary).

 For a list of types of waterfalls, try the Wikipedia page or visit the more in-depth article at National Geographic Education. I found a helpful one-page visual guide, shown here, but cannot trace its original source. Of course, what’s a discussion of waterfalls without mentioning sapping – the process of differential erosion that produces waterfalls.

So, if you’re looking for a great outing for the Canada Day holiday on Wednesday, look up a local waterfall and Go Waterfalling! Or, better yet, plan a day trip  visiting a number of falls in the region. Later in the summer, when the water flow becomes safer and the temperatures hit 30°C, get your swim suit on a go for a waterfall plunge. Cool – very cool!

Journey to the Centre of the Earth

 BBC Journey to the Centre of the Earth Have you read Jules Verne’s landmark Victorian novel? If not, as a geographer, you must! Add it to your summer reading list.

In the meantime, check out the BBC’s Journey to the Centre of the Earth webpage. It’s built on the same principles as the How Big is Space page and Into the Ocean Depths and provides a somewhat interactive view into Earth’s lithosphere alongside the ocean depths (to 11 000m, that is). The Lithosphere continues right down to the core.

Along the way you’ll learn about the depths of Lakes Superior and Baikal, the effects of nitrogen narcosis, the depth of the Chilean miners (OMG,) as well as the deepest mines and caves, the depth of the Grand Canyon, the bottoms of all the oceans and Xenophyophores (look that one up!). You’ll pass through all the layers including the Mohorovićič Discontinuity (saying/writing the “Moho”, just doesn’t cut it!). Thank goodness, the scale changes as you go deeper or you could be at this all day!

Besides it edutainment value, “Journey” certainly reinforces the fact that we have barely scratched the surface of what we know about Earth (pun intended!). Enjoy and “Discover what lies beneath!”

The last unmapped places on Earth

BBC Future (and all of BBC, actually) is an excellent source of forward thinking articles which often have a basis in Geography. Having taught Geography in England for three years, I can attest to hoimagew well the National Curriculum promotes real Geography – not the soft social studies of the U.S. and Ontario up to Gr 8, but real geographical concepts, both physical and human through Years 7, 8 & 9 and into GCSE and A level. And, a surprising number take Geography through GCSE and A level despite it being optional. So, it’s no wonder the BBC is such a great source of geography-related articles.

This article – The last unmapped places on Earth – comes from November of last year and takes an in-depth look at some of the history of mapping, the inherent bias of cartographers and where mapping is headed. Yes, it’s Geo-geek-speak, but that’s what makes it so pleasurable to read. It’s not been dumbed down (too much) for the Geo-challenged.

Need some perspective?

imageI’m sure you are familiar with the “photo” of Earth that was taken by the Cassini Solstice Mission back in July of 2013. It showed Earth as a pinprick of light below the rings of Saturn. I remember being in awe of the view and immediately creating and sharing a Desktop of the image to help remind me to keep perspective.

imageThe other day I came across a similar visual – The Known Universe – an animation from the American Museum of Natural History that takes us from Earth to the outer reaches of the Universe and (thankfully) back again. Have a look – it’s definitely worth the 6 minute “ride”.

Looking into the Greenland Ice sheet

GreenlandIceGreenland holds the second-largest volume of ice in the world. Complete melting would raise sea levels by over 6m! So having a look “under the hood” is valuable for understanding the dynamics of the ice sheet.

NASA has put together a valuable teaching video and article showing and describing how ice-penetrating radar, combined with ice core analysis allows climatologists to see the various layers and ages of Greenland’s ice sheet: Data peers into Greenland’s ice sheet. Pealing back the layers reveals ice as far back as the Eemian interglacial stage, previous to the most recent Ice Age.

For students, there is an additional spin-off from this teaching resource as it can be used to illustrate the variety of jobs linked to Geography and the pursuit of knowledge. After viewing the visualization and discussing the main points, try having students list all the jobs linked not just to the study itself, but to the logistics behind the study, the production of the video, the article and the website: climatologists, database engineers, flight crews, ground crews, animators, web engineers, authors. Geography isn’t just about the data gleaned, but more and more it’s about bringing the data to the people in way everyone can understand. In other words, one can be a “Geographer” involved directly in the study itself, but one can also be a Geographer involved in all the roles that support the study utilizing skills in a variety of other areas.

For more information, check out > Anthroposphere > Issues > Climate Change.

Teaching at Bark Lake this week

Augering through the ice.

Each year during the last week of January, we bring our Grade 10s up to Bark Lake Leadership Centre for the second half of our annual 12-day residential field credit course in Terrestrial and Aquatic Ecosystems. It is a busy 6 days, with each day starting with a 7am wake-up then teaching both indoors and out through to 10pm each evening – a lot of work for students and teachers both, but one of the most memorable experiences of our students’ high school years at SJK.

Today, for example, half the class spent part of the morning on the frozen lake augering through 37.5cm of ice to collect data to create dissolved oxygen and temperature profiles for the lake in winter. We then compared today’s data to the readings we took in the autumn (from a boat) to better understand how lakes “turn over”. The other half of the class learned about the intricacies of snow (not much more Canadian than that, I suppose) by cutting snow profiles and analyzing the nature and density of the layers to create a history of snow fall and the changes to the snow over the last two months.

Transferring plankton samples to a collection jar.
Transferring plankton samples to a collection jar.

Tonight, students are learning about water pollution and wildlife populations. Tomorrow night, we have a local trapper coming to explain how trapping is used as a management practice to prevent wildlife populations from out-stripping their available resources, all while demonstrating how he skins a beaver. At first, students are a bit squeamish and not sure how to react, but they quickly warm to Rob’s quiet demeanour, his stories and his personal connections to the wildlife.

It is a terrific, immersive course allowing students to explore different ways of looking at the world and interacting with it. As well, they begin to develop a different attitude towards winter, realizing that you can have fun in the snow on a cold day without being on the slopes skiing or snowboarding. The last two days have been perfect examples of near perfect winter weather: clear blue skies drenched in sunshine with the thermometer hovering between –20°C and –10°C, although the wind chill made it feel like –30 first thing this morning!

We’ll finish up the week with a few more case studies, a ½ day on the high ropes course, a unit on furbearers and an afternoon of cross country skiing punctuated by our annual fire-lighting contest. The winner is the first group to build a fire in the snow and bring a paper cup of snow to a rolling boil with only a book of matches and their own ingenuity. Of course, it’s a requirement (and a foregone conclusion) that the teachers always win!

I must admit to being fortunate to be able to have this experience when so many environmental programmes, field trips and outdoor experiences have been cut from school programs. This course has been running for over 30 years and is a right of passage at the school, one of those important, shared experiences which all our alumni can relate to.