Cultural Diversions with North Star Geography Sidebars

We have been using North Star Geography for a few months now and I am continually impressed with all that it encompasses as well as how flexible the program is for our homeschool lifestyle.

Cultural Diversions with North Star Geography Sidebars @EvaVarga.net

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Cultural Diversions with North Star Geography Sidebars

Embedded within each of the sixteen high-level geographic lessons are green sidebars that bring attention to real-world examples of the concepts and topics addressed throughout the curriculum. In the introduction author Tyler Hogan writes,

“The hardest part of writing this curriculum was deciding what NOT to include. So many interesting places, facts, and stories are with discovering ….”

I love this! These sidebars not only provide clear examples of geographic concepts but introduce students to places of cultural importance around the world.

As we travel internationally each year, the sidebars embedded within each lesson are of particular interest to us and we have often jumped around in the text seeking them out as they relate to our travels. We use the sidebars as points of comparison and as the carrots of our rabbit trails for student-led learning.

The Tube Map

In the first unit, Geography Skills, one of the sidebars focuses on subway maps. I love that the author describes how the London subway came to be called the Tube and how maps of the underground transportation system evolved to more user-friendly.

My children first experienced a subway when we were in Sweden. Though my husband and I had experience on the New York subway – navigating one in a foreign language added to the difficulty and we had a few moments of stress. stockholmtubemap

Fortunately, the people were very helpful and we made our way from our hotel, to the T-Centralen station where we transferred to a trolley before reaching our final stop on the island of Djurgården, though one stop farther than necessary so we backed tracked on foot.

We further practiced our skills at reading a tube map in China as we utilized the subway to get around the major metropolitan areas of Beijing, Shanghai, and Hong Kong. Having experience reading a tube map was particularly useful as fewer people spoke English.

The Three Gorges Dam

One sidebar that was of particular interest from the Physical Geography unit was that of the Three Gorges Dam in the Hubei province of China. While we hadn’t visited this area when we were traveling, we enjoyed comparing the construction of this dam to that of Shasta Dam, which we toured a year ago.

The sidebar briefly mentions the ecological results of constructing the dam and from this a discussion ensued. The kids were able to recall watching an Oregon Field Guide episode on breaching the Condit Dam.

The Chinese One-Party System

An understanding of the culture and politics of China is of growing importance and as students of Mandarin Chinese, we found the sidebar describing the Chinese One-Party System from the Human Geography unit of interest.

Utilizing this sidebar as a starting point, we then used the graphic organizers in the Companion Guide to direct us in researching our own state and national government.

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Linked up with The Massive Homeschool Geography Guide at iHomeschool Network.

Real Life Learning Experiences: Geography & Science

Learning by doing is generally considered the most effective way to learn. The Internet and a variety of emerging communication, visualization, and simulation technologies now make it possible to offer students authentic learning experiences ranging from experimentation to real-world problem solving.

Massachusetts Institute of Technology mathematician Seymour Papert once said,

“We teach numbers, then algebra, then calculus, then physics. Wrong! Start with engineering, and from that abstract out physics, and from that abstract out ideas of calculus, and eventually separate off pure mathematics. So much better to have the first-grade kid or kindergarten kid doing engineering and leave it to the older ones to do pure mathematics than to do it the other way around.”

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Everybody is motivated by challenge and solving problems. Project-based learning gives everybody a chance to sort of mimic what scientists do, and that’s exciting. Better still, it’s fun if it’s done well.

Geography

While classroom experience is necessary to learn the foundational skills, nothing beats real life experience gained through travel and simply being open to opportunities. In real life, we don’t spend several hours at a time listening to authorities who know more than we do and who tell us exactly what to do and how to do it. We ask questions of a person we’re learning from. We link what the person is telling us with what we already know. We bring what we already know and the experiences we’ve had that are relevant to the topic to the front of our minds.

Students can be engaged in identifying, researching and graphically representing different types of “resources” in their own neighborhoods to create a Community Resource Map. 

  • Where is the library? Where are the parks? Where are various types of businesses?
  • What services are offered at these sites?
  • How can families access them?
  • Where should the neighborhood prioritize building new resources?

Students can also create a directory or a documentary style video. Through these real life learning experiences, students learn research and communications skills, graphics, and computer skills as they create an actual map of their neighborhood.

Additionally, students can develop skills in surveying, geographical information systems (GIS), aerial photography and satellite digital image manipulation; digital mapping, and geographic positioning system (GPS) topographic data.

The process of creating a community map can also help students to identify areas of need. Roots & Shoots utilizes this model for their service learning programs.

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One of our favorite hands-on activities is to Create a Geography Picture Dictionary.  As a special travel keepsake, target the illustrations to the region you visit.

Another great hands-on activity is to build your own 3-dimensional topographical map.

When we travel, we engage the kids in using maps to aide in identifying natural landmarks. Read of our experience in discovering the Geology & Geography of the Galapagos.

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Sciences

Like geography, the sciences are a natural first for real life, project based learning. Students can utilize scientific principles and methods to conduct research and develop solutions to medical, forensic, and environmental issues that impact our community.

In a CSI/Criminal Forensics Lab, high school students can explore issues in medical science and human anatomy/physiology through their involvement in scientific research projects, and would investigate how a healthy body functions and how it reacts to disease.

Students could investigate the inner workings of the human mind on the chemical level. Why people behave in certain ways? What factors influence behavior? How is behavior controlled, changed and modified?

Students can use investigative science techniques to solve intriguing problems involving the law. Students would use scientific evidence to paint a picture of what happened in the past. DNA, fingerprinting, physical evidence analysis, scene reconstruction, and biotechnology are some of the techniques that would be introduced.

Students could conduct field research to develop an awareness of the impact of human activities on the environment. The data collected could be used to design and produce environmentally friendly products, solve problems and investigate policies that ensure sustainability and stewardship of the Earth’s resources.

lifelearingscienceMiddle school students may enjoy a Theme Park Project whereby students are required to:

  • Decide on a theme for a new amusement park
  • Design a physical layout
  • Design four rides/attractions and create models of them
  • Determine an initial business plan
  • Create marketing materials to attract the chosen demographic

Real Life Learning is Interdisciplinary

Real life learning allows students to practice thinking across disciplines in organic, natural ways similar to what will be expected of them once they leave their formal education. Because projects reflect real-world challenges and unknowns, students work within a complex environment. They must be able to solve problems and refine their strategies.

Real life projects integrate various content areas and instructional methods and require students to plan their tasks in advance, sequence their work, check their progress. Most projects involve collaborative and group learning scenarios which reflect the demands of the modern workplace. In the end, students celebrate and demonstrate their learning with an exhibition or performance.

My kids are engaged in a long-term project to study the impact of invasive turtles in our local area. Utilizing Google maps, they have begun to create an interactive map to illustrate the locations where native turtles and non-native, invasive turtles have been found. They are also working alongside resource specialists and connecting with community leaders.

These real life learning opportunities enable students to learn how planning, literacy and math skills are foundational in all curricular areas as they put together and present community development proposals.

Real Life Learning Resources

reallifeFor more resources and Ideas for Real Life Learning, visit the iHomeschool Network.

 

Spark Interest in Geography with The Passport Club

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We have been really enjoying our new textbook, North Star Geography. As we have begun formal geography lessons the kids inquired if we couldn’t also resume the geography co-cop as we had done when they were younger.

passportclubThe Passport Club

As I began to gather materials, I discovered The Passport Club, a geography program designed to encourage students to learn some or all of the names of the world’s countries. It was first developed as an enrichment program for schools to encourage parent involvement.

The Passport Club program is operated by Chris and Bob Manning, with the goal of giving teachers and parent volunteers the tools and guidance to develop geographic literacy and a curiosity about the world within their students.

“What a wonderful way for us to learn about the world. This could easily be integrated into our geography co-op,” I thought to myself.

I am delighted to now share how we have begun to use the The Passport Club program in conjunction with the North Star Geography curriculum.

How Does The Passport Club Work?

Each student is issued a Passport Book that lists the countries or locations to be learned each month of the school year. The passports are the same for all grades and students. There are five levels for each month and the student can decide how many levels she wishes to study. Note that the levels are inclusive: if a student wants to study at level three, she needs to study levels one and two also.

Each month the student receives a copy of a world outline map as well as a regional outline map marked with the locations assigned for the month. Over the course of the month, the students study the locations assigned for the month in whichever way they feel comfortable.

Every hardback purchase of North Star Geography from Bright Ideas Press includes a free Companion Guide that includes reproducible outline and reference maps that are perfect for The Passport Club as well as many note-taking pages and graphic organizers.

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As a Brand Ambassador for Bright Ideas Press we have received a complimentary copy of North Star Geography in exchange for our honest insights about how this program is working in real life with our family.

The optional WonderMaps, also available from Bright Ideas Press, is a customizable collection of over 350 different maps.

The International Luncheon

The Passport Club is designed as an after school enrichment program but it can be easily adapted for home educators. In a homeschool setting, an International Luncheon – with food and presentations from each participating family – can be planned as a culminating celebration each month.

Families are encouraged to engage in Independent Study projects each month – a lapbook, a dance, a costume, a regional recipe, a 3-dimensional map, a poster of an animal in its native habitat, or a short presentation about the country. These projects could then be displayed at the International Luncheon and students can be given an opportunity to present what they have learned.

Families are also encouraged to bring a dish to share from one of the countries. Alternatively, one country could be assigned each month for a more focused study.

Checking Passports

Upon arrival at the International Luncheon each participating student comes to the Passport Check Table for 5-10 minutes, bringing their passports with them.

Starting at level one, the checker (a parent or teen volunteer) asks the students individually if they studied the level, and if so, to point out each location on an unlabeled map. The students must pass a level in order to go on to the next one.

Tips :: In kindergarten and first grade, the students are coached through level one, so that they all pass level one.  

If the student passes any levels, they then take their passport to the Stamp Desk. There they can pick a “stamp” for each level they passed, and it is pasted onto the Visa side of their passport page.

The “stamp” images utilized in the The Passport Club program are photographs, flags, or other graphics from the countries assigned that month. Alternatively, an assortment of cancelled postage stamps can be utilized and provide additional avenues for study (though these would need to be obtained independently by each family).

thepassportclubWhere Can I Find the Passport Books?

Passport Books and “stamp” image pages are available for purchase from the The Passport Club website. You can also find book marks, inspirational posters, T-shirts, and more!

Where Can I Find Cancelled Postage Stamps?

You may be able to obtain free stamps from local philatelists or from the American Philatelic Society.  At local and regional philatelic shows, there are tables of cancelled postage stamps free for children.

I’ve written extensively about using postage stamps in education and have contributed a chapter to the Big Book of Homeschool Ideas titled How to Use Postage Stamps for Learning.  You may also be interested in my earlier post, Stamp Collecting and Exhibiting.

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Geography Activities: Geography Picture Dictionary {Free Printable}

I love to travel and explore new cultures, to learn new languages, and meet new people. Traveling offers us a unique opportunity to learn about the world around us. Field trips are therefore a major part of what we do and how we learn.

Whether we are traveling on holiday in another country or exploring historical and cultural treasures locally – I take advantage of every opportunity to expose my children to the world in which we live. In our homeschool, we dive deeply into history and immerse ourselves in other cultures via geography and language studies.

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Geography Lessons Through Travel

Any type of travel is sure to include numerous opportunities for your kids to study the topics that make of the field of geography.

As your family travels and explores a new area you will most likely look at a map to help find your way to a historic landmark or to your hotel. You might decide to take a hike near a lake or through the mountains. You’ll likely also eat foods that are unique to the area.

All of these activities are included in the study of geography!!

The study of geography includes 3 major categories:

Geography Skills – including map reading, using tools like compasses and atlases, and understanding navigation and cartography.

Physical Geography – similar to earth science, this includes geology, meteorology, oceanography, ecology, and astronomy.

Human Geography – we can understand how people relate to their location and environment by learning about sociology, culture, religion, transportations, agriculture, and economics.

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DIY Geography Picture Dictionary

Years ago, I created a printable Geography Picture Dictionary for my children.  I knew it would be the perfect tool to document the physical geography we observed in South America. Therefore, in preparation for our voyage, I revised it – as the original boxes were really too small for quality illustrations.

While traveling through South America, we created a small illustration for each of the physical geography features we observed. Brochures we collected along the way also helped us. The process also provided us with a special keepsake.

If you are interested in learning more about how I utilized the printable in South America, take a peak at my Geology & Geography of the Galápagos.

Do your children enjoy sketching and doodling? Then a Geography Picture Dictionary is the perfect learning activity.

Download and print the free DIY  Geography Picture Dictionary here.

If you are looking for a high-quality and engaging geography curriculum for middle and high school ages, I encourage you to take a little time to learn more about the program we have been using this year – North Star Geography.  Created by Bright Ideas Press, it has helped my children delve deeper into the three main geography categories: Geography Skills, Physical Geography, and Human Geography.

It provides suggestions for course planning – whether you want to undertake the course in one semester, one year, or more long term. My family is learning more about geography than ever before and the materials make my job easier than I could have imagined!

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Linked up with The Massive Homeschool Geography Guide at iHomeschool Network.

The Geology & Geography of the Galapagos

This past week, I have been sharing with you our discoveries while we were in the Galápagos in a series titled, The Islands of the Galápagos. The strange beauty and attraction of these volcanic upwellings wove their mystery around us just as they have others who have visited since the archipelago was first discovered in 1525 by the Bishop of Panama, Tomas de Berlanga.
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Today, I would like to expand upon the geology and geography of the Galápagos archipelago and share with you some of the resources that aided in our understanding of these enchanted islands.

The Galápagos archipelago consists of 18 main islands, 3 smaller islands, and 107 rocks and islets. The islands are located at the Galapagos Triple Junction – a confluence of three tectonic plates, the Cocos Plate, the Nazca Plate (which is moving east/southeast), and the South American Plate. It is also atop the Galapagos hotspot, a place where the Earth’s crust is being melted from below by a mantle plume, creating volcanoes.

Geology of the Galápagos

Geology (from the Greek γῆ, gē, i.e. “earth” and -λoγία, -logia, i.e. “study of, discourse”) is a field of science comprising the study of solid Earth, the rocks of which it is composed, and the processes by which they change.

Plate Tectonics

Using our North Star Geography program as our guide, we learned about plate tectonics prior to our departure. There are three types of boundaries between tectonic plates:

  • Divergent Boundaries – where two plates are moving away from each other
  • Convergent Boundaries – where two plates push up against one another
  • Transform Boundaries – where two plates move horizontally, slipping past each other in opposite directions

After reading the chapter, we created edible models of the boundary types in STEM Club (see my earlier post, Plate Tectonics, for lesson details). This was a great activity and the kids really enjoyed manipulating the earth’s plates (i.e. graham crackers).

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As a Brand Ambassador for Bright Ideas Press we have received a complimentary copy of North Star Geography in exchange for our honest insights about how this program is working in real life with our family.

Dynamic Plate Boundaries

The lithosphere is broken up into 15 major plates, which move with respect to one and other. Mid-oceans ridges, a type of divergent boundary, are located at the edges of plates moving away from one and other on the ocean floor. One such mid-ocean ridge, the Galápagos  Spreading Center, is located just north of the archipelago.

Mid-ocean ridges are often offset by fracture zones or transform faults. A major transform fault is located just north of the islands.

galapagosspreadingcenterSubduction zones occur where plates collide. A major subduction zone is located where the Nazca and Cocos Plates are subducting beneath the South American and Carribean plates. Subduction zones are marked by deep trenches and overlying chains of volcanoes (the Andes, for example).

Mantle Plume

The Galápagos Islands are one of most active oceanic volcano areas in the world. Like many oceanic islands, the Galapagos are thought to be the product of a mantle plume – columns of hot rock that rise from deep within the Earth. These plumes rise because they are hotter and therefore less dense, than the surrounding rock.

As a lithospheric plate moves over a mantle plume, a chain of volcanoes is created. The volcanoes get older in the direction of plate motion. The Galápagos Islands are located on the Nazca Plate, which is moving east-southeast. Thus, the islands get older to the south-southeast and it has produced a chain of seamounts known as the Carnegie Ridge.

A second seamount chain, the Cocos Ridge, extends northeast from the Galápagos Spreading Center. Thus a chain of volcanos was produced on both the Cocos and Nazca plates.

Geography of the Galápagos

Geography (from Greek γεωγραφία, geographia, lit. “earth description”) is a field of science dedicated to the study of the lands, the features, the inhabitants, and the phenomena of the Earth.

Volcanoes

In our North Star Geography text, we also learned that there are a number of different kinds of volcanoes. We observed two distinct types of volcanoes in the Galapagos. In the west, on the islands of Isabela and Fernandina, large volcanoes with an “inverted soup-bowl” morphology and deep calderas occur. In the east, smaller shield volcanos with gentler slopes occur.

One of the activities suggested in the North Star Geography activity guide, is to make a topographical salt dough or cookie dough map. The Galápagos islands were the perfect “model” for this activity.

In addition to the salt dough map, the kids enjoyed creating an accordion-style picture dictionary as we were traveling. You can download this free printable, Geography Picture Dictionary, for your personal use. It is a great supplement for North Star Geography. Children can sketch the geography specific to a region (as we did) or use it in a more general sense.

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Craters & Sink Holes

The twin craters of Los Gemelos (one of which is pictured above) are a highlight of the Santa Cruz highlands. Though a lesser know attraction, Los Gemelos, are actually sink holes, not volcanic craters, on the highest part of Santa Cruz. These depressions were formed by collapsing underground lava tunnels.

Upland Forests

This region also boasts of a beautiful Scalasia forest with trees covered by many epiphytes. In recent years, however, some plants have been introduced that are invading the Scalesia pedunculata forest rapidly. What was interesting here was that in addition to the Scalasia, cacti were also present (though more abundant in the lowlands).

In contrast to the dry coastal lowlands, the highlands are covered by mist in the garua (foggy) season and receive thus much more moisture and support a more luxuriant vegetation.

galapagos unitIf you would like to further explore the Galápagos from the comfort of your home or if you are planning to visit yourself, my multidisciplinary unit study, Galápagos Across the Curriculum, provides ample opportunity for kids to explore the diversity and remarkable history of the islands through a variety of hands-on science activities and projects.

Sailing Ships & Navigation

My son has been fascinated with planes, ships, and trains for as long as we can remember. What boy isn’t, right? He has expressed interest in working for Maersk and even has a blog where he writes about his passions, A Boy & His Trains.

When we were in the Galápagos, he would often wake before the rest of us and wander about the ship on his own accord. If he wasn’t in his cabin or on deck with one of the other passengers (he really connected with Gary – an older gentleman from Alaska who shared many similar interests), he could be found on the bridge with the Captain.

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OhCaptain

I loved that he had the freedom to explore the Evolution and that the crew was willing to take him under their wing. He learned a lot about navigation on our voyage. I was sure to expand on this real life experience with the help of North Star Geography.

Navigation

Explorers have always used the night skies to measure latitude by measuring how many degrees above the horizon the North Star (Polaris) appeared. Below the equator, Polaris is no longer visible, and the constellation known as the Southern Cross must be used instead.

Knowing your position and direction are key parts of navigation. It is also important to establish your route. Which route is best? Where do you turn?

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 As a Brand Ambassador for Bright Ideas Press we have received a complimentary copy of North Star Geography in exchange for our honest insights about how this program is working in real life with our family.

Tools of the Trade

Tools for measuring position have changed dramatically since the first explorers began traversing the globe. While the compass has not changed dramatically, many other tools have been invented. We loved reading about the tools early explorers used to navigate in North Star Geography and have enjoyed using some of these ourselves.

Compass: a good orienteering compass is important for learning and using a compass. Compass Sighting, or triangulation, uses two points to determine your location using a compass, a map, and a pencil. We use a compass often – we love the sport of orienteering.

Marine Astrolabe: The original tool for mariners, the astrolabe was a circle, held by a ring at the top, with a  movable sight. The navigator would hold the instrument by the ring to determine the angle of a star relative to the horizon. The navigator would often sight multiple stars and consult reference books or Star Charts for accuracy.

Quadrant: Similar to a Marine Astrolabe but only a quarter of a circle and with a longer sight, allowing for greater accuracy.

Sextant and Octant (1700s): Instruments similar to a Quadrant but smaller (1/6 and 1/8 of a circle) that relied on two sights – one for the horizon and another for the sun or stars. Mirrors were used so that someone could see both objects at the same time.

Radar: A modern device that uses radio waves bounced off distant objects and calculates the time it takes them to return to calculate distance.

Sonar: Another modern device that works the same way underwater, but using sound waves instead of radio. We have utilized sonar on a few occasions – while fishing with family on the North Sea, while enjoying water sports on Shasta Lake, and most recently in the Galápagos. It is fun to see what the surface looks like below the water.

Topographic Maps: In modern mapping, a topographic map is a type of map characterized by large-scale detail and quantitative representation of relief, using contour lines to show elevations and landforms. We love looking at topographic maps and have even used them to create 3-dimensional models, Build Geography Skills with Topographic Maps.

Other tools used by navigators include a Chip Log (piece of wood tied to a rope with knots at regular intervals), GPS, and Binoculars.

navigationBring it Home

Map the sky:  Learn to recognize constellations through the seasons and how navigators used the stars to stay on course.

Use a sextant to sight the north star to measure your latitude. You can determine this using the maximum height of the sun during the day and the maximum height of the north star at night. It is easiest to do this on a beach (large lake or ocean) where you can site off the water, but you can do it in your backyard using a level as well. The trick is finding a sextant! See How a Sextant Works for more information.

Navigation where you are:  How was your state or area explored? Here in California, Sir Francis Drake is linked to the earliest exploration here, though some historians dispute he ever landed here. Who is a famous explorer where you live? Study more about him. Where was he from? Who traveled with him? What navigational tools did he have at the time?

Determine Magnetic Declination:  This is the difference between magnetic north (or south) on your compass and true north (south). This will vary depending on where you are and over time. You can usually find the magnetic declination on USGS maps for wilderness or navigational use. We have one of some local forest lands which include the magnetic declination as part of the map’s key. If you can’t find out specifically what it is where you are, just investigate what it means and how to find out what it is and why it’s important.