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“Doing the Math” in
Geography
by Steven Branting
T
he quest for integrated curriculum
Gathering data
can bedevil even the most proficient
teacher. What seems imperative to one Let us explore a collaboration of algebra
discipline may barely ruffle the pages and measurement, statistics and demo-
in another. Nurtured by No Child Left graphics, and geometry and cartography.
Behind, an academic culture has emerged This is possible using geographic informa-
steeped in objective testing that too often tion systems (gIS), promoted by eSrI,
marginalizes conceptual learning and the leading developer of gIS software, as
isolates disciplines, setting up stumbling a means to “view, understand, question,
blocks to communal activities at the sec- interpret, and visualize data in many ways
ondary level. Historically, geography that reveal relationships, patterns, and
The populariza­
and mathematics shared many common, trends in the form of maps, globes, reports,
tion of the GPS
reinforced tenets and protocols: scale, pro- and charts.” A gIS map image consists of
jection, Cartesian coordinates, and the cal- many layers of simultaneous information,
exacerbated a
culation of latitude and longitude, to name all of which are constructed from volumes
developing and
but a few. However, the popularization of of digital data, primarily numeric. every unfortunate
the global Positioning System, or gPS, point, line, and polygon is geo-referenced,
disconnect for
in the early 1990’s exacerbated a develop- meaning they are tied to coordinates, such
most students
ing and unfortunate disconnect for most as latitude and longitude.
students and teachers. geography retreated The visual component of gIS is backed
and teachers.
and math drew in upon itself, each living up by attribute tables that may remind one
parallel but sadly different lives. of spreadsheets, only these are filled with
geography has spiraled into a precipi- metadata. The United States geological
tous decline as an easily dismissed curric- Survey describes metadata as answering the
ulum. In Idaho, for example, social science “who, what, when, where, why, and how
majors are not required to take any geog- about every facet of the data that are being
raphy courses prior to earning a teaching documented.” One can readily begin to see
degree. recent surveys are exposing a the mathematical possibilities, of which the
complacent, widespread geographic igno- following are only a meager sampling.
rance among young Americans, whose First, consider the comparatively easy
mental maps are often flawed. task of measuring distance. In geometric
Figure 1 Figure 2
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