Geoguessr: The Internet’s Newest Educational Time Waster

Geoguessr
Where does this look like to you? I guessed central Mexico based on the Spanish signs and the mixture of dry soil and lush plants. Actually it’s Brazil. The next view I looked at showed the characteristic onion domes of a Russian Orthodox Church. I guessed Russia and was correct.

This is an addictive new online game called Geoguessr. It gives you random Google Street View images and you have to click on a world map to guess where they are. You’re awarded points based on how close you are.

It’s surprisingly addictive. My young son, already a fan of Google Maps and MarineTraffic.com, is becoming obsessed with it. So am I. The best way to wrack up points is to explore a little. Start heading down a foreign street, studying traffic signs, plants, and passersby. They’ll all give you clues as to where you are.

It’s also really difficult. I’ve mistaken Korean writing for Chinese, the Australian Outback for Nevada and New Zealand for Hawaii. No matter how well traveled you are, this game will trip you up and make you want to play again. So if your boss has stepped out of the office for a drink, click on Geoguessr and spend some time learning a bit about how the world looks.

The Pacific Ocean: Is It Really True That One-Third Of Young Americans Can’t Find It?

Pacific OceanWhile reading fellow Gadling blogger Chris Owen’s post about a Twitter mix-up between Chechnya and the Czech Republic, I was horrified to read that one-third of young Americans can’t find the Pacific Ocean.

I was horrified, but not surprised. I taught for several years in a community college and no amount of public ignorance surprises me anymore – not after a student handed in a paper stating that Iraq and Afghanistan were cities.

But I’m always suspicious of statistics. It’s a well-known fact that 85 percent of all statistics are wrong, so I emailed Chris and asked for his source, which turned out to be the Around the World geography project. They cite a National Geographic study that found 29 percent of U.S. 18-24 year olds couldn’t find the Pacific Ocean on an unlabeled map.

Looking at the original study, it turns out they got it wrong. “Only” 21 percent of those quizzed couldn’t find the Pacific Ocean. The 2006 study quizzed 510 Americans aged 18-24 on a number of geographic issues. The one that concerns us here was a blank map test to see if the participants could correctly point out certain countries and geographic locations. Boundaries were clearly labeled; they simply needed to match the shape and location with the country or ocean.

The Pacific Ocean wasn’t the only hard-to-find location. A staggering 63 percent couldn’t find Iraq, despite near-constant media coverage. Closer to home, 50 percent couldn’t find New York state. Check out the link to read more disheartening statistics.

I suppose we could blame the educational system, but 48 percent of the participants said they had a geography class sometime between sixth grade and senior year, so I suspect the blame lies with parents for not instilling a desire to learn about the world and the young Americans themselves for not realizing this information could be useful.

When I was discussing this post at the breakfast table my7-year-old scoffed, “I know where the Pacific Ocean is!”

I decided to test him. He correctly pointed out the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans, as well as the Mediterranean and Red Seas. I stumped him on the Sea of Azov, though. Can’t let him get too big for his britches.

Of course he enjoys a key advantage – parents who channel his natural childhood curiosity into learning about the world around him and foster an enthusiasm for exploration and discovery.

In other words, we give a shit about his education.

[Image of the Pacific Ocean courtesy NASA]

Teaching Geography With Google Maps

Google Maps
Travelers aren’t born, they’re raised.

Last week we talked about how to connect with your kids while you’re away traveling. There are plenty of ways to get them interested in this great big world of ours while you’re both at home too. One of the best and easiest ways to fire their imagination is with Google Maps.

Like many good ideas in our family, my seven-year-old son thought of it first. He’s recently gotten into Internet Radio, especially Tonik Radio out of Dublin. Tonik and most other stations show a Google map with pointers to where their listeners are. I find it kind of freaky that our house is clearly indicated on a map for all the other listeners to see. The kid just thinks it’s cool. He’s of a generation that has always known the Information Age and thus has a whole different attitude towards privacy.

So as he listens to House and Trance he surfs the globe, looking up where the other Tonik Radio listeners are–the cluster of fans in Dublin, the farmer in Israel, and the guy in the apartment block in Sterlitimak, Russia. Zooming in with the power of satellite photography, he can see what far-off countries look like from above. In some places he can even use Google Street View.

Once he gets bored hunting down his fellow radio fans, he starts exploring the Terra Incognita of the spaces between the points. This week he conducted a close-up survey across the Pacific and happened upon the Johnston Atoll, a lonely little former U.S. military base that I had never heard of.

I also show him places where I’ve been. He got an aerial view of the amusement park in Baghdad where I ate mazgouf. When the satellite took its photo, a small plane was flying over the riverside park and left its shadow on the water of the Tigris. A week later I came into my office and he’d found it again. He’s learning to navigate.

I can even show him my past, hovering with him above the Danish farm where I was an exchange student back in my teens. I brought him up the country lane to the nearest highway and its bus stop, the same route I rode with my bike when I wanted to go to Slagelse, the nearest town. The hedge and ditch where I hid my bike before I caught the bus are still there.

Strangely, this obsession with the computer hasn’t killed his interest in regular maps or his light-up globe. So if you have a young kid who’s curious about the world, try surfing Google Maps. It’s more than a bit Orwellian, but it’s a lot of fun.

Image courtesy Google Maps, copyright 2011.

Parenting On The Road: How To Connect With Your Kids When You’re Traveling

parentingParenting is a tough job. It’s even tougher if you have to travel a lot for work. Being away form home doesn’t mean that you have to be away from your child’s life, however. Here are eight tips on how to keep connected to the rugrats while you’re on the road.

Skype. The greatest aid for the wandering parent ever invented. Why miss story time when you can pack a few of their favorite books and read to them over the computer? One guy I know even puts on puppet shows for his two boys. There’s also a fun coloring tool where you and the little one can paint each other’s faces.

Email. If you want something more old school, get them an email account and send them messages. Attach some photos of yourself on your travels. You can stay current with their schedule too. If you know they have a history test coming up, send them an email the night before wishing them luck (and reminding them to study).

Postcards. Or go classic with postcards! Nothing is more personal than getting a handwritten note from mom or dad with a cool picture on it. Once you’re back you can share your own photos with them.

Studying Maps. Show them where you’re going with an atlas, globe, or Google Earth. My son loves Google Earth and likes to zoom in on the places I am, and he often goes to sleep with his illuminated globe shining Africa or Asia over his bed. You can also use programs like Tripit to show your itinerary so the kids know where you are. One friend also shared that her son has a “huge world map and every time I take a big trip I text him often on the way and he marks my progress. This was a lot of fun when I circumnavigated the globe. He learned about flat maps in a round world!”

Planning for the future. Figure out what to do together once you’re back under the same roof and mark it on a calendar in their room. This gives the kids something to look forward to.

Online Games. Hey, you know they’re playing tons of video games while you’re gone anyway, so why not join in?

Hide things. Gadling’s Chris Owen shares, “I hide things for them to find later, when I am away. Once I folded very tightly a permission slip one of them needed for school and put it in their cereal box..” Libby Zay says, “My mom and I used to tuck notes into each other’s bags/coat pockets/lunch box/purse/wherever. To this day she’ll sometimes put a coat on that she hasn’t worn in awhile and find a note in the pocket from little Libby!” My son does this to me too. I always end up finding one of his toys hidden in my bags. One has even made it onto Gadling!

Put them to work! Give them a complicated puzzle or Lego set to work and challenge them to get it done before they come back. Dave Seminara’s two boys like to be given titles. “Leo, 5, is the man of the house while I’m gone, and James, 3, is the ‘associate’ man of the house. They like these roles and if they do a good job they get souvenirs. Actually, they get souvenirs either way.”

What do you do to stay connected with your kids? Share your advice in the comments section!

[Photo courtesy user woodleywonderworks via Flickr]

International Parenting: Avoiding Stereotypes With ‘Rastamouse’


My son is having an international childhood. His father is a Canadian who lived for a long time in the U.S. and his mother a Spaniard who lived for a long time in England. We divide our time between Santander in Spain and Oxford in England.

One effect of this is that he has different associations for different places. England, for example, is a summer place, a small-town place where in the early morning before going to camp or the park he gets to watch TV. Spain isn’t a TV place because TV sucks in Spain. We didn’t even bother buying a TV there.

I don’t mind him watching BBC because they have some great kids’ programs. One of his favorites also helps make him more international. It’s called “Rastamouse.” Rastamouse is a mystery-solving Reggae mouse musician who always catches the bad guys. Once he does, he shows them the error in their ways and helps them make amends. Rastamouse calls this “making a bad ting good.” It’s a nice change from superheroes, who simply kick the bad guy’s ass.

“Rastamouse” is hugely popular in the UK and is coming soon to the United States. It hasn’t been without controversy, however. Some viewers think the cheese on the show is a symbol for marijuana, ignoring the fact that Rastamouse and his friends are, um, mice. A less silly complaint came from Daily Mail columnist Lindsay Johns, who in his op-ed on “Rastamouse” objects to the Jamaican patois. He says it panders to racial stereotypes and that “the BBC is leading us down the path of linguistic rack and ruin.”

“Very soon (if they aren’t already), a whole generation of primary school children will be rushing around the playground mimicking Rastamouse and saying, ‘Wha gwan?'” he writes.

So far, I have yet to hear my son imitate Rastamouse, and if he did I don’t think that would lead him to forgetting the Queen’s English. I also don’t agree with Johns’ statement that Rastamouse’s being cool means he isn’t cerebral. He solves a mystery every episode by analyzing clues.I let my son watch this show because, unlike what some of its detractors say, it actually breaks stereotypes. I have to admit to a certain amount of snickering on the part of me and my wife when we first saw this show. We kept waiting for pot references but they never came. We missed the whole cheese thing. Rastamouse creators Genevieve Webster and Michael De Souza (who is a Rastafarian) are clearly not interested in making a cult show for stoner college kids.

Our reaction made me think. While we know that most Jamaicans aren’t lazy pot smokers, we were brought up with that stereotype so it pops into our heads even if we don’t believe it. I was interested to learn from various African-American friends that in their community, Jamaicans are stereotyped as workaholics. One friend who worked briefly as a farmer in Jamaica (growing sugar cane) said he couldn’t keep up with the hard pace of his island coworkers. The TV show In Living Color did a riff on this with a series of sketches of a Jamaican family who have more than a hundred jobs between them. Every skit involved the father complaining about his “lazy, good-for-noting son who only has eight jobs.”

My son is getting a different impression of Jamaicans. For him, folks from that island speak differently but have intelligent things to say, make good music, work hard, and help their erring brothers and sisters “make a bad ting good.”