Explore Your World
You are here – in a room in a house on a street in a neighborhood in a town in a county in a state in a nation on a continent in a hemisphere on the earth. How does everything relate? That’s what geography is all about. Geography isn’t just memorizing countries, states and capitals. Geography is about the world around you. Geography can take you to any place on Earth ... and even to other planets.
Geography is like a jigsaw puzzle. In geography, we figure out where we fit among the rest of the world. Geography helps us to understand the connections between people, places, and the environment in the present day and over time. Geography answers the questions of who, what, when, where, why and how – who we are, why we live where we do, what we do where we live, when things change, how these changes come about, and where we are going.
The field of geography can be divided into four main branches: physical geography, cultural geography, economic geography, and political geography. Physical geography describes and maps the surface of the earth – including land formations, water features, climate and weather patterns. Cultural geography tells about people in different lands – their way of life, how they dress, what they eat and the type of homes in which they live. Economic geography focuses on natural resources, agriculture, transportation and trade. Political geography deals with manmade boundaries that are drawn on the earth, such as nations and territories.
No matter where you look, you can see geography is some form or another. Go to a beach – that’s geography. Climb a hill or mountain – that’s geography. Use a map to navigate around town, across the state or country – that’s geography. Watch world events on the news – that’s geography, too! “Geography captures the imagination. It stimulates curiosity about the world and the world’s diverse inhabitants and places, as well as about local, regional, and global issues.”—Geography for Life
Did You Know…? Maps are a geographer’s most useful tool!
Google Earth – Search and Discover
Google Earth is an amazing new software application that combines search and mapping capabilities with colorful satellite imaging. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I first saw it! The beta version was released in June 2005. Google is making this program available for free – not a trial, mind you, but a full version! I was surprised at how fast and easy the download was for such an intensive program – even on a dial-up modem! The program still needs to be connected to the internet while it’s running and it takes a while for the streaming video to arrive at 100%. It’s worth the wait, though, to feel like you’re really there. (Keep in mind that the images are not captured in real time, but were taken by satellites and aircraft sometime during the last three years.)
I was originally going to download this program and look at it more thoroughly later, but I was so impressed with the beautiful opening view of Earth in space that I had to call my husband and kids to see it, and we spent the next hour looking up places. Have you ever wanted to fly around the world? This program allows you to “Fly To” any location on the planet! Once there, you can zoom, tilt, pan or rotate the view. The medium to high resolution terrain imagery provides an awesome full-color aerial view of the entire globe, including many major cities which have the option of displaying 3-D buildings.
Imagine exploring any area of the world that you want – New York City, London, Paris (check out the shadow cast by the Eiffel Tower), Washington D.C., the Sahara Desert, the Amazon River, the California coast, farm fields in the Midwest, or your old hometown – the possibilities are endless! It has the best view of Mount Saint Helens that I’ve ever seen, and you can even travel down the Colorado River through a 3-D Grand Canyon! If you can’t take a trip in person, this is the next best thing to being there. In addition to famous landmarks, you can look up businesses, schools, public places, airports, and more. I found our neighborhood and was able to zoom in to see our house, pool and yard. Keep track of where you’ve been and mark your favorite spots on the map with a virtual pushpin.
If your kids like playing SimCity, they will love this real-life application. In fact, the whole family will be fascinated with this program! It’s a terrific opportunity to study geography and learn about the world. Where else can you inspect whole continents and then pinpoint exactly where you are in relation to it all! Exploring the world in this way really shows the interconnectedness of everything. See it for yourself at http://earth.google.com.
Aerial mapping isn’t new to the internet. TerraServer and TerraFly have been available for years, and Amazon.com offers street-level photos of businesses through its A9.com search engine. On July 25, 2005, Microsoft introduced its own online feature that overlays street maps onto photographs taken from satellites and airplanes. MSN Virtual Earth, available in beta form at http://virtualearth.msn.com, is intended to give users more detailed driving directions and an easier way to search for local businesses. Simply enter an address and go quickly to a specified location. Most of the photo images, which come from the U.S. Geological Survey, were taken between 1991 and 2001. No downloads are required, and I found the address search to be more accurate in some cases than Google’s, but it’s basically just a flat photographic street map and doesn’t work as good for looking around from one place to another. Not only are many of the close-up images out of date, but they’re a grainy black-and-white, and only of the United States. Google Earth is by far the best for its sheer “wow” power and awe-inspiring global view.
If you would like your kids to stay interested in geography, you will want to equip them with their own atlas and globe. To view a list of books, websites, and other resources that I’ve put together for more geography fun and learning, please see my Geography Study Resources Page, part of my Library of Links collection.
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These pages are a continuous work in progress.
These pages are a continuous work in progress.