Activity – Mapping Ideologies


An important skill for any student of social studies, and geography in particular, is mapping. This doesn’t have to be terribly complicated, because I know most of my students will not go on to become professional geographers or cartographers, but an awareness of the world around them (whether physical, human, cultural, or political) will help then make sense of the many people, events, and ideas they will meet in their adult lives.

One way I’ve tried to add to my students’ general knowledge of the world is through mapping activities. These can range from identifying mountain ranges, cities, nation states, or other geographic features on a map to creating their own by hand or using digital software to do so. Again, this can be as complex as desired. I prefer to scaffold learning, so beginning with something a little less involved may be best.

In Geography 3211, my class and I have just begun a unit on geopolitics, which itself can be a daunting subject. The goal at this point in the unit is to help students understand what nation states are and appreciate differences in ideology among them with the eventual goal of understanding how these ideologies can lead to cooperation or conflict on the global stage. Below is a short mapping activity I created to help students make sense of the differences between democratic, authoritarian, and communist states:

Students begin by identifying the locations of nations and colour coding them by type. They then make inferences about connections between location, level of development/globalization, and ideology. Finally, with a little research, students consider strengths and limitations of these ideologies.

This activity can be easily completed within an hour long class, and this includes some upfront introductory instruction. My class had a ball doing this and it got them thinking about some geopolitical issues we will be continuing with after the Easter break.


Social Studies YouTube Channel


I’ve put a little time in today updating the look of the website. The main reason is to make it look a little sleeker, more minimalist, and allow a clear and easy method of navigating from page to page without all the clutter that existed before. So far I like the new look better than the previous one, and hopefully it achieves the purpose I’ve just mentioned.

In the process of working on the site, I’ve also decided to add a YouTube account to the social media accounts I use regularly for sharing teaching ideas and course material. The idea here is probably less to create new videos, and more to compile playlists of videos relevant to the topics I teach in history and geography. I’ve started a few there, so click your way over there if you’d like to see the kinds of videos sources I use in my lessons. I’ll add more videos as I find them.

Finally, while I was at it, I spent a little time using a cool and simple app on my phone called Quik. It allows you to create slideshows and put them to music, creating neat little videos about whatever topic you like. I created a trailer for Social Studies at Gander Collegiate that provides a glimpse into what’s taught in my courses. It’s a first attempt, but perhaps it didn’t come out too badly.

A City of the World


I thought I’d share this video, which was posted on YouTube by reallifelore, that answers the question how big would a city have to be to fit the entire human population? It’s a really quite fascinating discussion, which uses examples of large scale population densities that exist in the world today and use these as possible average densities for the human city. It helps put into perspective just how many people are on the planet.

Paving the Way for Development of the Peel Watershed


The Peel Watershed, a region of the Yukon nearly the size of New Brunswick, has been largely untouched since people rushed to the area in search of gold back in the late 19th century. News today is that the Yukon government has made a decision to open up over 70% of the region to future developments, in particular mining operations.

This decision is quite different from the recommendation of the Peel Watershed Planning Commission, which suggested that 80% of the area be designated as protected and free from economic development. The government of the Yukon has indicated that protection will occur, but only in 29% of the region. This raises concerns about how the environment will be affected with developments in primary sector activities (zinc, copper, iron, and uranium are among the main sought after minerals). This new plan by government may also clash with First Nations groups in the area, who have already made it known they do not agree with large scale resource development and may, as some reports suggest, seek legal action against the government.

In terms of ecology, watersheds are vitally important to local vegetation and animal life, and let’s not forget that includes humans. It’s understandable why criticism is mounting for this kind of developmental plan. The following is from the United States Environmental Protection Agency website and outlines some of the primary benefits of these natural areas:

The benefits and services provided by healthy watersheds are numerous and include reduced vulnerability to invasive species, climate change, and future land use changes. Healthy watersheds with natural land cover and soil resources also provide vast carbon storage capabilities, offsetting greenhouse gas emissions. Healthy watersheds also provide habitat for fish, amphibians, birds, and insects and stream corridors which provide a key connection across the landscape for animals and birds. Aside from the reduced costs of restoring impaired waters, there are many other economic benefits to protecting and conserving healthy watersheds. Healthy watersheds preserve recreation opportunities such as fishing and water-related recreation (e.g. boating) and contribute to tourism (e.g., hiking and birding). Vulnerability to floods, fires, and other natural disasters is minimized, thereby reducing costs to communities. Similarly, by protecting aquifer recharge zones and surface water sources, costs of drinking water treatment may be reduced.

That said, it is important to also be aware that economic development is crucial to a province or territory’s future. Expansion of resource activities like those likely to occur in the Peel Watershed will create numerous jobs, both for local inhabitants and for those migrating from elsewhere in Canada. The materials gained from these operations will help stimulate the processing sector and boost trade. The ripple effects in local communities (which will also grow) will be seen in commercial and residential projects as well. Social programs and facilities (schools, health care centres, etc.) will also have to accompany these growing towns.

The point is that a balanced approach is required to make the most of the region for human benefit, while ensuring that an ecological world view is maintained to adequately protect the natural systems present.


The Georgia Basin Earthquake Experience


The Georgia Basin, an elongated bowl-shaped depression in south western British Columbia, has been studied recently to help seismologists gain a better picture of earthquake threats in the area. An article posted by CBC discusses how the shape and relatively soft make up of sedimentary rock around Vancouver can cause the area to experience earthquake shaking for longer than the surrounding areas.

The Georgia Basin is shaped like an elongated bowl and lies beneath the Georgia Strait, between the Lower Mainland and Vancouver Island. It is one in a series of basins along the Pacific coast of North America, and is filled with layers of silt, sand and glacial deposits.

‘We’re bringing the earthquake up through the cheese, and then it’s suddenly hitting the Jell-O mould and starting to slosh around and bounce around within that Jell-O.’– Sheri Molnar, UBC Civil Engineering, describes seismic waves in the Georgia Basin

She compares the Georgia Basin to gelatin surrounded by a hard block of cheese.

“We’re bringing the earthquake up through the cheese, and then it’s suddenly hitting the Jell-O mould and starting to slosh around and bounce around within that Jell-O.”

British Columbia sits on what’s known as the Cascadia subduction zone, where earthquakes tend to occur either within the Juan de Fuca plate or the overriding North America plate. Big subduction earthquakes, like the one that struck Japan in 2011, also occur in the Juan de Fuca plate.

Molnar’s studies examined the potential impact of deep earthquakes, with a magnitude of 6.8, that occur 40 to 50 kilometres beneath the surface, as well as shallow earthquakes of the same magnitude.

This is, of course, interesting from a geological perspective, but geographically speaking it raises concerns for the construction of appropriate buildings and other infrastructure in municipalities of the Georgia Basin. New construction projects will have to be put in place with a mind towards accommodating for a greater level of potential damage from prolonged seismic events. Older buildings may require additional upgrading to ensure they are up to code and able to withstand the effects of these earthquakes. Ultimately, the concern here is with financial resources available to make these changes and the environmental impact of doing so.