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Where Do You Belong? 20 Videos Exploring Geography

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By Sarah Bremer

My students carry GPS-enabled devices (smart phones) in their back pockets and view paper maps as artifacts from a distant past.  PBS LearningMedia makes it easy for me to engage these “digital natives.”  A quick search turns up high quality, targeted materials that I can easily incorporate into a lesson or homework assignment for my AP Human Geography class.

The first time I used PBS LearningMedia, I simply provided my students with several links and instructed them to explore.  Soon, everyone in the room was watching or engaging with one of the tools.  Five minutes later, I tore them away from their screens and asked them to discuss what they had learned with their table groups.  The room buzzed with voices chatting about the uses and history of Geographic Information Systems (GIS).   The entire activity took about ten minutes, and the students clearly both learned from and enjoyed the exercise.

Too often, sites with materials for teachers provide multiday lesson plans on relatively narrow topics or require paid subscriptions.  PBS LearningMedia provides me with exactly what I need:  short, free, and easily accessed materials that I can use to design and enhance my own curricula.

In PBS LearningMedia, educators can conduct a keyword search or browse by subject area and grade level.  Here are some links to videos and interactives I’ve discovered so far, organized by AP Human Geography topics. (Editor’s note: These resources could also enhance learning in world history and social studies.)


I.  Nature and Perspectives

Geospatial Revolution: History of GIS
GIS developed as a product of centuries of map-making and 20th-century, computer-based technology. Geography has come a long way from the days of Babylonian maps on clay tablets. Mapping on foot was followed by aerial photographs, which gave way to satellite data. Out of these was born the Geographic Information System (GIS).

Geospatial Revolution: GIS Vocabulary
Vocabulary has developed with the growth of GIS. Every new technology is accompanied with new additions to the language! In fact, every field, discipline, or science has a set of special words it creates or assimilates for the purpose of describing relevant phenomena.

Geospatial Revolution: Why Study GIS?
Geospatial technologies are revolutionizing the way that we do business, the way that we govern, and the way that we live. This video clip from Penn State Public Broadcasting’s Geospatial Revolution project explains how geospatial information systems (GIS) have a role in the everyday lives of people across the globe

II. Population and Migration

South America Interactive Map
In this interactive map produced by WGBH, explore the continent and countries of South America. Through political, physical, population, and climate map layers and individual country views, learn about the boundaries that define the continent’s 12 sovereign states and one overseas region, the geologic features that shape its landscape, and the ethnically and racially diverse people who inhabit its urban centers and remote villages.

Small Town Approach to Immigration
Immigrants coming to America don’t just go to the big cities. Small towns all across the country have seen a rise in immigration in recent years. In this video clip, a police officer in Monett, Missouri, discusses his town’s growing Hispanic population. While he appreciates the benefit that a strong flow of immigration brings, he also says that language barriers can be a problem in serving the community.

Westward Expansion, 1790–1850
In this interactive map produced by WGBH, explore the territorial and population changes in the United States between 1790 and 1850. The time frame of the map also covers the beginning of the transportation revolution, with layers depicting the development of canals and then railroad networks and the major trail routes that facilitated westward migration. Additional themes included in the map show Native American land cessions and forced removals. You can also view geological and political features.

Refugees: Fact and Figures
The definition of a refugee is a person who has fled their country due to persecution. Millions live in refugee camps in nearby countries, while a small percentage get resettled to a third country. In this clip, a refugee expert explains that the U.S. takes in the most refugee resettlements based on total number, but other countries take more based on a percentage of population.

Paul Ehrlich on Water and Our Human Population
Paul Ehrlich talks about the water issues faced by a growing population.

III. Cultural Patterns and Processes

Wonders of the African World: Explore Cultural Close-Up
Every culture has its own special identity, demonstrated through its music, clothing, religion, food and social customs. Throughout this African journey, students take a closer look at the rich and unique traditions of the people in various areas.

Day of the Dead
This video from Religion & Ethics News Weekly offers a behind-the-scenes look at how Latin American communities across the U.S. honor their deceased on Day of the Dead, or Día de los Muertos. Celebrants believe that the spirits of the dead return every year on this day, which coincides with All Saints Day and All Souls Day. The video also shows how Day of the Dead rituals follow the Catholic Church’s teachings about life and death.

Ali and Islam

In this clip from Homeland: Immigration in America, two brothers from Iraq, named Ali and Islam, explain some of the differences between living in the U.S. and living in Iraq. Among the differences described by the brothers are the more modest clothing for women in the Middle East and also how the laws in the U.S. differ from those in Iraq.

IV. Political Organization of Space

Geospatial Revolution: Political Aspects
As geospatial technologies become more advanced, the information that is collected is used by a wider variety of groups, including political candidates and those involved in their campaigns. In this video clip from Penn State Public Broadcasting’s Geospatial Revolution project, the Obama campaign’s use of geospatial information systems (GIS) is briefly profiled.

Geospatial Revolution: GIS to Monitor Areas of Conflict
GIS is widely used for monitoring and observation of every kind of geographical and human feature, especially toward the causes of protection and management. A variety of institutions worldwide employ it for an even greater variety of applications, ranging from rainforest protection to disaster relief. In this video from Episode 3 of Penn State Public Broadcasting’s Geospatial Revolution we see the U.S. military in warzones using geospatial technology to help soldiers map the terrain, including identify probable locations of Improvised Explosive Devices (IED). Soldiers use GIS to orient themselves to the location of their missions, to think like the enemy, make precise attacks and reduce collateral damage.

V. Agriculture and Rural Land Use

High-Tech Agriculture
This video adapted from ATETV features some of the new technologies being applied in the agricultural industry, including the Global Positioning System (GPS) and Geographic Information Systems (GIS). The video demonstrates how GPS can be used in a tractor to guide it through fields and how GIS analyze collected data to help a farmer make better planting decisions. It also emphasizes the growing job opportunities for students with computer and mechanical skills, as technology is being used increasingly in a wider range of occupations, including farming.

Geospatial Revolution: Food Deserts
Food deserts is a term used to describe a region where the population has poor access to healthy, fresh, nutritious food. They exist in both rural and urban areas and are turning into a public health concern. GIS technology is supporting the solution to this problem by vividly identifying the problem area and influencing policy-making. This video segment from Penn State Public Broadcasting’s Geospatial Revolution describes one Philadelphia community’s successful efforts at doing the same.

VI. Industrialization and Economic Development

The Transportation Revolution: Roads, Canals, and Railroads
America’s economic transformation in the early 1800s was linked to dramatic changes in transportation networks. Construction of roads, canals, and railroads led to the expansion of markets, facilitated the movement of peoples, and altered the physical landscape. Use this interactive map from A Biography of America to explore the rapid expansion of roads, canals, and railroads from 1830-1860.

Contemporary Mining and Energy Resources: Asphalt-Rich Tar Sands
View a video about Utah’s asphalt-rich tar sands, located west of Vernal. This extract is from the 22-part video series THE GEOGRAPHY OF UTAH, conceived and written by Albert L. Fisher, PhD (University of Utah). The series encompasses the political, cultural, historical and sociological geography of the state of Utah. It describes the activities, the land and the people. Much of the video material was videotaped on location throughout the state of Utah, giving the student and interested viewer valuable field trip experiences.

 Coal Mining
Join Rick Crosslin host of Indiana Expeditions as he travels to Solar Sources, INC to investigate the coal mining process from digging through multiple layers of rock for coal to land reclamation once the coal has been extracted from the earth.

The Economy of Desire
Take a look at the economics of growing, processing and consuming apples, tulips, cannabis and potatoes.

VII. Cities and Urban Land Use

Geospatial Revolution: Portland, an Interactive City
The City of Portland is using technology to influence the way citizens make decisions. In the past, people’s beliefs, knowledge, and daily lives have been influenced by technologies like telephones, ships, cars and airplanes. In the digital age, innovations from the Internet to smart phones are influencing the way citizens make decisions and live their lives. To evaluate these changes, citizens must ask: what are the advantages and consequences of these technologies for themselves and for their institutions? Learn more from Geospatial Revolution.

Paris: Vélo Liberté
Consider how a bicycle sharing program is improving the environment and changing the way Parisians relate to their city. Paris’ ambitious public-private Vélib’ bike initiative encourages residents to forgo cars for bikes and public transportation. In the process, the program has fostered a unique popular culture, complete with its own language, jokes and pick-up lines. If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, Paris Mayor Bertrand Delanoe has undoubtedly taken heart: Its success has inspired cities like Rome, San Francisco and London to begin adopting similar programs of their own.

Melbourne Reborn
Find out how the city of Melbourne, Australia revitalized its downtown community. By the mid-1970s, Melbourne was a dying city. People commuted in to work during the day, but downtown became a ghost town after 5 p.m. This episode explores how leadership and vision transformed the cityscape. Rob Adams, Melbourne’s director of design and urban environment, gives a guided tour to show how the city first sought livability, then sustainability, and how the two are inextricably intertwined.

London: The Price of Traffic
Learn how London’s mayor has instituted policies that respond to the city’s growth while improving its livability and sustainability. Based on the economic principle of demand management, London’s congestion charge challenges the 20th century notion that cities should be designed around cars, and asks drivers to pay for access to public roads and parking spaces. Thanks to visionary municipal leaders like former Deputy Mayor Nicky Gavron, this plan is the core of a sweeping push to transform London into a transit-efficient and pedestrian-friendly megacity in time for the 2012 Olympic games.

Seoul: The Stream of Consciousness
Discover how efforts to reduce traffic by building more roadways paradoxically increased traffic. Learn about a project to remove one roadway and revitalize the stream beneath. In 2003, the city of Seoul took a rare step “back in time,” demolishing a major downtown freeway to uncover and restore the ancient Cheonggyecheon stream that once flowed beneath it. An impressive feat of engineering, the project re-purposed more than 75 percent of the dismantled highway material for reconstruction and rehabilitation of the stream’s banks and commercial corridor. The Cheonggyecheon is now a vital part of the city’s commercial and tourism sectors, and has proven that environmental restoration can revive culture and community, as well.

Register for a free PBS LearningMedia account to access more interactives, videos and to create interactive lessons for your students.

Sarah Bremer teaches AP Human Geography and is chair of  the social studies department at Bishop O’Dowd High School in Oakland, California.



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