Unlock Big Adventures with Little Passports

Little Passports © Little Passports (Fair Use)
Little Passports © Little Passports (Fair Use)

Little Passports is a subscription service that sends your child a monthly package designed to teach them about a specific country. Each package includes activities and items themed around the culture of that month’s featured country. Geography has never been one of my strong points, in fact it was the subject I hated most at high school after gym, so I had more than a little trepidation when my son (FB) began to express a keen interest in the subject by constantly asking me to label maps and point out locations my husband and I had visited in the past.

Despite my lack of subject knowledge, I was keen to develop his interest at a young age—beginning first with simply buying a globe for his room and investing in an atlas. However, when I began to hear about the Little Passports service I was keen to sign him up for a trial.

Continue reading Unlock Big Adventures with Little Passports

Test Your Geography Knowledge With Google SmartyPins

Screenshot from 2014-07-01 20:58:37
All images from smartypins.withgoogle.com.

Yesterday, Google launched SmartyPins, a geography game that lets you test your knowledge of geography, but Trivial-Pursuit-style.

You’re asked questions in one of six categories: Featured Topics, Arts & Culture, Science & Geography, Entertainment, Sports & Games, and History & Current Events. Then, place a pin on the map in the place that is the answer. You can take random questions or select the category to play in.

You start with 1,000 miles and lose them for every mile you are off. For example, if you get this question:

Screenshot from 2014-07-01 21:22:02

And for some reason, you decide that Milwaukee is the Windy City, you’ll lose 79 miles, as that is the distance from Milwaukee to Chicago:

Screenshot from 2014-07-01 21:23:28

If you answer quickly enough, you get bonus miles added to your score. This is where it helps to have a speedy internet connection. While I was able to play on slow hotel Wi-Fi, I never got bonus miles because I was always waiting for the map to load.

The better you do at the game, the more specific you’ll need to be with your answers. For example, when I started, “Chicago” was an acceptable answer. Later in the game, I dropped a pin on Washington, D.C., but lost two miles for it not being directly on the White House.

Play at smartypins.withgoogle.com.

Maps Like You’ve Never Seen Before

Can you guess what this is a map of? I’ll let you know by the end of this post. Image credit: Wikimedia Commons

As one of GeekMom’s resident geography geeks, I was excited to come across a post of a consolidated list of unique maps. Having taken several geography classes in college, including cartography, I am experienced in turning any information you want into map form. It’s a great way to visualize concepts.

In this post on Bored Panda, forty maps are displayed. Maps of the world, Europe, Asia, and the United States. Imagined maps, re-colored maps, and re-centered maps. It’s a lot of fun and I promise there’s something there you didn’t already know (such as the average bra cup sizes worldwide, perhaps?). Of course, I was tickled to see a lightning intensity map in the group.

Unfortunately, many of the maps’ links take you to locations that don’t provide any additional information. For example, where did the bra cup size map get its data? Who reports on their breast sizes? I wonder if it’s based on manufacturing numbers…


The map above is of the countries that do not use the metric system.

Delve Into World Geography With Geoguessr

Screen grab of game results.

One of my kids is a map whiz and has a tremendous understanding of geography. The other one, not so much. Over the years we’ve delved into cartography, searched for Carmen Sandiego, and played lots of different games, all to no avail. So color me surprised when my map-challenged young adult wanted to show me a game he’d found called Geoguessr.

The web-based game uses Google Street View technology, challenging players to guess their location using visible clues. Load the game and you’ll be virtually dropped somewhere in the world. Navigate the streets—remote dirt lanes or busy downtowns—to figure out your location. Take a look at street signs. Are they in English? Are the measurements in miles or kilometers? What about the cars? Or the terrain? Taking these clues into consideration, players can then pull up a map (Google, of course) and guess the location. And that’s where the map skills come in—in order to guess Finland, players need to be able to find Finland. Once the marker is placed, Geoguessr shows the distance between the actual location and the player’s guess. Players receive points based on the accuracy of their guess. After players guess five locations, the game shows those results on a world map.

During our virtual adventures, my son traveled a remote road with few clues for quite a distance, finally guessing—based purely on the terrain—that the location was somewhere in Australia. He was right. I spotted a business sign on a building; the language was Portuguese, so I incorrectly guessed Portugal. It was actually Brazil. There were some locations that gave virtually no clues, so we ended up randomly guessing at those.

There are no specific rules to playing the game, but I rather like that. It offers players the chance to use critical thinking skills and their own knowledge of things like architecture, language, and climate zones to determine the best possible guess. And while players can set a time limit to challenge themselves, I’m perfectly content with the slow explorations that happen with the game.

Jazzy World Tour Shows Kids Music and Culture From Around the World

Main Menu Map © The Melody Book
Main Menu Map © The Melody Book

A year ago I wrote about a pre-school music app called A Jazzy Day. The app became a favorite of my son and featured cute cartoon cats who learned all about the instruments in a jazz orchestra by visiting the big band in New York City. A sequel, Jazzy World Tour, has recently been released and my son has been enjoying playing this new offering for the past few weeks.

Jazzy World Tour moves away from the linear story mode of its predecessor and broadens its educational reach. Rather than learning just about musical instruments, Jazzy World Tour introduces geography and cultural studies as players travel between countries from the main menu (a map of the world) and see each nation’s instruments as part of a wider cultural experience. Seven countries are available to explore: The USA, Australia, Brazil, Spain, Egypt, Kenya, and India, and each country has three options to explore with (learn, play and create).

The Play Tab in Egypt and the Create Tab in Australia © The Melody Book
The Play Tab in Egypt and the Create Tab in Australia © The Melody Book

The “learn” tab introduces some basic objects that teach players about the culture of the chosen country. These include a selection of musical instruments, local wildlife, famous buildings, foods, religious deities and more: The India selection includes a lotus flower, the Taj Mahal, a cobra, a sitar and Ganesh. Each of these objects is drawn in a colorful cartoon style. Tapping it brings up a short, simple paragraph explaining what it is with the object’s name spoken aloud, this is very helpful for certain words you may not have encountered before. The “play” tab brings up a single screen in which many of the items found in the “learn” tab are brought together to form a picture of that country along with local music forming a backdrop. Tapping each image animates it. Many of the musical instruments will be represented, so by tapping around the player, can create music from that location. The final tab is “create.” Here players can use animated stickers to create scenes (either still pictures or short animated videos) which can then be added to their “travel book” as they visit the different countries; they can also be instantly shared via social media, emailed or saved to the device. The Travel Book is accessible from the main menu and serves as a sort of scrapbook of the player’s experiences as they travel the world.

Naturally, an app like this cannot go into great depth for each of the countries it includes, however the scenes and items from the different cultures are great for young children only just learning about the way in which places and people differ. The app is bright and engaging, the animations are often funny (my son fell in love with the emu in the Australia section which would run off screen and then slip back on a moment later) and the learning is subtle. In choosing not to have a linear story mode, the app does feel like something is lacking when compared to its narrated predecessor. As it is, the app feels a little disjointed from my perspective. However, my 3-year-old loves jumping from country to country making as much noise as possible.

The Learn Tab in India © The Melody Book
The Learn Tab in India © The Melody Book

Jazzy World Tour is a great addition to your app collection and is great for kids beginning at pre-school age and ranging up to middle school as their reading skills increase and they can move from using the app as a musical sticker book to reading the information about different cultures by themselves. I’d love to see more countries opened up on the map and hope that we might see such an expansion one day as there are so many great cultures left to explore.

A copy of Jazzy World Tour was provided free for this review. It is available on the Apple Store costing $4.99/£2.99 for the complete game, or you can download a “free” trial edition featuring just one country, and buy the rest of the map as individual expansions costing 99c each.

Istanbul or Constantinople? Thinking About Names in Geography

Istanbul, not Constantinople. How and why does our world’s geography keep us on our toes? Image: Flickr user Library_of_Congress.

This past week I did some Air Force Reserve duty. As a weather officer, one of the things I do is prepare an assortment of weather “briefings” for an assortment of military decisionmakers. We look around the world and highlight the  global “big ticket” weather features.  We also point out other earth-science items of interest, from solar flares to earthquakes to volcano eruptions. For example, if there’s a tropical storm heading towards the Korean peninsula, we would bring that to the military decisionmakers’ attention, since we have a military interest there.

Since I only perform my duties for one week out of every two-to-three months, I have to keep aware of changes in our procedures and schedules for our weather briefings. A more subtle change I saw last week was someone mentioning the “Arabian Gulf” on a piece of correspondence.

What a second…I’ve heard of the Arabian Sea…and the Persian Gulf. But you keep using that word…Arabian Gulf. I don’t think it means what you think it means.

Or does it?

Some quick Googling led me to an article from late 2010 about the U.S. Navy quietly encouraging the term “Arabian Gulf” as opposed to “Persian Gulf” in the online U.S. Navy Style Guide. According to the article, the Iranians weren’t happy about the change in Navy nomenclature. Under the term “Arabian Gulf” in the guide, it reads, “Arabian Gulf – use instead of Persian Gulf” and under “Persian Gulf” it says, “Persian Gulf – use Arabian Gulf. ‘Gulf’ is acceptable in second reference. Note: The Arabian Sea is its own body of water and should not be confused with references to the Arabian Gulf.” In the article, you can learn quite a bit about the history of the name of that body of water that separates Iran from the Arabian peninsula.

GeekMom Jules and I had a conversation after the big earthquake that struck British Columbia during the last time I was performing my AF Reserve work. I was talking about it on Facebook and Twitter after work on the day it happened, and I had refered to the location as “the Queen Charlotte Islands”, since that’s how I had read about it through the US Geological Survey reporting. Jules explained to me that the name had been restored to its native Haida Gwaii in 2010.

This got me thinking about other culturally sensitive geographic naming conventions that exist in our ever-shrinking global perspectives. It happens all the time, sometimes Americans are taught one name, but Europeans might be taught another.

Here are but a few examples of naming conventions that have changed throughout history, or have differing names based on our backgrounds. Some of the changes are internal and peaceful, many are related to external power struggles. Some of the changes are simply a matter of restoring traditional names, some are related to winning a contest for a game show. I’m not going to delve into the history of each naming convention, but I’ve offered links that you can click to explore more.

The moral of the story? Keep on your toes with your geography! Things are always changing.

Can you think of any others? I’m sure I’ve missed many; my world view is very limited!


Celebrate President’s Day with Google Earth

Google Earth, President's Day, geography

In celebration of President’s Day, Google Earth offers up an entirely new way to discover a little presidential knowledge. Their Explore Our U.S. Presidents map pinpoints where each President was from and offers an image of the President with links to more information. You can download the file and launch it in Google Earth or view it using the Google Earth browser plug-in.

In a blog post on Friday, Google had a few suggestions for utilizing Google Earth this President’s Day:

  • Explore the White House, Washington Monument, Lincoln Memorial and other historical monuments in 3D and have students explain how architecture is used to honor people, concepts and establishments
  • View a 3D model of Valley Forge National Park in Google Earth
  • View a copy of the Emancipation Proclamation signed by Abraham Lincoln and map the areas where slavery ended, as well as the areas that were not initially covered by this executive order

50 Ways To Express Your Geek Mom-ness

Wikimedia Commons image by Zygmunt Kubasiak
  1. Find obscure ways to curse without raising potty-mouthed kids.
  2. Indulge in interests not widely shared by the general population such as ukuleles, grammar, toilets, or hula hoops.
  3. Apply the Bechdel test to the movies your kids watch.
  4. Watch sex videos (of animal mating). Avoid the “don’t ask, don’t tell” attitude about teen sex. And make sex education an ongoing dialogue with your kids.
  5. Ensure the name you bestow on your new baby isn’t remotely popular or ever likely to be.
  6. Recognize that you’re a Renaissance soul.
  7. Muse about the way you reflect your identity through the screen names you choose, the glasses you wear, and the fashion trends you avoid.
  8. Geek out for guys like xkcd creator Randall Munroe and Lego sculptor Nathan Sawaya.
  9. Apply the scientific method at the grocery store.
  10. Recognize that female involvement boosts the collective IQ of a group.
  11. Determine your primate mothering style.
  12. Enthuse about your daughter’s geeklet cred. Embrace signs of your partner’s geek interests.
  13. Encourage your kids to take considered risks.
  14. Advance your kids’ scientific comprehension. Identify “alien” species in your neighborhood as well as learn about the science of Star Trek.
  15. Get your kids to predict the future.
  16. Make personalized baby blocks, plastic bag crafts, and unique cross stitch.
  17. Teach critical thinking over a holiday meal.
  18. Subversively advance geographical knowledge using a wall map.
  19. Write music from an alternative point-of-view.
  20. Assert your authority over technology with unplugged Fridays and In Real Life lessons. Or avoid broadcast TV entirely.
  21. Keep your kids apprised of online safety.
  22. Experiment with pennies, leaves, and candy.
  23. Hack some standard recipes. Make beet dip, okra chips, cranberry orange mustard, apple pizza, pesto deviled eggs, or chard popsicles.
  24. Encourage your child’s natural storytelling abilities.
  25. Identify your favorite DC heroines as well as media-inspired girl-power characters.
  26. Update the old “it’ll ruin your eyesight” excuse to get your kids outside.
  27. Know stinkbugs in order to fight stinkbugs and know bedbugs in order to fight bedbugs.
  28. Encourage your offspring to enjoy the pleasures of science-y teamwork with First Lego League, Odyssey of the Mind, and Destination Imagination.
  29. Teach kids knitting and clapping games to advance brainpower.
  30. Get comfortable with who you are and speak up to let others know it gets better.
  31. Find music videos re-mixed for fresh history and science lessons. Or just enjoy what you’ll learn by scrolling through YouTube with your kids.
  32. Make smart vacation plans and get smarter while you’re there.
  33. Play games like Warhammer Fantasy.
  34. Enjoy music, whether comedic or space-inspired.
  35. Improve education at home and school.
  36. Make critical distinctions about copyright usage.
  37. Embrace such strange foods that your kids are inspired to cook just so they can eat “normal” meals.
  38. Make informed choices about cloth diapers, baby sign language, organic produce, and junk food.
  39. Give your opinion about why Bella is a poor role model for girls and still encourage your daughter to enjoy Twilight for her own reasons.
  40. Be savvy about definitions of intelligence.
  41. Promote your kids’ reading skills using picture books and sci fi.
  42. Give geek romance advice.
  43. Explain topology by braiding challah, explore geometry using paper plates, and make bagel cutting into a math challenge.
  44. Read banned books.
  45. Make cake more fascinating. Try Magrathea cake, Keroppi cupcakes, Lego cake, and cake in a mug.
  46. Tour a brain.
  47. Recognize generational differences such as phone use, travel concerns, and even crafting.
  48. Give out-of-the-ordinary presents such as experience, local donations, buy-one-give-one gifts, and non-profit gifts.
  49. Accept Lego bricks as household necessities.
  50. Realize there’s no limiting the many ways you express your Geek Mom-ness.

Review: Where Children Sleep by James Mollison

children's rights, social justice for kids, where do the poor sleep,
Where Children Sleep by James Mollison

Meaningful images of real people promote understanding. In particular, my family has gotten a lot out of Peter Menzel’s books Material World: A Global Family Portrait and What the World Eats because they make personal those big concepts like culture, family, materialism, and social justice.

Now there’s a new, equally powerful book titled Where Children Sleep by James Mollison. Easily read by those eight and up but fascinating to every age, this volume is filled with photographs taken around the world. It shows where children spend each night and describes a little about their lives. It also offers portraits of these children, letting their personality and uniqueness shine from each page.

Check out a slideshow.