Posted by: Mark | February 7, 2009

Hello, UUorld

I’ve been reminded many times throughout my teaching career that not all students learn the same way. Traditional education only really reaches the small percentage of students who actually learn by memorizing and regurgitating.

As a history teacher, I always try changing population patterns, for example, mere statistics just aren’t enough. For a while I have been using a truly remarkable site called worldmapper.org. The site has hundreds of maps that re-interpret the way we look at the world. The traditional map we see depicts the variable of landmass. In other words, the size of the country reflects the square mileage that a country has. In worldmapper.org, they mix up the variable. So for example, if you want to look at what the world would look like if the countries with large GDPs were actually visually large, and small GDPs were visually small, then the world would look like this (from 1990 data):

It is pretty easy to conclude that this is really cool. Playing around on worldmapper.org is really, really fun.

So then, through the beauty of twitter, I found out about uuorld.com. (I need to explain. From time to time I’ll search for tweets related to Ocean Beach, SF to see if any other beach surfers are on twitter, and I found this one guy who works for uuorld.com and surfs the beach. Through following each other I have learned a decent amount about this software.)

UUorld.com (very clever name, right?) does a similar thing to worldmaper in that it visually depicts some pretty compelling statistics. The range of stats that uuorld.com taps into is pretty astounding, in the ballpark of tens of thousands. However, rather than bloat countries to look bigger, uuorld.com is instead a 3-D map that actually projects the countries with larger stats upwards, as in off the map into the sky. (Hence the 3-D part.) Visually, uuorld.com is more compelling than worldmapper.org not necessarily because it projects upwards rather than bloating the countries, because they both look pretty damn cool. But on uuorld.com, you have the functionality and ability to move around the map that you do in Google Earth: zoom, tilt, re-orientation of the compass, etc. In that regard, I’d have to say that uuorld.com has more than just a bit of an edge over worldmapper.

The advantages continue. Worldmapper has hundreds of maps, UUorld has thousands of maps. Also, UUorld tracks historical data, and can depict the shift in that data through movies. (For example, my favorite map they have is of gold medals won in the Olympics, tracing back to 1896. You load up that map, and the countries bounce and dance around the page for 10 seconds as the stats shift to depict the different Olympic medal counts. It’s really awesome.) But by far the coolest part about UUorld, and the thing that makes it so intriguing and a real opportunity for fun in the classroom, is that you can import your own set of statistics! For example, I can historically plot any stat that I can dig up. If I have access to the data, I could create a spreadsheet of information tracing whatever I want, date it, and get a visual representation of that shift through history.

So I tested it. I went to the easiest stat that I can find off-hand–deaths from World War I (a gruesome stat, I know, but it’s one I emphasize in class, and I knew it’d be worth mapping)–and put together an excel sheet for it. Now I’ll admit that the creation of the excel sheet wasn’t as easy as I had hoped, and I had a lot of back-and-forth with one of the guys at UUorld to help me format it correctly. (Another tangent: George at uuorld is awesome. Terrific support for me, and I didn’t even download the commercial license, just the free one.) But once I did, I found myself with this awesome map. I’ve included several images to demonstrate how much you can manipulate the actual image, and see it from different angles, etc.

wwideaths1

tilting the angle a bit, to make it a bit more compelling and really demonstrate just how many Russians died, especially when compared to us Americans, you get this:

wwideaths2

even more stark is the full on horizontal view:

wwideaths3

and finally, I wanted to zoom in on Europe and also get a view of Russia, so I zoomed, tilted, and re-oriented the compass a bit:

wwideaths4

This is really, really cool. If I didn’t know that my parents read this blog, I’d be dropping f-bombs left and right to emphasize how cool I think this is. And in speaking with George, I learned that eventually UUorld wants to incorporate user-generated statistics and maps to their overall database, thus opening the door for humongous additions to this type of scholarship by high school kids. Anyone could create a map that others can access. I think of the potential to create a unit in which students dig up stats, with different groups doing different years, but pulling the same data, and thus creating a map that shows shifts and changes…and contributing to the ways that others understand the world around them.

So yeah, UUorld.com is awesome. It get a strong 10 on pretty much all accounts from me. It’s cool for teachers, it’s cool to play around with, it’s just in general pretty damn cool. I’m looking forward to playing around with it more, and then spending some time in the summer designing lessons that incorporate this pretty cool software into my curriculum.

So all you other history/geography/contemporary issues teachers out there, check this out. This software has some pretty awesome potential for all us teachers out there. And those of you who want to learn more, go check it out yourself, and especially check out UUorld’s blog, as it showcases some of the cool things they’ve been up to: election coverage (holy crap is it cool), and now incorporating twitter searches into their maps (equally holy crap).

Right on guys, this is some righteous stuff.

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Responses

  1. As a GEO undergrad, that’s pretty amazing


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