Sunday, September 21, 2008

Geo Education’s Alaska Trip Diary – Day 4

Kotzebue: guns, drugs and helicopters

Now that's an attention-getter! What kind of crazed situation did the Google Geo Education group get itself involved in? I'll get there soon enough, but first let me spend some time providing the back-story. Kotzebue consists of a little fewer than 4,000 people and is on the up-and-up, having gotten all of its roads paved within the past few years (the asphalt serves as effective dust control compared to the previous gravel-based roads). My entry into Kotzebue started stressfully enough, as our airline had left my luggage in Anchorage during our flight transfer. Although they said my bags would be on the following morning's flight into town, when our decommissioned yellow school bus, driven by Principal Dave, pulled into the airport at 7:30 am, no bags had come in and I was told they couldn't find them in their baggage system. Not the best mind-set to be in for teaching high school students.

As with our previous day in Barrow, our first moments at Kotzebue High School consisted of a mad scramble of getting online and setting up projectors, microphones and the Gigapan camera. Due to bandwidth limitations Anna and I had to change our hands-on My Maps-making lesson to more of a show and tell, but we had a great time searching for and mapping out the students' subsistence camps, where they go to hunt and fish with their families. Everyone posed enthusiastically for Gigapan photos in the library, sometimes switching seats as the camera panned around so they would appear two or three times in the image. The students were engaged and attentive, and asked great questions. Their behavior and aptitude for learning supported the results that the principal and his teaching colleagues have obtained, taking the school from a graduation rate of ~50% to greater than 85% in just eight years.

After class, Dave took us in the yellow bus to the local field office for the State of Alaska Department of Fish and Game. There we met wildlife biologist Jim Dau and learned about how his team tracks caribou migration patterns. Jim's dataset spans more than twenty years and consists of following radio-tagged caribou across the western half of Alaska. In the early days, researchers used to tag the caribou by shooting them with drug-tipped darts shot from a gun on a helicopter. Now they use boats and volunteer high-school students to reach the caribou in the water and safely tag them. Long story short, his team is very excited to get started using Google Earth in their research! Not a bad day after all.

Link - from Google LatLong

Related: Geo Education’s Alaska Trip Diary – Day 5 Now, read us in gadget form

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