Teaching Geography from the Sky
The Ball State University Libraries’ GIS Research and Map Collection (GRMC) conducts instructional sessions for education students to promote geographic literacy and to introduce future teachers to useful cartographic resources for their classrooms. Students are exposed to maps and atlases in the Libraries’ collection, the Libraries’ digital cartographic resources, and interesting Web pages that offer unique perspectives of the geography of the world.
One intriguing Web resource is the Flight Radar 24 page. The site is a live flight tracker that shows air traffic around the world in real time. Radar data and flight schedules and status data from airlines and airports combine to offer a unique way of looking at a world map.
Users can zoom in to a region or zoom out to see the common world flight paths (top above, click to enlarge). Teachers using the site for learning more about geography can discuss with students the “great circle routes,” where aircraft, for example, flying from London to New York travel north then south in an arc because further north is a smaller distance to fly. Teachers can discuss the lack of flights over the Sahara Desert and the Amazon Rain Forest. And older students can learn about why so few aircraft are flying over places like Syria and Iraq.
Click on one of the aircraft and the flight information (if available) will be shown on the left. The origin city and the destination are shown. The airline and flight number, departure time, length of the flight, and great circle distance are revealed. The type of aircraft and the altitude are also identified. And once an aircraft is selected, the flight path is shown on the screen.
Today offers an interesting lesson on the site. As Hurricane Matthew makes its way toward Florida, aircraft are avoiding the southeastern coast of the United States. A flight from Miami to Santo Domingo in the Dominican Republic actually traveled west and then southeast to avoid the hurricane (above). And early this morning a “hurricane hunter” plane (Lockheed WP-3D Orion) deployed from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) could be seen flying back and forth through the hurricane (above).
For more information about using cartographic resources in the classroom, please contact the GRMC at 765-285-1097.