This site, Shipmap.org is a site with a fascinating, interactive map showing the routes of cargo ships for the year 2012. It was created by a firm called Klin, ostensibly to try to calculate CO2 emissions of cargo ships over the course of a year. (I would embed it into the post, but WordPress isn’t allowing it.)
By itself, it’s fascinating to watch, but it also can be used in a number of different ways for teaching.
I zoomed into the area around Lake Superior and Lake Michigan, then asked Tabitha to take a look. I didn’t have any labels on, and I asked her what she saw on the screen. “Lake Michigan”, she said as I pointed the mouse to Lake Michigan. I then pointed to Lake Superior and asked her what that was. “Lake Superior”, she said, without hesitating. I then pointed to a couple of places along the edge of the water that had little dots appearing nearby. “And do you know what is here?” She didn’t, but once I pointed to the locations of a couple of places that we’ve been, she got pretty excited about it. Not a long lesson, but kind of cool, especially for an impromptu session. (I did the same thing with Asher, and even at 5, he recognized the shape of Lake Michigan.)
Depending on age and interests, this map could spark all sorts of interesting things. Of course, there’s place location, but one can also see how goods move and where. One thing that was interesting to me was seeing how there are still ships that travel out past the Aleutian islands, probably mainly linking Korea and Japan to the United States. Russian traders first came out that way for things like fishing and trapping, and in the process colonized much of Alaska (including establishing Orthodox churches there), but as one can see now, this has changed dramatically (though those northern routes are still important). I’m sure there are countless stories, if one wants to dig into histories of particular areas.
Also neat to note is that this is a Mercador projection map, which, of course, has its distortions, but also makes obvious which are the circle routes just by the arcs that the ships’ tracks make.
And I’m sure, if one watches long enough, patterns such as seasonality show up as well, not to mention getting into the specifics of the types of goods going where. The developers claim that there are more than 250 million data points that put this map together, and it is a very, very neat thing to take some time to look at.