Category Archives: Maps

wikipedia table

Teaching a Table New Tricks

I’m doing a presentation tomorrow with Jim Groom on how to create mashups without knowing anything about programming. The fun thing is it’s presented using a mashup of communist propaganda posters and that sort of rhetoric. Good clean American fun! It may, or may not, be presented entirely in a fake Russian accent. It will entirely depend on my mood (and Jim‘s).

You can also check out the full site here if you’re interested.

My example takes a table of information from Wikipedia on Industrial Warfare and steps you through the ways you can change it using SIMILE’s Exhibit. If you bother to look at the actual Exhibit pages you’ll see they link back to the Google spreadsheets to show you what data had to be added to create the changes on the pages.

So, you’ll start with this-

Industrial Warfare

Step 1

Making this data interactive- so I cut and paste the table into Excel and clean up the data a little bit. I make the html portion of Exhibit. Then I get what’s below- an interesting level of interactivity has been added. You can select/omit/sort the data now. So seeing relationships is a lot easier.

Step 2

Adding the visual component- now I felt that we needed something more visual so I added some image URLs and URLs to the Wikipedia articles. Now we’ve got the same level of interaction but with added visual content and the ability to follow information outward.

Step 3

Adding the map- if I were fancier I’d saying “adding the geo-spatial element.” I kept the visual interface underneath the map for this one but it probably could be removed.

Step 4

This is the final step and it’s adding the data and presentation of the timeline element.

So, the whole point in this is that Exhibit is freeing the information so that you can tweak and bend and add to the information until it does exactly what you need. You don’t have to accept information the way it is. You can change it and ultimately make it far more valuable to you and your students.


Maps of War


Maps of War is a fascinating site of animated maps showing the history of conflict in our world. They include a history of war and leadership (seen above) that walks through American conflicts and links the American President to various wars, a history of religious conquest throughout the world, and an interesting history of imperial occupation of the Middle East. Along with their own maps, the site links out to other animated maps the feature many of the major wars of our time.

I remember struggling as I tried to learn history from a textbook. It seemed like months or years would pass by in a matter of paragraphs. These animated maps would have helped foster a sense of continuity as we “marched” through chapters full of events.

via Boing Boing

Exhibit and Data Visualization

Exhibit V2

The kind and brilliant folks at MIT have come out with a new Exhibit API that allows for more flexibility and power. The bonus is that it looks good doing it. I’ve now revised my Google spreadsheet fed history example to use some of the new power. It’s here if you’re interested.

In the end I opted to mimic their new presidents layout (much like I mimicked their old presidents layout). This time I had a better reason than pure ignorance of the API (I now have impure ignorance after all). Their new layout is really right in line with what I’d like to focus on this year- data visualization/interaction. The new layout has the map right their with the time line. I like that. Time and location on one easy interactive page. Add in their option to sort and hide/expand sets based on the data you define and you’ve got something really powerful that will help students make connections.

A simple example is if I restrict my set to show only “explorers” then suddenly in the map and the time line things change. I notice explorers were mainly earlier and than none were born in the Americas (obvious to you and I but maybe the spark some kids need). Then I switch map views and I see that explorers did die in the Americas which leads into a conversation about the dangers of exploration and their root causes, motivations for enduring the dangers etc.

In the end, I feel I’m getting closer to Hans Rosling (I didn’t say I was there). My goal is data that is powerful and interactive. That’s what I feel is most impressive about what he shows. He gets data moving and that helps you see trends. Now if we could manipulate that data it’d be even more impressive. We need things like that for students. Exhibit is a big step in the right direction with the added bonus of being free and driven from a spreadsheet it becomes nearly irresistible. With the multiple authors that Google spreadsheets allows it can basically become a really interesting wiki interface driven by material your students create.

I’m working on re-writing the tutorials to reflect the new version. I’m not quite smart enough to follow the simple upgrade instructions so I figure some others are in the same boat. Maybe there’s a reason I didn’t go to MIT . . .

Google Earth – Proof of Concept Stuff

Google Earth

A while back I posted about using GoogleLookup to get data quickly and easily to make and put into Google Earth via Google Spreadsheets.

The example file is at It’s a network link. In Google Earth- click Add- Network Link and paste the URL into the Link box.

Here’s some information on how to do this if you’re interested.

Put Info into Google Earth from a Google Spreadsheet

Things ended up being far easier than I anticipated. The last time I did a networked KML link from a spreadsheet (sounds way fancier than it is) I had to make it myself and go through a different service. Now Google has a nice template all set up to make things work well and it makes things pretty as well.

Adding GoogleLookup to the Template

So the next thing I did was play around a little with the lookup function. I didn’t do too much. I was just playing around to make sure it would work. This wouldn’t save you much time as it’s only five cities but it you wanted to plot all this information for 50 cities things would start to get a lot more interesting.

I just added a few columns at the end of the spreadsheet and then set up the following formulas.
I put the lookup for population in cell L6
Lookup for population
and the lookup for elevation in cell M6
Lookup for elevation

Ok now how do I get that information to merge into the paragraphs in a coherent way? It’s not hard, but it looks fairly ugly.
Paragraph One
This formula says take the text “The population of “ (notice the space there) then add the contents of cell B6, then add the word ” is” (space again) and the contents of L6 (population). That gives us The population of Denver, Colorado is ######.. That’s the basic idea. You just add chunks of data- be they text (in quotes) or cell references- using the & sign.

Hopefully that makes some sort of sense. If not let me know and I’ll clarify.

I also played around a little and put a Swivel graph in one of the windows. I want to take that a little farther before I waste anyone’s time here with it but there’s some real potential there- especially with the ability to combine Google Lookup and exporting to Swivel.

Simile Exhibit Project – VA History SOLs

Simile Views
So I finally managed to get Exhibit working. Which is pretty impressive considering I’ve been working on it during NECC and I’ve failed a few times before.

The site is up here. The death locations aren’t correct right now but I welcome any feedback you’d care to give.

I think it has some really interesting potential in enabling students to interact with and see relationships between different types of data (geography/time/facts/eras).

Plus it looks pretty, is interactive and you can click to sort/categorize everything on the fly.

I used the same layouts used in their Presidents example. I took what they’d done and changed categories, some css etc. to create information that was more relevant to what we have to study. It was something of a hassle to get this done but I think it was worth it and I’m working on creating a basic template to allow teachers to put the data into a Google spreadsheet and drive the site through that.

Here’s a short video showing what it can do. Click here if you can’t see anything below.