The cool-but-intimidating blog, GeekDad had an intriguing post this morning. Eric Zimmermann, a geography enthusiast living in China, posted about his hobby of documenting "Confluence Points" - the exact point where a whole degree of Latitude and Longitude meet.

He points out that a lot of the time, it isn't easy to get to these confluence points; they aren't necessarily near major roads (or even land, for that matter. For the purposes of demonstration, I just looked up Zero Degrees Latitude/Zero Degrees Longitude and found that lies it well off the coast of West Africa.) This makes getting to these points something of an adventure.

This got me thinking...

Where is the nearest confluence point in relation to my school?

I looked up the town of Deerfield, New Hampshire on GoogleMaps, but discovered to my surprise that it was placed in the White Mountains, several hours' drive from its actual location.


Well, that happens sometimes.

So I fell back on my next-most-favorite mapping tool - Wikipedia. I looked up Deerfield, then looked for the link at the right of the page, labeled "Coordinates".

Clicking this took me to a page called "GeoHack", which told me way, WAY more about Deerfield's latitude and longitude than I had ever wanted to know. 

Among other useful tools, there were links to take me directly to those coordinates in MapQuest, GoogleEarth and about a dozen other mapping websites. I didn't use any of these links this time, but nodded with satisfaction at how, once again, Wikipedia is much cooler than anyone gives it credit for.

I highlighted and copied the coordinates for Deerfield, then plugged them back into GoogleMaps. I removed all the fractions of degrees from the coordinates, which left me with 40 Degrees North Latitude, 71 Degrees West Longitude.

I hit Return...

...and got this.

It turns out that our nearest confluence point is just up the road a little bit - though apparently in somebody's back yard. It wouldn't really be all that hard to zip up there and take a picture of it.

[Admittedly, you could calculate this just as easily with a good map and a ruler, but I was very lazy this morning and didn't want to get off my couch.]

All this leads me to think about what kind of classroom projects I could design out of this.

Here's what I've come up with so far:

1.  This is a good way to introduce or reinforce the concepts of Latitude and Longitude. A highly motivated classroom teacher could have his or her students map calculate and map all the confluence points in New Hampshire. (For teachers in bigger states, they could calculate the points around their county.)  [Curriculum connections to Math]

2.  If the class was studying Map Reading or Orienteering, this could make for a really good field trip - finding and photographing the closest confluence points.  [Curriculum connections to Physical Education]

3.  The class could design a webpage or blog with an interactive map, showing all the confluence points and providing links to photos the students had taken of them.  [Curriculum connections to Literacy and Technology standards]

4.  A very motivated class could do some research and find other elementary or middle schools near other, more out-of-reach confluence points and email teachers or students there to take pictures of them and email them back.  [Curriculum connections to more Literacy and Technology standards]

The only real question remaining is - am I that motivated?

Time will tell.

It was the fresh cactus in the window that got me in trouble.

I was running some errands in Manchester this afternoon and drove by a market I've never been in before.

This is somewhat dangerous, because I'm a bit obsessed with food and small, hole-in-the-wall ethnic markets, and you're not going to find many places much more ethnic or hole-in-the-wall-y than this place. Given that I was driving in one of the residential areas of the city, where the streets are only a lane and a half wide at the best of times and that there are still snowbanks from the last snowstorm to contend with, AND double-parking seems to be more the rule than an exception, this was probably not the best place for me to be distracted while I was driving.

Anyway, I managed to pull over, make an quasi-legal 23-point turn and park in front of Empire Foods, a very cool, pocket-sized bodega in Manchester's "Tree Street" neighborhood.

I went in.

Which is kind of deceptive. To say I "went in" implies that I had some sort of choice, that I could have stood out there in front of a strange, new bodega and after some thought, turn and walk calmly back to my car and drive away instead of being sucked into the store like a hard-boiled egg into a milk bottle.

Anyway, I walked in and was immediately hypnotized by all the cool stuff - mostly Mexican ingredients like dried herbs and mysterious canned goods - on display. The guy behind the counter seemed fairly suspicious of me and the longer I looked around, the more bemused he became.

(Cool word, huh? Bemused - it's worth 20 grains of rice at FreeRice.com.)

Anyway, after a few minutes, he came right out and asked me what a guy like me was doing in his store. (Clearly, I don't represent his usual customer demographic.) I told him that I'd seen the nopales - fresh cactus paddles - in his window.

He brightened up and said, "OH! You're from Texas!" (This seemed to clear things up, at least a little bit, for him.)

I told him, no - I just like food.

He thought this over for a few seconds, then smiled. Apparently, this was an answer he could really get behind.

We chatted for a few more minutes then I felt I needed to buy something before I left. I'd been intrigued by several 1-liter bottles of some canary-yellow beverage in a glass bottle. When I picked it up, it had a warning about pregnant women and operating heavy equipment, so I ended up buying it.

(I've had several glasses of it now, which probably explains the rambling nature of this post. I'm not worried though. I know it must be good for me - it has a cow on the label.)

Anyway, the upshot of all this is that I have a new friend and new store and a bottle with a cow on it, so life is looking pretty good.


So, what does any of this have to do with the classroom?

Um.... Give me a second....

Aha! I've got it!

When I got home, I added Empire Foods to my Awesome Food Map.

For the past few months, I've been adding all the grocery stores and restaurants I visit to a custom map on GoogleMaps. This allows me to share cool new finds with friends and family. Each place is marked on a map that allows them to find out a little bit about each place, look at it on a satellite photo and even find driving instructions on how to get there.

Now, imagine using this in a classroom setting to map all the Civil War battles in your state or all the places Flat Stanley has visited or all the places that various ancestors came from during a Family Tree project - you start to see the potential.

I already do a project like this with my students during our Civil War unit. I'll post more about it when we get to it.

In the meantime, please enjoy my Awesome Food Map:



Now, if you'll excuse me, my new friend the cow and I are going to watch a movie.

Or maybe just take a nap.