IF YOU WANT TO KILL A RAINFOREST . . . BUILD A HIGHWAY
The very first music video ever broadcast on MTV was called "Video Killed the Radio Star" by the Buggles. Yet radio was not killed by the coming of video, but remains an important communication and entertainment medium. About five years ago I taped a radio story about water usage in the Occupied Territories of the West Bank and Gaza and played it in one my classes. I was surprised to read in one of my student evaluations that the "video on water in the West Bank" was one of highlights of the class and that I should use more of them. What video? My conclusion was that sound, coupled with maps, text, and activities, could engage the imaginations of my students as much, if not more, than a prepared piece of documentary film. I now troll the web for audio files of news stories, discussions and analyses of topics relevant to my classes.
I thought teachers of geography in Vermont might like to hear one of my latest finds - Radio Expeditions. I know, they've been around for years! This joint production of the National Geographic Society and National Public Radio connects radio correspondents with researchers in the field. If you listen to Morning Edition you will probably have caught one in the past few years. Here is the key - they are archived as audio files at NPR, and National Geographic has developed web materials to support some of the stories.
A recent favorite for me was a story on the construction of a highway into the rainforest of Peru (http://news.wmub.org/programs/re/archivesdate/2000/nov/001127.peruhwy.html). It had all the trappings of a great opener for class discussion: biogeography, a dramatic shift in the nature of spatial interaction, the tragedy of resource exploitation and the unintended consequences of mercury-based gold mining.
All of this is presented in non-technical language with built-in interpretation and narration by one of the NPR correspondents. How could this be used in the classroom? I sat and jotted down a few things. . .
Mapping: Where is Peru? Why would they need a Transoceanic Highway? Where would it go? Can the towns mentioned in the story be found in an atlas? How about on the web? (Maps of the region can be downloaded from a variety of sources, including http://www.graphicmaps.com/webimage/countrys/samerica/pe.htm, and at http://www.lib.utexas.edu/maps/peru.html.)
Spatial interaction: How does suddenly being connected change a place? Is it for the best? How could one evaluate such a decision? Who migrates into the rainforest and why?
Conservation and Environment: How will the rainforest survive once it is opened up for exploitation? What sorts of communities are created and how sustainable are they?
Health: What about using the image of an old man squirting mercury into his hand as he pans for gold and ruins his health? The narrator explains: "Right now, as I'm speaking, he's mixing the mercury in the bucket by his hand. It gets into your body. It's biocumulative. There's no smoking gun. It doesn't happen right away, but over theyears your teeth fall out, you get more headaches, you lose your eyesight, you lose your hair, and you get a little nuts, mad as a hatter. Here he's squirting more mercury in his hand from a bottle. You can see that liquid metal coming out. It's going into his hand and he's going to dump it into the bucket." Meanwhile, here in Vermont, the State of Vermont funds a swap of new digital thermometers for your old mercury ones to reduce mercury in the environment. A depressing contrast.
I was struck again and again by links to geography's five themes and to the national geography standards outlined in the excellent book Geography for Life. The standards are also online at http://www.ncge.org/publications/tutorial/ standards/ (this on-line tutorial is a great refresher for those of you who looked at the standards once, but . . .). In some of the stories, I found myself drawn to the places and regions standards (nos. 4-6). These emphasize the identities and lives of peoples rooted in individual places. Whereas in other stories, I found myself drawn to physical systems and human systems. Like the standards, the radio stories have potential be useful at a variety of grade levels.
Another expedition to Peru offers an alternative image of conservation in one of the country's national parks (http://www.npr.org/programs/re/archivesdate/2000/jan/000124.manu.html). This story is a dramatic contrast to the story on the TransOceanic Highway. While the highway story has a strong undertone of economic development and accessibility as a Trojan Horse of environmental and cultural destruction; the story on the national park focuses on isolation, and the high friction of distance and cultural preservation.
In some cases, National Geographic has funded a comprehensive array of web-based materials (e.g. the stories on the walk across the Congo are available on NPR at http://news.wmub.org/programs/re/archivesdate/2000/oct/001016.mega.html. Meanwhile, an
interactive media site is available on the National Geographic Site at http://www.nationalgeographic.com/congotrek/.
In other cases, a more minimalist approach is evident. One example is a radio expedition to Australia at http://www.npr.org/programs/re/archivesdate/2000/sep/000904.australia1.html. A creative team of teachers could dovetail the radio stories with existing materials or develop new ones. An archive of stories can be found at www.npr.org/archives/. Sample a few and see where the sound takes you . . .
One of the most interesting parts of my role as co-coordinator is interacting with teachers and hearing about their use and adaptation of web-based resources. I hope that this brief introduction to Radio Expeditions will be a catalyst for your use. We would love to hear of any activities based on the radio stories or the National Geographic sites. Tell us about materials you developed, maps you used, ways in which you assessed the educational development of your students--the best results will be featured in a future newsletter story and will be published on the alliance web site. I will continue to troll the web for new ideas and new spins on old ones.
sites Richard recommends:
Peruvian Highway: http://news.wmub.org/programs/re/archivesdate/2000/nov/001127.peruhwy.html
Peruvian National Park: http://www.npr.org/programs/re/archivesdate/2000/jan/000124.manu.htm
Congo Trek: http://news.wmub.org/programs/re/archivesdate/2000/oct/001016.mega.html
Archive of Radio Expedition stories: www.npr.org/archives/
Geographic Interactive Sites: