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learning.now: at the crossroads of Internet culture & education with host Andy Carvin

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The Live Piracy Map: A Treasure Trove for Student Discussion

It seems you can barely turn on the TV without hearing stories about the rash of piracy incidents that’s been taking place off the coast of Somalia. While it’s tempting to crack wise with references to parrots and peg legs, modern-day piracy is no laughing matter. And now there’s a Google Map mashup you can use in the classroom to help your students understand how serious this is.

As long as there’s been boats, there’s been piracy. We often think of it as a mere tales of a by-gone era - 18th century buccaneers wreaking havoc throughout the Caribbean - but piracy has never gone away. Off the Horn of Africa, unfortunately, it’s become serious business, with local pirates earning millions of dollars in ransom by hijacking cargo ships plying the waters of the Indian Ocean.

But how big of a problem is piracy? Is it just a weird trend taking place in east African waters, or is it a global problem? Thanks to the International Maritime Bureau, we can now find out, because they’ve put together a simple, but highly informative Google Map mashup displaying all known piracy activity this year. Live Piracy Map 2008, as it’s known, is a treasure trove of data about the state of modern piracy. Like all Google maps, you can zoom in and out to get a sense of how much activity is taking place in a given area. The global view shows dense patches of piracy activity off the eastern coast of Africa, but there are also numerous incidents in West Africa, off the coast of India and Southeast Asia as well. By zooming in, you can see the extraordinary amount of piracy taking place just in the channel between Somalia and Yemen.

For any educator seeking to bring the news coverage of modern privacy into the classroom, the live piracy map could serve as a useful launching point:

Why Somalia? Have your students examine the sheer number of piracy incidents off the coast of Somalia and research the potential causes. Is it merely the strategic location of Somalia along an important trade route? Could the trade route be avoided by ships, or is it too important to avoid? How has endemic poverty and a lack of a central government impacted the rise of piracy off Somalia?

Where’d the Caribbean pirates go? In colonial times, the Caribbean was considered a major area of piracy. According to the map, though, there’s been almost no activity there. What’s changed? Have your students examine the interplay of piracy with colonial era trade, from gold to slaves.

Lessons from Barbary. In North Africa, the Barbary States got rich off of state-sanctioned piracy in the Mediterranean. What parallels can be drawn between Barbary corsairs and modern-day Somali pirates? What has changed in the Mediterranean that would cause piracy there to dry up almost completely?

Island Hideaways. Southeast Asia has a long history of piracy, and the live map shows that it’s still a problem around Malaysia and Indonesia. What is it about the georgraphy of these archipelagos that makes it easier for pirates to thrive there than, for example, the open waters of the Pacific?

Pirate-Free America? There aren’t any piracy incidents in U.S. waters. Why might that be the case? What role does the Coast Guard play in preventing crime off the US coast? How else is the Coast Guard important to homeland security?

…and these are just for starters. What kinds of questions could you see asking your students from studying the piracy map? And what questions can they come up with themselves? -andy

Filed under : Cool Tools


This is great! I just know sooner of later my second graders will be asking me about the pirates they’ve heard about on the news. Thanks for helping me find a way to take a question aobut a current event and turn it into a lesson.

Interesting, but map is broken in Safari and Firefox on Mac OSX

Hi John,

Not sure why it’s not working for you. I wrote my post on a Mac running OSX and was able to access it just fine.

What a great website! I am taking a course in transforming classrooms to be 21st century classrooms. While looking for key educators in this process I stumbled across this website. This site posts such relevant and current topics that do come up frequently in my classroom. This site really does act as a bridge between the internet and the classroom providing great leading and probing questions, discussions as well as useful links.

Thank you!

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