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Tech Class

Getting Lost to Learn

Intermediate students in Burlington discover the world through an online geography guessing game that promotes collaboration.

By Stefan Dubowski
Photo: Matthew Liteplo

Photo of Ryan Henderson, Ontario Certified Teacher speaking with a group of young students. The students are seated at a table and working on computers.
Ryan Henderson, OCT, uses GeoGuessr as a springboard for geography lessons.

The Challenge: Help students appreciate global diversity.

The Solution: Introduce a web-based geography guessing game. Have students figure out not only where they are, but also strategies for navigation.

Lessons Learned: Ryan Henderson, OCT, wanted to help his students understand how vast and diverse the world is. So this Grade 8 math, language and social studies teacher at John William Boich Public School in Burlington, Ont., introduced a challenging and fun web activity: GeoGuessr (, a geography guessing game.

Here’s how Henderson frames it for students: You’ve just been parachuted into an unknown place somewhere around the globe. GeoGuessr players have to uncover clues to identify their location. The more accurate the guess, the more points they get.

Henderson’s class uses school-provided computers to play. Onscreen, the students are presented with an interface that looks similar to Google Street View, with panoramic photos of the location that players can navigate using a mouse. As they collect points in the game, the youngsters record their scores in a Google Sheets spreadsheet, vying for the top of the leaderboard.

A key tool for their research is a 15-point list, which the students created to zero in on the most telling characteristics of an area. One point, for instance, recommends they have a look at the road signs, posters and other written media in the vicinity. Players may be able to use those to identify the alphabet and language used.

Spot by spot, the students see the world. “As they get deeper into the activity, they’re looking for landforms, evidence of weather patterns, people — how they dress, what cars they’re driving,” Henderson says.

They play individually. But that doesn’t mean they work alone.

“We capitalize on the multitude of languages that are spoken in the school,” Henderson says. For example, if a player discovers a sign written in Chinese, she can look for a classmate or teacher who knows how to read the language to decipher the message.

Some places are especially difficult to figure out. “The locations are randomly generated,” Henderson says. “The dreaded result is somewhere very rural with no signage … It’s an interesting challenge because with those areas, we can start to talk about environmental diversity.” He adds that you can contain your class’s GeoGuessr experience by specifying a location — just Toronto, or only Ontario, for instance. But he has his students play globally, for the added challenge.

Observations: Students never know where the game will take them, so they’re excited to discover new places. The game also helps strengthen their communication and collaboration skills.

Henderson has learned that sometimes it’s best when the teacher doesn’t give much direction. “I think the best critical thinking comes out of having fun with it, and the fun comes when the students have time to explore the game on their own.”

The College’s professional advisory Use of Electronic Communication and Social Media ( guides members’ professional judgment in the use of technology.

Helpful Hint: Consider having the students play in teams at first. That helps build their confidence, says Ryan Henderson, OCT. Teamwork also sets the stage for continued dialogue in class once the students start to play individually.

You Can Do It Too!

What You’ll Need:

Steps to Take:

  1. Have students develop a list of points to help them identify unknown locations.
  2. Have them play GeoGuessr in teams or individually.
  3. Encourage them to share info and to find additional resources online, in class or throughout the school.