Where in the world is...

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Does your child know where the Solomon Islands are? Does he or she know the capital of Estonia? How about the capital of Maine? For that matter, do you?

When I was a kid (imagine a grumpy old man voice here), we learned geography by filling out dittos of world and U.S. maps, and we learned country/state capitals by making flash cards—countries/states on one side, their capitals on the other. But geography is much easier—and a bit more fun—today thanks to computers and applications like the $10 World of Where (   ).

World of Where is actually two learning aids in one: a set of world and U.S. maps, and an automated geography quiz program. The map mode includes depictions of North, Central, and South America; Europe; Africa; the Middle East; Asia; Oceania; and the United States. Each map displays country or state names, the capital of each country or state, and the names of nearby oceans and seas. (For clarity, you can choose to hide any combination of country, city, and ocean/sea labels when viewing maps.) This mode makes it easy to study the locations of these geographic entities.

Map mode also provides useful information about geographic locations: Hold the mouse cursor over a country’s name in map mode and a tool tip will appear displaying the country’s area, population (from the 2003 World Population Data Sheet), and per capita GDP; if you hover over a the country’s capital, you’ll see the city’s latitude and longitude.

Finally, if you want a hard copy of a map, or if you want to send it to someone else via email, World of Where’s Export Map command lets you save a copy of the current map in TIFF, JPEG, or PSD (Photoshop) formats.

But Test mode is my favorite part of World of Where. By choosing a region and starting a test, World of Where removes all text from the regional map and then asks you where on the map a particular country resides (or in which country a particular capital resides); click on the country to provide your answer. (You can also choose an “Entire World Test” which quizzes you on all countries or capitals in a single test; unfortunately, instead of showing you the entire globe at once, it tests you on one region at a time, one after another.)

In “Soft” test mode, World of Where tells you if you’ve guessed incorrectly but gives you unlimited guesses to find the right country; if you’re having trouble, you can skip to the next item at any time. In “Hard” test mode, you get only a single guess, after which World of Where moves on to the next item, right or wrong. What does it matter how many times you get to guess? World of Where keeps track of your accuracy for both country/state and capital tests. This is a useful feature that helps you (or your child/student) figure out which regions need more study time.

[Although not strictly geography, World of Where also provides a “map” of our solar system and can test on which planet is which. The tool tips for Solar System mode provide a planet’s orbital distance, mass, diameter, rotational period, orbital period, density, surface gravity, and its number of moons.]

World of Where has two flaws worth mentioning. The first is that it can be difficult to click on some tiny countries and islands—frustrating when you click on the correct country but the application thinks you didn’t. The second is that World of Where doesn’t include every country on the globe; it’s currently missing a few island nations and protectorates. (The developer expects these to be included in the next version.)

World of Where is a great way to learn geography on the cheap—I admit to learning the locations of a few tiny countries myself during my testing. And if you’re a teacher, World of Where can be an invaluable teaching aid.

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