How can we move map lessons beyond memorization and coloring?


When you ask the average adult on the street how they learned about mapping when they were kids, they most likely will respond with some variation of this:

“Uhhhh…. We colored a lot of maps in with colored pencils and memorized where all the countries were in the world.”

Ugh. Gag me with a spoon, but, to be fair, I’ve done this as a teacher earlier in my career. It’s so easy to fall back on a methodology that works, maybe not well, but it works for slightly more or less than 50% of students. It is a throwback to the rote memorization learning of the 19th and 20th centuries and has no place in modern pedagogy. #worldgeochat completely agrees. Maps help us build context only when used as part of the greater story that is being told. I loved that the very first tweet in the chat on this questions by @MrHistory123 went like this:

I liked how @MrHistory123 mentioned that geography is about making connections. These connections build context and drive curiosity just like @LFU_MissCox says:

Finding something that connects with students’ interests is key but it is not enough. Learning also comes through experiences that one has during the process of inquiry (Everyone remember their readings on John Dewey in grad school?). It is by providing meaningful experiences for our students that they will engage with their learning and take the lead. How do you spark curiosity? If you’re a guru of geography like @classroomtools, then it looks like this:

I love this concept of tying the creation of a map to the imagination of it’s maker. Great insights and conversations spring up with this approach. Students will ask about making their owm maps. This is a direction that I like to go in when I think about creating a mapping lesson for my students and getting them to learn the nuts and bolts of it (both absolute and relative location, parts of a map, hemispheres, et al). I know I’ve mentioned my Grid about a gazillion times but it’s worth mentioning the activities that I use with it. I have three activities that I use and they are:

  1. The First Activity, The Labeling Race
  2. Relative and Absolute Location, Koosh Toss game
  3. Map Making, Build the World

The final activity is a class creation of the world map on my floor grid. A few concepts that emerge in mapping are that;

  1. Maps are created with many data points
  2. Data points with no context are meaningless, and
  3. Visualizing maps comes with bias.

All of these concepts are essential when students first learn how to construct and utilize maps. They can not be acquired through memorization or through some other rote process like coloring. By getting students excited to imagine a world they live in, teachers can instil the intrinsic motivation to explore and discover how maps help them ‘see’ the world wore clearly. A great way to do this is often through fiction. Pairing with the english department and a story they are currently reading (Beowulf, Lord of the Rings, et al) and run an activity using a map in geography class.

It’s all about getting students to make connections and engage their imagination to create context.

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