Sunday, November 10, 2013

Remaking a Map Unit: Combining Digital and Traditional Maps

I love maps. I love finding the ways to get places, looking at how the roads go (and comparing it to how the roads went), and finding names and locations. Strange that I manage to frequently get lost a great deal anyway...hmm...

As I was planning for our social studies maps unit, I started to consider my use of digital maps. Teaching students how to use online resources such as Google maps would be a great way to address CCSS 4.7 (interpreting information from various types of sources). But how would I combine these digital resources with our existing map unit?

1. Student-created maps
Before we even began the unit, I gave students blank pieces of paper and told them to make a map of a place that they knew well. I didn't give them any further instructions.

 The results were fascinating! This is one of those activities that is so simple, but reveals so much about students. I saw three basic patterns:
Skilled maps: These maps reflected a level of map-reading skill and incorporated many of the conventions of the map genre, including map keys and a birds-eye view. One student even included a compass rose. I was a little skeptical about his compass rose and the directionality of his map until he told me, "I know which way is west, because the sun sets outside my bedroom." This definitely represents a high level of mapping skill.
Novice maps: These maps represented a novice level of maps and mapmaking. They included few or no conventions of the map genre, and often attempted to show objects as seen from ground level instead of a birds-eye view.
Hybrid maps: At first glance, these maps looked like novice maps, with some elements being represented at ground level. But a closer look showed that these students were intentionally combining birds-eye view with ground view to enhance meaning. This is a convention that is seen frequently in maps of amusement parks.

Seeing the maps that students created helped me to see what knowledge students were bringing with them.

2. Exploring Paper Maps
My regular reading display area has become a maps display. I have lots of maps from various vacation destinations, some print-outs, and even some old maps. We used the DOGSTAILS acronym as an organizer to help students look for key elements in paper maps. Kids had the chance to see the many different ways that mapmakers use to represent spaces and places.

3. Destination of the Day
A few days before the unit began I changed our table names to continents, which sparked a great deal of discussion in the classroom. At the end of Morning Meeting, I chose a student at random to pick a "Destination of the Day"--a location that I would display on the Smartboard with Google Maps. As part of this I showed students how to find a location, how to zoom in and out, and how to use street view.

4. Google Maps in the Computer Lab
I worked from our traditional social studies lessons for a few days, including an adaptation of this "Maps are Models" lesson from National Geographic and work with the compass rose and directions.

For our reading class in the computer lab, I had carefully put together resources to go along with our literature circle and guided reading books. But the students would have none of that. "Can I go on Google Maps?" one student requested. All it took was one "Yes" for the entire class to want to head over to Google Maps.

I took a deep breath and observed students interacting with the site. After all, this is what RI 7 is all about! If kids don't get a chance to explore a site, they will never know that it is the place to go to get answers to a specific question. Kids made interesting choices. Of course, every first time user of Google Maps has to find their house. But then what? Some students looked at vacation spots. Others went to find landmarks that they had read about or heard about--the Sydney Opera House (we had looked at a model of it in the previous lesson), the Golden Gate Bridge, the Great Pyramids. The chatter that filled the room was interesting--"How do I get out of street view? How did you get there? How can I get there? I'm lost!"

5. Comparing Digital and Paper Maps
One of our key skills for the map unit is being able to use a scale on a map. Personally, I haven't used a map scale in years, except for when I have been walking and I want to see if a distance is manageable. But there is some value in learning about a map scale, and the way to learn that value is to try out the scale.

I started the lesson by teaching students how to use the scale on the paper map. Then, they worked with partners to complete the bland scale worksheet, drawing lines to connect the locations, measuring them, and calculating the distance.

But then we got back together to share our results. I introduced the "Get Directions" feature of Google Maps. Would the distances on the digital map match what they found? Why or why not? This led to some interesting discussions of why the routes that Google Maps displayed were so different from the straight line routes that students had drawn on the worksheet. (It will be interesting to see if kids go back to the "Get Directions" tab when the return to the computer lab this week.)

6. Writing Prompt
This week, we'll wrap it all up with a writing prompt. Students will have to write to show whether they prefer paper maps or digital maps, and then support their opinions with details from our unit. Which will they choose? I'm interested to see. I'm also interested to see how details from our classroom activities find their way into the writing that students produce.

Using digital maps has moved from novel activity three weeks ago to standard classroom routine last week. For example--Friday morning I was checking to see who had moved their lunch cards, so I called a student's name. He looked up from the computer in the corner. "Sorry--I'm at the Golden Gate Bridge right now!" he called out. And he was--in Google Maps, in street view.

November Homework packets are ready! Two fables are included, plus an article about Veterans Day and one about the Pilgrims. (If you just want the article about Veterans Day, it is free in the preview file.)

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