Just because they look the same doesn’t mean they are . . .

When I started teaching last year I assumed that students would know how to read a map, use an atlas, and find locations on a globe.  What I soon realized was that most of my students couldn’t even tell the difference between a map of South America and Africa at first glance, because they have almost the same shape.  My goal for this year, spending the first several weeks practicing using all three of these resources until the students know that just because they look the same doesn’t mean that they are.

As new standards and Common Core are starting to trickle into the classroom, one thing that I continually hear is to move away from memorization and move towards project based, hands on learning.  Thinking back to when I took geography in high school, all I can remember is memorization of maps for weeks followed by a large blank map test.  When I started teaching geography I realized that, shockingly enough, I did not remember every single country that I had memorized 10 years earlier.  So, I spent time trying to come up with creative ways to get students working with these resources that familiarized them with countries around the world, but moved away from memorization.

What I created was an activity that I call Locate It!  I still give the students a blank map, but instead of sitting at their desk all class period silently labeling their maps, I have them up moving around the room using several different resources to label their maps.  Not only does this get them moving and give them time to practice using several resources, but they also have the opportunity to talk with their peers and myself if they are struggling.

Typically I have two different atlases, our class textbook, a large pull down map, two different globes, and large foldable maps spread throughout the room.  Each resource is also accompanied by a list of which countries the students are supposed to find using that resource, which they would then label on their map.  At each station they have to label all of the items on the list and nothing more, the classroom atlases that I have can be very difficult to read so I have to make sure that the students actually practice using them and don’t just write down the names and find them using a different resource.

When students are finished, I give them time to get on the computers and play map games, which is by far their favorite part of my class.  Using the Sheppard Software website, students can learn the names of countries within each region around the world.  They are also given a quick biography about each country which is great for research information when we do projects.  Students can also learn about capitals, landforms, and water features.  They then have nine levels of games that they can play to help them remember the maps.  Everything from clicking on a country, dragging and dropping countries onto the map, and typing the name of the country, all the way up to sizing and rotating countries until they are the right size and then dropping them on a map.

The last level (sizing and rotating) is called Cartographer, and we had an ongoing competition all year amongst all 100 of my students on who could get the highest percentage, which ended up being somewhere around 20% because the level is so hard.  Come parent/teacher conference time, I had several parents comment on how much the website was helping their student and how they were even playing the games at home.

Any other interesting map activities or websites that help students in your classroom?  Please comment below!

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