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Friday, October 28, 2011

Measuring the Value of the Traveling Giant Map

There are a million articles like this one from the Natchitoches, LA paper about large floor maps visiting schools and stocking-footed kids tromping across them. I recall one of the U.S. that visited my elementary school back in the 1970s. The most memorable part for me? Sliding around it in our socks!

Clearly, students enjoy the activity, that is, the "being active" aspect of the map's visit. In Natchitoches, it was the map of the Pacific Ocean that came to town. It's the newest of National Geographic's traveling giant maps. (The map was announced via a press release on Oct 26. I was interested to see that funding for the map and educational materials was from Oracle!)
"They love it," said Paul Nagel, an associate professor at NSU who helped secure the map through his role with the Louisiana Geography Education Alliance.
"It's an interactive way to learn geography. It allows the kids to be up and moving and learning in a new way," he said.
While I think back on such visits fondly, is there any research as to the educational benefit of the visit?  Of which kinds of activities are best done with a giant map vs. a wall map vs. a paper map? Of how many "classes" with the map is optimal to teach key principles? The Q & A section of the National Geographic site on the traveling maps discusses that activities and materials to do them are delivered with the map, but there's no detail on what topics are covered for which maps or how they map to educational standards.

I think it's fair to ask the same questions about the value and use of U.S. or world maps painting on the blacktop at a school or youth center.

That said, I love that these maps are still so popular because they:
  • are low tech
  • physically convey the friction of distance
  • explode the notion that maps are only on the wall or on the computer
  • allow group activities often limited by a small desktop map or computer screen
  • enhance student interactivity
  • get students out of the classroom