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Sunday, November 23, 2014

Final Pitch: Mastering Map Scale

This is the final assignment (Assignment 6.2: The Final Product Pitch) for the MOOC I'm currently taking: MITx: 11.132x Design and Development of Educational Technology. We were asked to create a complete pitch for the educational intervention we've been developing during the course.

The Challenge

“Hey honey, let’s hit to road for the trip to your parents! Can you grab the map?” 
“Which one?”
“The large scale...wait small...uh, the one with all of New England on it!”

Let’s face it: map scale is confusing to both school students and adults heading out for a road trip. How can individuals quickly get a handle on what the terms small and large scale mean and which map will suit their purpose?

A short visit to the interactive site Mastering Map Scale will have students of all ages using the terms correctly and creating or selecting an appropriate map scale for a project, paper or road trip. 

Currently, map scale is taught with graphics like the one below from Ohio Wesleyan factually member JB Krygier's Geography 222: The Power of Maps and GIS:  

How map scale is taught now.
Source: JB Krygier Geography 222: The Power of Maps and GIS, Ohio Wesleyan

In contrast, Mastering Map Scale relies on interactive simulations and constructionist ideas to teach about map scale.

The Intervention: Mastering Map Scale

Learning objectives:

The intervention is aimed at teaching four key concepts:
  • Larger scale means more potential details can be seen, smaller scale means fewer details.
  • Larger scale maps cover smaller areas (details of one tree, rather than a forest), smaller scales cover larger areas (rivers in a country, rather than paths trough a town park).
  • Using a map to find an answer depends on it being at the appropriate scale.
  • The RF is like a fraction, a larger fraction (a bigger piece of pie) means a larger scale.
The website includes two interactive tools:
Map Scale Explorer encourages visitors to key in map scales in a representative fraction (RF) and see the map change. They can also choose a “larger scale” or “smaller scale” button make the scale larger or smaller by a factor of 10.

Mockup of Map Scale Explorer

Map Scale Artist turns the screen over to the visitor to draw an object (penny, pencil, donut) and watch it appear at a selected scale in a second window. The “smaller scale” and “larger scale” buttons are available here, too.

Mockup of Map Scale Artist

Visitors are guided with simple hints as to what to do:

Example for Map Scale Explorer: Choose a scale. Predict what the map will look like! See if you are correct.

Example for Map Scale Artist: Draw a penny. What scale is best for reading the date on the penny? Larger or smaller than the scale at which you drew?

The site can serve students in classrooms and beyond. Teachers can make it available with other resources, assign it as homework or use it “as needed” with specific students when scale confusion appears. Because it’s stand alone, Mastering Map Scale can be used by anyone with Web access who need a short primmer on map scale. It’s designed to get the user back to solving their mapping problem quickly, after a brief interactive interlude.


Students in formal settings can tackle two formative assessments. Both include automated grading. Both assessments are based on material the student creates (specific maps at specific scales, drawings of particular objects). Any user is welcome to try the formative assessments to check understanding.

A summative assessment, aimed at formal educational settings, involves a map creation project. I may also be part of larger assessment related to the broader topic (geography, field biology, history, etc.)


There are three research components to Mastering Map Scale:
  1. A design based research program will explore if indeed the intervention teaches learners the key ideas without educator involvement. New Iterations of the tool will aim for a fully stand alone learning experience.
  2. Measurement tools in the intervention will determine if students are engaged in the tools and explore widely (explore several maps scale, draw several objects) or just dabble in the exploration environments (explore two scales or make but one drawing).
  3. Educators themselves will help determine the value of the intervention based on if they recommend or assign the tool to students and suggest its use to their peers.


The main risk of the Mastering Map Scale project is that it tackles just one small portion of map literacy. It might be overshadowed by more complete projects or curricula. Still, since this is a topic that comes up regularly (see: 1, 2, 3, 4) a short focused intervention may stand out and perhaps become part of these projects and curricula.


The project, if successful, will be a resource for students to explore, perhaps several times in their student and working lives, to make sense of map scale. The best possible outcome of Mastering Map Scale: there’ll be less hesitation and confusion regarding map scale, like that illustrated in the introductory scenario.