Understanding and Improving How People Use Maps
Where are We?: Pedagogical Strategies
The pedagogical strategies embedded within the "Where are We?" curriculum are as follows:
- Introduce children to the language of maps by beginning with an area which is large enough to provide the complexity of an authentic adult's map (i.e. bigger than a classroom or a single school building), but small enough to be graspable by a child (i.e. small enough to walk across in 10 minutes).
- Introduce children to the power of maps by simulating situations in which a map has obvious practical utility: e.g. getting from one place to another, figuring out where you are when you are lost, planning how to improve the nighttime illumination in a park.
- Have children use maps in both of their major roles: as a tool for navigation, and as a tool for organizing spatial information.
- Leave the explicit "teaching" (i.e. explaining aspects of the map language, modeling good map-using strategies, guiding discussions of lessons learned) in the hands of the classroom teacher. Provide the concepts and words necessary to do such teaching through a detailed Teachers' Guide.
- Use learning technology to set up situations in which children must 'translate' between map and place, and between place and map, hundreds of times over the course of the curriculum.
- Avoid questions or tasks which children can answer or solve entirely within the frame of reference of the map, without consideration of the characteristics of the underlying place.
- Use learning technology to set up situations where children can try things out, and make mistakes safely.
- Use learning technology to provide rapid feedback, so that children can learn from their mistakes quickly and efficiently. (Example: wrongly placed symbols in "Add to the Map" don't stick to the map).
- Use learning technology to provide "scaffolding" for early map-using experience, and then gradually withdraw the scaffolding as the child's skill builds. (Example: the position-indicating red dot and arrow are visible all the time in "Exploring the Park" mode, as needed in "Are We There Yet?" mode, and never in "Lost!" mode.)
- Use learning technology to provide information that will help children surface, articulate, examine, and solidify their decision-making processes. (Example: the red line that replays the children's route followed in "Are We There Yet?" mode tends to catalyzes a discussion between the pair of collaborating students about why they turned when they did.)
- Have the teacher model, and all the children practice, map-using strategies that are spontaneously used by children who are skilled at map use. For example, the "Landmarks" lesson and the "Planning a Route" lesson are both built around map-using strategies that were spontaneously exhibited by second graders in our earliest test classes as we documented their behavior in a real-world map using task.
- Identify common map-using misconceptions among children. Provide the teacher with the symptoms for recognizing such misconceptions, and teaching techniques for overcoming them. (Example: the boxed discussion, "A Common Misconception: North as a Region versus North as a Direction" in the "Compass Rose" lesson of the Teachers Guide.")
- Use the software as a "flight simulator" (not the game; the real flight simulators that military pilots learn on). In other words, use the software to practice skills efficiently, cost-effectively, and safely. Then take those skills into real world settings, through one or more field-based challenges, as detailed in "Field Trip" portion of the Teachers' Guide.
- Lay the groundwork for thinking about metaphorical "journeys" and abstract "spaces." Throughout human civilization, a journey through a physical place has been a powerful metaphor for an intellectual, or spiritual, or emotional journey (the Odyssey, Pilgrim's Progress, Dante's Inferno). Dealing with the big "Where are We?" or "Where am I?" questions is at the heart of the educational endeavor. History seeks to help the child understand: Where are we, our society, with respect to the parade of past cultures--and by what path did we get here? Global studies asks: Where are we, our society, with respect to the mosaic of peoples and cultures on today's globe? Literature asks: Where am I on the spectrum of human experiences and human emotions? Biology asks: Where are we, human beings, within the spectrum of life forms on earth? Astronomy asks: Where are we, Earth, within the universe? The WAW Teachers Guide embeds simple lessons applicable to physical or metaphorical journeys; for example, "There's often more than one way to get where you want to go," in the __________ lesson.
This work was funded by an Oracle Media Objects Challenge grant and the following grants from the National Science Foundation: ESI-96-17852 (Kastens & McClintock), ESI-01-01806 (Kastens), ESI-01-01758 (Liben), and GEO-01-22001 (Kastens). Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation.