Understanding and Improving How People Use Maps
Report on Central Park Map Skills Assessment (June 5, 1996)
Kim A. Kastens, Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University
- Students were the same two classes of second graders who had participated in Classroom Evaluation of "Out for a Walk" and "Are we There Yet?" modes in fall 1995.
- Approximately six months had elapsed since the completion of the map skills curriculum and concentrated use of Where are We? (Winter weather precluded an in-the-field assessment immediately after completion of the map skills unit.)
- Students had a half hour in the computer room to re-familiarize themselves with Where are We? on the day before the Central Park trip.
- Students were bused from school to field area, one class in the morning, the other in the afternoon. Two hours total were available for round-trip transportation and in park activities.
- For the children: To provide a grand finale to the 2nd grade map skills curriculum, and connect the skills learned in the classroom and computer room to a real-world map-using task.
- For the teachers & developers: To observe children in a field setting working with a real map to carry out a realistic map-using task, with an eye towards improving the 2nd grade map skills curriculum and the computer application Where are We?.
- For the developers: To develop a workable set of procedures (including design of the task, instructions for the participants, and data collection strategy) which will allow the "Treasure Hunt in the Park" map skills task to be used in a quantitative assessment of the computer application Where are We?.
Overview of Procedure:
Students were given a paper map which has a starting point and a destination marked on it. Students worked in pairs to try to find their way from the starting point to the destination. Each pair of students had a different destination (figure 1). Each pair of students was accompanied by an adult, who safeguarded the students' welfare, and kept a record of where the students went, and what they said and did. There was a small reward (a compass) for students when they reached the destination.
Instructions to the Students (via teachers):
- This field trip has two purposes. The first is to let you practice and improve your map-using skills. The second is to learn more about how children use maps, so that we can figure out better ways to teach map-reading.
- You will be working in pairs. You and your partner will have a map of a part of Central Park. This is the same area that you explored in the computer application Where are We?.
- The map shows your starting point, and also your target destination. Your challenge is to use the map to get from the starting point to the target destination. There will be a small treasure for you when you get there.
- Notice that the destination on your map has a number. When you get to the real destination, you will be able to find that same number on a tag on a tree or lamppost. You may see other tags with other numbers along your route; ignore them.
- An adult will walk with you and your partner. The adult will be taking some notes about what you do and say. You won't be judged or marked on what you do or say--the note taking is to help us improve the way we teach map skills to all children, not to grade individual student's performances.
- Stay on the footpaths, and don't cross any roads. If you come to a road with cars on it, you are going the wrong direction and should turn back.
- Every pair of students has a different target destination. It won't help to follow another pair of students, even if they seem to know where they are going. Please don't offer help or ask for help from other pairs of students.
Instructions to Adult Observers:
- You don't have to bring anything special with you, just comfortable walking shoes. We will provide you with a stopwatch, a clipboard, two maps of the field area (one larger scale, one smaller scale), log sheets for keeping notes, and two small compasses (to be hidden until the students reach the destination, and then given to them as their "treasure").
- You will be working with a pair of second grade students. Your most important responsibility is to keep your pair of students safe--out of the pond, off the roads, not irrevokably lost.
- Your second most important responsibility is to keep a record of what your pair of students say and do.
- When the pair leaves the starting point, start your stop watch. Clicking the right hand button starts the timer. Clicking the right hand button again stops the timer. Clicking the left hand button resets the timer to zero.
- Each minute, mark the location of your student pair on the map, as well as you can estimate it. Put an "X" on the map, and write the time in minutes elapsed since leaving starting point next to the "X."
- Begin your map-marking on the large scale map that has the starting point and target destinations on it (the Where are We? map). If the students go astray, they may wander off the edge of this map. In that case, shift to the other map, which covers a larger area.
- Your copy of the Where are We? map has all nine of the target destinations marked on it. Each target destination corresponds to a numbered tag on a tree or lamppost. You can use the other numbered tags to verify your position on the map for your record-keeping. The children's copy of the map has only their own specific target destination marked. Don't let them see your copy of the map.
- Write down any comments that students make pertaining to way-finding and map-reading. Note gestures that accompany comment. [i.e. "I think if we go this way (points to western path) we will come to the pond again."] Note the speaker and the time of the comment in minutes elapsed since leaving the starting point.
- Don't worry if you can't get a position fix every minute or if you can't write down all the pertinent comments. Do the best you can, and then tell us about your data-collecting problems after it is all over. One of the objectives of this outing is to find out whether this data collecting scheme is viable.
- Encourage the students to try to find their way to the target destination without any help from you. But if they ask for help in a major way, that is your signal to switch from data-collector to helper/teacher. Make a note of what has happened, mark the location on the map. Then help students figure out where they are on the map, and help them find the way to their target destination.
- If it gets to be 10:45 in the morning session, or 1:15 in the afternoon session, and the children haven't found their destination and haven't asked for help, you are going to have to help them anyway. Mark down their position on the map. Then help them figure out where they are on the map, and help them find their way to the target destination.
- Don't give any little hints or clues in the early part of the experiment. Give all the hints and clues you can think of after either (a) the time limit has expired, or (b) the students have asked you to help them. But up until that time, we are trying to get a clear record of what the students can do on their own, and the record will be hard to interpret if different groups get different hints and clues.
- When the children reach the target destination, whether or not you had to help them find their way, give them their treasure (small compasses). Keep the compasses out of sight until you get to the target destination. Every child should get a compass.
- After finding the target destination and distributing the compasses, bring the students back to the rendezvous point (grassy area north of starting point). Morning students must be back at the rendezvous point by 11:15 at the very latest. Afternoon students must be back by 2:00 at the very latest. It's OK to bring them back early; there is room to play and the teacher will be there waiting for them.
- In the event of any kind of unforeseen problem--sick child, whatever--stop what you are doing and return to the rendezvous area (grassy area just north of starting point), where the teacher will be waiting.
The results of the in-the-park assessment are summarized as a series of appended maps and associated notes. Each map represents the experience of one pair of students. In this text, the maps are referred to by target ID and "am" or "pm" for morning or afternoon (for example "group (6)pm" refers to the group heading towards target #6 in the afternoon session). The route followed by the student pair is marked on the map, annotated with the time elapsed (minutes:seconds) since leaving the starting point. The notes indicate what students said and/or did; numbers represent the time elapsed (minutes:seconds) since leaving starting point; the initials indicate which student was speaking or acting.
At the end of the notes section of each map, there is a summary of "Experimenter's Notes", with salient observations about that pair's experiences. Some overarching observations:
- Of the 16 pairs of students, 15 successfully located their target without adult assistance. This success rate is higher than I (KK) expected.
- Several observers reported that one student completely dominated the map-using and decision-making (e.g. group (2)am), and they thought that the less dominant student might not have found the target successfully by himself/herself. Thus the 15/16 success rate might overstate the students' ability.
- Of the 16 pairs, ten went directly to their target without wrong turns or other errors.
- Of the 16 pairs, five made a significant error, but were able to recognize by themselves that they had made an error, figure out where they were, and find their way back to their target. The errors included going past the target [groups (1)am, (2)am], identifying the wrong marker [group (1)pm], or making a wrong turn [groups (4)am and (5)pm].
- The one group [(3)pm] that did not succeed in reaching their target unassisted made no errors or wrong turns. Their feet were doing the right thing the whole time. But they were convinced that they were in a completely different location (on the east side of the map rather than the west), they lost confidence, gave up, and asked for help.
- There was wide variability in performance. For example, contrast group (2)am, who took 27 minutes and wandered all over the map before reaching target, with group (2)pm, who went directly to the same target in 8 minutes.
- There was no systematic difference in performance between morning and afternoon that might be attributed to different teachers' effectiveness. In several cases the morning students (who had not seen an example marker) took a long time to find the marker after they had reached the correct vicinity. Afternoon students (who had seen an example marker) had less trouble with this.
- Some groups had remarkable faith in their own map-using skills. For example, group (6)am searched vicinity of target for 8 minutes, knowing marker had to be there (even though they didn't spot it at first). I (KK) would have expected them to doubt their location determination and wander away down the path faster than that. Another example: group (3)am came back and told me (KK) that marker number (3) was in the wrong place. They were correct; marker had been placed north of the path rather than south of the path as shown on map.
- Student pairs who found targets easily tended be those who used non-ephemeral, distinctive landmarks. Most useful landmarks include stairs [groups (1)pm, (6)pm, (7)am), (8)pm], Cop Cot rustic shelter [group (6)am], water [groups (6)am, (6)pm], fence [groups (6)am, (7)am], and bridge [groups (7)pm, (9)pm].
- Groups who had difficulty tended either not to use landmarks or to use inappropriate landmarks. Inappropriate landmarks include ephemeral features such as "robin" and "squirrel" [group (5)pm], and features that are not on the map such as lampposts and hot dog stand.
- Most students responded to objects as they saw them. However, group (5)pm planned part of their route in advance "we should go straight until we come to the steps, and then go up", anticipating what they would see and do along the way.
- At least one group used a landmark as negative evidence that they had not made a wrong turn or gone too far [group (9)pm: "We are not supposed to go over the bridge; we are on the right side."] This group found their target without error or mishap.
Thoughts for future use of in-the-park assessment tool:
- Obviously, we should have a control group who haven't used Where are We? Problem: teachers don't want to have students with no exposure
to maps do such an activity because of risk of large numbers of unsuccessful,
unhappy students. Possibility for next year:
- class one: classroom map curriculum > Central Park > Where are We?
- class two: classroom map curriculum > Where are We? > Central Park
- This assessment was carried out in the same area that Where are We? was filmed. This was at the request of the teachers, who thought the students would enjoy it more that way. However, it is difficult to separate out knowledge gained by prior experience in the [virtual] field area from knowledge gained by examination of the map. Next time, we should move to a field area that is similar to Where are We? area, but not identical. Area around the sailboat pond, south of museum, is suitable. Prepare a map using the same symbols as Where are We? map, at the same scale.
- Student pairs versus individuals? Some observers thought that one of the students of their pair did all the thinking and deciding, and the other might not have been successful alone. We should think carefully about whether we should be assessing students alone rather than in pairs. Advantages of pairs: (a) by listening to them talk and recording what they say, we have a window into their thought processes; (b) it is easier to handle nine pairs than 18 individuals, as far as providing separate targets and analysing results; (c) students learned from each other during the investigation.
- Basically, the in-the-park organization and procedures worked well.
Nine pairs is about the maximum that can be handled, practically speaking.
Minor improvements would improve the quality and completeness of the data,
and remove some elements that were distracting or confusing to the students.
- Combine Observer's map and logsheet on one page.
- Use letters instead of numbers for target ID's (easier to read results maps).
- Show example target to students (did this in afternoon, but not morning).
- Put targets at kid's eye height (they were too high this time).
- Stress "no hints" to observers.
- Stress putting elapsed times on map and/or logsheet to observers.
- Encourage all Observers to write some general comments at the end of the session.
Thoughts for further development of "Where are We?" and associated materials:
- As noted in classroom evaluation notes, Where are We? should have targets and starting point organized so that students spend more time travelling south (hardest direction because left-right on map are reversed from left-right in person's-eye view).
- Rotating the map to align with real world (as opposed to keeping it oriented with north up or away from body) is a good strategy, which several students adopted spontaneously. Investigate how hard it would be to permit rotation of Where are We? map.
- Use of appropriate landmarks (not ephemeral, not overly common) seemed to be an important strategy for students who found targets easily. Identifying good landmarks can be practiced in classroom with Where are We?. How can we encourage this? Discuss it in Teacher's Guide; possibly include video snippet of student explaining how he/she decided which landmarks to pay attention to.
- At least one successful pair consciously planned their route in advance. This can also be practiced in classroom with Where are We?. How can we encourage this? Again, discuss it in the Teacher's Guide, and possibly include video snippet of student explaining his/her plan.
- At least one successful group used landmarks as negative evidence that they had not gone astray. The strategy of thinking about what would be seen if the students make a specific choice, or would have been seen if the students had made a specific choice, can be practiced in the classroom with Where are We?. When students plan their route in advance (see previous bullet), they can be encouraged to figure out what they would see if they are going the right way, and what they would see if they have inadvertantly turned the wrong way.
This work was funded by an Oracle Media Objects Challenge grant and the following grant from the National Science Foundation: ESI-96-17852 (Kastens & McClintock). 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.