How comfortable are you with teaching map skills? If you are like me, the answer is eh… Read on for ideas that will change that!
Let’s be honest. Map skills are one of those things that get pushed to the back burner. I mean, in today’s world we have GPS to get us where we need to go, right? While this may be true, map skills still provide an opportunity for our students to think critically. By refraining from teaching map skills, we are really doing our students a disservice.
Map Skills Isn’t Just a Unit in Your Curriculum
I am willing to bet if you took a look at your scope and sequence you would find a map skills unit. It is likely found towards the beginning of the year.
While it is incredibly tempting to teach that unit and then forget about map skills, you checked that box, right?
Not so much!
The ability to read and create maps is a processing skill that should be included in every unit of social studies, and possibly other subjects as well. Move past the idea of keeping maps in social studies. Create maps based on the setting of books you are reading or use them to study coordinates. When you begin thinking about it, there is no limit to where you can use maps across the subjects.
Map Skills are a Life Skills
Whether you are hiking in an area without cell service, giving directions, or creating a map yourself, map skills are a life skill.
Can you determine the cardinal directions without a compass? You should be able to, and so should your students.
Learning simple strategies, like determining direction based on the position of the sun, can come in handy in daily life. They become critical in emergency situations.
Not to go all prepper on you, but imagine you are stuck after an extreme weather event. You need to find your way to a local shelter. It is likely cell service will not be available. Being able to navigate based on landmarks and the sun or stars becomes life-saving.
They Aren’t Just Directions
When some people think of maps they think of giving directions. Yes, maps can be used for directions and finding your way, but they are so much more!
Maps help us to plan for the future. For example, you might look at an elevation map to determine where the best place on a piece of property is to build a house or place a septic system.
When we encourage students to use maps beyond how to get from “Point A” to “Point B” we encourage them to think critically, in a real-world way.
Map Skills Can Be Practiced Anywhere
Think beyond the classroom walls and take your practice outdoors! You could travel to a new location, or have your students create a map of the playground or a local park.
The practice of creating maps helps students to engage with their environment and think more deeply about the world that surrounds them. Encourage students to design different types of maps such as resource maps, political maps, landform maps, elevation maps, precipitation maps, and more!
They Are Engaging
Students are naturally curious about the world around them, and we can tap into that curiosity and use it to engage them with maps.
Imagine a lesson in which you present your students with a map full of symbols and allow them to brainstorm different things the symbols could stand for before presenting them with the key. I have completed this activity with students, and they loved it.
Map Skills Help Us Understand Our World
More than anything, students need to understand that maps are how we understand our world. While GPS apps have made it easier than ever to use maps you still need the skills to understand the information they are giving you.
Maps help us to prepare for our futures, make plans, and gain a greater knowledge of our environment.
Where Should You Start?
First of all, make sure your classroom includes maps. I personally believe every classroom should have a map of their state and country as well as a world map at a bare minimum. Next, use them! Make a habit of asking students questions about the maps. This doesn’t take a whole lot of forethought, they can be spontaneous and used to fill the small gaps of time between other learning.
When you are ready to take a deeper dive, check out this unit, and get prepare yourself for incorporating these ideas throughout your year!