“ From Vancouver Island to the Alberta Highlands, cross the prairies the lakes to Ontario’s Towers, from the sound of Mont Royals Chimes, out to the Maritimes”
For the last three weeks elementary students at LFAS have had the privilege of exploring Canada on one of Canadian Geographic Education’s Giant Floor Maps of Canada. We have walked from Tofino to Labrador and the Great Lakes to Elsmere Island. Covering much of the country in our journey. Students have been able to experience the vastness that is living in the second largest country in the world.
The last 3 weeks have given me a chance to share things that I am passionate about with my students. To me geography is a unifying discipline between all other academic disciplines; it is not just knowing provinces and their capitals. Geography asks “ where?” “ why there?” ,”what is there?”, and “ why do we care?”. Geography examines the relationship between people in their environment. Students in K-12 can use the 5 themes of geography as long as they are presented in an approachable way for each age group. The five themes of geography are place, location, movement, interaction and region. Place describes the value that people place on a particular space or location. Location may be relative or absolute giving a street address or GPS coordinates. Movement describes pathways for getting people, animals and other materials from one place to another and the patterns in which things move between places. Interaction is how people modify and work with their environment and how the environment impacts human lives. Region describes both naturally and human created regions and the relationships between the people, their environment and other regions.
Geography is truly multi disciplinary and forms a bridge between many disciplines. We can explore math through measurement and calculating the area on maps as well as scale and ratios. Geography can also look at speed or velocity and acceleration when looking at slope creep or deforestation. Geography teaches students to think beyond the box of a single discipline. As our world becomes more connected we need students who understand the connections between places and individuals. Geography fosters those skills.
Learning and teaching geography should and can be fun and multi disciplinary. We are not limited to colouring and labeling maps of Canada! Students can use a range of online tools from Arc GIS online, to Google maps and many others to create maps and begin to really look closely at the patterns that emerge in a map. We again can connect mapping and geography to math, in patterns, statistics, measuring and geometry. This can then be extended to include social studies and look at populations and population density. The numbers may look interesting in a chart in the textbook but when the population density is added to the map the students can now begin to visualize just how many people live in a given area and can make comparisons between areas. Geography also connects to science and is not limited to earth science, we can explore the geography of biomes and see where they are located in the earths surface and how their location may impact their characteristics. Even language arts can be connected to geography, every good story has a setting or a place, students can imagine the geography of the place or if the story is set in the real world explore the place using tools such as Google maps or Google street view. I have had students create maps of both real and imaginary locations and map characters journeys through stories.
For me a challenge has been to connect geography to the arts in a meaningful way. How do we make both come together in a way that is meaningful? Students can apply elements of design such as colour and line when creating maps. The other thing that we had fun playing with artistically was connecting music to the map, we were able to sing about different parts of the country and use music to help us learn where different things were. By using traditional and not so traditional music we were able to connect to both historic and modern culture and bring it to life on the map. We also used creative movement such as “ swimming” in bodies of water, or “paddling” waterways to connect to them and help us remember places.
One of the most awe-inspiring takeaways I had was watching my students sense of place and understanding of the country of Canada grow during their time on the map. They build connections in a real and tangible way that would be difficult to duplicate in other settings, the map allowed the students to get their bodies on the map and physically make the connections.
“What is the sense of place?
It is a combination of characteristics that makes a place special and unique. Sense of place involves the human experience in a landscape, the local knowledge and folklore. Sense of place also grows from identifying oneself in relation to a particular piece of land on the surface of planet Earth.
Another way of looking at sense of place is contrast: places like strip malls have little sense of place because they more or less all look very similar, often have no name and no one who wants to spend any time there or write anything about them. Whereas places that exhibit a strong sense of place have an identity and character recognized immediately by a visitor and valued deeply by residents.” – http://www.artofgeography.com/info/the-sense-of-place
People have a fundamental need to establish a sense of place. Or a connection the where they are. Think about how you navigate your self, you probably have a collection of land marks or intersections in your minds that for a mental map of the place in which you live. All people do this; it is an innate connection to your place. In this case place has a very specific meaning as a space or location with meaning; it is the meaning that we attach to it that makes a place a place not its presence on the earth. This means that a place to one person may be a space to another who does not hold the same connection. By having students explore maps of familiar places and of Canada it helps them to build their sense of place. They begin to see the relationships between them selves and the places important to them increasing their mental map. To me this is a fundamental part of geographic education, enabling students to discover the relationship between themselves, their environment and the community as well as the places in it. It is very difficult to begin to understand and learn about other places if you do not first understand your own and connects to it. Building students sense of place can happen on things like the giant floor map of Canada as well as on a walk to the fire hall or police station in your neighbourhood. The important learning there is connecting children in a meaningful and tangible way to their place.
In closing, having the Giant Floor Map of Canada at my school was a hugely powerful and motivating experience for both the teachers and the students. I especially loved getting to share my passion for geography and maps with those in my school community and seeing students and even a few teachers’ eyes light up as they looked at something a new way and tried something new.
Thank you to the wonderful staff and students at my school, for allowing me to bring this in and share one of my passions with you. And another huge thank you (again) to Canadian Geographic for their loan of the map.
What other strategies do other teachers use to connect geography to the rest of the curriculum? How are you helping students develop their sense of place?