Maps! (Wait... what?!)

Post date: Jan 3, 2014 8:09:15 PM

I hate maps.

There, I said it.

I've always hated maps. I hate using them and I really hate teaching them. I've always found maps to be far too simple to be worth my time. I felt this before I had a GPS in my car and way before nearly every single person in my classroom had one in their pocket. Technology has grown to such a point that maps are absolutely worthless.

Yet, I have a beautiful one hanging over my fireplace and one of my favorite books to share with my students is one about the art and design of early maps. So, I guess my hatred isn't actually maps, just how we use and teach them.

I decided to see if I could do it differently and I think I have. I've worked on this lab for well over a month now. It started with me wanting to find the map(s) that Columbus used as his inspiration to seek a Western route to China. That led me (thanks Internet!) to the Catalan Atlas - a stunningly beautiful piece of art. This map from 1375 is one of the first to show China in a recognizable form so it seemed like it was what I wanted. I spent weeks trying to find translations of the map (turns out not many people speak or read Catalonian... who knew?) In the course of my search I found more than a handful of other wonderful maps from the time period as well as an EdSITEment lesson about looking at maps through time. I was reminded of a great clip from The West Wing about map projections and orientation. I started and restarted the plan a half a dozen times. It was a one day lesson, a 30 minute lesson and then ultimately a two day lesson. It was an introduction to the unit and a possible assessment. A lot can happen in a month.

Eventually it all came together and is now done and ready to try on my students when we return from break. I think they are going to love it. Part 1 is an analysis of the Catalan Atlas and its incredible images. I'm especially excited about playing Where's Marco? with my kids. Part 2 uses those analysis skills to analyze 5 more maps and place them into chronological order. It culminates with students creating a medieval style map of their own school.

I'm sure I'll have a dozen more changes after actually doing the lab but check it out!

Part 1 Part 2