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Geography Awareness Week-Get Lost in Mapping: Find Your Place in the World

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I am guest blogging on My Wonderful World Blog (National Geographic Education Foundation) in honor of Geography Awareness Week 2009 the week of November 15 – 21!

This year’s theme is “Get Lost in Mapping: Find Your Place in the World”.

geography

I wanted to share a successful geography lesson that continues to grow throughout the school year.  I have blogged about the  News Events Assignments with a Twitst and The Logistics of creating a Current News Events Google Map previously.

The lesson was born out of a very traditional  “Current Events Assignment”, handed in to the teacher on paper, which had been part of the curriculum for years.

The Middle School Social Studies teacher at my school (Martin J.Gottlieb Day School) was not satisfied with the paper and pencil assignment and was looking to bring the old and tried task into the 21st century. She wanted students to not merely be looking up random and disconnected news events that were handed in to her on a weekly basis. She wanted students to be really making connections among these events by involving higher level thinking skills such as evaluating, analyzing and creating. The new assignment was to not only involve geography skills, but also bring into the lesson information literacy and global awareness.

We decided to create a collaborative map for each grade level (6th, 7th, and 8th grade) with Google Maps. Each student was assigned a different colored or shaped placemark within Google Maps . They were also given the class username and password to be able to log in from home.

googlemaps-8th grade

Their weekly “Current News Events” assignment now consisted in:

  • Logging into their grade level map
  • Placing a placemark on the location the news event had taken place
  • Entering the location’s country as the title of the placemark
  • Using the description box to add a category the news article was falling under (Ex. politics, environment, entertainment, etc.)
  • The source link to the original news article or citation if from a paper newspaper
  • A summary of the article. Preferably in 140 characters or less.

Since the start of the assignment,  several weeks have passed and new lessons have been learned, input from educators around the world received and new dimensions to the lesson have crystallized themselves.

As more news events are added,  we are asking questions such as:

  • In what category do most news events we added fall?
  • In what continents and countries are these news items in?
  • What area of the world do we know or hear the most or least about? Why?
  • How can we expand our horizon to cover more areas of the globe?

It has been good to observe that students are branching out in their search for sources. They are reading newspapers from different locations around the world, such as the UK, Australia, and Japan.

They are realizing that:

  • different sources bring different points of view, opinions and kinds of news items.
  • not all perspectives are represented in one source
  • to get a “fuller” picture of a news event, you have to look at more than one source
  • location of a source influences the content and perspective of the article

We  are asking ourselves:

  • What does it mean if the majority of our sources are US based by coming from CNN.com and Foxnews.com?
  • How are other countries affected by events happening in different countries or continents?
  • What is ( or is there) a difference in terms of validity of news when the source is BBC or Comedy Central?

Each week students, after they have entered their news event, present the location and summary of their placemark to the class on the SmartBoard.

As students present their news event, other students are working with their laptops at their desk and are editing their peer’s placemark. They are becoming collaborators and critical thinkers  by validating and cross-referencing sources, asking for clarifications if the summary was not understood and making suggestions to where to place the placemark best.  As Mrs. R., their teacher said:

In previous “Current News Events” assignment, there was never an element of self- and collaborative checking of their work. Students handed in their news event and summary on a paper. I was the only one reading it.  The collaborative web based map has brought a new dimension of deeper thinking.

Why are students motivated to go over and check their own and classmate’s work?

Students are aware that their Google Maps of Current Events have been viewed by over 10,000  people (all three maps combined). Over 20 comments have been left by others from far away countries such as Israel, Australia and Korea, leaving students with a sense of pride and that what they do in class matters. Other teachers are using their maps as examples to teach their students. Commenters have:

  • asked students to add source links to the original articles
  • requested that we double check location placemarks
  • challenged students about the “worthiness” of adding articles in the entertainment category
  • encouraged students to look for patterns about their news event locations
  • shared links to images about a news event

As the Social Studies teacher and I reflect on this weekly task, we want to continue to add new elements and enter into additional phases of the assignment in order to prevent it from becoming routine or just another thing to do for the students.

We are contemplating:

  • To give students a broad topic and asking them to find relevant news sources, representative of different countries? Is there a difference in the “facts” that are reported or omitted depending on location? What is their “take” on a specific event?
  • Ask students to come up with a world news topic, add their opinion and take on the subject, then ask others around the world to contribute their unique perspective to that topic.
  • Have students analyze responses from different locations around the world and consider responses on basis of geography.

What are your thoughts and ideas how to expand, develop and create even more facets to this assignment?

Take a look at the GoogleMaps at and leave a comment for our 6th graders, 7th graders and 8th graders.

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  1. [...] two of the guest blog posts for the GAW blog-a-thon on Monday (one by Joseph Kerski and another by Sylvia Rosenthal Tolisano) discussed the unique ways that free applications are being used to enhance geography awareness. We [...]

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