Above photo: Map keys began to make sense once students could stand in the middle of the Carpathian Mountains and look northeast toward the Ukraine.

This grant was awarded to Rosman Middle/High School media coordinator Sarah Justice for her grant “Where in the World Is Rosman, North Carolina.” The $610 TCSEF grant enabled Justice to rent a 25’ x 25’ National Geographic floor map of Europe for two weeks. Included with the map is a trunk of supplies and activities that allow educators to create curriculum-aligned activities and lesson plans to support geographical literacy.

The moment you walk into the Rosman Middle/High School media center, you know something is different. Instead of tables, chairs, and shelves of books, you see a huge map of Europe spread out across the floor. Yes, it’s 25’ x 25’ and students have an open invitation to walk throughout the continent–sock feet only! It’s an effort to get students up close and personal with geography and how geography has created opportunities and problems for the world’s peoples now and since the beginning of civilization.

The morning I visited, teacher Sara Cathey’s 9th grade Earth Science class was scheduled to visit. Although they had studied latitude and longitude previously, the map gave students an opportunity to practice those skills and apply them in identifying landmarks and topographical features by calculating coordinates.

First, however, Sarah Justice, the schools’ library media coordinator, asked students to sit down on a European country of their choice.  She then proceeded to guide them through a discussion of map reading on a very large scale.  Countries are labeled in black capital letters; oceans, in blue caps.  Each country’s capital is identified by a star surrounded by a circle.  Red lines are major roadways; polka dots, deserts.  They talked about where most capital cities are located (near water) and why; why some border lines are dashes instead of solid (they are referred to as disrupted borders because wars change borders constantly); and how to find latitude and longitude when a round world is laid out on a flat surface.

And then the fun began. Justice and Cathey allowed the students to self-select into four teams. Each team had four cards, each with a coordinate identified. Students were to find the coordinate using two plastic chains that identified the exact latitude and longitude, and then answer one or more questions about that coordinate. What is the name of the peninsula located near 60°N, 15°W? Scandinavia. What is the inland ocean near 40°N, 50°E? Caspian Sea.

The team that finished first was able to use a special View Master that uses the Google Street View and Google Cardboard apps with a smartphone to have a virtual reality tour of such places as the Eiffel Tower, the Sistine Chapel, or Looking Glass Falls.

Rosman High School 9th grader Chesney Hightower works with her team to find the latitude and longitude of the Aegean Sea.

Even the most jaded teen was intrigued when, after finding the Eiffel Tower’s coordinates on the floor map, he was handed a View Master that allowed him to “stand” on a Paris street and look up at the Eiffel Tower, then back down, and turn around to see the buildings on the other side–just as if he were on that Paris sidewalk in person!

Earth Science student Chellbie Messer (left) awaits her turn as Tabitha Nelson (right) scans the Eiffel Tower from top to street level through the View Master using Smartphone apps Google Street View and Google Cardboard.

Since the map is at the school for ten days, almost all the middle and high school classes have had a chance to visit it based on their specific curricula. For instance, the American History class is using the map to enhance their study of World War II. They can calculate latitude and longitude to locate the places where the world leaders were, plot troop movements across borders, and locate important battles.

The 8th grade finance classes found European capitals, noted the waterways near each, and discussed the relationship between geography, transportation, trade, and economic development. They even talked about how various countries share the same waterways or highways, and how this might lead to cooperation or tension.

Seventh grade Math has learned how to use the map’s scale to measure distance, planning a vacation that takes them across Europe using airplanes, trains, boats, and cars. Starting from Prague, teams received a destination–Tromsø, Norway; Murcia, Spain; Kaliningrad, Russia; or Reykjavik, Iceland. Each team had to find the shortest route for their journey while using all four modes of transportation, taking into consideration both time, distance.

Art used latitude and longitude to find sixteen European museums on the map, then used Google Street View and Google Cardboard to tour some of the museums’ collections virtually.

A high school multimedia, web design class talked about map design, with Justice pulling various types of maps–from an intricate, artful Shakespeare’s England map, to state road maps, to Google or Apple maps on a smartphone–to illustrate how map design follows and determines map function.

A health occupations class divided into groups of students to use the map to identify a country needing assistance and design a brochure to convince Doctors without Borders to provide aid for their targeted population.

Third graders Colton Hudson (left) and Jack Patterson (right) traveled from T.C. Henderson to Sweden via National Geographic map activities in the Rosman High School media center.

But Justice has found ways to share this unique resource with the community. TC Henderson’s 3rd, 4th, and 5th grade classes spent the afternoon learning about map symbols and how to use the map keys. And the school hosted a community night so that parents and interested individuals across the county could shed their shoes, don their imaginations, and walk across Europe.

Third graders Colton Hudson (left) and Jack Patterson (right) traveled from T.C. Henderson to Sweden via National Geographic map activities in the Rosman High School media center.

Photo Credits: Kevin Smith, Transylvania County Schools
Frances Bryant Bradburn is the 1:1 Teaching and Learning Consultant as part of a Golden LEAF Foundation grant to the Friday Institute for Educational Innovation at North Carolina State University.