Thursday, September 15, 2011

Geography On A Different Scale

Most traditional geography terms refer to what is shown in a map. They rely on standard categories of political, topographic, climate, economic, etc. Geography labels, however, rarely mention how information is shown. With our students, we like to incorporate additional clarifications that help them understand how geographic information is presented in a map.

To understand scale, we talk about microgeography and macrogeography. To pinpoint a map's focus, we discuss static and fluid representations. These newer definitions can enhance overall understanding:

Scale – how large of an area is included in a map
  • Microgeography – the detailed study of a specific location on a smaller scale
  • Macrogeography – the larger-scale examination of an area, often in order to observe patterns or relationships
Focus – what details are included in a map
  • Static – a map showing a fixed setting or a fixed point in time
  • Fluid – a map showing movement or change in time, position, or detail
Fresh lenses on traditional maps can help students classify the images they encounter and can assist them in developing their own visualizations of places and events. One great way to integrate these geographic understandings into a day's lesson is to use a two-by-two matrix. Here, students can compare maps within a moveable grid:

Design: ASIDE; Image sources: Wikimedia Commons
Students can place a particular map within the matrix, according to how they comprehend the scale and focus of a given image (such as the continent of Africa or the D-Day invasion). As they add other maps, they might adjust their prior placements. This practice of fine-tuning reinforces the notion of relational meaning. It offers a great way to encapsulate a host of related maps, such as World War II or colonial settlements or Silk Road visualizations. Interactive whiteboards make this exercise particularly easy, but any tactile interaction would work fine, from PowerPoint projections to old-school chalkboards to cutout pictures on top of construction paper.

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