Academic journal article Social Education

Maps and Map Learning in Social Studies

Academic journal article Social Education

Maps and Map Learning in Social Studies

Article excerpt

"Research & Practice," established early in 2001, features educational research that is directly relevant to the work of classroom teachers. Here, I invited geographer Sarah Bednarz and her colleagues to summarize the research on teaching and learning with maps in the social studies curriculum.--Walter C. Parker, "Research and Practice" Editor, University of Washington, Seattle

Maps are not the whole of geography, but there can be no geography without them. In fact, well-known geographers have often defined their subject around maps and map use. In 1939, Richard Hartshorne stated, "So important is the use of maps in geographic work that ... it seems fair to suggest to the geographer if the problem cannot be studied fundamentally by maps ... then it is questionable whether or not it is within the field of geography." (1) Fifty years later Peter Haggett expressed the same sentiment even more directly and succinctly: "Geography is the art of the mappable." (2)

Since 1990, the importance of maps and other graphic representations has become even more important to geography and geographers. This is due, to a large extent, to the development and widespread diffusion of geographic (spatial) technologies. As computers and silicon chips have become more capable and less expensive, geographic information systems (GIS), global positioning satellite (GPS) receivers, and remotely sensed images of Earth from airplanes and satellites have become accessible to geography students and faculty at all levels. These technologies are key research and communication tools for geographers and have significantly increased interest in geography as evidenced by rising enrollments in university undergraduate and graduate programs. (3) Another indication of the growing importance of maps is a rising interest among geographers, psychologists, and cognitive scientists in spatial thinking, the kind of thinking that underpins map reading and interpretation. Spatial thinking is the knowledge, skills, and habits of mind to use spatial concepts, maps and graphs, and processes of reasoning in order to organize and solve problems. (4)

Of course geospatial technologies and their products are available to students and faculty in all disciplines, and they have become ever more common in the daily lives of more and more people. In fact, one can argue that the ability to use maps, images, and spatial technologies intelligently and critically is becoming a requirement to participate effectively as a citizen in modern society. Consider these four developments:

1. Travelers, hikers, hunters, and fishers frequently use GPS systems to find their locations and to assist them in getting to their destination. These systems are also becoming more common in automobiles.

2. Google, the most popular internet search utility, now offers users maps at virtually any scale desired and, recently, through Google Earth, remotely sensed images that users can view from any direction or angle.

3. Governments and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) typically make information available via printed and, increasingly, online maps. For example, the federal government lets online users map census data; cities and towns post their planning and land-use maps on the internet; and property tax districts post maps of tax rates and assessed values on their websites. NGOs are using 'participatory GIS" or web-based GIS mapping tools to allow stakeholders to interactively explore spatial aspects of a wide range of issues, from urban neighborhood revitalization efforts to cleanup decisions at a plutonium production facility. (5)

4. Static and animated maps are much more common in today's newspapers, magazines, and electronic media than they were 20 years ago. As the cost of producing and reproducing maps and images has declined, the media have increased both the amount and the sophistication of the materials they publish. These maps play an important role in both representing and reproducing space. …

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