Map at Northwestern

GO WEST, YOUNG MAN ... AND LADIES: Melissa Martin, from Geography Educators Network of Indiana, leads students through activities on a 26-by-35 foot map detailing North and Central Americas as part of the National Geographic Giant Traveling Map program at Northwestern Elementary School on Tuesday.

Kathy Collins’ first-graders dipped their toes in the Mississippi River, stood in the Rocky Mountains and sat in the Atlantic Ocean, all in a few minutes time.

This was not the greatest field trip of all time ... in fact, the children never left the Northwestern fieldhouse.

They and the rest of the students at Northwestern Elementary learned about North American landmarks this week through a National Geographic Giant Traveling Map program.

Melissa Martin, from Geography Educators Network of Indiana, led students through activities on the giant traveling map of North America, a 26-by-35 foot map detailing the Earth from Alaska Aleutian Islands to the Panama Canal, and Iceland to Baja California.

Students take off their shoes and then can walk, sit or lay on the map, finding landmarks, playing games, and learning about geography.

Martin said the goal is “just to excite the kids about geography and bring it to life.”

Collins’ first-graders sit on either side of the Mississippi River, which Martin outlines with a long blue chain. She explains how if they drop trash into the Wildcat Creek, it can flow into the Wabash River, then into the Ohio River before eventually ending in the Mississippi River, which empties into the Gulf of Mexico.

“All that water goes somewhere,” she said.

Collins said teachers could access a website with suggested activities before the map arrived. Her class has been studying American Indians, and the kids were excited to find where they lived on the big map, she said.

“They can actually physically be on it and walk around,” she said, adding that geography can be a hard concept for younger children.

“This makes it a little more real.”

Activities are tailored by grade level, and Martin said she worked with all grade levels at Northwestern Elementary Monday and Tuesday.

When fifth-graders came in, Martin gave them some time to explore. She pointed out Hawaii, which on a standard map is shown south of Arizona, she said. She has Hawaii on a separate map several feet away from the North America map, demonstrating its position in the Pacific Ocean. Alaska also is in its correct position north of Canada, she said.

Next up is a game of “Simon Says,” with teacher Jane Myer reading out directions to lie down in the Atlantic Ocean, put a toe in the Mississippi River, sit in the Rocky Mountains, stand in a state bordering Mexico and put a toe in a Great Lake.

Martin later had students find cities on the map and place cones on them, showing the areas with greatest population at time periods in history. In 1900, all the cones except one were east of the Mississippi, and they talked about how most people lived there because the United States was settled from the east. The one cone west was in San Francisco, because of the gold rush, Martin said.

Myer said the map activities give the students more of a feel for the United States, which will help in their social studies lessons of the 50 states, which is part of the fifth-grade standards.

“We’re all about North America,” she said.

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