Let me just preface this post and emphasise that I love technology, I am an advocate for technology and I use technology in my teaching when and where it is appropriate to maximise student learning. I don’t dispute that technology allows innovation and that it engages students, I think technology is fantastic and opens up educational opportunities that need to be taken advantage of.
However, what I do think is worrying is the tendency for technology to be used no matter what. I know that there are others in the EdTech arena who joyfully think the use of technology has all the answers (pedagogically) and that it (deservedly) will replace the more conventional ways of doing things.
One such quote I came across on a Blog from an Edtech advocate (whose musings I follow with interest) seems to think we can dispense with map reading skills just because we all have Google Maps on our smartphones (map reading skills are redundant?)
“I’m not quite sure how I would have survived in Japan without Google Maps! Which makes me wonder, why do we teach students about the world around us with paper maps and an atlas, when we can get out there and explore the world around us – just the way we do when we’re trying to navigate a new city.”
BUT (and it is a big but), it is still important to learn how to read printed maps too as the skills for reading a real map and using Google Maps are very very different!
Below are just some of the reasons why good map reading skills are important and how great they are for making cross curricular links.
Choosing the right map.
The very choice of which map to use is an education in itself, road maps for drivers with highways and byways, tourist maps for sightseeing, with famous landmarks, topographic maps for hikers, maps for pilots that feature air routes, terminal areas, plus landmarks and tall things that planes would be wise to avoid, even trench maps for history enthusiasts.
Understanding the map
Where do I start? There are so many skills needed to be able to understand and use a map effectively that can be mastered with very little effort.
The skills (that are no longer needed?)
Knowing a map's orientation (how it matches where you are standing on the ground using the sun, landmarks or other markers to work out your current position). Also knowing how to work out where students want to go using a compass and know how bearings work (also knowledge of angles) so they can then set off in the right direction.
Understanding a map’s scale means students understand the ratio of map distance to real distance and these vary from map to map. Using a map’s scale, students can physically measure and determine how far their destination is using a ruler and calculate the amount of time it would take.
Understanding map symbols as maps use symbols to represent detail in the real world; many of them reflect the actual shapes of what they represent (these are links back into history and humanities topics).
Understanding contour lines (the faint red/brown lines) that show the height or flatness of land. Each line represents a standard height above sea level; if contour lines are close together, this means that the gradient is steep and when contour lines are further apart, the gradient is flatter, just by looking at a map it is possible to see the exact lay of the land (physical geography).
Understanding grid references enables students to work out their precise location and share it with other people (this could save lives if accidents occur while out walking) and rely on a person’s skill to orientate the map to the ground using landmarks and other data to give a precise location (GPS is great but does not work everywhere!).
Being able to Navigate means you can use a map to figure out where you are, locate your destination and plan your route in such a way that you visit all the places in the shortest possible (or most efficient) way. Having a list of checkpoints and navigating as you go, using landmarks and other feature to check you are on the right path (these are great planning and self-management skills)
Understanding latitude and longitude. OK so not so useful if students are only traveling to the next town, but for those that are sailing, flying, or touring long distances, this is useful.
It worries me to see some people talking about redundant skills just because the old ways are more difficult or perhaps more time consuming. Neglecting the basics (for student understanding) is akin to expecting maths students to do trigonometry (in an app perhaps?) without knowing how multiplication, division and the other functions work...That worries me.
Yes technology can help us go above and beyond where we could go before, but mastery of knowledge and understanding of the basics is a prerequisite to being able to proceed and take the next technological steps!