Maps (2 of 3)

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Students will be able to: 1) articulate a purpose for designing maps; 2) identify three uses for maps in a science classroom; and 3) describe the use of different kinds of maps in social justice initiatives

Big Idea

Mapmaking is an ancient tool that is making a comeback as a powerful data visualization tool. How might we apply new cartographic techniques from geographic information systems (GIS) to represent our community through a specific data lens?

FRAME: Maps as visual arguments and tools for change

How are maps tools of environmental justice? Mapping skills are an excellent way to marry data visualization, claims, and conceptual understanding in an environmental science course. Importantly, mapping is skill that is not intimidating to most students.  Because they have many years of experience with mapping, it feels "natural." Even the complicated geospatial information systems (GIS) framework students will encounter in this lesson sequence is familiar; it is a core feature of most smartphone apps and websites.

In this three lesson sequence, students learn about the following:

  1. Maps can be thought of as visual arguments. In the first lesson, students examine different types of maps and identify arguments that these maps make. From this experience, students begin to define maps as visual arguments.
  2. Maps that use evidence of environmental injustice from local neighborhoods can be tools that use STEM skills and concepts to address social justice issues. In this second lesson, students begin to consider the idea that the claim a map makes can be an advocacy tool.  
  3. Maps of the local community are essential resources for understanding the environmental issues that students face everyday. In the third lesson, students continue to work with the idea that maps make claims that might address social justice issues within a community. With the help of a GIS film and complex text, students develop design ideas for creating dynamic maps of the Sunset Park that might be tools environmental justice.

These lessons are hands-on and theoretical.  Students will move between the familiar and the esoteric.  Teachers will need to exercise patience and allow students to struggle with new ideas. There is an element of "play with purpose" that is an important feature of the classroom culture in these lessons.  The ultimate goal is for students to develop neighborhood maps that are visual arguments to be used to increase environmental justice in the neighborhood.  For students to reach this point, they cannot follow a recipe.  They will have to try and fail a number of times before they are able to create a map that works.

By the end of "Maps", successful students will have met the following objectives:

  1. describe how a map can be claim that uses visualized data as evidence
  2. write claims using the evidence presented in different types of maps
  3. apply understanding of different types of visualized data in maps to the design of a neighborhood map that presents a claim through visual evidence
  4. articulate a purpose for designing maps
  5. identify three uses for maps in a science classroom
  6. describe the use of different kinds of maps in social justice initiatives
  7. articulate the role of geospatial technology in map creation and use
  8. identify applications for the "new cartography" in the real world
  9. develop a prototype design of a student-generated community map about environmental justice that incorporates ideas from the geospatial revolution.

RESOURCES NOTES:  The attached PROTOTYPE EXTENSION ACTIVITY GUIDE contains a number of self-paces activities that might be modified for a classroom of diverse learners. The current lesson presents a suggest sequence of activities; however, many of the texts, films, and activities in this guide might be better suited to different students populations.


What is the purpose of this activity?

Student learn about Geospatial Information Systems (GIS), a key technology in the development of maps that contain evidence for arguments about places. This evidence exists as massive data that can be mined for actionable solution ideas to immediate and long-term problems.

What will students do?

BEFORE class, students summarize the main idea in this clip: 

Students also answer this question: How are the maps shown here different than the maps of the high school that we drew by hand in class?

This activity should take no more than 15 minutes for students to complete as it is meant to be exploratory, not exhaustive.

ENGAGE: Discussion of FLIPPED findings

10 minutes

What is the purpose of this activity?

Students collaboratively "prime the pump." What is the initial understanding of GIS from the FLIPPED assignment? By the end of this section students should have a nascent understanding of GIS developed through group conversation.

What will students do?

Students will engage in a group discussion using these questions:

  • How are geographic information systems maps different than traditional pen and paper maps? 
  • Which map provides the most useful information that helps you navigate the world?  Why?
  • What is the role of technology in making maps?

EXPLORE: New cartographers

25 minutes

What is the purpose of this section?

Students explore the the concept of "new cartography" through two articles. Students will refine their definition of "map" using ideas from these articles as well as the group understanding of GIS from the FLIPPED activity.

What will students do?

Students will choose one of the following two articles exploring the concept of the “new cartographers”:

As students read, they will choose three of the following questions to answer:

  • How has our relationship with maps changed because of the internet?  
  • How do we make and use maps in a way that is fundamentally different from the way people made and used paper maps fifty years ago?  
  • Who controls the information on a map?  
  • How has the control of information changed over time?  

All students will respond to the following questions: what is a map?

Students write responses to questions on chart paper placed around the room; each chart paper has one of the questions written on it.

EXPLAIN: Group paraphrase

15 minutes

What is the purpose of this activity?

Students refine definitions of map through a collaborative group peer review activity. By the end of this section students should have refined a definition of map to include ideas from other student groups.

What will student do?

Student groups circulate around the room and synthesize all student responses on the "What is a map?" chart paper, as well as one other chart paper that they choose; student groups choose the other chart paper.  Once students have synthesized definitions, they seek out two other groups that synthesized different chart papers to share information. 


EXIT: Jane Goodall

5 minutes

What is the purpose of this activity?

The class collectively preview this article describing how the Jane Goodall institute uses GIS maps to save chimpanzees.  This article is an iteration of the information contained in the Mannahatta video homework from the previous lesson. 

What will students do?

Students will use the article to answer this question: how can maps be a tool for positive change in a community?  This is the same question as the previous assignment.  The purpose in repeating the question here is to allow students an opportunity to refine their response.  This is an especially important move, because students will be developing digital maps of their community as part of the unit capstone.  The purpose of these student-generated maps is to create tools that might be used to create positive change in a community.