The thing about books and maps

Spent some time working with a couple of Year 8 geography classes today. The work we did – or rather they did – stood in marked contrast to the ‘understanding’ of some teachers and the role of books in the learning of kids these days. They want books – old and new. But the students? what do they want?

Without going into details, the students were working on a research task, in pairs, on a country that they had chosen.

(Yes, I know, that is not a good research task, but stay with me here …)

What struck me were these key points:

Students did not want to or need to use a print atlas.

    Mostly the students jumped onto Google Earth, and found their country and captured that image! Mostly they zoomed in on their country and checked out the terrain, and the cities, and the size of things. Sometimes they checked out the beaches, or how many people they could find. This was not what the teacher had in mind when she said ‘include a map of your country in your presentation’ đŸ™‚ But it was the natural way for the boys to go check out a country.

    Every boy automatically went to Google images for their pics – because they can, and no-one has ever told them otherwise.

    Every boy automatically went to Wikipedia for their information – because they have never had any need to do it differently!

    So you can see, its a bit of a challenge. This is about covering material, not teaching students to think. It’s also about being out of touch with the way students learn in their online world.

    School subjects, taught in isolation, represent the worse of 19th & 20th  century education models transposed into a 21st century environment. The mechanics of teaching information skills are easy when its about creating a learning experience that requires use of every bit of thinking skill a student can muster. But in the context of the lessons today it was a waste of time.

    We can’t blame our curriculum or our students – we have to blame ourselves if our students are unskilled in using a full range of thinking skills to tackle issues straight out of the complex work in which they live.

    Photo: Globe

    5 thoughts on “The thing about books and maps

    1. Pingback: Wicked pedia? | Booked Inn

    2. There was a very funny post about Wikipedia a few months ago on nswtl listserv, whereby someone had found, incidentally, that some fool had sabotaged the entry on the Newcastle (NSW) Earthquake… to say that it was started by someone stamping their foot in anger.

      Of course, before the first post to the listserv was barely in people’s “In” boxes, someone else, a registered contributer to Wikipedia, had gone into Wikipedia to edit the entry back again. And announced the action on the listserv. Which caused more consternation because several teacher-librarians had bookmarked (but not saved to file) a copy to use as an example when doing explicit teaching on the use of online research.

      Wikipedia is invaluable as an orientation tool. The key is how you use that information to keep investigating!

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    4. Hi Judy,

      Sounds like you’re biting your tongue all too often in this new job – hard when you have the tech perspective but don’t want to tread on traditional toes (something I deal with almost on a daily basis)!

      I think it’s not really the medium that’s important but the mental framework and I have the impression that this is what you’re suggesting here, right? I could sit on a couch with a good old fashioned atlas for hours (and sometimes do) looking at the different kinds of maps, historical borders that have changed, population density, etc. just as a matter of interest. I can also while away plenty of hours reading wikipedia pages on countries, editing incorrect facts or referencing opinions to guidebooks I’ve read. Then, of course, who couldn’t spend ages zipping around on google earth?!

      I think what’s most dangerous are the prejudices formed out of ignorance on both sides of the generation divide. There is still, and will always be, such immense value in books and consequently, things we may only discover when we’re holding the atlas in our hands. Likewise, teachers who stubbornly don’t take the time to see how the google search (with images, information, places on a map, etc.) means that the “go fetch” assignments are pointless (and have really always been so) are just wasting kids’ learning time (not to mention their own learning time).


    5. You state ‘every boy’ and I am interested as to whether you think this would be same for girls? I constantly tell my eldest child that you can’t always trust what you read on the Internet and you need to learn how to check if it is true.

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