This is one of my favorite units….time to study early explorers! I tried this activity last year and the kids loved it, and I definitely loved watching the results.
To kick of this unit of early explorers, I have the students take on the Mapmaker Challenge. (Click to download document.)
The students are put into groups and assigned a different destination. Each group is to start at our room and end up in a different place. The first day of this activity I go over the instructions carefully. (At this point, we have already had lessons on using map skills and map features.) Students are then given about 15-20 minutes to “explore” the campus—meaning they take their notebooks with them and record EVERYTHING around them, especially landmarks, how many footsteps they have traveled, and in what direction. (I use the compass on my smartphone to tell them which way is north.)
Students then head back to the classroom to begin sketching their map on graph paper. My partner teacher had each group create ONE map, but I have each student draw their map individually even though their data should be the same. They can also help each other in this “planning stage”. The students then complete their maps for homework.
My objective for the lesson is to give the students a taste of what it must have been like to explore uncharted waters and territories and then record it accurately so others may follow your route. The students have such trouble creating an accurate map at a school they’ve been attending for years! It’s crazy!
The next day I collect the maps and select some, both good and bad, to try out during the day. Each team is given one map at a time. They are instructed to follow the map exactly and determine whether it’s accurate or not. This is where the fun starts! The kids are so excited to be let out of the classroom to follow the route. Tip: Be sure not to give students any map they made themselves. If you do, the student that made the map starts verbally explaining what their map says. This defeats the purpose. The students should be able to follow the route using the landmarks, legend, footstep count, etc.
I allowed each team to try more than one map because I wanted them to experience both good and bad. The conversations they were having were so interesting! They were very vocal with which maps were accurate and those that had some issues.
Upon returning to the classroom, the students were bursting to share their thoughts. I told them they were NOT allowed to speak for 5 minutes and instead had to open up their journals and write about what just happened. After they wrote in their journals, we had a very lively discussion.
I just love this lesson because I can keep referring back to their “mapping” troubles while we learn about obstacles the explorers faced.