A place of their own

Map-making is a great way to practice key skills and connect students to the local area, says Anthony Gillett, Geography teacher at Atlanta International School, USA

How do we know where we are in the world? That was the unit question that led me to take my MYP students on an adventure around the local community. Atlanta International School (AIS) is in Garden Hills, one of the oldest neighbourhoods in Atlanta (above). However, as no travel guide exists for the area, my class and I embarked on a groundbreaking project.

To introduce fieldwork to the students, I set them the challenge of producing a travel and walking guide to Garden Hills. This also helped them make connections to the local area we have a large catchment area, so some students have little local knowledge. The guide would test the mapping techniques they had been learning, including drawing to scale and incorporating symbols and directions.

As geography is taught across different language groups at AIS, the guides were to be produced in English, Spanish, German and French. This also meant tourists from across the world would be able to use them when visiting the area.

Before the field trip, I invited other teachers to carry out a risk assessment with me to check for possible dangers, note interesting landmarks and gauge how long it would take to walk the route. On the day of the trip, students were split into groups to explore the route. We used staggered starts to make monitoring easier.

The route took an hour to walk and students were told to record anything that caught their interest. They also had to note places where people could eat, get refreshments or take out money. Using smartphones and cameras, they took photographs of anything from unusual trees and interesting architecture to places to rest. Some chose to use their phones to take notes rather than paper.

After the trip, students began drafting and redrafting their information. They added research from the internet and other sources and began to draw their maps after thinking about which scale to use and what features required map symbols. The final product was a detailed and colourful booklet with images. Some risk-takers chose not to use paper and instead produced their own Google map with research added.

Map-making is a great way to allow students to put skills and techniques learned in class into action. They can take full ownership of the content and decide how to present it. My students enjoyed the responsibility and freedom as they walked the routes and found many hidden gems. And their teachers also got a great deal out of the project, getting out of the classroom to explore the neighbourhood on a sunny day.