experiential science: maps and mapping

As I mentioned in my last post, my kids’ idea of science is hands-on fun, so I’ve been supplementing the Building Foundations of Scientific Understanding (BFSU) book with lots of activities.  Here’s what we’ve been doing in the past few weeks with maps, based mostly on BFSU lessons D3 and D3A, which you can read for more ideas, terminology, and discussion starters.

**Caveat: My kids have long been intrigued by maps, so we’ve studied and drawn maps quite a bit.  If you have not done this, I’d suggest reading through something like Joan Sweeney’s Me on the Map to help your kids get a basic idea of maps and mapping before you start. BFSU also suggests a lot of pondering maps together.

Activity 1: Spot the Error

Make a few maps of places with which your kids are familiar–rooms in your house, your neighborhood, etc.  On each map, include one or more errors.  These could be misplaced items, missing elements, or even things that are out of scale.  See if your kids can spot the problems, and talk about how important it is for maps to be accurate.  Do cartographers include everything on their maps?  How do they determine what to include or not include?  Is there ever a time it’s okay to have some things not to scale?

Activity 2: Create-Your-Own

Have kids choose a familiar place and make a map of it.  Your accuracy requirements can match your child’s ability, but do remind them of what they learned about scale and accuracy in the previous example.

Activity 3: Treasure Hunt

Make a few treasure maps of your home, yard, or neighborhood, complete with an X to mark the treasure.  (Make sure to take time in advance to hide something!)  We like to have bits of our snack as treasure, but anything will do, so long as your child is able to successfully navigate to the treasure.  This works best if you start simply–a map of the room you are in–and get more complex, working up to a large map that requires them to navigate through the house or to a point across the park.  If you really want to amp up the excitement, you can have the first two or three maps form a chain (use one map to find the next one) that leads to the treasure.

Activity 4: Geocaching

What better way to make map-reading seem useful than to introduce kids to the modern version of a treasure hunt!  We signed up online and downloaded the free app, and my kids had a great time trying to figure out how to read the maps to figure out where to look for the caches–and even more fun when they got to trade loot!  (They were especially motivated because they had just read The Boxcar Children book The Box that Watch Found, which was about geocaching!)

Activity 5: Navigation Practice

Planning to go somewhere new?  Inviting new friends to your house?  Have your child look at a map and write directions to a particular location, using street names and cardinal directions.  Then head out in the car and test their work!  My oldest is remarkably good at this.  (I’ll wait a few years before I try following any directions given my my little guy!)

Activity 6: Backup Plan

Maps

Apparently sundials work best when well-decorated.

What can you do if you find yourself without a map and your smartphone dies?  Well, folks haven’t always relied on smartphones or even maps to navigate.  Enter–the sun!  After reviewing the cardinal directions and relating them to our place in space, we began pondering the way in which the sun appears to move from east to west and talked about how that knowledge could help us.

  • Sundial – Using these directions from the National Wildlife Federation, we made sundials.  I have no idea how they thought pushpins would hold the plates to the ground, but we had to weight each one with a heavy stone.
  • Shadow Tracing – We traced each child’s feet on the driveway–be sure to leave plenty of space between the kids!–and returned to the same spot throughout the day to trace our shadows.  This made it easy to see how shadows shift in relation to the direction of the sunlight.
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