Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Giant Map gets students excited about geography

Students at Pearl Creek Elementary School walked across the Pacific Ocean today, locating trenches, learning about subduction zones and discovering animal habitats.

Actually, the students traipsed on a Giant Traveling Map of the Pacific, on loan to the University of Alaska Fairbanks geography department from National Geographic.

Teacher Cori Dunavin was happy her students had the opportunity to explore the map. "I hope they get a sense of curiosity about geography and where things fit in," she said. "And they are using teamwork to solve problems."

Katie Kennedy gives instructions to sixth graders at Pearl Creek Elementary School.

Pearl Creek sixth graders mark where the Philippine Trench is in the Pacific Ocean.

Enthusiastic students learn about their world during a giant map activity.

This is the seventh year UAF has taken Giant Traveling Maps to schools across Alaska to emphasize geography education. This is the second visit for the Pacific map. Previous ones have included Africa, Asia, North America and South America. The only map that hasn't made it to Alaska is the one of Europe.

In the hour that Katie Kennedy, UAF geography education and outreach coordinator, has with each class she tries to spark interest and get students excited about geography.

"They learn geography concepts while having fun, moving around and working in teams," she said."Being able to walk across a map, there's something magical about that. Even the adults get giddy. It's fun."

Kennedy said she feels an urgency about getting into the schools with her geographic toolkits. "Geography education has been de-emphasized," she said. "It was one of the core areas of No Child Left Behind but it was the only one that didn't get funding."

It's important that students learn geography because it can show them how the world works. "It connects the physical and human features in the world," Kennedy said. "People need to be geographically aware. Geographic knowledge is important in just about any field. When you start thinking geographically, it's a way of problem solving."

Kennedy will work with Fairbanks students the rest of the week at Barnette Magnet School, Ladd Elementary School and Ticasuk Brown Elementary. Next week she takes the map to Deering and the last week of January she will be in Kotzebue and Anchorage.

While in Kotzebue, Kennedy will feature the map at a community science night event on Jan. 28.

UAF collaborates with rural campuses and other community organizations to offer Community Science Nights around the state. The goal is to bring fun interactive science activities to communities throughout Alaska. Some of the activities planned for the Kotzebue Community Science Night are:
  • view a planetarium show to learn about the wonders of the sky (Alaska Summer Research Academy)
  • step on to the National Geographic giant traveling map to learn more about the world around you
  • watch dancing oobleck and learn about it's strange substance (Alaska Summer Research Academy)
  • dissect sea creatures (Alaska SeaLife Center)
  • extract your own DNA(Alaska Summer Research Academy)
  • learn about polar bears and ice (Eyes on the Arctic)
The Chukchi Campus, Alaska Department of Fish and Game, National Park Service and the Selawik National Wildlife Refuge will also be involved. For more information on the Kotzebue event, contact Tiffany DeRuyter, UAF College of Natural Science and Mathematics.

Related video:
Watch Dr. Richard Alley's video about subduction, Ring of Fire, which Kennedy shares with students during her Pacific Ocean presentation.

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