There’s a map for that!

Every fall at Martin School, the third and fourth grade classrooms have a special visitor. When our principal announces that this special person is in the building and visiting certain classrooms, the students hold their breath in anticipation – hoping that he will be visiting their room. He is not a celebrity, an athlete, or famous author – he is a cartographer.

“What IS a cartographer??” That is the first question the cartographer asks when he begins talking with the students.  After a few guesses, one student knows the answer, “A cartographer is a mapmaker!”. Then the cartographer uses Expo markers in a variety of colors to draw a map of the New England states on our white board. The students are in awe as he effortlessly draws the outline of each state, detailing each intricate border.

Map skills are an important part of the third grade social studies curriculum in Massachusetts.  The learning standards include that students should be able to locate the New England states and the Atlantic Ocean. On map of MA, they need to locate major cities and towns, rivers, and mountain ranges. They also should be able to locate their home town or city.  In addition, they must learn the cardinal directions, map scales, legends and titles on contemporary maps of New England and Massachusetts.

The cartographer led the class through an activity using a desk-sized Massachusetts map from Maps for the Classroom. First they drew and labeled their own compass rose. Then the students used colored pencils to shade in the Atlantic Ocean coastline, and label various parts of the state, including the islands off the coast.  The kids were engaged for the entire activity and came away with important map skills.

Before our celebrity cartographer left, he shared a new website, called CartoCraze with great resources for teaching map skills. The website is offering a free 30 day trial and gives limited access to some of their printable 81/2 by 11” maps.  I just signed up for my free trial and can’t wait to print out some of the free resources, like a map of the New England colonies. There is also a link to a blog, that has interesting geography facts and book reviews. The website promises that new topics and activities will be released throughout the year. I hope to use these materials on our new Polyvision white board as we begin our Massachusetts Unit in a few weeks.

I hope that you will check out CartoCraze and their free printable materials. If these map making activities can make a cartographer a local celebrity in our school, imagine the possibilities in your classroom!

If you have any additional resources for teaching Massachusetts geography, please share by leaving a comment!

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  2. B. Albright said:

    In Pennsylvania, map skills are also taught in third grade. Thanks for sharing the website. My students need to learn the seven continents and five oceans. We use this song to help us memorize them I also put signs up in the classroom to represent north, south, east, and west. Then we play a Simon Says type game to have the kids face the correct direction. Once they get better we add the intermediate directions to the game.

  3. Danny said:

    My first memory of kindergarten was this huge map that took up half of the room. Thanks for posting this wonderful article.

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