Using Maps to Teach Visual Literacy

In my class this month we are learning about Maps.  Our big ideas are: How can maps help us learn? How can we learn to use maps and understand direction, position, size, etc…?

Traditionally, this unit has used globes, maps (paper) and atlases.  There is nothing in our unit plans and content that use the map tools that almost everyone uses today.  I am talking about online maps and map apps on our devices.  It astonished me and made me rethink the way this unit is taught.  How many of us go to a globe now to find a country? If one is sitting in your classroom you might have it sitting in some obscure place (Like I do) or you might have the kids pointing out where they are from on a large paper map on the bulletin board (Like I have).  These are still good skills to use but I wanted my kids to see and use maps the way they see them and their parents see them in everyday life.  First I turned to maps online and different visuals of maps.  I used the following in a lesson:

A Map Showing McDonalds Around the World










Map of Vegetation on Earth








Water Risk Around the World

These maps evoked a lot of discussion on what makes a map visually appealing.

Students said that the colors made their eyes move to certain places and that the symbols in the corner helped them to understand what they were reading. We also looked google maps to see how too much information can be confusing and takes away from what we are trying to find.

This is all leading up to our focus this week which is on plotting their research about continents onto a shared collaborative google map.  The students will use the line and plot tools on google maps to document their learning and highlight the continents they have learned about.

In our IT class we were making “About Me” pages using Microsoft Word.  The students had to take a picture of themselves with the webcam and place it into a word document and then add text, color, shapes and design.  I realized how little our students know about design and media literacy and am going to put more of a focus on teaching them how to design their creations in a way that is visually appealing to an audience and in a way that communicates the message that they want to communicate.




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