An important skill for any student of social studies, and geography in particular, is mapping. This doesn’t have to be terribly complicated, because I know most of my students will not go on to become professional geographers or cartographers, but an awareness of the world around them (whether physical, human, cultural, or political) will help then make sense of the many people, events, and ideas they will meet in their adult lives.
One way I’ve tried to add to my students’ general knowledge of the world is through mapping activities. These can range from identifying mountain ranges, cities, nation states, or other geographic features on a map to creating their own by hand or using digital software to do so. Again, this can be as complex as desired. I prefer to scaffold learning, so beginning with something a little less involved may be best.
In Geography 3211, my class and I have just begun a unit on geopolitics, which itself can be a daunting subject. The goal at this point in the unit is to help students understand what nation states are and appreciate differences in ideology among them with the eventual goal of understanding how these ideologies can lead to cooperation or conflict on the global stage. Below is a short mapping activity I created to help students make sense of the differences between democratic, authoritarian, and communist states:
Students begin by identifying the locations of nations and colour coding them by type. They then make inferences about connections between location, level of development/globalization, and ideology. Finally, with a little research, students consider strengths and limitations of these ideologies.
This activity can be easily completed within an hour long class, and this includes some upfront introductory instruction. My class had a ball doing this and it got them thinking about some geopolitical issues we will be continuing with after the Easter break.