Sunday, November 17, 2013

Geographic Knowledge

I taught a math lesson this past week for fifth grade students.  It was evidently a lesson that the teacher had skipped over and planned for me to teach the day she was gone, as the students remarked that they were going backwards in the book.

The lesson had to do with using map scales to find the straight line distance between two places on a map.  Interestingly, using the scale and even the rulers was not really a problem for the students.  The biggest problem was trying to find the cities in the U.S. that were to be used for the measurements.  The students mostly had no idea what the letters MS, KS, CT, or IL stood for.  They also didn't know where most of the notable cities were located.  I was asked more than once if Chicago was a city or a state.  They needed help to find San Francisco.  I knew that kids' knowledge of geography, even US geography, was not great, but I was a bit surprised that it was this bad.

I frequently play a game with kids if we have extra time before going somewhere.  I have the students name a country in the world that is NOT the United States.  I get all sorts of interesting answers - Chicago, Texas, and, it never fails, Africa.

I love maps and I cannot quite fathom that kids are so lacking in knowledge about basic world geography.  I wonder if it is just Americans, or if children (and adults) from other countries are also lacking in this knowledge.  Even the kids I taught in Alaska, many of whom were children of military personnel, were really unsure about whether Alaska was a different country from the US.  They kind of knew that Germany was a foreign country.  And, even though many of their parents were stationed in Iraq at the time, I don't think many of them could find Iraq on a map. 

This is discouraging to me.

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