Making Sense of Our World

Social Studies: Mapping Our Place in the World

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“Our love affair with maps is as old as civilization itself. Each map tells its own story and hides its own secret. Maps delight, they unsettle, they reveal deep truths, not just about where we come from, but about who we are.”  Maria Popova, Brain Pickings

Cartography, an intriguing science of drawing maps that began as early as the 15th century with Ptolemy and accelerated during the age of exploration as explorers bumped and felt their way around the world recording their discoveries in conjunction with their beliefs. Perusals of maps from long ago are not only works of art but a curation of knowledge, political agendas, and philosophical beliefs. Maps of old revealed more than location; they disclosed a story. Of course with advances in technology, conjectures became more exact, and the stories, well, they became more subtle.

In today’s digital age, maps are indeed more accurate, yet not without bias. Bias is simply more hidden than in previous periods of time, which is why it is important to view such cartographic depictions with a critical eye. To avoid falling into the trap of ‘believing what you see’, viewers need to be encouraged to ask questions such as…

  • What type of map is this?
  • What is its purpose?
  • What distortions are evident?
  • Why has the cartographer chosen to distort the map in this way?
  • What information does the map reveal about the world?
  • From whose point-of-view is the map shown, and what do they have to gain from it?

Although these questions have not been made apparent to my students, they are subsumed in our overarching Essential Question, “What is my place in the world?” Students have been investigating the various ways in which geographers make sense of this question by utilizing the imaginary grid system of latitude and longitude to pinpoint and identify the location of places, exploring the five themes of geography to understand the interaction between human and non-human factors, and uncovering the challenges behind showing Earth’s surface.

As we delved into maps, it didn’t take long for students to notice the challenges in representing a spherical planet on a flat map. While plotting the location of capital cities around the world, one student made the statement, “This map is a disgrace to my country.” Already, the map’s intentions had become suspect in the eyes of a young viewer. This led other students to investigate the shape of their home country on the map to see if it too had been ‘disgraced’. Many agreed the map being used was indeed a disgrace to many countries, and that I should find a more accurate map that was more ‘fair’.

Although this is not where I had planned this particular lesson to go on this day, interest in why shapes of countries are distorted on some maps was piqued, making it a central point to revisit in later lessons on the different types of maps and the information they reveal. I’m curiouser and curiouser as to what questions the variety of maps will stir up in these young minds as we move through this unit on the core concepts of geography.

Students aren’t only learning how to navigate their way around maps, they are also learning additional skills such as how to read and take notes from non-fiction texts and synthesize their understandings in a paragraph centered around main ideas. Cornell notes, mind-mapping and other graphic organizers have been introduced and encouraged to help students identify main ideas and organize their thinking in a well-developed paragraph.

Language Arts: Learning How to Navigate through Life via Literature


We acquiesced to Halloween by embracing the poetry of Edgar Allen Poe on Thursday. No, it wasn’t “The Raven” or even “The Tell-Tale Heart,” instead we went with his lesser known, but nonetheless, beautiful, “Annabel Lee”.  After identifying the narrative behind the poem, students fell into the rhythm of its verse – lulling the audience with the beauty behind its tragic love story. With only one practice, tables of students performed their assigned stanza. Forgive me for the poor quality of video; filmmaking is certainly not a strength.

Novel Study: The Graveyard Book

In The Graveyard Book novel study group, students have been investigating the elements of literature and the techniques authors use to reveal them to the reader. Since the start of the novel, students have been working to understand the protagonist, Bod and his home of the graveyard. Bod’s world has been turned upside down as he is forced to leave behind his home and family and make the graveyard his new home.

Author Neil Gaiman plays with our biases and generalizations regarding graveyards by creating an environment that symbolizes protection and education rather than death as we might expect. Bod has to make sense of his smaller world and how it fits in to the bigger world outside of the graveyard just as we have to make sense of how our smaller communities fit in with the global community.

Setting, mood, characterization and theme have been explored through symbolism, metaphors, similes and personification. To glimpse a view of what your child has been studying, please see the RESOURCE page of our Graveyard Book website. To get an overview of their studies, delve into the presentations and look over the documents students have been working on in class. Below are  a few photos of students in action discussing and collaborating on their understanding of all The Graveyard Book has to offer.

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