Students at my school have been facing some geography challenges. We participate in a number of geography events, including the National Geographic Geography Bee, which covers grades three through eight. But how do you help kids grow as geographically-aware and interested students?
One of my kids gave me an interesting Christmas gift this year. It was a little box with some bamboo skewers, some wooden finials, a base, and — best of all — five reproduction maps of famous globes on a one- page template. Insert tab A into slot B, flip the roundels at top and bottom onto a bamboo skewer, attach the finials to top and bottom, and voila! You have a copy of Mercator’s 1547 globe on your desk.
Ok, that’s cool. But it’s a mathom: a thing for which there’s no immediate use, but which we’re unwilling to throw away (to quote Tolkien). I don’t need five small globes on my desk that tell the story of how Europeans learned to see the map of the world a few voyages of exploration and exploitation at a time. I don’t even really need one. The resulting globe is smaller than a baseball, and most of them are unreadable — the dense names of countries and cities make most of them little more than curiosities — while the actual globes of these early map-makers are often twenty to thirty inches in diameter.
So I did some studying of my existing sample. The globes in this set consist of twelve narrow almond-shapes, each with a single circle at the top and bottom. The resulting globe is a bit smaller than a baseball, and not very readable. But I don’t want to produce a globe of my own — I want to be able to get students to make their own globes to help facilitate their learning process. It thus occurred to me that I needed something in between — not a baseball sized curiosity, but something between a softball and a volleyball, maybe even basketball-sized. I managed to get softball-sized by putting four such shapes on a piece of 8×11″ paper. And I want to scale up to 8×14″… I wonder if I can get to 11×17″ paper in the school copier? The resulting globe-templates would be basketball-sized, I think.
The resulting shape, as indicated in the photograph, is messy. I have to admit, my globe parts don’t fit together as well as those globes which inspired this project. I need to edit the curves of the narrow almond-shapes more. And I think, as guides, I need to include the horizontal lines that would mark the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn, the Arctic and Antarctic Circles, and the Equator. That would make it much easier for students to draw their own maps of the Earth.
Did you not realize this is where that was going?
That’s what I want, though — not a published flat cardstock cutout of the world that folds up into a globe, but a template on which students at my school (and eventually, other schools) can draw the outline of the world, mark major cities and landmarks, learn about Great Circle routes, and otherwise imagine the world in a way that their other geography exercises never teach them. The goal here is to provide students with the chance to do what great cartographers have done in the past: try to see the world as whole and entire from the desk in their studios… and then fold the resulting panels into a map.
I could have just as easily given them an icosahedron, and had them do a Bucky Fuller style projection. But this struck me as more playful. On the other hand, it’s easier to build up from triangles to a very large size. So I think it’s still an open question whether to do a Fullerene-syle globe, or one more like this one, of narrow strips of curving paper. All the same, I know some colleagues of mine are excited to have students build globes this way. So am I. And now we’re off and running — mathoms ahead!
Update: I’m having a tremendous amount of difficulty with the pictures in this entry. If you are unable to see the picture, please leave a comment so I can tell when it’s working and when it isn’t?