Have Giant Iowa Map, will travel

Last year, the National Geographic Society (NGS) and its UNI CSBS-based affiliate, the Geographic Alliance of Iowa (GAI), took 977 Iowa elementary students into local parks and natural areas to explore and learn about native species. This year, GAI was back in the classroom, allowing students a chance to journey across their state’s geography features, in about 10 steps.

Groups of students working with Giant Iowa Map

The young elementary students seemed to enjoy the map and activities the GAI and UNI students brought to help highlight their state in new ways.

A National Geographic Giant Traveling Map was the new national initiative put forth by NGS for the 2016-17 school year. For GAI, that meant a 15 x 20 foot geographic map of Iowa, complete with NGS-provided materials, activities and lessons. UNI students working within the GAI created their own curriculum to accompany the map and across the state, helping area teachers implement their curriculum.

Sophomore biology major Alexandra Mens remarked, "I loved watching the kids light up with recognition for a town/city as they shouted, 'Oh! I know where that is!' and run to the map. It was such a great reminder and encouragement as to why I am going into the education field!"

"A highlight from the day was being able to see activities we had been putting together on paper come to life with kids of all ages," stated English teaching major Olivia Mutchler.

Iowa elementary teachers, like Cathy Stakey from South Hamilton ES, appreciate the support the GAI and traveling map have provided. "Teachers are always looking for strategies and learning activities that connect with all students,” said Stakey. “Most recently, South Hamilton has been investigating best practices for teaching with poverty in mind. Research suggests that while using visuals, incorporating movement and creating mental models are best practices for all students; they can be especially effective when working with students of poverty. The Giant Map of Iowa allowed us to incorporate all three within several lessons.”

The young elementary students also seemed to enjoy the map and activities the GAI and UNI students brought to help highlight their state in new ways. From one student in South Hamilton, “I loved the giant traveling map.  It really helped me learn about my hometown. It was a shocker [to learn] that we produce honey here in Iowa! I would want it to go on for generations, so please bring it back.”

As of late March 2017, nearly 1,000 Iowa elementary students have interacted with the map, and the GAI expected to double that number by the end the school year.