Experience Maps — for the Magellan in Your Students

mapPeople like maps. Give them a book with a map in the front, like Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings series, and they will interrupt their regularly-scheduled reading happily to check out where the newly-mentioned river, mountain, or fjord is.

It stands to reason, then, that people would enjoy making maps, too. And in this post on how to create effective homework (excuse me while I turn off the oxymoron alarms), Dan Bisaccio, former high school science teacher and now Director of Science Education at Brown University, discusses homework that might just be, if you’ll excuse the audacity, fun. Here’s the key excerpt from the post:

One assignment Bisaccio used, called an “Experience Map,” asked students to create a map of their experiences after a field study or other important project – a technique employing both retrieval practice and the somewhat trickier interleaving, a “desirable difficulty” in which problems of different types are presented in one assignment, making students think harder to come up with solutions and answers.

“We ‘map’ mentally and physically each day. It helps to keep us orientated through our frenzied sun-up to sun-down daily experiences,” reads the assignment. Directions are to draw a field experience map, including — with regard to the class — where students have been, what they have done, new challenges, and insights. Special suggestions for drawing include “a place of danger, a favorite place, a place of power, a place with a secret.” Students are also called upon to map the places where they learned the most, where they were challenged the most, and where the funniest experience happened.

In addition, Bisaccio asked students to write what had challenged them most as a learner, what had stretched their limits most — meant to be reflections just for students themselves, and asked to be kept on the back of the map. “What they wrote on the back was not shared with others,” he said. Once the assignment was completed, maps were posted to form a class atlas of what they had learned.

As you can see, the assignment works on both literal and figurative levels. It also demands reflection and metacognition. Best of all? For a teacher, it would serve as interesting feedback. Consider, for instance, what your students might identify as “a place of danger” (Participle Point, perhaps?), “a favorite place” (Debate Delta?), “a place of power” (Parody Point, atop Mount Merry), and “a place with a secret” (the Spelling Secrets Sea). You can make up even more: a place of commerce, a wild place, a place of government, the highest place, the lowest place, a marked place, a place of growth and sustenance, and places where certain “things” live.

This mapping homework, probably worth a couple of nights if you require color, could be used globally (say, for the entire first term or year to this point) or locally (maybe for a specific unit or genre you’ve covered). What’s more, you could get some public speaking out of it by requiring students to use the maps as visual tools for a speech, wherein they are the guides and we are the National Geographic audience.

Well, it’s a peg above “diagram ten sentences,” which is what my homework used to be. You know. During the Calvin Coolidge Administration….

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