For globally minded 6th graders, maps are a way of studying world issues that matter to them.
Mapping with Heart
Along with her fellow 6th grade teachers, Lesley Younge is training her students to become global citizens—and that’s evident from the moment you arrive at her classroom door. Seventeen carefully crafted maps, one created by each of her students, hang proudly in the hall outside. “A lot of times, people think global education is about taking trips,” says Lesley. “But global education is happening at every level in this school. Someone who’s never left the country can be really adept at engaging with others and having compassion and empathy.”
The map project—known to students as “mapping with heart”—is the latest in a series of assignments aimed at teaching geography and global issues in a way that encourages students to engage with the world’s complexities. Early in the school year, the 6th grade had a global issue summit in which students were assigned one of the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development goals, ranging from “no poverty” to “gender equality” to “climate action.” They studied global briefs on their issues and then talked with their counterparts studying the same issue in the other 6th grade classes.
“People might not think that 11- and 12-year-olds are interested in these topics, but these students care a lot about things that are going on,” says Lesley. “They want to know what’s true about the world. They handle it with a lot of maturity.”
Mapping with heart began as a study of map projections. Sixth graders traditionally learn to draw maps as a way of understanding how different projections can change people’s perspectives. They’re required to label countries, capitals, rivers, mountains, and more. But Lesley has an additional requirement: Students choose an issue that concerns them, learn about it from a statistical perspective, and then incorporate it into the map.
“It gives them the opportunity to continue learning about their issue in a way that’s physical and artistic and full of chances to use their creativity,” Lesley explains. “One student was interested in cancer rates. She was able to find a map that layered cancers across the world that affected women and men, and she layered them on top of each other. She couldn’t find a map that showed both together, and so she created one, and I thought that was really clever. A lot of students were very creative in how they chose to put information together.”
The finished maps cover a lot of different issues, with titles such as “World Wide Water,” “The Global Gender Pay Gap,” “Medicine across the Globe,” and “The Impact of Attacks.” While all are beautiful, and often astonishing in their level of detail, the process wasn’t all smooth sailing—students worked hard to plan their map-making techniques.
“There was a lot of problem-solving involved,” adds Lesley. “It was fun to watch students tackle challenges. A lot of them wanted curved lines, so they had to solve the problem of putting them on the right angle, and that sort of thing. One student lost her map and had to start all over. But she came back from break, and she had a new map.”
Above all, Lesley is proud of the new kind of engagement with world issues her students are discovering. “Whether students take trips or not,” she says, “there are many ways that they are learning to be engaged and competent global citizens.”
View a Selection of Student Work