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Shaking on top of the world

Families use map to learn geography at Washington Elementary School

Published: Friday, Nov. 16, 2012 1:15 a.m. CDT
(Philip Marruffo/
Second-grader Symantha Porter and her brother, fourth-grader Brayden Porter, take a dip in the Pacific Ocean Thursday evening at Washington Elementary School in Sterling. The two were playing on a 26-by-35-foot map of the Pacific on loan to the school from National Geographic.
(Philip Marruffo/
Families walk on a giant map of the Pacific Ocean Thursday night at Washington Elementary School in Sterling. Parents were invited to the school to explore the giant National Geographic map with their kids, and to hear how it's being used to spark their interest in geography. The school has had the map for the last 2 weeks, and all the K-5 students had a chance to check it out during their physical education classes,

STERLING – Brayden Porter shimmied atop the Cascade mountains in the Pacific Northwest and twisted in the Andes in South America, mimicking the action of earthquakes along Ring of Fire, the most seismically active area on Earth.

Porter isn’t a jet-setter; he is a fourth-grader at Washington Elementary. He wasn’t really high atop a mountain or deep inside a trench; he was standing on a 26-by-35-foot map of the Pacific Ocean on loan to the school from National Geographic.

Many local schools have had one of the giant traveling maps over the years. Most teachers just use the maps with students, but Denise Harts, a fourth-grade teacher at Washington Elementary School, got parents back in the classroom.

“It’s a great family activity,” she said. “We learned so much the last two weeks; the parents should see this, too. ... It’s a neat way to come together for some family time and learn something together.”

Harts led the students and their parents and even some siblings through several activities: identifying places on the map, placing plants and animals on the map based on clues to their habitats and building trenches out of blocks.

Most of the parents were decades removed from geography. But they all caught on quickly – chasing after their enthusiastic fourth-graders from Japan to the Tropic of Capricorn.

The National Geographic giant traveling maps are geared toward elementary- and middle-school students and designed to promote geographic literacy; the maps and accompanying hands- and feet-on activities introduce students to place names, physical geography and cultural geography, as well as teach them map-reading skills.

Laura Porter marveled at her son’s excitement for a geography lesson.

“He has been talking about this nonstop for 2 weeks,” she said. “Normally, he gets excited about going to a pumpkin patch (on a field trip), not about something like this. But this, this is something new, something different.”

Porter has no doubt her son and her daughter, Symantha Porter, a second-grader, will remember some of the information for years to come.

“He hears it, he sees it, he knows it,” she said. “And she loves doing stuff like this – lighting up the Ring of Fire; she’ll never forget that.”

The school has had the map for the last 2 weeks. All students in kindergarten through fifth grade had a chance to explore the map during their physical education classes, but Harts used it more frequently with her class.

Teachers may borrow a map for 2 weeks for $525. National Geographic offers maps of Africa, Asia, Europe, North America and South America, as well as the Pacific Ocean.

“I couldn’t let this go to waste,” Harts said. “I really wanted to get the parents involved, to let them see what their kids are learning at school and be a part of that.”

The students and their parents didn’t just learn a geography lesson; they learned a life lesson, too: Maps, whether small enough to fit in the glove box of the car or large enough to fill a gymnasium, are next to impossible to fold.

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