Occasional Paper Series #48

Learning to See More Clearly: Extending Lucy Sprague Mitchell’s Vision for Geography Teaching

by Abigail Kerlin and Ellen McCrum

As former elementary school teachers, graduate level instructors, and researchers, we have engaged students of all ages in geography inquiry. In recent years, we have focused on developing mapping experiences that will both develop geographic thinking and shed light on the inner questions and experiences students have with their environments. These experiences can be quite revealing, offering insight into the surprising and varied geographic relationships that students pay attention to. In this paper, we share some of these experiences and ask you to consider what a more reflective engagement with maps can reveal about what students see and have yet to see in the world around them.

Developing an Understanding of Perspective: “Did We All Just Take the Same Trip?”

We begin our graduate class on developing geographic thinking in a typical fashion: introductions, review of the syllabus, and initial conversations assessing students’ experiences as both learners and teachers of geography. However, we are eager to get students involved. Before the first hour together is up, we inform the class that it is time to take a trip. We begin with succinct instructions:

Make a map of the rectangular block, walk the rectangle from 112th Street to Broadway to 111th Street and then to Riverside Drive. Bring a pencil and clipboard. Take notes on a blank piece of paper. Walk around the block twice. Walk in silence during your first trip around the block. Use this time to engage your senses, using your eyes, ears, and nose.

No matter whether they are eight or 28, students appeal to us for clarification, asking, “How do you want it to look? What information should I include?” Some students leave for their trip slightly ill at ease, not sure how to meet the expectations of the task.

About the Authors

Abigail KerlinEllen McCrumAbigail Kerlin is a member of the Teaching and Learning faculty at Bank Street Graduate School of Education where she teaches courses in curriculum development and geography and serves as the Director of General Education programs. Ellen McCrum works as a coach/educational consultant and is an adjunct at Bank Street Graduate School where she advises in the Math Leadership program and teaches Geography. Kerlin and McCrum began their careers at the same public school, PS 234 in Manhattan. During their time at the school, they collaborated with colleagues to develop inquiry based social studies curricula, learned to harness students’ curiosities about their world to drive learning, and help students see themselves as researchers of their own environments. McCrum and Kerlin have collaborated as geography instructors for over a decade, exploring the power of mapping experiences to support teachers and students in developing geographic thinking. They are continuing to research how pedagogical tools—like juxtaposition of maps— can deepen students’ geographic understandings at all ages.