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Giant map gives ‘foots-on’ education about NY geography

New York Sea Grant partnered with the Cornell Institute for Resource Information Sciences and the New York Geographic Alliance to introduce a giant traveling map to educators in New York’s Hudson River Valley region to provide them with an opportunity to make coastal connections for New Yorkers, raising awareness and improving coastal literacy. Above, children walk on the large map to understand the size and topography of New York state. Photo by Matt Savatgy/Cornell Cooperative Extension

Imagine being large enough to tiptoe across New York’s Adirondack Mountains or traverse the Erie Canal from Albany to Buffalo in just a few short steps. A giant traveling map gives students a novel way to do just that – by taking off their shoes and walking on a classroom-sized floor map of the Empire State.

Two copies of the map, which measures 17-by-21 feet, were gifted to the New York Geographic Alliance by National Geographic in 2016. The following year, New York Sea Grant partnered with the Cornell Institute for Resource Information Sciences and the New York Geographic Alliance to introduce the unique teaching resource to educators in New York’s Hudson River Valley region.

The map, which provides an opportunity for educators to make coastal connections for New Yorkers, raising awareness and improving coastal literacy, has appeared in more than a dozen schools and organizations this spring.

Susan Hoskins, senior extension associate in the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, led workshops with teachers and classroom students, exemplifying how the giant map can engage classroom students. For example, students can be introduced to the concept of scale on a map by measuring the length of Long Island with their footsteps.

“The beautiful thing about working with this map is that specific activities written up in the map curriculum can be applied to any map in the United States. It helps kids learn the basics of map reading – scale resolution, symbology, orientation, all the things you need to know when you’re working with spatial data, whether it’s a giant map on the floor or a [Geographic Information System] rendering on your desktop,” said Hoskins.

Matt Savatgy, watershed youth educator for Cornell Cooperative Extension of Ulster County, brought the map to local schools to demonstrate the size and topography of New York.

“This map is an amazing hands-on tool,” said Phyllis Evans, a third-grade teacher at Woodstock Elementary in Woodstock, New York, who used the map with her students. “The children really enjoyed using their whole bodies to learn about the geography of New York.”

Leigh VanDeBogart, a fourth-grade teacher from Bennett Elementary in Boiceville, New York, added “This map is a great interactive way to view New York. It is also an excellent way for students to realize the size of the state and troubleshoot how to read a map without technology.”

Nordica Holochuck, New York Sea Grant’s Hudson estuary specialist, emphasized activities to engage and educate students about New York’s multitude of aquatic resources. In July 2017, New York Sea Grant held a workshop using the map with approximately 30 educators attending.

“New York has a multitude of diverse marine and freshwater coasts spread across the state. Our coastal waters are an economic and recreational treasure, and this map helps students grasp just how large, complicated and important our waters are to New York,” said Holochuck.

This article also appeared in the Cornell Chronicle.