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May 23, 2002 Basic mapping concepts are important learning tools for children



Jacqueline Anderson

Jacqueline Anderson with her prototype online atlas of Quebec.

Photo by Andrew Dobrowolskyj

by Sigalit Hoffman

Jacqueline Anderson fell in love with maps when she was a child. Now the Concordia geography professor is bringing her passion to elementary schoolchildren across the province, and maybe even the world.

“I have always been interested in graphics,” she said. “As early as the age of four and a half I can remember looking at images and being amazed at how much information they presented.”

Anderson is working with Jean Carrière, a geography professor at the Université de Québec à Montréal, and Janine Le Sann, a cartography professor at the Institute of Geosciences in Brazil, to create a prototype online atlas of Quebec for children aged eight to 17 years.

The online atlas, which will be accessed via the existing atlas Quebec and its Regions‚ is the only one of its kind so far. Though there are other online atlases, none are geared to children, insofar as they incorporate good teaching tools. This one is child-centered. The site is designed to help children identify what they know about basic mapping concepts, learn at their own pace, and choose the topics they want to explore.

“If you go to a paper atlas, everything is more or less fixed. With this atlas, it’s more like a child driving a spaceship,” Anderson said.

The existing demo Web site (http://atlasduquebec.qc.ca/scolaire/) is colourful and easy to use and gives information of four different levels of complexity. The site has a collection of thematic maps, links to related sites, a glossary, and exercises to check if the student has mastered the concepts in each level.

Though the prototype is only available in French at the moment, the professors are hoping that English and Portuguese versions will be produced. They expect the French version for levels one and two to be ready for schoolchildren by September.

The professors designed the site as a response to the new educational curriculum in Quebec, which has changed its focus from teaching children facts to teaching children how to learn. These changes also mean that less attention will be placed on maps in the educational cycles.

“Given the change in the curriculum, map skills won’t be a big component in primary-level education, so it seemed that perhaps it would be a good idea to come up with a prototype for children,” Anderson said.

She believes that graphicacy is the “fourth ace in the pack” of the basic skills — literacy, numeracy and articulacy — but she has noticed that many people don’t have basic map-reading skills.

“I once had someone phone me to ask me to explain what the scale of one to 50,000 meant,” she said. (The person was trying to calculate moving costs).

“The individual had great difficulty in understanding that this scale meant that two centimetres on the map represented one kilometer in reality. It proved very difficult to explain on the phone. The final solution involved asking the person to drive from point A to point B.”

Almost 30 years ago, Anderson’s interest in map users prompted her to leave her job at the Ministry of Defense in London, and led to her teaching career at Concordia.

After completing a PhD in the development of mapping skills in five- and six-year-old children, she was co-founder, in 1995, of the International Cartographers Association (ICA) Cartography and Children’s Commission.

In the early 1990s, “cartography and children were not a subject in the scope of the ICA,” she said. “They were more concerned with the education of cartographers. Given the changes in technology, we argue that the map producers and users of the future are the children of today.”