Teaching high school cartography.

One of my cartography students asked the other day if our trimester-long class would be offered again, and I said probably not - with the explanation that, unlike with comics or design, I actually don't know much about maps. Love them, have a tattoo of one, spent a college summer with GIS, and have followed (and made) more map art projects than I can remember - but I don't know how to articulate what I actually know about mapmaking with the language that mapmakers or geographers would use. So that's not too good. But it's made the class so much fun!, mostly because the things that students are learning are the things I'm learning as well.

First week, we tried to replicate Kim Dingle's Maps of the U.S. Drawn from Memory by Las Vegas Teenagers as a way of confronting what we do and do not know about this place we live. Then we cut up some classroom maps that I found abandoned in the back of a closet.

Second week, we experimented with projection and scale. I do not really understand projection. We did the "draw the world on an orange and peel it" activity and we watched The West Wing on maps, but we didn't fully resolve how projections are created mathematically. Then, I came up with this idea to redraw the huge map of California I have hanging in our classroom (scale 1in=12mi) at a scale of 1in=24 miles. I did not know how to do this either; the hard-to-see picture at right documents a conversation I had with two friends over dinner (and a placemat) about how we would approach this problem. Of course, the next day they ended up figuring out how to do this fairly well on their own with a ruler, protractor and some string.

Third week, which was short, we started working on the "what's a country?" question, which began because I'm interested in Taiwan and the four-color theorem - which, in opposition to my usual feelings about worksheets and especially worksheets-as-vacation-homework, turned into this. (PDF) We also created paper mache globe bodies, which are going to lead to something related to latitude/longitude and a world geography lesson as we paint them.

Anyway, I found the globe at top at a Goodwill over the weekend. I don't know how old it is, but we're going to work on figuring that out based on which countries are there and which are not. I'm hoping that over the next two months together, we can work on mapping with Google Fusion Tables, do some orienteering or geocaching, make some maps as art, figure out where north is, maybe do some volunteer mapping for disaster preparation/response.

I used to believe more strongly in discipline expertise, and still do - but now wondering about the value in just figuring out the questions (and answers) as we go along. And now, Dana, I'm reconsidering the answer to your question. But if I teach it again, won't it just be another class I think I know some stuff about?