The first day of spring term 2011, Mick McCann’s Geography 270 (map design) students were told that they’d be making a difference in the community, forging a relationship between Juniper Elementary and Central Oregon Community College and applying the skills they learned in class to a real situation— all with the same project. As they learned the basics of map design, the geography students began working on their plans to create a 44 x 44 square foot map on the Juniper Elementary playground.
Map design hadn’t been taught on COCC’s campus since 2002, but McCann brought it back with the intention of putting together this project, which is something he said he’d been interested in for a long time.
“If you’re going to teach a class on map design, the best way to do it is to actually design a map,” said McCann.
The planning for the project began in the fall of 2010, when McCann introduced the idea to Maria Madden, the dean of students at Juniper Elementary school. The two were already acquainted from McCann’s time spent teaching at public schools and, according to Madden, both believed strongly in the need for community partnership. They decided on the idea for the map, and that the paint would be provided by Juniper Elementary, but the labor would be provided for no charge by the students. By March, McCann and Madden confirmed their project with the school district, and it was ready to introduce to the students by the beginning of spring term.
When it came time to present the idea to the students, McCann said he was excited to see his vision coming into reality but also nervous.
“I was apprehensive because I didn’t know how it would turn out. This was the first time I’d done this, too,” said McCann.
Some of the students shared McCann’s nerves when it came to approaching the project, according to one of the students in the class, Mary Ludwig.
“I think everyone in the class was a little overwhelmed and excited at the same time,” said Ludwig, a human development major at COCC.
Another student from the class, visual arts major Sara Lehto, was more excited than nervous.“What I need to do is talk to the students and see what they want,” said Barnett.
“I heard about the class in the fall, and I was really looking forward to it. I knew we were going to do a community project,” said Lehto, though she didn’t know what the project would be.
Despite weather complications that at one point washed away all of the class’s progress, McCann said the drawing process took about two weeks. The students spent some of their class time, as well as shifts on the weekends working on the map. Other set backs included making the map as accurate as possible, deciding on a grid, picking a color scheme (the budget only allowed for three colors, according to Ludwig) and deciding where to put Hawaii–which ultimately ended up away from the rest of the map and by the sidewalk.
McCann said that his students were thrilled with the final product, once the project was finally done.
“They were excited because all of a sudden their learning had meaning,” said McCann.
According to Lehto, seeing such a big physical representation of their efforts wasn’t the only thing that made Geography 270 “one of the better classes offered at COCC,” it was also making the connection with the community that made it so beneficial.
“I think the goal at the end wasn’t just to get a good grade, it was to make a good map for the kids… I think that’s the difference between the classroom and a class that integrates,” said Lehto.
The Map Today
The school year has just begun, and already the map is seeing plenty of use by students and teachers alike.
“The students are using the map during recess, as well as during class,” said Madden. “It’s an interactive piece that helps them get involved physically and mentally. They learn by doing.”
Though the students Geography 270 have moved on to other classes, there is at least one who is still seeing the impact of their work. Lehto’s daughter attends Juniper Elementary School, and gets to play with the map daily. Lehto said that on the first day of school, her daughter came home with scraped knees that she got from playing “the map game,” a game in which the children shout out the names of states and have to run to them as fast as they can. Lehto said it was a great feeling to know that she’d done something not only for the community, but something that her daughter could experience and benefit from directly.
“I’m proud and she’s proud, too,” said Lehto.
McCann will not be teaching Geography 270 in the 2011-2012 school year, but the partnership that has been born between COCC and Juniper elementary will continue. He teaches a class in the spring that is designed for students interested in teaching geography; every year the class will go to the playground, check on the map and if it needs maintnance the class will tend to it, and if not they will spend their term thinking of lessons to be taught incorporating the map.
“We’d like to keep encouraging community partnership between k-12 schools and the college,” said Madden.
You may contact Cedar Goslin at firstname.lastname@example.org