St. Peter students take a walking tour of Africa - St. Peter MN: News

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St. Peter students take a walking tour of Africa

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Posted: Thursday, February 14, 2013 8:15 am | Updated: 11:52 am, Wed Feb 20, 2013.

From Egypt to Madagascar, then a flying leap to South Africa.

South Elementary second graders took a walking tour of Africa on Tuesday, traversing the Sahara before taking a swim in the South Atlantic Ocean.

Measuring 26 by 25 feet, a traveling map of Africa on loan from National Geographic helped the second graders learn more about reading maps and helped the children visualize life on the wonderfully diverse continent.

The Minnesota Alliance for Geographic Education is currently in possession of the map and has been sending it around the state, lending it to college professors and elementary schools to use for various educational purposes.

Mark Bjelland, a Geography and Environmental Science professor at Gustavus Adolphus College requested that the map also be sent to St. Peter. He invited children from South Elementary up to the campus on Tuesday to see the map for themselves and learn a little more about Africa.

With help from fellow professor Valerie Walker’s Elementary Social Studies Methods and Materials class, Bjelland walked the kids around the map, pointing out certain topographical features and teaching students about scale and distance.

Tuesday afternoon Jodi Nixon and Alex Noble’s classes got the opportunity to explore the map. Both classes played a geography-themed game of “Simon Says,” running around the map and identifying different coasts, deserts and rivers.

“We were learning basic map reading direction and map reading skills,” Bjelland said.

Afterward, volunteers from Nixon’s class laid down on the map and attempted to measure Africa in student-sized units, only to find that the continent is nearly the same length across in both directions (five and a half students both ways).

Gustavus junior and elementary education major Jill Oxborough said afterward that the experience was a valuable one.

“Using the map of Africa as a tool for the students to gain knowledge about not only the geography of Africa but also global significance was engaging and fun,” Oxborough said. “Not only for the students, but me!”

Junior Megan Schroepfer, another elementary education major, agreed.

“Many students knew many things about Africa, but were also very engaged about learning more,” Schroepfer said. “Some thought the map reminded them of Google Earth and I was shocked at how much they knew about reading a map. It was a very successful experience and I would love to do it again.”

South Elementary teacher Alex Noble said the map was a valuable teaching tool and was a great way to learn more about geography.

“We use Google Earth for various things,” Noble said. “We haven’t studied Africa specifically but we do use maps and explore maps. We’ve talked about cardinal directions so this is good review.”

Noble said the map provides more kinesthetic learning, something students don’t always get in the classroom.

“With Google Earth, we’re visual, but with this we can see and touch,” Noble said.

The map was also used by the college’s Geographic Information Systems class. The course teaches students how to collect and manipulate geographic data, create maps and analyze spatial patterns and relationships incorporating satellite imagery, aerial photography and census data.

Reach reporter Jessica Bies at 507-931-8568 or follow her on @sphjessicabies

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