Educator Spotlight: Mapping with Household Materials

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Ryan Lipford, this week’s Educator of the Week, challenged his students to create three-dimensional maps using data that interested them and household materials as cartography tools. Ryan teaches World Geography and Cultures to 7th graders and Modern World History to 10th graders at Edmund Burke School in Washington, D.C.

Ryan smiles after a successful school event. Photo courtesy Ryan Lipford

How would you describe yourself as a teacher, or what is your teaching philosophy?

I tend to be pretty laid-back, but I have high standards at the same time. My philosophy really matches the school’s. We believe in actively engaging students in their own education. It’s always a delicate balancing act between how much I do to guide and mold the student versus how much I let them fly on their own—knowing they might fall before they get back up.

For your Nat Geo Educator Certification, you created a project about 3-D mapmaking. Tell us about it.

Students were required to pick an Asian country and create a three-dimensional map using data of their choosing and household materials. No matter the subject of the map, students became familiar with the physical geography, political divisions, major cities, and impact of humans for the nation of their choice.

Students were challenged to think outside of their own geography by studying a nation thousands of miles away, and they were challenged in a hands-on way to create a map out of everyday household items.

What surprised or impressed you about your students’ reaction to this activity?

I was impressed with the range of data that my students chose to focus on. Some created maps based on population by region, others focused on religion, and some showed languages spoken—just to name a few. Most strikingly, I saw that they took great pride in producing a tangible creation. Many students are very used to working with screens, so the hands-on project was fulfilling.

Teachers: Download the full lesson plan here.

What advice do you have for other teachers who want to help their students have a more global perspective?

No matter what you are teaching, there are always global impacts. Whether it’s American history, psychology, or economics—even if you’re focused on a narrow part of the world—it still has global impacts. It just requires taking the time to research and figure out what those global impacts are. You can either have the students do that work, or you can do it yourself and lead the students on a trail of discovery.

The interview has been edited and condensed.

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The Educator Spotlight series features inspiring activities and lessons that educators are implementing with their students that connect them to the world in bold and exciting ways.

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