Diane Ripollone, this week’s Educator of the Week, led a mapping activity in her 10th-grade Earth science class. After reading a book about coal mining, students used tabletop maps and MapMaker Interactive to learn about natural resources in different states around the country.
Tell us about the mapping activity you led in your earth science class. What did it involve, and what were the learning objectives?
My students read the book Rocket Boys by Homer Hickam, which takes place in a coal mining town. The book mentions descriptions of coal mining and the issues surrounding it. I decided to integrate National Geographic tabletop state maps into this activity. Each student was assigned a state and had different questions to answer, and the students studying West Virginia were able to integrate a lot of what they learned about coal mining from Rocket Boys.
The reading is great for building on literacy skills, but my goal was to also show them what was happening in each state environmentally. For example, what natural resources does each state have? How are they obtained? How are these resources formed? I wanted to integrate all these aspects so they could really understand a state, especially our own state of North Carolina. They considered these questions on a state level, regional level, and finally a global level, when they had to choose another country and compare its resources to those of the state they studied.
Part of the activity involved learning about geology and natural resources in North Carolina. What do you think students gained from focusing on their home state?
One of my students said they never knew what North Carolina had in commodities. Another student was studying a state where their relatives lived, and they hadn’t realized what resources the state produced. I don’t think students knew, for example, the geological products that states trade and share, and the impacts they have on state economies. Students also really enjoyed coloring the maps and creating legends. I told them, “You don’t realize this, but we have the Blue Ridge Parkway and the Appalachian Trail—they are gorgeous.” A lot of the kids loved learning about beautiful places that are local and accessible to them in their own state and country.
What role did individual students’ questions and curiosities play in the outcome of the activity?
After the activity, I gave my students a “3 2 1” survey–they had to write three things they knew before the activity, two things they learned, and one thing they wanted to learn more about. I went over all the questions, and we talked about what we could study a bit more in depth. I also always ask the students at the beginning of the year what they would like to learn about in earth science, and I try to hit on common themes. For example, in this lesson students really learned a lot about coal and coal mining, which prompted them to learn about the environmental problems with mining. In their “3 2 1” surveys, a couple students wrote that they wanted to talk about the environmental issues, so I incorporated that into another lesson.
What is your teaching mission?
My mission is to make sure my students are informed citizens. I want them to understand the scientific process and the science issues that surround them. We only hear one side, and there are always two sides to an issue. Let’s make sure we understand all parts of an issue so we can make informed decisions.
This 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.