A map, as some ten-year-olds see it, ……


Mrs. Blythe’s fifth-grade social studies class, St. Martin’s Catholic School in Gaithersburg, Maryland

Some of the thank-you cards made by the studentsnote their use and levels of map comprehension

Unlike other core subjects such as history, foreign language, or the arts, there is no federal funding dedicated to advancing geography little less cartography education. Thus, when given the opportunity, National Geographic staff are encouraged to assist  teachers with imparting ever more essential geospatial skills to their students. This assistance comes in many forms, from sharing the National Geographic Education website with teachers and students, to connecting schools with their state Geography Education Alliances, to more conventional classroom presentations.

Recently, I was invited to speak to Mrs. Blythe’s fifth-grade social studies class at St. Martin’s Catholic School in Gaithersburg, Maryland. Besides speaking about the art and science of cartography, I brought hand annotated copy to illustrate all of the essential steps required in the production of one of our reference maps.

During the question and answer period the children asked many thought provoking questions. One more surprisingly complex than the other:

  • Why are National Geographic maps revised so often? Because features on the Earth, such as place-names, countries, and boundaries, change frequently.
  • Why do you make so many different types of maps? Because maps are the best way to graphically tell stories about our Earth and the people who live on it.
  • Have you used the Robinson Projection? Yes, the Robinson Projection, a map projection that minimizes size and shape distortion of all areas except for the polar regions, was the Society’s flagship projection from 1988-1998.

Very interesting questions, coming from a group of fifth graders—none older than 10. I learned much from Mrs. Blythe’s class that day. I learned, that a map, as some ten-year-olds see it, consist of more than colors, lines, and labels on a globe or on a flat sheet of paper. By that age, some have already developed good map reading skills while others have just begun to discover the inherent and wonderful intricacies of the art and science of cartography.

The 112th Congress needs to know that you support the Teaching Geography is Fundamanental Act. For more information go to: SpeakUpForGeography.org

Juan José Valdés
The Geographer
Director of Editorial and Research
National Geographic Maps

Changing Planet

Meet the Author
Juan José Valdés is The Geographer and National Geographic Maps' Director of Editorial and Research. He guides and assists the Map Policy Committee in setting border representations, disputed territories, and naming conventions for National Geographic. As NG Map's Director of Editorial and Research, he is responsible for ensuring the accuracy and consistency of its maps and map products.