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Home > Educator Resources > Map Interpretation

Map Interpretation

Interpreting and analyzing field data is of course an invaluable part of wildlife conservation research. Field researchers analyze a lot of data relevant to the species and/or habitat under study. The number of individuals in a population or herd is a critical piece of data, for example; likewise, analyzing the change in an individual animal's weight over time is also important. Population data and morphological data like these are each critical to almost all wildlife research programs.

Another important data type is geographical data. This type of data tells us where certain things are located, where things move to and from, how the locations of those things change over time, and how changes observed in one thing affect others.

More specifically, wildlife researchers often must consider the actual physical location of natural resources, of the wildlife under study (either individuals or entire populations), and of man-made changes to the landscape. Based on that data, they can then make important determinations about the past, present, and future situation of the species.

The findings of this sort of analysis are usually reported in the form of maps that visually illustrate the location of features like those mentioned above, as well as the relationships between those features. A relatively new technology, Geographic Information Systems (GIS), allows a map reader to actually control what features are displayed on a map.

This strategy will focus on the use of geographic data and maps in the classroom.

This strategy meets three national standards as outlined by National Geographic:
  • how to use maps and other geographic representations, tools, and technologies to acquire, process, and report information from a spatial perspective;
  • how to analyze the spatial organization of people, places, and environments on the Earth's surface;
  • how to apply geography to interpret the present and plan for the future.

  • Model Map for Basic Mapping Strategy
    Object Thumbnail
    JPEG image (255.3 kb)

  • Model Questions for Basic Mapping Strategy
    PDF document (4.9 kb)

  • Model Rubric for Basic Mapping Strategy
    PDF document (4.8 kb)

Other materials:
All that is required to implement this strategy in the classroom is at least one map, with enough copies of that map to share among students or student groups. Depending on overall lesson goals, additional maps may be needed. In any event, those maps may be downloaded from the Media Gallery pages on the Field Trip Earth website. See the Media Galleries for
  • Sri Lanka's Carnivores
  • ,
  • The Red Wolves of Alligator River
  • ,
  • The Elephants of Cameroon
  • ,
  • The Appalachian Black Bears
  • , and
  • The Atalantic Sea Turtles

  • Instructional sequence:
    Maps can form the backbone of an excellent inquiry lesson. Research questions can be provided to the students alongside the maps; alternatively, advanced students may first want to analyze maps independently, and then create a list of hypotheses or research questions that they can then test by looking at other maps.
    • Students, working individually or in groups, should be provided with at least one map to interpret and analyze.
    • After giving students time to familiarize themselves with the maps, allows students to suggest a set of research questions and/or use teacher-developed research questions that can only be investigated via map analysis (see model questions attached to this strategy).
    • Teacher should circulate among students/groups to assist in the map interpretation. Students may be prompted to suggest additional research questions during this time.

    Use "Field Diaries" and other sections of site to gather additional information about the animals, regions, or research questions under consideration Students make a field journal entry or some other writing project (opinion paper, newspaper article, etc.) that explains their findings in the context of the maps. Students build a set of research questions that they could pursue in future study (e.g., comparing and contrasting movements between elephants in two distinct regions of Cameroon).

    Students may attempt to create maps of their neighborhoods, classrooms, schools, or other sites.

    Since research questions in inquiry lessons generally have no specific "correct" answer, teachers must use a rubric of some kind to assess student or student group map interpretation skills. A model rubric is attached to this strategy.

    Literacy advancement:
    Geographic literacy is of course an important component of students' lives, and should be encouraged if students are to become capable of considering the relationship between their lives and those of the planet's wildlife. The more traditional notion of literacy is advanced by extensions to this strategy: namely, by requiring students to write journal entries or other products to explain their map interpretations, and by requiring that students scan the website to locate other information relevant to their research questions and to then consider that information within the context of their map interpretations.

    Author: MacAllister, Mark
    About the author:

    Mark MacAllister is the Project Coordinator for Field Trip Earth.

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