The Arctic World’s the Stage …

In my last post, I referenced Shakespeare’s idea that “all the world’s a stage” and that humans are merely actors on a stage that doesn’t shift (much) geographically. That is, unless, technology is involved. The Douglas C-47 Skytrain definitely changed the geography of World War II – more “easily” flying the Hump to resupply China than navigating the Burmese Road, a mess of ruts through the Pat Kai range at the eastern edge of the Himalayas.

This week, my students have been assessing 45 locations in the world in terms of their ability to isolate, integrate or create choke points for humankind over the last 2,000 years. One of those locations is the Arctic Ocean. Generally speaking, it’s been lurking up at the top of the world with the label of ISOLATION, an easy moniker for such a frozen place.

But, this week, my students get to see how this theme of movement is played out in their own history – in the world of energy hungry, Gortex and Hy-Vent wearing, nuclear fueled navies competing for territories and resources at the top of the world. Our northernmost border, often overshadowed by the difficulties at the southern border of the United States, is in the spotlight as our president is going FAR north to stake a claim on an area that technology has opened.

Teaching mental mapping is critical to equip students to navigate their own futures and the future of their world.

Mentally Mapping the World

One of the National Geography Standards is a concept called mental mapping – the idea that as citizens of the world, we should be able to “mentally organize spatial in­formation about people, places, and environments and must be able to call upon and use this information in appropriate contexts.”  It’s an important skill whether you are evaluating a situation around the corner or across the globe.

This week we’ve been working through 45 locations in Europe, Africa and Asia that will be important as we explore the ebb and flow of history across the last two thousand years in that part of the world. I want students to understand, in the words of Shakespeare, that despite the fact that “all the world’s a stage,”  the geography doesn’t change (much).  The women and men who have been fleeing from Turkey and Syria across the Mediterranean to EU nations in 2015 are reversing the same paths their predecessors traveled as they fled from the ashes of Rome across Mare Nostrum  to Constantinople in the 5th century.  Yes, the individuals and technology of travel have changed, but the geography remains much the same.

So, armed with an iPad for apps like Google Sheets, Keynote and ImageQuest, as well as an old-fashioned spiral of lecture notes about the geographic themes of location, place and movement, my students are creating Thinglink maps.  They are identifying the various locations by creating a pop-up slide for each one.  They must describe the physical characteristics of the place in terms of how it might influence the choices the people living there might make about daily life today or in the past and include a photo that is representative of their text.  They are also aware of how relative location might influence the movement of people, places or ideas.

It takes some time, but we will be able to refer back to the maps throughout the year to trace the influence of geography as we march through 2,000 years of history in 36 weeks. And, hopefully, we can make some connections along the way to the world they are living in today.