Posted by: markhowell101 | February 22, 2010

The OS Premier League

I find map skills a very difficult thing to teach. Mostly because the range of abilities varies so greatly withn any given group. My current year 10’s being a case in point, their skills varying from excellent (those who do D of E or some involved in Scouts) to those who just see squiggles and pictures of a piece of papar. The second reason I find it difficult is that, like many skills, it is intrinsic to some people whilst others could struggle for hours and get no better. I always found maps second nature from an early age so have always struggled to help those who simply cannot understand them at all. With time pressures on my GCSE groups being so intense it is difficult to dedicate much time to map skills over the 2 years and whilst I did a ‘maps week’ early in the course this was by no means comprehensive.

All this means that on Friday before half term I set an end of topic test on rivers which was heavy on map skills and the class generally did very poorly. There were successes but a good 50-70% of the class were below the level expected. On analysis it appeared that their knowledge of rivers was sound and what led to the poor results was poor interpretations of maps (or in some case no attempt to interpret it).

I therefore needed a strategy to make map skills second nature over the next 2 years and at the same time try to find out what particular areas of focus needed addressing in lesson time (height, cross sections, distance etc). I decided to give each of the class a local OS map to take home (we had a surplus of the free ones this year for year 7) and each 2 weeks set a series of questions ranging in difficulty from draw the symbol for a campsite to draw a rough cross section of the land from point X to point Y.

I wanted to adopt a carrot rather than a stick approach so that this felt like something they wanted to do rather than homework. I have therefore turned it into a competition. Each 2 weeks point will be awarded for correct answers. These will be totted up and students given points in a league, which will be updated and posted on our class wiki. My intention is to give prizes on a half termly basis to encourage repeated effort on this work with perhaps prizes for best improver as time goes on.

I was concerned about the particpation of those at the 2 extreme ends of the scale. For the 4 or 5 who I am aware are very good with maps I have made this an optional participation, though many seemed keen due to the competitional nature. Equally I was concerned that those who struggle would not bother and this is perhaps my greatest ongoing concern. I have expressed that initial non-completion of this work will be met with no real penalty but that if they faired poorly in future map tests that there would be consequences to this as they had ongoing opportunites to improve and I had a clear record of who was making effort and who was not. I also made clear that this was a way for me to find out where the real areas of need were in the group so I could make my class support more directed.

They were given their maps and first rounds of questions today and seemed keen to get it done. I remain concerned about those who struggle and will no doubt post a follow up to this blog in the future to suggest the success of this. If anyone has any comments on map skills strategies they have used please feel free to pass on this information. I am keen to get this right and would welcome any ideas.

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