Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Using Story Maps in Geography lessons

A story map is a presentation of several slides featuring a main map window consisting of an aerial photograph, an atlas-style map or even an Ordnance Survey map. A secondary window then provides text, images, hyperlinks, photographs, embedded video, questions or activities.  As you progress through the slides the main map window moves to another location.  The true potential of story maps is only limited by ones creativity!

“Story maps use geography as a means of organising and presenting information. They tell the story of a place, event, issue, trend, or pattern in a geographic context” ESRI

The ESRI Story Maps Gallery is a rich treasure trove of ready-to-use resources which can be used in lessons as starters, main activities or extended reading for homework. 
Story maps can be used in three main ways in Geography teaching: as a resource, student activity and an adventure.
American SW Water Crisis

Story maps as resource
Story maps can be used to teach students about new places, for discovering more about familiar places, for contrasting places, for developing aerial photography interpretation skills and for helping students prepare for or remember fieldwork.  Examples of my story maps include the American SW Water Crisis, Disappearing Glaciers and River Darent Fieldwork.  Story maps work on any devices but are viewed best on a PC/Mac or tablet. No apps or software needs to be downloaded.

Story maps as student activity
Teachers can design a whole lesson or series of lessons using a story map as an interactive textbook with questions for students, activities and multimedia experiences. Students can easily create their own story maps of their route to school or of their favourite theme parks etc.  Story maps can be created using a range of templates.  The most useful two templates are the easier Map Tour and more advanced Map Journal. 

Students will need practice to master creating story maps and they should copy and paste their text from a word processing app to avoid losing any unsaved work.  The Map Journal template will require them to be able to share their photos using web-based storage like Dropbox or OneDrive. 

Story maps as adventure
Alastair Bonnett in his book ‘What is Geography?’ describes our subject as an imaginative leap into the unknown, its essence is one of exploration which takes us beyond the familiar and makes the unknown known. Story maps can enable students to participate in this same sense of exploration and adventure as they discover places entirely new to them. 

Students could create a story map leading readers on an adventure through their local area to visit unexpected sites or places only known to local people.  It could include their own photographs and could show how surprisingly diverse their local area is.

Danakil story map
I recently made a story map called Into Danakil: Hottest Place on Earth which follows an expedition on route from Ethiopia’s Mekele airport into the heart of the Danakil Depression.  It includes stunning photographs of this extreme environment, a range of mapping types and aerial photography, YouTube video clips, questions for students and information on the sites most significant geographical features, both physical and human. 

Creating a story map an ArcGIS Online schools organisational account allows interactive story maps to be easily created and shared with colleagues and students.  Making story maps also requires familiarity with the making and saving ArcGIS Online web maps. These are very easy to create and should be the starting point for working with AGOL.