This is a site about maps.
We think maps are tremendously important. They convey a wealth of information with amazing subtlety. They help us understand not just where we are in the world, but who’s around us and what’s going on. We encounter maps every day—on the television, in the newspaper, in games, on the street, and in school. And, most of all, they’re a lot of fun.
Unfortunately, map skills are hardly ever taught in schools. Geography, once a staple of elementary curricula in the United States, now gets a bum rap. In the late 1980s, a survey conducted on behalf of the National Geographic Society found that one in seven Americans could not even locate the United States on an unmarked map. Nearly three decades later, our society’s understanding of our world is still dismal.
The goal of this site is to demonstrate one way for geography to make it back into the classroom as a subject that is challenging, engaging, relevant, and fun. We’re dispensing with rote memorization. We’re embracing technology. We’re showcasing the inherent connection between geography skills and math skills. And we’re asking students to puzzle over a single question for a sustained period of time—to notice details, to investigate hunches, to collaborate with their friends, to discuss, to debate, to explore, and, ultimately, to guess.
Every Monday morning, we will post a new map on this site. The maps will be unlabeled, uncaptioned thematic maps with no scales or legends. The maps we post will be of five types: choropleths, cartograms, dot maps, proportional symbol maps, and isoline maps. Each of these types of maps is a powerful tool for conveying detailed statistical information. You can familiarize yourself with these types of maps on our “Basics” page.
For each week’s map, your job is simple: figure out what data is being presented by the map. To solve the map, you have to find the clues on it and come up with an explanation that ties them all together. Your answer should be specific and precise.
Each day, we will add new hints that will help you figure out how to solve the map. If you’re stumped by the blank map on Monday, check back for new information and suggestions that will guide you as you explore the map. On Friday, the fourth hint of the week should make the map solvable for most people who have taken the time to explore the map in detail.
We hope that teachers will share our maps with their classes. They would make excellent warm-up questions to get students’ brains pumping at the beginning of the week. You may wish to print out each week’s map and hang it in the hallway for students to ponder as the week goes on. For younger grades, they might also make good challenge problems for students who have finished their in-class work. However you use these maps, the most important things are to give students time to explore the maps and the opportunity to collaborate with their peers. These maps are not intended to be solved quickly, but rather to reward those students who really dig into them!
One interesting feature of our maps is that they allow students to use any resource they wish, including the internet, in order to solve them. You won’t find the answers by using a search engine, but you can learn a lot about the individual places on the map by looking them up online. Teachers should present the internet as a useful tool and help students learn how to use it productively—but students should never think of the internet as a place that has all the answers or as a substitute for creativity and critical thought.
Each of our maps is marked with a level of difficulty on a ten-point scale. This scale may evolve in the future as we get a better feel for how students are doing with solving the maps. At the moment, we expect that maps of difficulty ten-out-of-ten will be extremely hard—and very rare. In general, we plan for most of our maps to be accessible to a wide audience.
Of course, the best way to familiarize yourself with all the maps on this site is to play through each one, looking at the hints where necessary. But for those of you who are just finding this site now, you may find it more practical to check out this helpful list of all the maps we have made so far.