Students traverse the continent on traveling map

University of Alaska program aims to spark interest in geography

Posted: Monday, December 07, 2009

Students from five different Juneau schools traveled all over North America last week. Some went to Maine. Some went to Canada. Some went to Mexico.

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Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Michael Penn / Juneau Empire

All of them went without shoes.

That's because they were traveling on the 26-foot-by-35-foot, 145-pound National Geographic "Giant Traveling Map of North America" brought to Juneau schools by Katie Kennedy, education and outreach coordinator for the University of Alaska's geography program in Fairbanks.

Kennedy has been taking the North America map around Alaska for the past month. In years past, she has taken National Geographic's Asia and Africa maps into schools.

"These were created to spark interest in geography," said Kennedy. "It's the 'wow' factor."

The students participated in activities on population, finding 20 North American cities with populations of 1 million people or more - and figuring out why those cities might be there.

"It's getting them to think like a geographer," Kennedy said.

Riverbend Elementary fifth- grader Shelby Girmscheid, 11, said she learned "the lines" - latitude and longitude.

Skylar Grimm, 10, said students found states and their capitols.

"The map's huge," said Torrez Collette, 11. "It's so awesome."

Collette said he also liked the giant beach ball of a globe Kennedy brought, and her analogy that the lines of latitude and longitude made it "like an onion."

Riverbend fifth grade teacher Kelly Renouf said her class has been studying the regions of the United States and is starting on countries.

"When you have a chance to touch it and stand on it, it's a valuable experience for sure," she said. "I've been trying to explain how large Alaska is - it's usually shrunk (on maps). I hate it when Alaska is floating by the coast of California .... and the Southeast portion is hard to visualize because it's always just floating by itself."

Renouf said she had four students in the class who are either from Mexico or have parents from there, the map helped provide them with scope and context.

"I wish we could keep it a week," she said.

Kennedy took the map to Harborview Elementary School, Gastineau Elementary, Mendenhall River Community School, Floyd Dryden Middle School and Riverbend.

More information on the map is available at

• Contact Mary Catharine Martin at or 523-2276.

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