Mapping Community Connections Strengthens Students’ Knowing of Nature
THE RESEARCH: Jagger, S. L. (2013). “This is more like home: Knowing nature through community mapping.” Canadian Journal of Environmental Education, 18, 173–189.
Place-based environmental education provides opportunities for students to learn in a context that is local, familiar, and relevant. The author of this paper focused on a place-based teaching technique—community mapping—to see how it might influence students’ relationships to nature. Community mapping allows community members to express their knowledge, values, and visions spatially as they draw connections between people and place. Additionally, it gives participants a voice as they express their own representations and connections.
To address the relationship between community mapping and knowledge of nearby nature, the author examined a community mapping project conducted with a fourth-grade classroom in British Columbia. The class’s project centered on a local provincial park and integrated diverse disciplines, including social studies, science, and math. During this 12-week project, students went on field trips, took photographs, recorded observations in a field journal, and met with local community members. Students then arranged their written stories, drawings, and photographs on a bulletin board map of the park in their classroom.
To understand how community mapping projects influence students’ understanding of nature, the author conducted interviews with students, analyzed their written work, and observed field trips and the mapmaking process. From this analysis, five learning actions emerged: observation, situated knowing, identifying, restoring and transforming. Students engaged in observation as they recorded descriptions of the environment, the connections between living and nonliving things, and human influences on the environment. Through situated knowing, they connected their own stories, as well as those of other community members, with the park. For example, students shared stories on the map about their own experiences at the park, as well as the experiences of First Nations, or aboriginal people, whom they interviewed. As students worked, they began to identify connections between human actions and the environment, such as how litter may affect animals in the park. Students then recognized how the park was a place they needed to care for, maintain, and restore. Students then became environmental educators, or transformers, and shared their new understandings with friends and family, while also voicing their own stories and connections to the park.These results suggest that community mapping may be a useful tool for connecting students with local places and the natural world. The community mapping project engaged students in direct sensory experiences and interactions with local natural places; in doing so, the mapping project strengthened emotional bonds and highlighted connections between human actions, history, and natural places. After the project, many students expressed attachment and ownership of the park. Furthermore, they recognized how their actions in the park influenced animals, plants, and other people.
To enhance the value and effectiveness of community mapping projects, the author suggests that projects continue for a longer time than 12 weeks. Additionally, future projects could further integrate social and cultural aspects of a place by incorporating the diverse voices of a place and ensuring the project is inclusive and empowering to all members of the community.
THE BOTTOM LINE:
Community mapping can be a powerful tool for classroom teachers to enhance students’ understanding and connectedness to the natural world. Community maps can incorporate field trips, written stories, interviews, photographs, and artwork as means of understanding and drawing connections between people and place. While this case study was conducted with fourth-grade students, it may be useful for students of all ages as an interactive learning tool.