When North is in the wrong place.....

"Maps are stories"

The importance of early inspiration, encouragement and putting yourself on the map

 Mapping as a form of story telling is continuing to encourage and inspire geographical thought at Marine Park Primary school in South Shields, helping us to better understand our sense of space, place and belonging.

My Leverhulme residency has happily enabled me to invite Dr Matt Jenkins and Professor Rachel Woodward to meet year 5 on their home turf and to continue a geographical exchange and sharing of knowledge.

The children have discussed and debated local landmarks, places of significance and in doing so come to an understanding of the  relational nature of space and place. Who knew that the Golden Chippy could have such significance ,that it would be the one place everyone could reference and orientate themselves around!?

Building a picture ( or a map) with and for Matt meant that they all shared their knowledge and noticed  how the identification of  a collectively experienced  landmark made other landmarks/spaces accessible to the brain

" Oh I know where you mean now, I go there with my nana"

I found it a fascinating process as geographical choreographies emerged, hands tracing through the air, gestures frantically aimed at Matt and the  other children to help them better understand where. Movement and memory combining to construct spatial meanings.

" You know Matt, over there....where Asda is (hands wave through space pointing to landmarks beyond the classroom walls).near the metro.... You do know where the metro is Matt?" ( raised eyebrow and exasperated tone!)

The landscape is in their body memory as they wiggle about and indicate space and position and try to orientate Matt. The map grows and with it detail and relationships to space.

A really poignant moment arises when we discuss how far something near can be as in the case of the new library " The Word." The new library is a wonderful resource but it's new position means that the majority of the children are unable to independently access it . Now there is a road to negotiate and a  longer walk so that it is no longer felt to be a safe distance away by both children and parents. We had a profound feeling/learning experience of how relative and relational space can be and how public amenities and services can become inaccessible.

We considered how near "The Word" looked on our map and were able to discuss the emotional aspects of space and how mums in particular felt that unlike the old library the new library was "too far to go alone" This mini geographical sharing has great social and spatial significance for the children and the wider community. 

The map continues to grow, bit by bit the whole class pitches in their particular bit of associative knowledge and something amazing happens as a child diagnosed with " additional needs" begins to contribute more and more. His fingers wiggle in the air as he walks through the space in his mind and body until  head on one side peering at the map he says

" Matt... you have got North in the wrong place"

A great discussion ensues and the student is able to show and talk and reason ,sharing his thinking process and suddenly the whole map changes.

The sea moves, Ocean Road moves, our world shifts as we all re orientate, re adjust, and adapt to this new perspective. The class agree , he is right and so this child has metaphorically moved educational mountains , he is an expert geographer . Such an empowering experience to contribute and to be endorsed in this way and also great for an academic to have his sense of direction questioned!! Thankfully the ever gracious Matt is blessed with a willingness to embrace all learning encounters and to move the sea when required....not sure if he can turn back the tide though as we have definitely started something with year 5!

"Orientating begins with geography.., it reflects a need of the conscious self aware organism for a kind of transcendent orientation that asks not just where am I, but where do I fit into this landscape? Where have I been, where will I go and what values will I pack for the trip?"

Stephen S Hall