Students inflate their knowledge

September 14, 2010

By Laura Geggel

Fourth-graders Riley McCabe and Donovan Bahall (above) and Haley Magee (right) paint paper mache balloon globes blue during a geography lesson at Challenger Elementary School. Photos by Laura Geggel

Many elementary school students know their city, state and country of residence. But do they know the difference between latitude and longitude? The definition of the prime meridian? The number of oceans swishing around the earth?

Fourth-grade teachers at Challenger Elementary School are embarking on a yearlong geography unit, teaching their students lessons about maps, trade and culture.

“They’ll look at their shirts and see where they are made,” fourth-grade teacher Kathy Stimpson said.

Later in the year, the students will learn about countries around the Pacific Rim, concentrating on one country for a final project. Stimpson and the other fourth-grade teachers give in-depth lessons about Vietnam, Peru and China; different cultures and landforms; and guidance about how they can do their final projects.

But first, students had to learn about the continents and oceans. Each student made a paper mache globe and painted it blue. Once the paint dries, they will glue on the continents, creating their first 3-D map of the world.

Before students dipped their brushes in the blue tempera paint, Stimpson asked if they could remember the seven continents and four oceans. Every hand in the room shot up, as students spouted off the answers: North and South America, Africa, Antarctica, Asia, Australia and Europe.

The oceans were a cinch, with students reeling through them one after the other: Atlantic, Arctic, Indian and Pacific.

Student Riley McCabe remembered her geography terms well.

“Latitude is like horizontal and longitude is straight up and down,” she said.

Until the geography unit, “I didn’t know there were so many countries,” she added.

Donovan Bahall said he was glad to learn the location of countries all around the world. How else would he know where animals were from when he went to the zoo and read the information card, he asked.

Mauricio Hidalgo learned Antarctica is a continent, even though it has the fewest people.

“I thought there were six continents before, but now I know there are seven,” he said, while painting his paper mache globe.

Avery Taylor said the geography lesson had fixed a misconception she had about countries and continents.

“I thought Russia was a continent, but I guess it’s not,” she said.

Students also learned geographical vocabulary.

“I did not know there was such a thing as the prime meridian,” Matthew Seminatore said. “It’s like the equator, except in the other direction.”

Three mothers volunteered during the globe-making session, ensuring that paint stayed on the table.

“It was so messy,” volunteer Yvette Artman said. “But it was a fun way to learn about geography. When I was in school, we would look at the plastic maps on the projector. We did not do any arts and crafts in the classroom, ever.”

She said geography could expose children to different career options.

“Maybe they want to work with maps, or maybe they want to be an airline pilot or in the Navy,” said Artman, saying her husband saw the world when he served in the U.S. Navy.

Volunteer Sandy Dong said she liked the hands-on aspect of the project.

“It helps to make everything more meaningful,” she said. “You’re visually making the connection.”

Her daughter agreed. Olivia Dong said geography was important, “so we can learn about where we live on the earth.”

Laura Geggel: 392-6434, ext. 241, or Comment at

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