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5 Ideas for Using Park Maps in the Classroom

One of the most recognizable parts of any visit to a National Park is when you enter the welcome station and get your NPS Brochure. Thanks to its unique and iconic Unigrid design, these brochures are a great addition to any park visit and contain important visitor information, descriptions of park’s resources, and general maps to help orient visitors as they look at a plan for their day. You can learn more about them and their history here!


What happens to them after a visit varies widely. Sometimes they get recycled at the park, Other times they wind up getting smashed and stepped on among the items strewn across the floor of the family vehicle. Or, if you’re like me, they get put away in a box and slowly accumulate to a worrying level.


Most people agree that while they are incredibly useful within the park but does their usefulness end when you drive out of the gates? This isn’t so, especially if you are a teacher. In fact, they can be a valuable addition to a wide variety of projects and learning expeditions if you know how to use them.


Here are five ways that you can utilize park brochures in your classroom in the service of student learning!


1) Learning Wall - most brochures have strong visual elements in addition to the maps and park information they contain. If you use learning walls or are interested in creating an activity that is museum-like, such as creating learning stations or free-choice learning, the brochure can be a fantastic help. Consider using them as “wall resources” that are informally available or integrate them as a part of your next research/inquiry day. You can also use them to augment bulletin boards displaying students work. You will need two copies in order to fully utilize the content on both sides, so good luck with that as some parks are downright vicious about the one map per person policy (yea Death Valley, I’m looking at you!)


2) Historic Comparisons - parks with a strong history focus, like national monuments and historic sites, often revise interpretive perspectives and programs based on new research or the incorporation of more diverse perspectives. Some parks do this better than others, but it’s sometimes interesting to see how a Park, like the Little Bighorn Battlefield, gradually incorporates indigenous perspectives or more broad ways of thinking into their programming over the years. Using websites like National Park History can help you find older brochures for comparison. This can encourage critical thinking about the changes they see and why these changes took place? Are the newer brochures better in terms of the information they offer? Are there historic facts, biographies, or other things that have disappeared that may be worth bringing back to the forefront? Seeing the ebb and flow of history is a great way to build social studies skills for all ages.


3) Focus-Format Brochure - In addition to the Unigrid brochure, parks often print their own black-and-white supplemental brochures that provide deep dive information into a specific topic. This is an important way for parks to test new interpretive programs and to be responsive to new information. It also prevents them from having to issue guidebooks in place of the compact brochures. Have students expand the traditional research report by finding topics that they think would make good subjects for focus-format brochures. When they are done, offer them to a park or museum that intercepts the subjects they included so that visitors can better enjoy what they are seeing. You can also upload them to Google Drive or another cloud services, print off QR codes, and provide those to partners for a techy twist that saves paper and money.


4) The Math of Maps - you may not expect NPS brochures to be useful math tools, but if the brochure contains a map. Using the map to calculate area, perimeter, or the distance between park features is one idea. Another is using distance measurements to plan a “field trip” where they calculate the cost of the fuel that would be consumed or adding time to see how many places they can visit before closing time. While most national park units do have maps, smaller units do not, but therein lies another opportunity for students to explore scale by creating a map for the monument or historic site themselves and in doing so they can demonstrate their understanding of scale, distance, and measurement standards.


5) Expository Multimedia Projects - Among the CCSS is an ELA standard that asks students to strategically use multimedia to enhance messaging. While the brochures are great, one major drawback to the brochure is that they are flat media, not multimedia. Animations, videos, or audio captures are sometimes much better at explaining and illustrating complex scientific processes. Have students choose one of the topics in the brochure, do their own additional research, and create an animation or illustration that explains it in more detail. You can even upload these projects to YouTube and print off QR codes on stickers that parks could add/paste onto their maps for visitors to use.


If you don't happen to have the map you are looking for, you can try and reach out to the park directly and ask for a copy (including a stamped envelope helps) or use this website which has a small library of uploaded maps for you to browse!

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