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Fun with Maps

Authored By: 
Gabriella Skwara, History Teacher

John Oliver, the host of HBO’s Last Week Tonight, has a running joke that he plays on his audience. Whenever he is discussing another part of the world, he points to an incorrectly highlighted map and then calls people out for not having caught the mistake. He will sometimes point to several “wrong” countries before he finally settles on the actual one. This somewhat pretentious joke points to a frequently true stereotype about Americans: we aren't very good at world geography. However, the Beekman students in my Geography and World Cultures class would beg to differ.

Most adults remember studying maps and filling in blank ones in order to memorize the names of countries and cities. This process could be tedious, and there were always a number of students who invariably did poorly on tests, especially if they struggled with spatial perception. I admittedly dreaded the map portion of this class until discovering and implementing the Seterra app towards the end of last year.

The app (or website) has a fairly basic gameplay that somehow works to make one want to beat one’s own top score and encourages students to push on to more challenging maps if the basics are a bit too “easy.” The actual classroom tests haven't changed; they are still the blank, numbered maps that I remember from my own school days. However the test scores are something else entirely!

Indeed, it's becoming a bit of a running joke that my quiz grades look fake, when the class average on these quizzes is often at or close to 100%.  As a teacher, it is beyond exciting to see that every student has gained a mastery of the countries in Africa (we tested the 52 undisputed ones, in case you were wondering) or of all the countries and capital cities in North and South America (including all of the Caribbean islands).

The class actually looks forward to moving on to the next world region and taking the next map quiz. We are also now able to spend more time learning and discussing the really fun stuff: the history and culture of various countries and regions. Not bad for a two-dollar app!