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Learning Geography Through E-mail


Curriculum CenterA few years ago, some students in Bellingham, Washington, werent even sure where to find Arizona on a map of the United States. Now, thanks to an e-mail activity initiated by their schools library media specialist, those same students can find Australia, Korea, and even Azerbaijan on a map of the world. The project, said John Schick, made geography come alive for both students and parents." Included: A description of an e-mail activity you can use to teach geography to your students -- and their parents.

Do you know where Azerbaijan is? Students at Northern Heights Elementary School do -- thanks to an email project initiated by John Schick, the school's library media specialist!

Northern Heights is the newest school in the Bellingham, Washington, school district and Schick wanted to do something special for the school's first-ever parent open house. So he joined several education listservs and posted this message: "Northern Heights Elementary School in Bellingham, Washington, is a brand new school. We will be hosting our first open house on October 3. To demonstrate the power of the Internet and email, we are hoping you will send us a greeting and let us know where you are. We will post a map in the library with your message."

World Map

Read some of the email greetings the students at Northern Heights received!

Congratulations on your new school. I am emailing from Maurepas School in Maurepas, Louisiana. We are a small, rural public school located in Livingston Parish serving grades K-12. Maurepas is about 35 miles south of Baton Rouge. We have several rivers and lakes nearby. Many students live on or near the water.

Congratulations on your new school! Our first open house is September 24, but we are an older school -- closed for seven years and now remodeled and reopened. We are a grades 1-5 building with about 275 students, in Joliet, Illinois, which is about 40 miles southwest of Chicago. Joliet's population is 185,000. The city was built around the limestone and steel industries, but since those have diminished, we have a very diversified blue-collar town. Best wishes to you and have a good school year.

G'Day! We are a Year 5/6 class from Melrose Primary School in Canberra, Australia. We wish you good luck with your open house.

"I first came up with the idea for this project about ten years ago," Schick told Education World, "and I've done it three or four times since. One of the project's goals was to show parents the power of the Internet. The first time I did it, the Internet was brand new in schools (There were no Internet browsers even!), and it was a mind-boggling experience for both students and parents. Obviously, it's not as dramatic now as it was ten years ago, but it's still a project I would highly recommend to other schools."

Schick's listserv requests generated more than 140 emails; "We heard from 29 states in the United States, from Guam, and from several foreign countries, including Italy, Canada, Mexico, and the United Kingdom," Schick said. "Eight replies were from Australia and several others arrived from Korea. The most exotic replies were the three from Azerbaijan."

As each email was received, the school's sixth graders researched the city it came from and located that city on a map. They then attached lengths of yarn to oversized maps displayed on bulletin boards in the school media center; the yarn connected each city to a printout of the email or emails received from that city.

U.S. Map

The display was a great success. "Everybody who stopped at the bulletin board was impressed," Schick recalled. "I heard kids make such remarks as "Oh, I never knew Arizona was down there," and "Wow, we are pretty popular in Australia." The project was fun and easy, and it definitely made geography come alive for both students and parents."


Check out the following Education World articles for more ideas for using e-mail to expand your curriculum.


Linda Starr
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Updated 07/23/2010