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Exploring Community Mapping Through Soil Science

Instruction

CommunityMapping2In my teaching practice I try to teach scientific processes while integrating both other ways of understanding and an element of critical thinking. Recently, I was incredibly inspired in reading an article on Community Mapping. Community Mapping is defined as, “local mapping, produced collaboratively, by local people and often incorporating alternative local knowledge” (Jagger, pg. 175). Or, more succinctly, as “snapshots of the community as the community sees it” (Jagger, pg. 175). Pondering this, I decided to try a miniature version of community mapping as a data gathering device for a soil investigation.

Tuesday morning, I rolled out how our day would revolve around exploring which types of soil contained the most macroinvertebrates. I unveiled a large piece of butcher paper with a very rough, basic depiction of the trails, buildings, and bodies of water at our facility. I explained we would be taking soil samples from three locations of their choice to investigate, and that we would use the map to record any pertinent observations or data about those locations. The field group then had a discussion over the meaning of community mapping. We talked about how maps are made, who gets to make them, and what they exclude. Students brought up the pieces they felt were missing from our trail map- people and experiences. This lead to a great back and forth about how not only were people moving and changing, but the land is also constantly shifting. Students agreed that we should try making our own map to use for the soil investigation, and in it include their own observations. We spent the better part of the day exploring IslandWood to find samples and take observations.

At each sample site, students first listed out potential important variables- the moisture of the soil, the leaf cover and available food for macroinvertebrates, plants nearby, proximity to a trail, etc. They then added the observations into the area of the map our sample was taken from. Some students chose to draw, others to write notes. But in all three locations, the map was populated with observations created a distinct picture of the differences.

When we got the lab and debated which soil sample would contain the most macroinvertebrates, this community drawn map turned into a valuable tool for recall and synthesis of information. Students were able to more thoughtfully talk about their observations and arguments.

Overall, this activity was a rousing success- measured in student engagement and ability to explain the “why” of an activity. This community mapping activity engaged socio-emotional learning, and engaged other ways of understanding. A few students were slow to engage in the observations, they seemed confused at first with the non traditional science and structure. The day started off with a challenging group dynamic, and the cooperative nature of this activity became the focus for much of the day as a way to augment social-emotional learning.

CommunityMapping1The “aha” moment came during our garden observations. Another adult came over to our group and asked a student why they were writing and drawing on the paper. That particular student had been minimally engaged all day, full of eye-rolls, and refusals to add anything to our map. However, the student gave an incredibly eloquent answer about how understanding the environment around where we took the sample could help us understand why macroinvertebrates like the forest or the compost. This answer was a wonderful surprise, and a reminder that learning looks different for each student.

I was unable to fully actualize community mapping as a tool to engage students in their home communities. My hope was to engage them in connecting with place enough to evoke “place meaning,” if not “place attachment” at our site. Students did seem to take closer observations and connections with the use of the map, on both a scientific and emotional level. In reflecting more, I would push the students to think deeper and more critically about the social justice components of community mapping. I chose to mainly focus on the lens of scientific contextualization. We touched on social-justice in group discussion, but I wonder what the activity would have looked like with connections made between social justice and science.

Jagger, S. (2013). “This Is More Like Home”: Knowing Nature through Community Mapping. Canadian Journal of Environmental Education, 18, 2013, (173-189).

  

 

CommunityMapping2In my teaching practice I try to teach scientific processes while integrating both other ways of understanding and an element of critical thinking. Recently, I was incredibly inspired in reading an article on Community Mapping. Community Mapping is defined as, “local mapping, produced collaboratively, by local people and often incorporating alternative local knowledge” (Jagger, pg. 175). Or, more succinctly, as “snapshots of the community as the community sees it” (Jagger, pg. 175). Pondering this, I decided to try a miniature version of community mapping as a data gathering device for a soil investigation.

Tuesday morning, I rolled out how our day would revolve around exploring which types of soil contained the most macroinvertebrates. I unveiled a large piece of butcher paper with a very rough, basic depiction of the trails, buildings, and bodies of water at our facility. I explained we would be taking soil samples from three locations of their choice to investigate, and that we would use the map to record any pertinent observations or data about those locations. The field group then had a discussion over the meaning of community mapping. We talked about how maps are made, who gets to make them, and what they exclude. Students brought up the pieces they felt were missing from our trail map- people and experiences. This lead to a great back and forth about how not only were people moving and changing, but the land is also constantly shifting. Students agreed that we should try making our own map to use for the soil investigation, and in it include their own observations. We spent the better part of the day exploring IslandWood to find samples and take observations.

At each sample site, students first listed out potential important variables- the moisture of the soil, the leaf cover and available food for macroinvertebrates, plants nearby, proximity to a trail, etc. They then added the observations into the area of the map our sample was taken from. Some students chose to draw, others to write notes. But in all three locations, the map was populated with observations created a distinct picture of the differences.

When we got the lab and debated which soil sample would contain the most macroinvertebrates, this community drawn map turned into a valuable tool for recall and synthesis of information. Students were able to more thoughtfully talk about their observations and arguments.

Overall, this activity was a rousing success- measured in student engagement and ability to explain the “why” of an activity. This community mapping activity engaged socio-emotional learning, and engaged other ways of understanding. A few students were slow to engage in the observations, they seemed confused at first with the non traditional science and structure. The day started off with a challenging group dynamic, and the cooperative nature of this activity became the focus for much of the day as a way to augment social-emotional learning.

CommunityMapping1The “aha” moment came during our garden observations. Another adult came over to our group and asked a student why they were writing and drawing on the paper. That particular student had been minimally engaged all day, full of eye-rolls, and refusals to add anything to our map. However, the student gave an incredibly eloquent answer about how understanding the environment around where we took the sample could help us understand why macroinvertebrates like the forest or the compost. This answer was a wonderful surprise, and a reminder that learning looks different for each student.

I was unable to fully actualize community mapping as a tool to engage students in their home communities. My hope was to engage them in connecting with place enough to evoke “place meaning,” if not “place attachment” at our site. Students did seem to take closer observations and connections with the use of the map, on both a scientific and emotional level. In reflecting more, I would push the students to think deeper and more critically about the social justice components of community mapping. I chose to mainly focus on the lens of scientific contextualization. We touched on social-justice in group discussion, but I wonder what the activity would have looked like with connections made between social justice and science.

Jagger, S. (2013). “This Is More Like Home”: Knowing Nature through Community Mapping. Canadian Journal of Environmental Education, 18, 2013, (173-189).

  

 

About the Author
Emily Palena
Author: Emily Palena

Emily Palena is an educator, adventurer, and recent transplant to the Seattle area. With roots in farm-based education, and enthusiasm for history and dance, Emily is currently working as an outdoor educator at IslandWood, a residential outdoor environmental education center while working on her M.Ed. in Curriculum and Instruction at University of Washington.