ANSON — Students at Garret Schenck Elementary School traveled on foot from Russia to Kazakhstan to Ukraine on Tuesday.
The students, wearing just socks and no shoes, were walking across what’s touted as the world’s largest map of Asia, which measures 26 feet by 35 feet, and is spending two weeks in Maine on its way across the country.
The map belongs to the National Geographic Society and is part of the society’s Giant Traveling Map program, which sends giant floor maps of the world’s continents and the Pacific Ocean to schools across the country.
On Tuesday, the brightly colored vinyl map took up about half the floor space in the school’s cafeteria, while classes of students came in during the day for a geography lesson and games.
“It’s great because the kids can walk on it,” said Sue Lahti, coordinator for the Maine Geographic Alliance. “I don’t think Asia is studied as much as other continents in schools, so it’s a really good one to bring to classes.” The Farmington-based group works to improve the geography education of Maine students and works with the National Geographic Society to bring a giant map to Maine every year.
The lessons ranged from complex current events to simply asking the students to recognize geographic features and country names.
After a quick introduction to the map, Lahti instructed the students to take off their shoes and encouraged them to find symbols that indicate roads, rivers, railroad tracks and borders between countries.
They learned about current events related to the nations under their feet— Russia’s annexation of the Crimean peninsula in Ukraine, civil war in Syria and a petition by the president of the Maldive Islands asking the United Nations to address global warming.
At times the lesson also resembled a giant game of Twister, with students sprawling across the map to straddle borders and place body parts in different countries; and Simon Says, with students running across the map to find different points.
The map travels with a trunk of activity-related items, such as pictures of animals native to Asia, which Lahti used with some of the younger students.
A former social studies teacher at Carrabec High School, Lahti said she makes a point each year of making sure the map comes to students in School Administrative District 74, which consists of the towns of Anson, Embden, New Portland and Solon.
“Even for the younger kids, it’s really good exposure. There are so many activities that can be planned, whether they are related to population, culture or the environment,” said Lahti, her globe-shaped earrings swinging as she walked around the map.
Second-grade teacher Lauren Simpson said students have been studying Asia in preparation for the map’s arrival, with a special emphasis on Turkey, where her daughter-in-law is from. The map’s primary focus is on Asia, including nations such as Turkey and Russia that are in both Asia and Europe; but it also shows nearby places such as Ethiopia, Ukraine and Alaska, which are just outside Asia’s borders.
“We’ve been looking at a lot of maps, and you forget how interesting they are, especially for the kids. They have no idea yet how big the world is,” she said.
While in Maine, the map also will make stops in Bryant Pond, East Waldoboro, Hudson, Stratton and Strong. It came from Massachusetts, and Lahti said she wasn’t sure where it will go next.
The alliance works to bring the maps to schools, but school districts also can arrange to bring the map on their own through the National Geographic Society.
There are six maps — Africa, Asia, Europe, North America, South America and the Pacific Ocean, and multiple copies of some of them. For example, there are two copies of the Asia map. The other one is in Nevada, Lahti said.
She also has brought the North America map to Maine, carting it in her husband’s pickup truck to Machias last fall, so students could find where they lived on it.
Students at Garret Schenck were enthusiastic about the map.
“It was awesome. That girl taught us a bunch of stuff,” said Nicholas Gower, 8.
Rachel Ohm — 612-2368 [email protected]