Children's strategies and difficulties while using a map to record locations in an outdoor environment

Kim A. Kastens, Lynn S. Liben

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Scopus citations


A foundational skill for all field-based sciences is the ability to accurately record the location of field observations onto a map. To investigate the strategies children use when recording their observations during field-based inquiries, fourth graders were asked to indicate the location of colored flags by placing similarly colored stickers on a map and, after each placement, to write down what clues they used to decide where to place each sticker. This flag-sticker task simulates the way field scientists use maps, as, for example, when ecologists record animal sightings. Participants used a rich vocabulary of spatial descriptors, drawing on topological and projective spatial concepts. No one reported using the available graphic scale or directional arrow. For inaccurately placed stickers, the accompanying verbal reports suggest that, most commonly, students attended to irrelevant or insufficient information in the environment. The hypothesized interpretation is that students have not fully mastered the skill of selectively attending to task-relevant information in a visually complex landscape. Findings imply that instructors should anticipate students' difficulty in identifying, gathering and combining task-relevant information from the environment; model how to identify viable landmarks in the context of the map at hand and combine multiple pieces of spatial information; and require that students describe locations verbally in addition to plotting them on a map.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)315-340
Number of pages26
JournalInternational Research in Geographical and Environmental Education
Issue number4
StatePublished - Nov 2010

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Geography, Planning and Development
  • Education
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law


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