Studying vs. Using Maps

When we evaluated Road Trip, out of curiosity we looked to see if students improved in the sorts of tests typically used to assess geography. There was no guarantee that Road Trip would actually help students on these tests. After all, schoolchildren tend to get quite skilled at guessing what kinds of questions they will be asked on a test and then studying specifically for them. In geography, that means studying maps. When students study a map, their intentions are usually to be able to recite the things that are typically assessed -- placing cities or countries on a map (drawing outlines or putting points within outlines) or choosing from among several potential locations (multiple choice). Students remember outlines and unrelated lists of facts.

To see whether students improved on the traditional hallmarks of geography knowledge, our first series of evaluations included 25 fourth-grade students from a school in a working class area where the student body was predominantly minority. The test scores before using Road Trip were quite low, thus these students were among the target audience for Road Trip (i.e., unfamiliar with US geography). Each student had two Road Trip sessions and was then retested. The test scores all improved significantly and, in fact, were twice as high on the tasks assessing knowledge of absolute and relative location.

The second series of evaluations included 19 students between the fourth and fifth grades from a primarily middle- to upper-class elementary school. In this study, the students did much better on the pre-tests than had the students at the previous school, and the improvement in test scores after using Road Trip, although statistically highly significant, was small.

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