Geography Twister

Fourth-graders at McDonald Elementary School in Moscow walk all over Idaho Thursday, from Boundary County to Bear Lake, in less than an hour. They found interesting places on the giant National Geographic map as part of a program at the school.

MOSCOW — Fourth-grade teacher Wes Bascom gathered his students in McDonald Elementary School’s multipurpose room Thursday for an expedition.

“Today, you get to walk all over Idaho,” Bascom said.

Without leaving the room, Bascom led two fourth-grade classes — about 30 kids — across the mountains and over the rivers of their home state.

The excursion was executed in socked feet on a 16-foot-by-20-foot National Geographic Society map unfurled on the floor by the teachers and University of Idaho professors Karen Humes and Patrick Olsen.

National Geographic recently provided the oversized map to UI as part of its Giant Traveling Maps project, Humes said.

She and Olsen will be circulating the map to classrooms throughout Idaho as a project of the UI-based Idaho Geographic Alliance.

“Our hope is to have it visit as many schools as possible,” Humes said, noting the alliance plans to purchase a second map soon to help cover the state.

How the bulky maps — weighing more than 20 pounds — will travel hasn’t yet been determined. It’s possible teachers will pass them along from county to adjacent county, Olsen said, instead of mailing them.

“It’s a geographic problem,” he said. “How do you get it from place to place?”

Lesson plans are included, Bascom said, after directing students to choose a place on the map and stand on it.

Once they had their spots picked, the students told him what they saw around them, why they chose their place and what they wondered about it.

“I chose Washington,” student Erica Hall, 9, said. “And you could only see part of it on the map.”

Hall, daughter of Jennilyn and Andrew Hall, said she picked Idaho’s neighbor to the west because she was born there.

She noticed that Moscow and Lewiston were very close to Washington and wondered where the rest of her birth state was — which is just the sort of observations the lesson was meant to elicit, Bascom said.

Tanner Fealy, 10, stood on Bonners Ferry, Idaho, “because I wondered how many drove through there each year (on their way) to Canada.”

From his vantage point, Fealy said, he “noticed it was close to Canada and there were some rivers surrounding it.”

He said he and his parents, Gen and Butch Fealy, hadn’t made the trip through Bonners Ferry to Canada — yet.

The map is meant to inspire curiosity and bolster geography knowledge, Humes said.

Seeing their state displayed on such a large scale can help kids visualize more than looking at a traditional map, she said.

And the interaction — literally being on top of the map — helps too.

One student noticed the spot she’d chosen was tinted green, indicating it was in the mountains.

“It really jumps out at you, the large area of mountains that we have,” Humes said. “We live in such a spectacularly beautiful physical setting.”

As the activity wound down, Bascom prepared to return the map to the plastic storage tub it arrived in.

Just like its traditionally sized counterparts, Olsen said, the mammoth teaching tool presents the classic challenge known to anyone who has ever used a folding map.

“Most of the work involves its refolding,” he said.

More information about the map program and how to schedule a visit to an Idaho school is available from Olsen at

Stone may be contacted at or at (208) 848-2244. Follow her on Twitter @MarysSchoolNews.

Recommended for you