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A ‘feet-on’ learning experience


Tribune-Herald staff writer

Hilo Intermediate School students spent Monday exploring more than a third of the earth’s surface. On foot.

Various classes participated in a series of exercises centered on utilizing a giant, 26-by-35-foot National Geographic map of the Pacific Ocean. The map, one of three of its kind in the world, is in Hawaii on loan through the end of the month, and will spend a full week of that time here on the Big Island, traveling to schools in Keaukaha, Keaau and elsewhere.

Wearing socks on their feet and using a number of props such as rubber volcanoes and large blue and red arrows, the students gathered in Hilo Intermediate’s gymnasium to explore the incredibly detailed map and identify various structures such as tectonic plates, trenches, fracture zones, ocean currents, coral reefs and more.

“It’s a hands-on, and feet-on, learning experience,” science teacher Cindy Fong said with a laugh as her students shuffled and leaped about on the giant map, which covered almost half of the gymnasium floor behind her. “It gets them more interested. You’ve gotta really engage them to make them think, and it’s important that they get to be active, especially at the intermediate level.”

At 11 a.m., Fong’s eigth-grade earth and space science class took their turn with the map. Although her students had yet to study much of the subject matter covered in the activities, this opportunity made a great introduction, she said.

“They may not get it all right away, but in a few days, or a few months, I’ll say, ‘Remember when we marked the currents on the big map?’ and the light bulb will go off. You can see it happen,” she said.

After working to lay out small, red plastic cones pinpointing the Pacific’s famed “Ring of Fire,” Keanu Kama, 13, stood to the side along the western coast of South America as he and some classmates admired their handiwork.

“This is great,” he said in response to questions about his experience. “It’s a fun activity, a new thing.”

Thirteen-year-old Joseph Nahora, 13, agreed.

“We’ve never done something like this before,” he said.

And that, said National Geographic’s Dan Beaupre, is largely the point of the maps.

“This isn’t like regular curriculum. It isn’t a book, or a computer, or even a website. It’s an event. It’s something many of these students won’t ever forget,” he said Monday afternoon. “It’s meant to be an eye-opening experience.”

As director of National Geographic Live’s Education Partnerships, Beaupre was largely responsible for the creation of the maps, which serve as part of the association’s larger efforts to improve geography education in the United States, and around the world.

“We’ve been doing this now for six years. It started with a map of Africa, then we added Asia, South America, North America … The Pacific Ocean map was the first noncontinental map we’ve produced,” he said.

Provided with the Pacific map are lesson plans and props teachers can use to make the most of the experience. Among the exercises are:

• “Cities in the Sea,” which invites students to explore the biodiversity of four reef ecosystems;

• “The Deep & the Dark,” which simulates for students the depth of the Mariana Trench and 15 other ocean floor trenches;

• and, “Ocean Commotion,” which allows students to travel the ocean surface along the paths of eight major currents, finishing in the middle of the Pacific garbage patch, where they learn about human impacts on ocean health.

Also accompanying the maps are lavish photo cards of animals and plants, hand-held models of volcanoes, and colorful coral reef replicas.

The Pacific map was brought to Hawaii this year thanks to funding from the Maui Economic Development Board and the Hawaii Geographic Alliance, Beaupre said. Most of the maps in National Geographic’s collection visit an average of 15 different locations around the world in a year. The Pacific map and its accompanying materials can be rented for a minimum of two weeks starting at $525.

For more information on the maps, visit

Email Colin M. Stewart at


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