Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Visualizing Migration

click on the image to see a larger view of the Minard Map
After a lot of hard thinking Jamie, a student in my PBL course, has focused her class project on US migration stories. After examining the Oregon Common Curriculum Goals and NCSS standards it was clear that 'regions' was a big topic for grade 5 social studies. But she had to ask hard questions-- What is essential about the study of regions? Is that a way to talk about diversity so we understand the complex fabric of our country? How are regions defined? Might my hometown in E. Oregon be more like Winnemucca, NV (another region) than Seattle, WA ('same' region)? Jamie overlaid geography standards relating to human movement onto this examination of regions and came away with this: I would like students to work together to look at the movement of people throughout time, why they migrate to our Northwest region, and specifically our community. These imprints on a region include its ethnic make-up, spoken languages, religious institutions, traditions, architectural styles, local food, music, clothes, and other cultural markers—all clues to the past, present, and future of that area and generations of its people. Thus, an essential part of understanding a region is its migration story.
Her plan is to engage schools across the country in shared study-- so they teach each other about (what they must operationally define as) their regions. Understandably, lots of technology may be employed, from Skype conference calls to ePals collaborations to Google shared spreadsheets to multimedia reports. I get carried away and wonder, what might we put in virtual time capsules? What would a population flipbook look like?
One more wrinkle I'm ironing out (hoping it helps Jamie and her teaching partner): Could kids mine population and demographic data to see waves of migration? Could they visually display data in an annotated timeline to show population change and also ethnicity or emigrant employment? My inspiration, my vision for this comes from the famous Minard Map showing Napoleon's failed march on Moscow. I've admired it in Edward Tufte's Visual Displays of Quantitative Information, and then in real life (OK maybe a copy) at the Finding Our Place in History exhibit at the Walters Art Museum in Baltimore in May. Now I'm no geographer, but through a single degree of separation, I know a geographer! I just asked Jim Meacham, director of the University of Oregon InfoGraphics Lab, if he might lend a few brain cells to this problem.

1 comment:

Gail Desler said...

Such a rich topic, Jane. If students mine the migration data of their geographic region, and then delve into a local oral histories project, they can make the numbers tell a story. Doesn't history really happen one story at a time?

I think the other question that should be explored is why certain groups, in turn, leave a region...And was the exodus voluntary or forced?

I have found that 5th graders to be extremely capable of grappling with complex social issues.