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Giant map travels to Charlotte schools

A giant map of Europe is making travelers out of students in Charlotte schools.

The traveling exhibit sponsored by National Geographic is introducing students to a large, physical map that they can walk on, touch, and use to play games.

“We got to stand and sit on it,” said Jia Myrick, a kindergarten student at Merry Oaks International Academy. “We saw where they had black dots and stars. There were those little bumpy things like mountains. We were playing a game with the circles – I think it was the capitals.”

“I saw the lakes where crocodiles and frogs live,” she said. “I saw it said Europe on the map.”

At 26 feet by 35 feet, the map is about half the size of a basketball court, and is usually set up in a school gymnasium for students to visit. The map comes with games, flash cards, cones, and inflatable globes to help students see and study geography, earth science, and oceanography, among other things.

“When we were stepping all over the map, I thought we were in the ocean, on the mountains and in each country,” added Shalanda Myrick, a Merry Oaks second-grader. “It feels like I am there in real life.”

The goal is to help children understand where they fit in relationship to everything they do, said Barry O’Reilly, coordinator of the traveling map in the Carolinas.

“I want to re-create that sense of place – to help children get them away from the computer and texts, and physically stand on the map,” said O’Reilly, a volunteer who got involved four years ago to bring the traveling map to his son’s CMS elementary school. “We have such tunnel vision as to where we are in relation to everywhere else.”

O’Reilly, who is from Ireland, said he wants to expose his children to international places and give other students the same opportunity. He presents geoliteracy workshops for teachers in addition to his work coordinating the traveling map in the Carolinas. For his work, O’Reilly received the 2012 Outstanding Support for Geography Education Award from the National Council for Geographic Education.

“It’s become such a passion with me,” said O’Reilly. “It’s my mid-life crisis – some people got a Harley-Davidson for their mid-life crisis while I got geography education.”

The map arrived in Charlotte on Feb. 18 and will travel to different schools through April 26, including several CMS schools, Charlotte Catholic High School, and UNC Charlotte.

“It gives students a chance to search for special details,” said Robynn Pearson, a kindergarten teacher at Merry Oaks who has been teaching for 34 years. “The students are introduced to the symbols that identify rivers, cities and capitals. The map helps make a connection between what we do in the classroom to the real world.”

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