A map library that builds skills in recognizing, describing, and explaining patterns

Friday 1:50pm-2:10pm Northrop Hall: 116
Teaching Demonstration Part of Friday Session A


Anne Egger, Central Washington University


Small groups of participants will be given a subset of the maps (porphyry copper deposits, volcanoes, oil and gas fields, sediment thickness) and work to describe and explain the distribution of natural resources with respect to plate boundaries. I will show participants all of the maps used, and where to find them on the web. Knowledge of plate boundary processes will be assumed.


Seeking patterns in Earth data is a fundamental habit of mind of geoscientists: recognition and description of patterns allows us to interpret them in light of what we know. While this process comes naturally for experts, novices often struggle to recognize, describe and interpret patterns in geospatial data. "Patterns" is also one of seven cross-cutting concepts in the Next Generation Science Standards, and many novices in our courses are future teachers.

Building skills in recognizing, describing, and interpreting patterns in geospatial data requires repeated, scaffolded experiences where distractions like map projections and complicated or misleading symbols are minimized. I developed a series of maps in ArcGIS from freely-available datasets including active volcanoes, earthquakes, topography, seafloor age, porphyry copper deposits, oil and gas fields, sediment thickness, population density, and sea level rise. Students receive these maps throughout the course, each time describing the patterns and connecting the patterns to plate tectonic processes and human impacts. They develop a library that serves as a reference tool, a visual reminder of concepts covered, and a source for pattern recognition, description, and interpretation.


I use this activity in my introductory course that is designed for elementary education majors. It is more of an overarching theme than a single activity: prompting students to look back at maps they've already comfortably interpreted facilitates transfer of knowledge from one part of the course to another, allows them to reflect on their learning, and builds their pattern-recognition and interpretation skills that are part of the "patterns" cross-cutting concept in the Next Generation Science Standards.

Why It Works

This process solves many problems in my course. I don't use a textbook, but I still want to have data and maps that students can refer to at any time. It also provides a theme and a visual representation that connects virtually all of the concepts we cover in the course. Finally, a gap analysis of teacher preparation programs and the NGSS suggests that the cross-cutting concepts are currently the least present in science teaching programs, and this activity allows explicit development of one of the cross-cutting concepts. The connection to human impacts through the population density map also addresses a major component of the NGSS that is not emphasized in many physical geology courses.

Presentation Media

Map 1: Volcanoes (Acrobat (PDF) 6.3MB Jul11 17)
Map 2: Population density (Acrobat (PDF) 19.5MB Jul11 17)
Map 3: Porprhyry copper (Acrobat (PDF) 10.2MB Jul11 17)

Presentation Media

Slides for demo (PowerPoint 2007 (.pptx) 21.2MB Jul11 17)
Handout for volcanic hazards (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 442kB Jul11 17)
Handout for natural resources (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 59kB Jul11 17)