Map Reading Literacy
“If you had to lose one of your senses, which would it be?” Someone has asked me this question before. Now I still cannot make a decision from all of the five senses I have but I know I will definitely not choose sight. I could not imagine life without vision. Recently, I took a short quiz testing what type of learner I am, and unsurprisingly the result showed that I am a visual learner. That is probably the major reason that I enjoy reading maps so much. Sometimes I am even addicted to maps. I read any map that I can find in my life. I read the bus lines map when I am waiting for the bus at the station. I read the floor map of the physics building as I entered. I even read maps of random cities that I have never been to. I have read so many different kinds of maps and as a result, I am adept at obtaining useful information from a map within a moment. Also it is easy for me to connect the information on a map with the reality. Map reading has become one of my current literacies.
The first time I came into contact with maps was the time my parents bought me my first map puzzle when I was five. It was a world map that came with a thousand pieces. I finished it in an hour with the help of my mother and that was my favorite toy in my childhood. I am somewhat different compared to other puzzle lovers. I enjoyed the final product, a map of the world, more than the process of solving the puzzle itself. Later on I noticed that my interest was actually on maps. So I asked my father to bring me maps of diverse cities he went on for business trips. By that time, my vocabulary was not enough for me to read and grasp every single word on the map. All I could comprehend were the diverse colors and shapes that indicate the continents and islands. That was my earliest memory of interacting with maps and the foundation of the formation of my map reading literacy.
As I attended middle school, I finally started to study map-reading skills in a professional way in my geography class with Mrs. Chan. That first day of class with the fundamental knowledge of maps remains fresh in my memory. I learned that any map consists of four basic elements, which were name, orientation, scale and legend. A map that is lacking of any of these elements is considered meaningless. The first geography class ended and so my relationship with maps began. From then on I came across a number of different types of maps and they were all fascinating to me. I was surprised the first time I saw the map of monsoons and the map of ocean currents. They were fabulous to me when Mrs. Chan explained how to read them and how to apply into reality. I still remember clearly that she showed us the topographical maps for the first time. It consists of bunch of distorted shaped circles with numbers labeling next to them. Circles get smaller towards the center and the smallest circles usually demonstrate the altitudes of peaks or valleys. I could easily visualize a mountain or a valley from the maps and that was a brilliant experience.
Besides reading maps, I am also able to convert maps into reality for navigations and so I never get lost when I am holding a map in my hands. I am always able to tell where I am; which direction I am going to and where my destination is. I went on a trip with three of my friends during spring break. We drove from Davis all the way to Death Valley National Park. Just as how it sounds, Death Valley is known for extremes. Once we went into the deserted area, all we could see are rocks and sand everywhere. We were “in the middle of nowhere”! It was getting dark outside as we driving out of the area. There were no lights or signs in that region and of course no cell phone signal. All we had was a map. Fortunately, I recognized the correct direction we were heading to and approximately where we were on the map. Finally we arrived at our hotel safely.
Being a student in college, I have taken a few geography and geology classes just for fun. Because in these kinds of classes, I have an easier access to more maps. I usually experience a better perception of the concepts when I get a chance to take a look at the map in class. Unsurprisingly, I did well in these classes. Map reading literacy also helps me a lot in math class. I have to admit that reading maps and making connections to reality improve my spatial imagination ability, which is essential for geometry. In my math class, even though students were expecting to solve some math questions only using algebra tricks, I was more comfortable with putting the equations into coordinate systems and drawing them out so I could visualize. I never had any issues solving analytic geometry problems due to my practice on map reading.
Reading and writing have been huge parts of the process of gaining my map reading literacy even though they do not seem important for this skill. I am a faithful fan and reader of several geographical and geological magazines such as National Geographic Magazine and Traveler. I have to read through the articles carefully to understand what is happening and then make sense of the maps on the next page. To some extent, reading and writing have helped me with my map reading literacy and vice versa.
Growing up I never lost my interest reading maps. Just recently, I spent two hours in the library basement reading nearly all the maps that were there and I felt satisfied as I walked out of the display room. As for now, it is time for me to do research on how maps are made or even analyze our urban planning so I can get a deeper comprehension of maps and get improved. The map reading skill is one of my current literacies and also a pragmatic survival skill when living a life by myself.