What is it?

A map design competition for children ages 15 years and younger organized by the International Cartographic Association (ICA) in honor of the late Dr. Barbara Bartz Petchenik, a famous American cartographer, map designer, theoretician, and past Vice President of the ICA.  Dr. Petchenik was deeply interested in maps for children and children as mappers.


When is it?

The Competition is held every second year to coincide with the biennial international Conference of the Association. A country’s entries must be submitted to a national address some months before the biennal International Cartographic Conference. 


What will be entered?

A map of the world that addresses the theme of that year’s Competition. Any manually- or digitally-created medium is acceptable.  Each country is invited to submit up to six children’s maps to be displayed at the Conference.  These must come from all entries that are submitted in that country.  Some graphic specifications and limitations are spelled out in the Competition announcement that is available at the ICA web site: <http://www.icaci.org>.


How might I introduce the Competition to my students?

Depending on the theme, children are asked to express their ideas about the world or their hopes for its future in such ways that a map of the world is a central feature.  To do this, children need to have: 1) some basic ideas about rules and techniques of graphic expression; 2) some experience with representing actions and ideas graphically, in what could be called graphic metaphors; and 3) ideas about arranging the continents of the world through some “system of projection”.  This term “projection” is employed here in its widest sense, from copying or tracing by hand to manipulating by computer the many formal map projections that cartographers have found useful.  It is not the intent of the Competition, however, to promote the study of map projections per se, but to give children the opportunity of exploring the many ways that we can think about and represent the world we share.


This brochure suggests a variety of activities that teachers can use to connect to these three broad ideas.  Their actual choices, however, should be related to their students’ interests, the teachers’ goals, or the curriculum, broadly speaking. 


Since this is a document in the making, we invite teachers to share their reactions to the document. What would they like to see added to it (or deleted from it)? How do they see incorporating the Competition into their classes? What experiences have they had with the students? Only by telling us about these things can we improve this brochure for future competitions.


1)     Rules and Techniques of Graphic Expression


 Materials and Tools 

There are many relatively inexpensive tools available children that provide reasonable precision of expression yet great versatility. These tools include such things as colored pencils, felt pens in a variety of colors, plastic templates for making geometric shapes, rulers and straight edges.  A set of embossing surfaces is very useful for making uniform area symbols. (1) 


All these tools are useful in making maps manually.   Children can also use a computer to generate the basic outline of the world and its land masses.  But many of the programs available to schools  do not give young children the flexibility of expression as manual methods do for the creative tasks involved in this Competition.  In any case, present thinking suggests that computer generated elements should not dominate any entry.


Maps are normally constructed on paper or light cardboard, but there are other surfaces and materials that might be equally expressive of an idea or viewpoint.  Children should not rule out mapping on cloth or native stone or using indigenous objects such as seashells, distinctive pebbles or woody plant parts as elements in a collage approach to a world map.  The history of cartography offers many such examples, from the stick and shell sailing charts of Micronesia to the carved wooden models of the fjorded Greenland coasts.


Almost any drawing  activity provides for experience with these simple tools.  Some, however, may connect more directly with the processes of cartographic design and with the underlying cartographic concepts. 


Connections with GRAPHIC  EXPRESSION

The act of making a “picture” of an object is quite different from making a “symbol” to represent it.  A picture, by including all of the details without overly emphasizing any particular attribute, is an objective representation.  A map cannot retain all of these details, so that map elements must be more concise.  Thus a symbol designer, through a process called generalization removes most of the small details and retains, or even exaggerates, those features that reveal the essential character of the object being represented.  In a sense, the designer is making a caricature of the object.  Many symbols are just that -- we call them image-related or pictographic symbols.  There are many household items or objects found in a classroom that can be used as object in a symbol design activity (see below).


The way words are written can also convey meaning.  On maps, names and labels are drawn in different ways to help readers look for and isolate different kinds of information.  This process involves changing various characteristics of the letters: their size, style, or their combination of capital and lower case forms.  Thus, for example, countries might be named with large capital letters [CANADA], cities in smaller lower case letters with the initial letter capitalized [Ottawa], and rivers the same as cities but in a slant or italic style [Rideau River].  To produce these variations, cartographers have access to sophisticated computer systems.  But students can produce most of these variations by hand using a few simple tools: a straight edge (to produce parallel pencil guide lines), felt pens of two or more contrasting widths, and the command of a few different alphabets (Figure 1: image size 18k).  With practice they can produce several contrasting lettering forms for use on their maps.  With a chisel point felt pen, one can produce very attractive italic style lettering.


A Little About Map Making

One of the first steps in making a map involves selecting the information that you want to go onto it and considering what role it will play.  Normally we distinguish between the information which shows some place(s) or distribution -- the map information, the reason for the map -- and other information which helps locate or provide a context in which the map information is viewed -- we call this base information.  Most every map has some of both.  The more important map information is depicted in some bolder or stronger way so that it stands out against the less important base information. In doing this, we create what we call a figure-ground contrast.       


To best convey such information, cartographers use four kinds of symbols: points, lines, areas, and labels.  They can modify them in various ways so that 1) they best suggest attributes of the things or places symbolized,  2) assist viewers in making distinctions among them, and 3) establish this important figure-ground distinction.  To do this,  they  manipulate nine perceptual dimensions, the most important are size, value, color hue, color saturation, shape, texture,  and orientation. 


Size refers to the diameter, length, width, height or area covered by a symbol.  It reflects the importance of the symbol (and thus the information it represents) or some quantitative amount.  Thus the larger a symbol, the more important it will appear to map viewers and thus the more it attracts attention.   


Value refers to the lightness or darkness of a surface, whether or not it is colored.  The darker a symbol, the more important it appears.  Thus for representing quantitative information, make use of a sequence of lighter to darker tones to represent lower to higher numerical values.  When using color, keep these tones within one color hue.


Hue refers to the dimension of color that we associate with the rainbow, with colors of different wavelengths.  Perceptually, different hues suggest different things so that when representing different kinds of things, we color them in different hues.


Saturation refers to the purity of a color.  Perceptually, saturation changes do not seem to be seen consistently and thus are not useful in representing either quantitative or qualitative changes in map information.  On the other hand, we can use saturation to help establish an overall pleasing figure-ground contrast by using desaturated or pastel colors for the base information and strong, saturated colors for the map information.  


Shape refers to the outline of a point or area symbol, the complexity of lines, or the style of letter forms.  The more complex the symbol, the more it will attract visual attention and thus appear to viewers as being important. 


Texture refers to the pattern or arrangement of the elements that make up a symbol.  Most often we are referring to area symbols which might use discrete repetitive marks, such as dots or lines, to cover an area and give to it some unifying identity.  Such patterns have a number of perceptual dimensions but the most important are probably their complexity and their overall density, which implies a value that is lighter or darker.  Changes in the former are usually used to represent different things or phenomena.  Changes in the latter are used, when we are not using color, to represent differences in quantity or amount.  Popular arrangements include systematic rows of dots or lines.  But equally pleasing textures can be obtained by embossing rough surfaces found around the home or school -- surface such as window screen, light diffusers, and brick or plaster surfaces.


Orientation refers to the direction in which prominent or linear elements of an area symbol are pointed.  For example, a texture of parallel lines could be successfully discriminated in four different orientations (horizontal, vertical, diagonal ne-sw, or diagonal nw-se).  In this sense, orientation does not apply to point, line, or label symbols whose positions might first be determined by geographical factors.


A Connection Between LATITUDE and LONGITUDE and COLOR Description and Use

Using color makes a map both more attractive and informative especially if one follows a few simple rules of color use.  Fortunately, for map-makers, these rules can be related to the system of parallels and meridians with which we describe the earth and positions on it.


We divide the globe into areas by various lines that we construct on its surface.  For example, the equator separates and thus defines the northern and southern hemispheres. The Prime Meridian divides the eastern from the western hemisphere.  Two sets of lines, one parallel to the equator, the other passing through the two poles, establish and describe the position of points on its surface in terms of latitude and longitude.  This coordinate system and way of describing the earth can also be used to describe the perceptual dimensions of color and the organization of the color solid -- a model of all the colors that humans can visually discriminate.  The color solid, in turn, is useful in selecting colors for maps that can convey qualitative or quantitative distinctions, i.e., differences in kind or type and differences in amount or magnitude.


Briefly, the color solid can be imagined as a sphere whose north pole is white, south pole is black, and arrayed around the equator are all the colors of the rainbow  (Figure 2: image size 10k).  Moving along the equator describes changes in hue from red to yellow to green, etc.  Moving along a meridian describes changes in the brightness or value of a single hue from white to black.  Research tells us that different hues (colors with different longitudes) best suggest differences in the kind or quality of things mapped, and that different values of a single hue (a hue from different latitudes, along one meridian) best suggest different amounts or quantities of  a phenomena being mapped.  The axis of the color solid is a series of neutral grays from white to black known as the gray scale.  Moving from any pure hue on the surface of the solid to the axis shows how a hue can change in purity, saturation, or chroma, the third perceptual dimension of color.  Desaturated hues, i.e., those found below the surface of the color solid, are called tones or more commonly pastels.  The layout of the color solid can also be used to explain other terms used in color description such as warm and cool, complimentary, tints, shades, etc.



2)     Making Graphic Metaphors


Concepts and Materials

Metaphors are figures of speech in which a term or phrase is applied to something to which it is not literally applicable in order to suggest a resemblance as in “A mighty fortress is our God.”  Metaphors are used in speech and writing to describe the ways we might wish to think about the nature of something, not necessarily its physical appearance.  Students should be encouraged to find examples in their daily reading. 


Metaphors can also be found in graphic material.  In other words, graphic designers (including cartographers) make use of images of objects, both animate and inanimate, to convey ideas about a subject or place.  The history of Art is full of them. But students should also be able to find contemporary examples of visual metaphors in commercial advertisements in newspapers and magazines, political cartoons, maps (especially topographic ones), paintings, and other graphic materials available to them.


A Connection with Art and Design

From the various graphic images brought to the classroom, consider the ways  in which the visual elements have been used to suggest feelings or characteristics of behavior, personality, or values that may not, in themselves, be visible.   A sequenced approach to these ideas would start with drawing some familiar object, such as a shoe.  In succession, students can draw: a picture of the shoe; a map symbol for different kinds of shoes (ice skates, basketball shoes, track or other spiked shoes, thongs or sandals, etc.); and a generic symbol to represent all shoes -- all these would be pictographic symbols.


But there are many things symbolized on maps that are not easily represented.  The most common refer to processes or actions.  These concept-related or associative symbols work by suggesting an object(s) that we associate with an action.  For example, along a highway we see signs with a place setting of fork, knife and spoon around a plate.  While it is true you will find these items at the next exit, they are meant to imply that the traveler will find a place to use them, i.e., a place to eat as in a restaurant or fast-food outlet.  Students should try making concept-related or associative symbols for such things as: a shoe factory; a running place (track); an indoor skating place (rink); etc. 


Obviously, some symbols could become too complex or confusing to be very effective on a map.  Fortunately, for many map situations cartographers can use a third kind of symbol.  Abstract symbols are simple geometric forms that are assigned a meaning for a particular map (Figure 3: image size 8k).  We assign them meaning in a legend and agree tacitly that when seen on another map at another time they may mean something quite different.  On a complex map, such as topographic map, students should try and find examples of all three symbol types: pictorial, associative and abstract.  Some examples are given in Figure 3.



3)     Systems of Projection


Concepts and Materials

It is useful to have access to a globe and some world maps on a variety of projections.  However, the ideas involved in all  “systems of projections” can be studied in many other ways.  Tracing through transparent paper is way of making or projecting an image onto another surface at its same size and shape.  The projection of transparent slides on a wall is a simple system of enlarging images.  As long as the plane of the wall is parallel to that of the slide, there is very little distortion.  See what happens when the slides are projected obliquely on the ceiling or side wall!  Using a system of grid squares overlaying an image, one can “project” that image without distortion by transferring it, square by square, to another grid of a different size.  Sometimes, the second grid isn’t the same.  A grid of rectangles is used to project elongated words, such as “SCHOOL” or “SLOW” along streets so that motorists approaching important intersections or places can read them legibly even though they are seen in perspective.  Such anamorphoses can easily be projected on to any plane surface seen obliquely.  More complicated grids can be used for projecting onto curved surfaces.  Such anamorphoses were popular home amusements several hundred years ago.     


It is also helpful to have a projection that students can manipulate themselves.  The American Geographical Society has given the Commission permission to serially reproduce a map of the world on the icosahedron, the Platonic solid made up of twenty equilateral triangles.  The map, created by Irving Fisher, first appeared in their journal (2) in 1943.  It is reproduced here (Figure 4: image size 147k) so that teachers may copy it for their students. 


A Connection with GEOGRAPHY

The world map on the icosahedron is one of a number of systems of projection (3) which attempt to show how the spherical earth can be represented on a flat piece of paper, i.e., how the surface of the earth, and the relationships between places on it, can be projected onto a flat surface. Figure 5 (image size 141k) offers a simpler example on the six sides of a cube.  There are two basic activities that students can perform with these maps: fold them into an approximation of the globe; and cut up the individual triangles and squares so that they can be arranged in different ways. Before doing either of these, however, it would be helpful to color in the land and water areas in some contrasting and meaningful way.  Conventionally the water would be blue and perhaps each continent might be given a different hue.  By using a fine-grained embossing surface, the coloring can be done quite uniformly.


To make a 3-D figure, cut around the outline of either figure and then fold down and crease the edges of each of the 20 triangles or 6 squares. Each should nearly come together to form a rough whole.  For a “permanent globe”, glue along the tabs provides in Figure 5; you will have to make your own for Figure 4. 


A Technical Note on the Map on the Icosahedron

Giving you a master copy of the world map on an icosahedron allows you to copy it for distribution and use by children and students.  If duplicated on standard 20 pound bond paper, the separate triangles, when cut apart, are very small, light, and very sensitive to the touch.  If they get bent or folded in use, then they may no longer lie flat or their edges match.  Most of these problems can be alleviated through some combination of three steps: 1) print the map on thicker paper;  2) laminate it; or 3) enlarge it. For the first, I have found that a 65-pound card stock will run satisfactorily through several photocopying copy machines that are available to me in my area. This will give extra weight and stiffness to the triangles.  For the second, I have found two different laminating procedures that give the triangles added weight, rigidity, and gloss. The first is a clear adhesive backed transparent plastic that will stick to the face of the colored map, i.e., on one side only.  It is the less expensive of the two processes but requires a little more fitting to make use of all the laminating material.  The other process involves placing the map in a sandwich (so it will be covered on both sides) and heating it in a special machine.   In my area, one 8 1/2” x 11” sandwich costs about US$1.50 -- the same as a package of the adhesive film which will easily laminate three maps at this size. Some schools may have such processes in house and thus may be even less expensive.


Finally, one could enlarge the map.  Doubling the size makes the triangles much easier for small hands to grasp and move about.  In the Flight Lines game, the triangles are approximately 3 1/2“ (8.8 cm) on a side and this is most convenient.  But for matters of efficiency and cost, I would first try printing on heavier stock and laminating to see how you like that product before enlarging the map.


Once laminated, the triangles in Figure 4 can then be cut apart so that they can be moved around on a smooth surface.  These shapes can be rearranged in a variety of ways.  To do this, students must know about the relative positions of countries and continents across the world’s oceans. In fitting together these shapes, this knowledge is continually “tested” and reinforced.  Having a globe available for comparison would be most useful.  The 20 triangles can obviously be rearranged in many more useful and interesting ways.  For example they can be used to demonstrate such geographic concepts as the centrality of a place or to investigate various geographic perspectives -- not all maps need to be oriented with north at the top!  Different global linkages or relationships can also be explored.  The outline of the resultant map itself can also be used as a graphic metaphor; Figure 6 (image size 165k), which I call the “stegosaurus projection”, could be used for a map about dinosaurs! 


Connections with MATHEMATICS  and  GEOMETRY

One of the simplest exhibitions of a system of projection is to cut up a piece of paper that when folded will completely enclose a pile of blocks.  This enclosing represents symbolically the peeling away of the outer surface of the pile -- the same thing that map projections do with the spherical earth.  To best make this connection, the pile should be in the form of a cube.  


For a pile of eight 1-inch cubes, Figure 7 (image size 127k) can be used to create such a box.  Figure 8 (image size 117k)shows the six facets of a cube with the abstract outlines of the continents.  When colored and cut up, it forms yet another projection that can be manipulated like the 20 triangles of the icosahedron (above).  Note that with a piece of carbon paper, this image can be traced onto a pile of blank cubes to form the “globe” from which Figure 8 is derived.  


From the discussion of latitude, longitude and the color solid, there is a direct connection with algebra.  Cartographers only place a few intersecting parallels and meridians on maps.  In so doing, they subdivide the map into large areas that can be seen as lying in rows and columns.  By labeling each column with a different consecutive letter of the alphabet and each row with a consecutive number, the map can now be searched systematically by areas defined by these two descriptors.  Within these alphanumeric locations we can search for particular places listed in an index. For a start, students can make a simple alphanumeric index for Figure 8.


Obviously, the smaller the alphanumeric area (the more parallels and meridians on the map), the easier it will be to find a place although there will be more areas defined by the system.  But for many purposes, it is necessary that every place have a unique identifier in latitude and longitude.  In truth, there are an infinite number of locations on the earth’ surface which would require an infinite number of parallels and meridians! If cartographers did this, the lines would hide all other features on the map.  In algebra, mathematicians have devised ways of giving unique locations to infinitely small points by measuring their distance from two principal axes.  Our system of parallels and meridians is one such Cartesian coordinate system with the Equator and Prime Meridian as the two principle axes. 


One of the best ways of making the connection between what we see around us and the abstract ideas behind map projections is through the medium of two-point perspective drawing.  In this system of projection, all forms and surfaces are constructed within a system of three sets of parallel lines, two of which converge at vanishing points located within the body of the drawing along the visual horizon (4).  In making such drawings, students come to see that despite obvious distortions, the image “looks right,” i.e., it looks realistic (Figure 9: image size 174k). 


Benefits from using Manipulative Projections

In all these activities with manipulative projections, one can access at least eight different concept, skill or knowledge areas.  They are:

1.      Knowledge of the major features of the earth is necessary for and will come with putting the pieces together.

2.      There are an infinite number of possible map projections.

3.      Making a map of the world involves making concessions, i.e., accepting errors (i.e., discontinuities, interruptions, and scale variations).

4.      The form, aspect, or arrangement of world map projections is under the control of the mapper and it can be modified to help address his or her design problem.

5.      Arranging the world map in different ways can raise questions about the nature of some common geographic terms and generalizations.

6.      Considering the earth’s surface as sets of geometric figures introduces the idea of cartograms in which we change the size of each to represent less tangible aspects of those places.

7.      The number of parallels and meridians on a world map can be related to ideas about Cartesian coordinate systems, on the one hand, and to algebra on the other.

8.      The concept of great circle routes and the measurement of long distances can be demonstrated and tested with manipulative projections.


This Edition of July 2000 was prepared by Henry W. Castner on behalf of the ICA Commission on Children and Cartography.  All of its illustrations may be duplicated by teachers for the use of their students in working on any of these activities and in creating entries to the Petchenik Competition.


The author of subsequent editions of this Introduction welcomes all suggestions and comments.  He can be reached at: 164 Fearrington Post, Pittsboro, NC 27312  U.S.A.; at <hcastner@nc.rr.com >.                                             




(1)      Castner, Henry W. (1997). Dr. Castner’s Handy Little Embossing Kit. Pittsboro, NC: Walker Press.  A set of five different embossing surfaces, each approximately 5” x 7”, with instructions for their use and an example of a map so colored.   As long as supplies last, readers are invited to write for a free copy to the author at 164 Fearrington Post, Pittsboro, NC 27312, USA.


(2)      Fisher, Irving (1943). “A world map on a regular icosahedron by Gnomonic projection.” Geographical Review, XXXIII(No. 4), 605-619.


(3)      Another is the Guyou projection on 32 squares which is available commercially from GeoLearning International Ltd., 244 North Main, P.O. Box 711, Sheridan, WY, 82801, USA. It is sold as item #A002 under the name of GeoOdyssey game for $14.95 plus 10% shipping.  This company also sells as item #A006 a game called Flight Lines for $5.95 plus 10% shipping.  In it the earth is projected on to ten double-sided equilateral triangles; thus to make up the isosahedron, one must purchase two sets.


Note that the vanishing point on the far right in Figure 9 is a supplemental one used to construct the small wall which is at an angle to the other orthogonal (i.e., at right angles) walls and the floor and ceiling tiles.