Mental Maps and a Community-Based Sense of Place: A Case Study Among Kansas Third Graders




Larsen, Thomas
Harrington, John, Jr.

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The Grosvenor Center for Geographic Education


A question exists regarding the role of education in helping students develop meaningful connections to place(s), This longitudinal study uses mental mapping to assess Kansas third graders and their community-based sense of place. The Road map for 2 J-'' century geography education encourages geography education researchers to study how students learn geographic concepts. Previous and ongoing efforts have focused on the first theme (Standards 1-3) of the National Geography Standards: the World in Spatial Terms. The present study uses community-based sense of place as a conceptual framework to understand student knowledge of Standard Six: how culture and experience influence people's perceptions of places and regions. At the state level, the concept of community represents a major theme for third grade in the Kansas standards for history, government, and social studies. Classrooms from four demographically distinct areas of Kansas were surveyed: Manhattan, Garden City, Horton, and Junction City. During the study, students drew mental maps and talked about their community - once in September 2015 and a second time in January 2016. Mental maps were analyzed and cross-referenced with responses from student focus groups to assess participants' community-based sense of place and changes from September 2015 to January 2016. Interviews with teachers helped assess educator knowledge of the concept, as well as document differences across classrooms in how the concept of community was incorporated into classroom instruction. Results indicate a variability among the students in how they expressed their understanding of community using mental maps. Findings also reveal a wide range of local knowledge that Kansas third graders possessed about their communities.



geography, sense of community, mental mapping, elementary education, student viability, Kansas


Larsen, T. & Harrington, J. (2016). Mental maps and a community-based sense of place: A case study among Kansas third graders. Research in Geographic Education, 18(2), pp. 86-111.


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