Say “topographic map” to a 4th grader and see what their definition is. Of course, this would be after the incredulous and bewildered look you’d probably receive, but I digress.
Topography is a difficult concept to explain without visual aids; paper drawings, foam models, and computer images were imperative for helping these students understand the breakdown of height and depth for their relief sculptures. The fourth grade at Michael R. White explored color, gradient, and three-dimensional surface application throughout this project. This gave the students a full sensory experience of their landforms in an effort to make this abstract concept more concrete.
The students were assigned landforms and researched them using Google Earth. They created two-dimensional paper models, which were individually scanned into a computer and laser cut out of foam. I challenged the 4th grade by asking if we could use color to help people understand our topographic maps. They responded by painting each piece a slightly lighter or darker shade of one color to create a gradient. The gradient demonstrated where the sunlight would hit the top of their island or mountain thus communicating the height of their landform. The results were absolutely stunning, and the students were thrilled to put together their sculptures. We put papier-mache over part of landforms to show the surface. This allowed the students to see both the gradient layers beneath as well as the Earth’s surface on their landform.
Seeing the sculptures all together created a visual map of relief sculptures which showcased each students’ favorite part of the project. Some were carefully painted to demonstrate light and darkness on the papier-mache as well as the gradient. Others were delicately drawn out and researched with some exactly papier-mache’d to show the curvature of the surface. Each sculpture was incredibly unique with great variation in both color choice and form. In the future, perhaps the sculptures would stop at the gradient to show the full topographic map. This is the only change I would consider making to this project.
Overall, this experience was incredibly successful for the 4th graders at Michael R. White.