Hong Kong children's understanding and experience of mapwork tasks
Author(s)Kwan, Tammy Yim Lin
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AbstractThis study was focussed on how Hong Kong children handled map information which reflected their intuitive experience and understanding of maps before they commenced their formal map lessons in secondary school. The study was framed in the qualitative research paradigm, using a holistic multiple-case study design, emphasizing the naturalistic setting of human experience to expose the in-depth cases of three Hong Kong children's subjective and intuitive experience in handling and understanding map information. Three Cantonese speaking children, Charles, Emily and Johnny, aged 10 to 11 years old in their upper primary levels who had not received any formal map training in school, participated in this year-long study. A series of 10 monthly meetings was conducted with the children at their home to work with various map work tasks. The map work tasks were designed on three criteria, namely: from familiar to unfamiliar environments; from immediate to distant environments; and from real to hypothetical environments. The tasks also reflected the four progressions of development of spatial experience of children from: concrete to abstract; fusion to differentiation; egocentrism to perspectivism; and active to perceptical to symbolic space. The maps used in the 10 meetings were of primary I morphogram types such as large scale home and school street plans, small scale district street maps, brochure plans, simplified tube exit plans; pictorial maps of the Hong Kong Ocean Park; and hypothetical topographical maps that were selected as having direct relevance to each of the three participating children. Mapwork tasks, such as locational exercises, route tracing and planning exercises, free-recall cognitive sketches which incorporated the essential map concepts and skills, were integrated and re-inf orced in the 10 monthly meetings to achieve the aim of the study. This reflected the set of key questions which emphasized problem-solving and information-processing skills in both the decoding and encoding aspects of map interpretation and construction. The key questions of the study were related to: i) the approaches used by the children for acquiring spatial knowledge reflecting their map understanding and experience; ii) the locational approaches used to extract meanings and to locate features from maps showing familiar and unfamiliar places; iii) the children's conceptions of various map concepts such as symbolization, contours, proportion, direction and reference location; iv) the children's consideration of route-planning using maps; v) the children's ability to encode free-recall cognitive sketch of their familiar environment; and vi) the way children read, remember, recognise, recall and reproduce graphical map information to reflect their spatial cognition. The three children were invited to talk aloud about how they worked with the maps to come to any decisions. The dialogues between the child and the researcher were audio-taped and subsequently transcribed for thematic analysis to derive a conceptual generalization. Five major types of qualitative data were collected throughout this study. They were: i) a questionnaire to tap their intuitive understanding and preferences in maps and map information; ii) systematic ongoing reflective in-depth interviews to determine their deeper understanding and preference in maps and map information; iii) interviewing notes recorded by the researcher during the interviews; iv) free-recall sketches and rough notes drawn by the children during their task performance; and v) direct observation of the children's behaviour when performing the mapwork tasks. A process of triangulatory interpretation was used to interpret their responses. This study found that the three Hong Kong children demonstrated varying degrees of performance in handling the mapwork tasks before their formal map learning began in the secondary school. Their performance and understanding were influenced by their familiarity with the environment; competence in interpreting and constructing maps; the extent to which the situation was an applied one; and their personal experience in using maps. Three different styles of acquiring spatial knowledge were observed from the children's map tasks' performances. They were: the confused and inconsistent style; the concrete, consistent and guided style; and the creative, imaginative and self-initiative style. Subject to these characteristics in styles of acquiring spatial information, three locational approaches of using maps were identified. They were: a rote memorized pattern of operation; a structural sequential pattern of operation; and a concurrent pattern of operation. Using their preferred locational approach to work with maps of familiar environments, the children had demonstrated a basic to clear understanding of various map concepts through association and deductive reasoning. A three-dimensional conceptual framework is proposed to help teachers to understand children's map performing ability to facilitate appropriate map teaching in schools. The three dimensions which constitute the conceptual framework are: i) awareness and knowledge of the spatial representation of the locational environment which represents the innate dimension of the children; ii) sophistication and complexity of the locational approach used which represents the cognitive process dimension; and iii) level of conceptual map understanding which represents the product dimension. This exploratory holistic multiple-case study is distinctive in being one of the first studies that has explored children's development of mapping skills in their own lived experience over an extended period. The findings of this study provide immediate and significant insights into the teaching and learning of mapwork in secondary education in Hong Kong. However, the findings are also significant and applicable to the global community of map curriculum designers; parents; and forthcoming researchers who may pursue investigation in a similar area.