- Associated Press - Monday, March 7, 2016

SOUTHAVEN, Miss. (AP) - How many sixth-graders does it take to fill Russia?

A lot more than it takes to fill Japan, where three or four kids can do the job.

Having students stand within the borders of various countries on a giant floor map is one of the hands-on - or, in this case, feet-on - techniques that help convey knowledge of geography, Barbara Boone of the Mississippi Geographic Alliance said. She and some colleagues were at Southaven Middle School as part of the organization’s National Geographic Giant Traveling Map Tour.

“Our children don’t know geography,” Boone said between presentations, “so we try to fill in that gap.”

The tour is part of the Alliance’s broader mission of teaching and maintaining interest in geography. Housed at the University of Mississippi in Oxford, the organization is affiliated with the National Geographic Society.

Each year, Boone said, the Alliance gets a giant map of a different continent from the National Geographic Society and takes it on a statewide school tour. This year, the featured continent is Asia.

Starting on the Gulf Coast, the tour moves north. Two DeSoto County schools were added this year, Southaven Middle and Overpark Elementary in Olive Branch.

Megan Stanford, Southaven Middle’s Spotlight teacher, said she got an email that the program was available.

“I quickly responded,” she said. “It’s a great learning tool.”

Sixth-graders went through the program on Feb. 25, and Southaven Middle’s seventh-graders saw presentations on Feb. 26. During the presentation to each group, Boone takes the students on a “tour” of the continent as she walks across the map pointing out countries and sharing information about it.

“Who knows where Europe ends and Asia begins?” Boone asked one of the final groups Thursday afternoon. “Right here, along the Ural Mountains,” she said while moving to that spot on the map and pointing to the mountain range.

Chieko Iwata, Japan Outreach Coordinator at Mississippi State University, is part of the tour group. She provides information about her home country as part of each presentation.

Dressed in a traditional Japanese kimono, she explained to students that the attire is worn for special occasions.

“They’re always very attentive,” she said of students watching the presentation. “They ask questions like, ‘Do you have cars?’ or ‘Do you have candy?’ In some cases, they know so little about the country.”

Hayden Gamble was one of the sixth-graders who saw the presentation.

“I learned about the Japanese culture,” he said. “I had read things, but it’s not as interesting as the interactive.”

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Information from: The Commercial Appeal, https://www.commercialappeal.com

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