Rearranging the cities into a much more visually pleasing arrangement

My friend the seventh grade teacher gave an assignment wherein students were to produce a map of the state of Washington with various required elements, among them, a selection of major cities in the state. Some students failed to understand that the purpose of a map is to represent where the cities are and not to dictate to the cities where they should be, for they moved the cities around in strange ways.

  • Some students put Port Angeles 100 miles inland nowhere near any body of water. Psst, it's a port. Ports are not as effective when they are 100 miles inland.
  • Other students took the idea of a port too far and put Port Angeles 100 miles out to sea. This sort of misses out the other half of being a port, which is being connected to land.
  • But the winners of the Unclear on the concept award are the students who moved the cities around. "All these dots looked all crooked and stuff, so I moved them around to make a straight line. Was that wrong?"

Moving the dots around to make a more visually pleasing arrangement might work if you were designing, say, a transit map, where the topology of the connections is the important thing rather than their physical arrangement in space. But this wasn't one of those times.

Bonus chatter: Another student decided to embellish the map by coloring everything outside the boundaries of the state in blue. Psst, the color blue has special meaning in maps. Washington is not an island.

Comments (19)
  1. Ron Parker says:

    It would be nitpicking to mention the Port of Houston, wouldn’t it?  

  2. Tom says:

    Your friend the seventh-grade teacher should get a blog.  And get massive Pagerank from being linked to by TONT.

  3. RobO says:

    According to Wikipedia "The Port of Houston is the port of Houston…"

    Just thought that was a little funny. It does seem to be connected to waterways, though.

  4. Mike Dimmick says:

    You can have a seaport miles inland: the Save Our Wild Salmon Coalition claims that Lewiston, Idaho is a seaport (also on Wikipedia) primarily due to the damming of the Snake River. Lewiston is 500 miles inland. The Coalition is pushing for removal of the dams, which they claim are not bringing significant benefits and are preventing wild salmon reaching suitable spawning grounds upstream. – hover over the Lower Monumental dam, which is the second upstream from the confluence of the Snake and Colombia Rivers.

    Still, the point is that the kids don’t know where the cities are located in Washington and perhaps some of their guesses were less than educated.

  5. DWalker says:

    I would like to see some of those maps!

  6. BCS says:

    Kudos to Mike Dimmick. BTW Lewiston is about 1/2 mile (~the width of the river) east of Washington. And you have to go through washington to get to it.

  7. JD says:

    Who would have guessed that some kids don’t take school seriously?

  8. ptolemy says:

    "Psst, the color blue has special meaning in maps."

    Umm, Oregon and Idaho went Democratic this election?

    I do trust that you friend marked down those who went with the neater and less accurate shapes. It was one of my beefs in 4th-grade geography that those with neat handwriting and misshapen maps got better grades than those with crummy lettering and better maps.

  9. mikeb says:

    @ptolemy:  Wow, you can really hold a grudge. I can barely remember what school I went to in 4th grade, much less how my assignments were graded.

  10. Leo Petr says:

    Some maps of the States replace Mexico and Canada with blue:

  11. DaveShaw says:

    Slightly off topic… Our Product stores Files in a Chucked Folder stucture based on Person Id (0-499, 500-999, etc). Some users thought they would re-organise these into a Name based folder structure (Abram, Adams, etc), so they could open them from explorer, and then wondered why the product could not open the files.

    Took them hours to do, took me minutes to restore from Backup :)


  12. JM says:

    @Leo Petr: but then you’re talking about the entire country, not surrounding states. I’m sure that the question of whether the US should be considered an isolated island is a topic that arouses great interest in people…

  13. fat bob says:

    This is rather disingenuous – they are schoolchildren – ok so they are a little creative in their maps – I’d rather that than they start thinking about "the topology of the connections is the important thing rather than their physical arrangement in space".

    Yawn Yawn Yawn.

    You will be assimilated.

    It’s almost as bad as Wendy’s snarky comments about her hairdresser.

  14. ptolemy says:

    @mikeb: I said "was". Such grudges as I held against at least the majority of those with neat handwriting fell away about three years later when I considered the further implications of their being girls.

  15. Mihai says:

    "coloring everything outside the boundaries of the state in blue"

    So wrong! Idaho is a red state ;-)

  16. BE says:

    @JM: Yes seventh graders should be able to do better.  They aren’t 5 years old and this wasn’t a Fairyland map.

    Clearly the teacher has failed to teach the basic purpose of such a map to some of the students and yet Raymond ridicules the students rather than the teacher.

  17. JM says:

    @fat bob: if the assignment had been to produce a map of Fairyland and make it as interesting as possible as part of an exercise in creative expression, you’d have a point. If it had been a kindergarten class you’d definitely have a point.

    I’m pretty sure there are no seventh-graders reading this blog who’ll have their feelings hurt by Raymond’s comments. And seventh-graders who *do* think about topology probably have a bright career ahead of them — if not a glamorous one.

  18. Ravenna, the foremost city of the Roman Empire, is five miles inland!

  19. Yosi says:



    Either teacher or students are braindead idiots. Put city in middle of the sea? At 7-th grade? My son being 4 years old already understand concept of "see" "land" and "city".

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