GPS vs. A Map

Before GPS was in everything, before it was in phones and tablets, before it was helping us with driving directions and telling us where the closest bathroom was, it was a simple set of coordinates that allows us to navigate to particular position on the planet. And we liked it that way.

We liked geocaching (global scavenger hunts) and we liked being in this secret club of people who had figured out a location for everything in existence. We were lucky because we held the tools that allowed for exploration and for discovery. But, without a map, more often than not, it was aimless wandering. More often than not, it was trying to find something but not quite making it.

In a conversation with Savinay Chandrasekhar, who works on standards implementation in DPS, he described a similar thing happening in his work. He described teachers who were excited about empowering students to go on their own learning journey. But, those same teachers are interested in developing a map for this journey rather than just giving the students a set of coordinates.

This metaphor actually comes from a conversation Sav had with math teachers as a part of his work, and it immediately resonated with me. I was surprised at how much was packed inside of it. A learning map can exist and contain all of the “places” that a student needs to travel to within the course of a year, but each student could take a different path. Because the map is the set of standards, there is a common (core) set of expectations, but uncovering the map is the work of the teacher and students working together.

It is pretty clear that we can’t go back to the days of GPS. We can’t go back to giving students coordinates that aren’t connected to the full landscape. And both Sav and the teachers he is working with understand this. In fact, they are passionate about it. I find the commitment to listening to one another and building the map together to be truly inspiring.


If you want to hear another perspective on Learning Maps, I highly recommend this talk.


Thanks for the story and this perspective. I fully agree with you about mapping. I also believe we as central office support to schools must let go of our tendency to be the voice on the GPS the that allows people to blindly follow. With no context and no sense of directional pull our leaders may find themselves stranded in an unknown remote territory because the iPhone 5 map was poorly programmed.. As leaders we all deserve the learning experience of mapping the course for those who are in our group and alter the course based on the pace

Experience and ability of those traveling. Otherwise we may find ourselves misguided disoriented and missing the tools to calibrate and adjust our path! I love the stories keep them coming!

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