A different world map makes classroom debut

The Earth isn’t flat, but maps are – something that has vexed map makers for centuries.

This dilemma has led to countless variations of world maps, according to Linda Bliss, a professor of qualitative research in the School of Education and Human Development.

Boston Public Schools recently made the news by replacing the traditional classroom map, known as the Mercator projection, with a different style called the Gall-Peters projection.

The difference? Take a look.

They’re vastly different because the map makers were interested in showcasing different things, Bliss said.

“For the 16th Century Mercator Projection, they were mostly interested in European trade but It’s wrong on size and it’s wrong on position,” she said. “In the Gall-Peters projection, the shape of each continent is lost somewhat, but the size and position are correct. Unlike Mercator Projection maps, it also makes sure the equator is shown in the center of the map.”

Bliss has used these two maps, and a variety of others she has collected over the years, to help students in her research courses realize they cannot discount new information because they think they already know something as fact.

“Maps are representations and no representation is identical to reality,” she said. “New maps can give us a different sense of ourselves in the world.”

Just look at what happened to the fictional staffers of the White House on “The West Wing.”

Students who see the Gall-Peters map for the first time are also surprised by the relative sizes of the contintents and how much smaller the U.S. appears relative to Africa, Bliss said.

It’s for that very reason that Boston schools chose to switch maps.

“Don’t we want people to have more accurate understanding of the world and our relationships to others in the world?” asks Bliss. “Teaching that is a good thing for schools to do.”