As well as being fun, having a globe in the classroom can help children to make sense of the world. But make sure you choose the right kind, says Gerald Haigh
If you want to make sense of the world, the best place to start is with a globe. It is only by looking at a globe that it is really possible to see the relative sizes and positions of the continents and oceans. Maps are inherently misleading be-cause they take the surface of a sphere and distort it to fit on a flat page. On a globe it is possible to confirm that the shortest route from Florida to the United Kingdom goes up the North American East Coast as far as Newfoundland before it crosses the open ocean.
A globe also helps pupils understand about the earth's position and movements in space and about latitude and longitude. So although maps and atlases are convenient, we need to check assumptions by looking at globes.
If there is a globe in the room, it can be used in several ways.
* In a whole-class lesson to show the shape of the earth, the nature of its movements in space and its relationship (grossly out of scale of course) to the sun and other planets.
* In an informal setting, to show pupils where places are: "Who'll come out and put a finger on New Zealand?"
* As a group activity, with worksheets. Four to six pupils can work together with a globe on the desk, doing prepared tasks at any level.
One problem with presenting the earth to children as a small globe is that it can actually stand in the way of their understanding of just how big the earth is - in the teacher's hand, it looks compact.
It helps the teacher, perhaps, to know that reducing the earth to a globe which is 30cm in diameter means working to a scale of 1:41.8 million - which means that 1cm represents 418 kilometres.
At this scale, the earth's atmosphere would be a mere 2mm thick, and the highest mountain ranges would project above the surface by around one tenth of a millimetre (the slightest roughening of the surface under the fingers). The deepest gold mine would hardly pierce the paint. A tablespoonful of water (18ml) would suffice for all the world's oceans.
The lightness of a plastic globe is misleading, too, because the earth itself consists largely of very dense material - granite is near the surface because it is relatively light. Thus, a 30cm globe which had a realistic mass in proportion to its size would weigh an astonishing 81 kilograms.
With the classroom in mind, I looked at a selection of the globes on offer in the catalogues of NES Arnold.
Primary Picture Globe (30cm) Pounds 16.99 The name Picture Globe refers to the fact that each country bears a small representative picture. These pictures are, however, tiny, and stereotypical to the point of comedy - a kangaroo for Australia, cowboys and Indians on the United States of America.
Junior Globe (16cm) Pounds 7.49 This is cheap, but is too small to be of much use - indeed the box describes it as a "novelty", which is what it is.
Physical Globe (30cm) Pounds 15.99 Clearly printed and colourful, this carries enough detail to satisfy classroom demands across a wide age range - all of the Canary Islands are named, for example (which is not always the case even on much larger maps and globes) and 10 kinds of ground cover are distinguished by colour.
There are two other versions of this globe - a small-er one, 20cm in dia-meter at Pounds 9.99, and one with a "metallised arc" at Pounds 18.99. However, in my opinion, the standard product at Pounds 15.99 offers the best value.
Political Globe (30cm) Pounds 15.99 This is identical to the Physical Globe except that it drops some physical detail in favour of much more information about countries, states and boundaries. The metallised arc and smaller version are also available, priced as for the Physical Globe.
Activity Globe (30cm) Pounds 39.99 This has a white surface printed only with outlines. The idea is that you can write on the globe, and the surface is designed to take marks from water-based pens or a chinagraph pencil. It easily wipes clean with a dampened cloth.
Any number of uses present themselves - tracing trade and exploration routes; highlighting countries linked by problems or common concerns; explaining weather patterns, ocean currents and suchlike.
Illuminated Globe (30cm) Pounds 29 This shows a lot of physical and political detail - natural vegetation and relief as well as national boundaries and major cities. To help clarify the information, it has a bulb inside. When lit, this gives extra emphasis to the political information by highlighting the different colours used for the countries.
The change from the non-illuminated state to the illuminated did not seem to me, though, to be all that clear. This was probably because I was in sun-filled room. However, many classrooms are equally bright.
Planet Earth Globe (30cm) Pounds 39.95 This sets out to be a scale model of the world as seen from space. It shows, therefore, the great deserts, the forests and ice caps and oceans as they might be seen from an orbiting satellite. There are clouds, too, which show major weather patterns.
The surface is artwork created from photographs. This is because the astronauts themselves feel that photographs do not fully do justice to what they see, and also because it is necessary to show each region at its most typical.
Localizer Globe (30cm) Pounds 43.95 This globe has a built-in spotlight. As you rotate wheels on the base, calibrated for longitude and latitude, a spot of light on the globe's surface moves to the location you have chosen.
The idea is excellent, and the accompanying book has lots of exercises and places to find. However, teachers would need to be sure that they wanted this sort of detailed understanding and practice before making the investment. I was a bit disappointed, too, with the spot of light itself, which seemed rather larger and less precise than the catalogue picture implied, and was not all that easily visible in a brightly lit room. (Perhaps the example I saw was imprecisely focused.) Geoglobe Talking Globe (30cm) Pounds 65.95 This is a combination of a globe and an electronic talking quiz unit. A child presses a "Go" button and the globe asks a question such as "Which city is in Saudi Arabia - Mecca, Melbourne, or Tel Aviv?".
The pupil presses a button and is greeted with one or a range of responses such as "Great!" or "Sorry!". The machine keeps score.
There are 10,000 questions in the unit. You can choose beginner, intermediate or advanced, and there are numerous categories such as country locations, bodies of water and continents. The questions lean towards the United States and Canada.
The unit works on batteries or with a provided mains adapter. There is also a four-way headphone facility. A Discovery and Activity Book is included.
As the focus of a group activity, with headphones, this should work well, but a good teacher could probably do even better with a conventional globe and her own worksheets.
All the above globes are available from the current NES Arnold catalogue, from which the prices are quoted. The globes may be available elsewhere at a different price. NESArnold, Ludlow Hill Road, West Bridgford, Nottingham NG2 6HD. Tel: 01159 452200