Put yourself on the map

5th September 1997 at 01:00

PHILIP'S FOUNDATION ATLAS. Heinemann Pounds 6.50

COLLINS-LONGMAN STUDENT ATLAS. Collins-Longman Pounds 8.50 THE OXFORD SCHOOL ATLAS. Oxford University Press Pounds 8


Despite competition from CD-Roms and the Internet, a well-organised traditional atlas is hard to beat, writes Roger Carter

The time has long passed when all pupils were issued with their own atlas, but the cost of class sets remains a major budget item, unlikely to fall in the short term despite the growth of atlas material on CD-Roms or the Internet. Conventional book atlases remain a widespread need.

Producing atlases has always been expensive, and publishers have had a hard time dealing with change both to political landscapes and syllabuses. Despite this, a wide range is available, broadly comparable in price. So it is important to scan the field for the best match to your pupils, your syllabus and your teaching approach. How well does the atlas cover the places and themes which you teach?

It is worth assessing ease of use, especially at key stage 3. Children's enjoyment of atlases can be misleading - their small scale, considerable abstraction, and sheer density of information can present pupils with greater learning problems than is generally realised. At a time when pupils should be moving from simple map reading and identification, the quality of support is critical.

After questions of value for money (cost in relation to content, hard or soft back, durability), a fundamental consideration is clarity. The more detailed a map the harder it is to read, while the less the map contains the harder it is to interpret.

Maps should not be cluttered with more information than is likely to be used. Clarity is enhanced if the material is well organised with a well-constructed index. How does the index differentiate towns, rivers and mountains? Are symbols used consistently, and with a key? Are all place names included with locating references? Are they spelt in a way that children will recognise from other reading?

Scale is also important, for world maps, continents and maps of the British Isles. Scale should be standardised as far as possible; small inset locators and comparators will help younger readers with world location and relative size. Projections should be appropriate for the age and ability of pupils, preferably with some explanation of how they are constructed and the lines used to locate.

A further variable is balance. What is the mix of scales, themes and support material? Are satellite maps included? And to what extent are maps supported by number in table and graph form?

Three leading publishers have produced atlases for pupils at key stage 3, and those on more advanced courses. Those designed for national curriculum pupils are Collins-Long-man Mapskills Atlas, the Oxford Practical Atlas, and Philip's Foundation Atlas. All three include a good mix of colour maps, diagrams and statistics. There is also a good sprinkling of aerial photographs and satellite images. Philip's Foundation is particularly good at guiding the reader through scale, location and symbols. It has separate indexes for the British Isles and the world, and there is good locator information on each page. The Oxford Practical includes helpful sections on the water cycle, earthquakes and volcanoes, as well as bold, clear and colourful maps. Collins-Longman Mapskills Atlas gives good support to learning atlas skills, and its coverage of the British Isles by region and country is particularly strong.

Atlases for GCSE and more advanced work include the Oxford School Atlas, Philip's Modern School Atlas, and Collins-Longman Student Atlas. All come in hard or soft back, with similar prices. In each case they reflect progression from their key stage 3 counterparts, following their style and organisation. Both Collins-Longman and Oxford include some superb satellite images, and Oxford also contains a number of land use maps of major city regions. Philip's is particularly well organised into clear and well-ex-plained sections. All three fully support a range of global themes with up-to-date maps, graphs and tables. All are worth further scrutiny to make sure you find the best fit for your department.

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