Brother has an assignment for social studies in school that is due November 6th. The assignment is to create a salt map of the United States, showing the topographical relief. I’m guessing this is mainly the Rocky and Appalachian mountains, but we haven’t actually seen the assignment sheet yet so I’m not sure. I remember fourth graders at my 2nd elementary school in Lubbock created salt maps for the regions of Texas, so I guess this must be sort of a fourth grade rite of passage. I searched for salt map pictures on Flickr tonight but couldn’t find any, but I did find these salt maps students in Wisconsin made of explorer routes. I can see there is some value in actually creating a physical representation of the U.S. geography in a salt map, but I’m guessing this project is one of those that ends up with the parent doing more of the work and perhaps more of the learning than the child. Perhaps I’m just being cynical and should have a better attitude. I am generally predisposed to NOT like classroom assignments where all the students are creating a product that looks essentially the same. Those types of assignments are very common in school, I think they are often easier to grade, but I think they can be less engaging and more boring since the involve little choice on the part of the student and therefore little buy-in. I would rather see an assignment which is differentiated and gives students some choices.I’m wondering if the goal of the assignment is to better understand U.S. topography, if brother could learn how to give a virtual tour of major U.S. landforms using Google Earth? Then we could use a screencasting program (I recently purchased iShowU) so he could record a movie of his virtual tour. I’m thinking that if he can give a narrated tour of U.S. topography, flying around within Google Earth and narrating what we’re seeing on this “virtual tour,” that would be a more authentic assessment of brother’s knowledge in this area. I think he’d learn more exploring U.S. geography via Google Earth than just making a salt map. I am going to ask his teacher about this and see if she’d support this alternative assessment idea. I’m not sure if his teachers know about and use Google Earth currently, so this could be a good way for brother to both demonstrate his knowledge, learn with a powerful digital tool, and also teach others in his class (including his teachers) about Google Earth and how it can be used for learning.