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Home > History, Geography, and Time > Teaching Unit 0.1

Getting our Bearings: Maps of Time, Space, and History.


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Why This Unit?

There is a story about five blind men and an elephant. Each of the men feels different parts of the elephant and so each comes away with a different, and incomplete, view of what an elephant must be like. If we think of the “elephant” as being the story of humans, the analogy has to change just a little in order for it to come out right. Instead of five blind men, a student is the examiner equipped with different tools of investigation. First, the student has a magnifying glass, which allows for a very close examination of the animal’s skin cell structure, hair follicles, or tooth wear. Next, the student moves back a little, using just the eyes and seeing that the elephant is more than just the components of skin, hair, or teeth. The elephant is actually composed of all of these elements to create a large animal. The student’s next tool is a very tall ladder. From that perspective the student can see for miles around, even whole herds of elephants, as well as gazelles, lions, grasslands, rivers, and maybe human beings.

Unit Objectives

Upon completing this unit, students will be able to:

1.) Describe three basic perspectives in relation to time, space, and history.

2.) Select and apply an appropriate perspective when given a specific historical topic.

3.) Understand and apply concepts of scale and proportion.

4.) Demonstrate mapping skills.

Time and Materials

This Teaching Unit is divided into four lessons. Lessons 1 and 4 should take about 45 minutes of class time. Lessons 2 and 3 may take longer. The lessons can be expanded or abbreviated according to need by shortening or deleting activities, repeating activities (as described in the lessons), or engaging students in a dialogue about the topic.

The lessons described below require the following materials:

  • Photocopies of student handouts
  • Transparencies of the Teacher Tools (if an overhead projector is being used)
  • One-quarter inch graph paper.
It is recommended that teachers obtain a directional compass and post signs of “North,” “East,” “South,” and “West” on the classroom walls. Cards are provided in this Teaching Unit for timelines, though teachers may wish to create their own. A 20-foot (6m) length of clothesline is used in Lesson 2. A 20-foot section of wall space may be substituted for the clothesline. Some teachers may find it visually useful to have three lengths of clothesline or wall space so that the timelines can be directly compared during discussions.

Table of Contents

Why this unit?


Unit objectives


Time and materials




The historical context


This unit and the Big Era timelines


Lesson 1: Cartography and chronography (maps and timelines)


Lesson 2: Maps of space


Lesson 3: Maps of time


Lesson 4: Maps of history


This unit and the Three Essential Questions


This unit and the Standards in Historical Thinking


Resources 30

Complete Teaching Unit in PDF format
Complete Teaching Unit in DOCX format


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