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Independence Postcard Project Puts Learning on the Map

Independence Postcard Project Puts Learning on the Map

How do you get your students excited about a United States mapping unit? Independence Elementary School teacher Amy Smith found the answer in the postal service. For the last few weeks, her third-graders have been learning about the states via postcards from their friends and family - but the invitation is open to the entire Lakota community. 

“Getting them to connect is the best part. It’s just become really personal for them,” said Smith, adding that not a morning goes by without a student asking her if the class received any new postcards.

Their goal is simple: Collect a postcard from all 50 states. But the challenge has served as a springboard for far more than just learning the U.S. states. According to Smith, each and every postcard seems to set up a new avenue for exploring the learning standards tied to geography, globalization and culture, among others. 

When a postcard from Tennessee arrived, for instance, Smith shared the location by challenging her students to practice their directional mapping skills. “Put your finger on Ohio, then travel south two states,” she recalled asking them. Sometimes she’ll pose other questions like, “What ocean borders this state?” or “What landform do we call Florida?” 

She’s even discovered conversation starters in the postcard’s stamp, like the one her class received from India that triggered an in-depth discussion about the role of the U.S. Customs. Others just help her students give each state an identity and something to remember it for. 

“Even though it might be a place we’ve never heard of or visited, [the postcard] helps me recognize it because it tells me something unique about the place,” said third-grader Egypt Gamble

Alexa Vivian says the best part is seeing where some of her classmates’ family lives. 

“Time and time again, we look at those familial connections and it gets us talking about different cultures,” said Smith, reiterating that her class’s diverse make-up has enriched the entire experience. “It’s just as exciting for some of my kids to get the chance to talk about their family heritage as it is for their classmates to hear about it.” 

Landon Meloy shared that the most exciting part for him was “knowing that people want to help us reach our goal” and took the time to write and send them a postcard. 

While the majority of postcards have come from retired grandparents or parents who travel for work, Smith’s students were excited at the prospect of receiving postcards beyond their circle of friends and family and from around the globe too. That includes receiving one from a state still on their list - Ohio. 

“They were surprised to hear me say that this one would be the hardest,” laughed Smith, who told them that there are so many places to explore within their very own state. 

Postcards can be mailed all school year to the following address: 

ATTN: Amy Smith
Independence Elementary
7480 Princeton Road
Liberty Township, OH 45044