Winfield students discover whole country at their feet


For students at Winfield Elementary School, geography class has never been so much fun.

Tuesday and Wednesday, students were treated to a geography lesson by Gymnasium Geography Inc., a New Jersey-based company that tries to generate enthusiasm for the subject through educational games.

The activities centered around a 12-by-24-foot multicolored map of the United States placed on the floor of the school cafeteria.

A Geography Gymnasium brochure bills the program as "Edutainment at its very best." It says the presentation allows students to have fun while improving their knowledge of geography. The program, for all Winfield students, was sponsored by the cultural arts committee of the school's PTA. The group paid $1,000 for Gymnasium Geography to present two all-day sessions at the school.

Wednesday, Winfield's third grade gathered around the map as Scott Maecker, of Gymnasium Geography, explained the first game.

Mr. Maecker, wearing a T-shirt decorated with a map of the United States, divided the children into two teams, North and South.

He asked geography questions, and in response the children had to identify the correct state on the large map by throwing a "stick-'em" ball on the state.

Mr. Maecker phrased the questions to encourage good sportsmanship. For example, he told the students to "help your teammates," find the state where "the next Summer Olympics will be" and "help your teammates find the state nicknamed the Potato State."

Helpful students screamed "Georgia" and "Idaho" as their teammates tried to land the "stick-'em" balls on the correct states.

Third-grade teacher Bill Pearre watched the competition from the sidelines.

"I think it's valuable," Mr. Pearre said of the geography program. "It gives the kids hands-on experience with some of the map skills we've already introduced."

Mr. Pearre said the games would be a good review for the Maryland State Performance Assessment tests in May.

Gymnasium Geography was developed by a physical education teacher in New Jersey who painted a large map of the state on the back of gymnastic mats. Over the past five years, the program has been presented at more than 1,000 schools throughout the Northeast.

Winfield's principal, Ray Mathias, said he thought the students learned something from the fun and games.

"There's some learning going on; some of it has already taken place in the classroom," Mr. Mathias said. "If you have fun while you're learning, you're going to retain it."

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