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Welcome to the #SummerofWhere - in the West!

Posted on May 02 2021

Welcome to the #SummerofWhere - in the West!

Dear Educators,

With spring winding down, it's time to think about summer—it will be coming soon. For many families, that means a road trip! Since Pilgrims and immigrants arriving in America settled first along the East Coast, closer to Europe, travel to the West has always had a mystique about it. The wide swaths of open range still remain, even as urban areas have expanded. So, there is much out West to explore. This week, Maps 101 looks at westward expansion historically, but also with the current excitement that you or your students’ families may discover in your own #SummerofWhere, through travel. Upcoming is a time to shake off that cooped-up feeling as businesses open and vaccines against COVID allow everyone to discover more about where they are and where they want to be, just as people in the 1800s did when they headed to the West.

Geography News Network

Of course, many people picture cowhands, or cowboys of old, riding horses along dusty paths, heading into town to arrive in the local saloon to get a cool drink. However, as this GNN article illustrates, there were cowhands with much more diverse backgrounds than old Hollywood Westerns showed. Find out more about the likes of Nate Love, for example, to refocus your image of the so-called “Wild West.”


 FieldTrip Library

Speaking of the Wild West, next on our tour of the #SummerofWhere is a virtual Field Trip that focuses on the mythology of this stereotype. Located in the Texas and the West Collection, or via this link, “The Wild West” Field Trip explains how pioneers going West travelled to get there (after all, there weren’t interstate highways in those days!), illustrates the wars pioneers had with the Native Americans already living in the West, takes a look at Western towns like Tombstone, Arizona, discusses famous outlaws and the sheriffs that hunted them down, and much more! 


Today, however, if we want to head west, many of us may jump in the family vehicle and take an interstate highway to get there. We don’t need Conestoga wagons and horses to stop at the Big Texan in Amarillo, Texas, and order a massive steak with all the fixin’s. However, travelling by car allows everyone to see the roadside attractions of the past, like the Big Texan, that have endured and become woven into the fabric of America. Travelling the open roads of America itself has become iconic of the size, space, and freedom America offers.

Zoomify Tool

Launch Zoomify to zoom in or out on sections of maps in Maps 101. The cursor becomes a hand that allows you to move the map in any direction to find the area you want to highlight. You can zoom in to show a portion of the map or to highlight something specific. Below is a portion of the interstate highways from the above map. This view focuses on the western highways out from St. Louis, the gateway to the West. Point out to students or have them identify the major interstates that head west from there. Today, summer road-trippers can head out I-70 from St. Louis, across Kansas, and on into Denver, Colorado, and beyond. For a more southerly route out of St. Louis, perhaps the family will go southwest on I-44 and catch I-40 in Oklahoma City to cross the Texas panhandle, to head to parts farther into the West, like Santa Fe, New Mexico. For the truly adventurous, travelers can make a round-trip journey on the highways out of St. Louis to see the maximum number of states. 


Help students practice learning to avoid the summer education slide (and to continue to learn for their whole lives) through reading. Use our weekly GNN articles, so that students can continue to expand their world and their understanding, even during the summer. Maps 101 posts articles throughout the year. We don’t stop just because summer is in the air, and the heat takes over!

Recognizing Stereotypes When students read, they need to focus on recognizing stereotypes and how they can affect students’ preconceptions while they read. This week, students should read the GNN article “Diverse Cowboys” and tackle the stereotypes people have about “The West” in general and also about African Americans. Write “The West” on the board. Then, have students respond with what they imagine when they think of the West from the 1800s. Point out how this article likely conflicted with students’ stereotype of a cowhand, or cowboy, and those of African Americans. You can also use the questions at the end of the article to promote further classroom discussion.

As appropriate for your class, open up discussion to other stereotypes people have of African Americans or other groups. Help students recognize that stereotypes can be limiting, hurtful, and ignorant, and they do not represent the truth.

More Maps 101 Connections: Have students read the GNN article on “Stagecoach Mary” Fields. How does Fields break stereotypes of both women and African Americans? Then ask students to research Annie Oakley and write a short biography that explains how Oakley also broke stereotypes. Have students compare and contrast Fields and Oakley. How did both women break stereotypes of what women can or should do for their time in history? How accepted do students think these women would be today? Have them explain their answers.

Forming an Opinion Revisit “The Wild West” Field Trip. Go through all of the points of interest, ending with the 14th entry, “Was the West Wild?” Write this question on the board. Then, have students discuss their opinion about the West. Have them explain their reasoning. Which points of interest support or refute their opinion about whether the West was truly “wild?”

Expanding Mapping Skills Refer to the complete interstate map and project it on the board. Then, ask students which highways they would take to get from different locations you have predetermined or allow them to brainstorm their own routes. Use Zoomify as needed to navigate the map to help students identify different routes.

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