How big is Africa?

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 by Sabbaye McGriff   Measured in the bodies of fifth graders, Africa is four students…

Georgia (Feb 8, 2010)

 by Sabbaye McGriff
Measured in the bodies of fifth graders, Africa is four students across and five students tall. But as 80 students from Garden Hills Elementary School in Atlanta learned during a recent field trip to Kennesaw State, ascertaining the land mass of a continent requires more precise measurement. 
The Garden Hills students were among hundreds from the region expected to visit the Giant Map of Africa, a traveling lesson on the continent sponsored by Kennesaw State’s Geography and Anthropology Department, the Georgia Geographic Alliance and the National Geographic Education Foundation. 
The brightly colored, 35 feet by 26 feet map, on which students can walk and work, will be displayed on the floor of the Social Science building Atrium Feb. 8-19
Using blue nylon straps indicative of the map’s scale — one of an arsenal of learning tools that travel in a large metal trunk with the map — students approximated Africa’s size at 4,750 miles wide and about 5,000 miles tall. Using math skills, students then calculated the difference between what they had estimated and the actual size of just over 11.6 million square miles. They were less than 100 square miles off.   
In addition to dimensions, the map project’s many activities, including safaris, scavenger hunts, and competitive games, teach students knowledge of country locations, capital cities, population centers, geo-physical characteristics, as well as important historical, wildlife and cultural information.  Teachers can customize their lessons online, choosing from a set of ready-to-use resources such as atlases, books, videos, music and game materials.
 “It’s a great way to study geography,” said Debbie Briggs, a fifth grade teacher at Garden Hills. “We went to a performance of South American music and they put up a big map. When I asked the students what it was, many of them thought it was Africa. So, it’s perfect for them to actually have a chance to study the map of Africa.”
Projects like the Giant Map are an important resource for Georgia schools where more geography is needed, according to Garrett Smith, chair of Geography and Anthropology at KSU and director of the Georgia Geography Alliance, which is housed in the College of Humanities and Social Sciences.  In 2008, Kennesaw State hosted the Giant Map of Asia. 
“The Giant Map makes geography education exciting through hands-on experience, and is appropriate for all ages, including the KSU students who will visit the map with their classes,” Smith said.  
Garden Hills’ Briggs said the Georgia fifth-grade standards are “pretty pitiful” when it comes to geography. “Students only are asked to identify locations like Kitty Hawk (North Carolina) and the Salton Sea (California),” she said   “Geography is brought in through the study of other subjects like literature and history. Since Garden Hills is an International Baccalaureate School, our students learn a little more than most. They love this.”
Fifth grader Cooper Grisham agreed. “It’s kinda fun,” he said of learning the regions, size and countries of Africa.
To learn more about the Giant Map of Africa or to reserve time on the map, go to Individuals may visit the map when it is not being used by a group.


A leader in innovative teaching and learning, Kennesaw State University offers undergraduate, graduate and doctoral degrees to its nearly 43,000 students. With 11 colleges on two metro Atlanta campuses, Kennesaw State is a member of the University System of Georgia. The university’s vibrant campus culture, diverse population, strong global ties and entrepreneurial spirit draw students from throughout the country and the world. Kennesaw State is a Carnegie-designated doctoral research institution (R2), placing it among an elite group of only 6 percent of U.S. colleges and universities with an R1 or R2 status. For more information, visit