FableFive: David Smith, creator of Mapping the World by Heart

“When our children leave our classrooms, we need to make sure they have a sense of their own community, and also an appreciation of everyone else's,” explains David Smith, creator of Mapping the World By Heart

His award-winning geography curriculum gives students a means to picture the world beyond shapes on a page. Mapping the World by Heart provides a way to bring the world closer, because we can’t all travel the globe, but we can take steps to learn more about it. 

David was a classroom teacher with over 25 years' experience teaching English, geography, and social studies in grades 4-12 and used that experience of teaching 7th graders to draw maps of the entire world from memory, to create his highly successful curriculum, Mapping the World by Heart

When it was first released, Mapping the World by Heart was awarded the “Breaking the Mold,” by the U.S. Department of Education and to match the ever-changing world, David has revised the curriculum nine times since. 

David is a full-time consultant, providing lectures and workshops on geography and global issues, and on IT issues, to teachers, parents, student groups, and others in the United States, Europe, Africa, South America, Australia, and Asia.

For this FableFive post, we connected with David to learn more about Mapping the World By Heart and the stories from the journey. 

How did you connect the dots with FableVision Learning?

When Mapping the World By Heart was first published in 1992 by Tom Snyder Productions, Peter Reynolds did the illustrations and we became friends; when Tom Snyder was bought by Scholastic and MTWBH needed a new publisher, I called Peter (H. Reynolds) and he jumped at the chance to publish it.  He’s done some new illustrations, and helped with all the prepress issues.

 Can you share the story behind the creation and development of Mapping the World by Heart?


My grade 7 students in Cambridge, MA were sadly unaware of world geography, or even local geography. I didn’t want to send them onto their next teachers without helping them master at least some human geography and locations.

You speak regularly at schools in the US and Canada, can you share a few highlights from these visits?  

I’m always happy when kids know my books, and have questions about them – and some of the questions are very common, such as “where did you get the idea for…” or “do you have to revise often”, but some questions can be surprising; “do the details about children living in hunger make you sad”, “how many countries have you visited”, and sometimes “how old are you."

Where do you see Mapping the World by Heart’s place in the classroom?

I don’t see it as necessarily the central activity for a classroom for the year, but as a very useful tool. If a class is studying US or Canadian history, or Asian languages or cultures, or European history, then mapping that region by heart can be useful for so much of what students will learn – the thing that is easy to forget is that history actual always happens somewhere. And knowing the human and political geography of a place can help a student understand what happened there.

Do you have any Mapping the World by Heart stories to share? 

I’ve visited schools in 56 countries.  At 10 of these schools, I’ve helped students prepare an outdoor playground map – of their country, their continent, or the world. At the International School of Windhoek, Namibia, the students created a map of Namibia in the entryway of the school; at the International School of Geneva, the youngest students, with their teachers and parents, created a world map in the main door to the playground – every time a student passes through that door, they have a chance to check out the world.  The point is that the curriculum isn’t just about memorization, but it’s aimed at getting students to think about the world, about the world’s people and places.

Curious about how other schools are using Mapping the World by Heart? Check out these other posts!

FABClassroom Spotlight: Castle Rock Middle School & Yvonne Miller

Meet Yvonne Miller from Castle Rock Middle School in Castle Rock, Colorado. The school has a makerspace library filled with resources and tools for students and teachers to use. They recently added Fab@School Maker Studio, a digital design and fabrication program, to space. We asked Yvonne to share more about how they are applying this software into their school curriculum.

Can you share a bit about your library makerspace and programming?

For the past 3 and a half years, we have been on a mission to transform our traditional library to a dynamic space for students. Students will have access to world-class tools, innovative spaces, comprehensive resources, and 21st Century instructional support. We started our Library MakerSpace with donations of recycled and consumable materials. Today, we have 3D printers, littleBits and MakeyMakey products, robotics, a CNC machine, and a 2D fabricator. Recently, with the generous donation from the Morgridge Family Foundation, we were able to add the Fab@School Maker Studio software, four additional Silhouette machines, and receive training on the software as well. The space has supported students and staff in numerous projects, and it has been wonderful to witness excited and engaged students learn about the potential of a MakerSpace.

Our school has adopted the mindsets of Design Thinking as our constructivist model of instruction. Every student attends a class called InnoV8 where they learn about the Design Thinking Process and apply it to authentic problems and designs for human needs.

How are the students at Castle Rock Middle School using Fab@School Maker Studio?

Students use Fab@School Maker Studio as part of the prototyping process in their Design Thinking curriculum. Currently, all 8th grade students are engaging in a Sustainability Project in their Science classes. They are learning about sustainable living, energy transfer, natural resources, and human environment interactions. They have been challenged to design a tiny home in a specific location and for specific users. For example, an environmentalist who lives in a Portland, Maine, or a pet rescue family who lives in Buffalo, New York. Students will build spaces that must be proportionally correct and includes the amenities of a tiny home. They will be using Fab@School Maker Studio to design the interior of the tiny home, receive feedback about their designs, then iterate any components needed for the tiny home.

We are also using Fab@School Maker Studio in numerous different ways. We had a team of 7th graders use Fab@School Maker Studio to design a school during a Mars Challenge. They’ve also created a game incorporating math concepts for their Math Challenge activity. Our World Cultures teacher also used Fab@School Maker Studio during a study of a Japanese culture and paper folding.


What has been the “aha” moment working with Fab@School?

The spatial awareness and critical thinking necessary to design a 3D project is challenging to say the least. Students also found it challenging to mentally deconstruct a 3D object to a 2D design. Students with strong visual spatial skills have an easier time with the design, compared to those who think in pictures. There is definitely a lot of metacognition and visible thinking going on, and we appreciate the ready-made objects as a learning tool to take the designs even further.  But the challenge is real.

What is next?

I hope our students make it a routine to use Fab@School Maker Studio while prototyping their designs. It fosters and promotes the mindset of rapid prototyping and helps build the maker culture, all while supporting instruction with Design Thinking.

Is your classroom a FabClassroom? We would love to feature your school in an blog post! To be featured in an upcoming post, send an email to info@fablevisionlearning.com. You can also tweet your photos with the hashtag #FabMakerStudio! For more posts featuring Fab@School Maker Studio, click here.

Mapping the World by Heart Teacher Spotlight: Nikki McGuire

This week’s FableVision Learning Teacher Spotlight was written by Nikki McGuire, a teacher at Andrews Academy. In her 12-year career, she has taught at various schools in Missouri before settling at her current position. In this post, she shares just what makes David Smith's Mapping the World by Heart an invaluable tool in her classroom.


I was introduced to Mapping the World By Heart while teaching at the Forsyth School. My friend, Jim Dowd, fellow fourth grade teacher, coached me on how to bring mapping to life in my fourth grade social studies class. Forsyth had a memory mapping piece at the fourth, fifth, and sixth grade levels. Fourth grade learned to memory map the US, fifth grade mapped Europe/Africa I believe and sixth grade mapped the world by heart! I was amazed at how these students could learn to do this! It is incredible! 

On the surface many people are quick to criticize Mapping the World by Heart as just memorization, but it is so much more. I have had many questions about what the use is, or maybe if it is just a waste of time. However, after mapping the US with 7 different fourth grade classes in two different settings, I can say it is one of the most rewarding teaching experiences! It is a wonderful process, but also an amazing product. Most of the kids frame them and hang them in their homes. They are a remarkable work of art! They will forever have those geographical ‘hooks’ to link future concepts of geography and history. It is well worth the time and effort it takes to teach and complete!

In my opinion, there are two types of memory mapping. One type is what I call "free drawing." That is where the shapes of states and countries are drawn in their proper location in relation to all the states or countries that border them, but it is not necessarily on the longitude and latitude grid system. The other is more precise and teaches the students to draw using the lines as guides, and really works to draw the countries and states in the "right" place. Both are beneficial. We use the grid system in tandem with free draw. The final map is done solely from memory, and takes place over 3-4 sessions, about an hour each. The students set goals and map to their goal. They are free to practice in between sessions or for homework, then continue on to their next goal.

I always begin the school year with a memory map which is usually really inaccurate!  We save these maps and compare them to our final maps at the end of the year and then write about how it felt to draw from memory in August, versus in May. We spend several weeks working on map skills, memorizing the spellings or all the states and countries, and we complete many black line maps and test on the locations before we ever begin mapping lessons. 

We talk a lot about different projections and how projections change the look of the map. Because I had never taught mapping Latin America, I did not have a longitude and latitude projection grid drawn out to use, so I decided to let my students plan one of their own after studying different projections. I played around with it and had a decent idea of a grid that would work, but one of my students figured out a great one, and it is the one we are all using!  A lot of thinking, trial and error, and reasoning go into finding the right intervals, spaces, shape of rectangles, number of lines, etc. I was really proud of all the efforts made by my students. It really helped them understand how different projections can make your countries look long and thin, or short and fat, or too tiny, or too huge!  

My biggest tip to anyone teaching memory mapping is to let go a little. Teach it in manageable chunks, and practice, practice, practice! Keep it fun, and don't be overly critical. Have the students take on the role of teacher.  I also recommend that as you progress through the states, or countries, always draw them in the same order in the same way. In this way, it becomes almost rote. As you add chunks, always have them draw ALL the states up to the new chunk.  For example, if you draw Washington, Oregon, Idaho...always start that way. When you add Montana, Nevada, California,  always draw WA, OR and ID first, then add the next three, and so on.

I have found that the some of the most unlikely students will surprise you while mapping. Students with disabilities, little creativity or poor art skills often excel. Everyone can be successful with memory mapping!

Using FableVision’s books, media, and/or software in creative or interesting ways? Click here to nominate someone for the FableVision Creative Educator Spotlight and complete your submission electronically.