Rachel Matthews

Boston Students See a Whole New World

Rachel Matthews

Once, in grade school, I was given a blank map of the world and asked to label every country (in pen—yikes). I may have gotten a lot wrong on that test, but it turns out the map I was working with may not have been accurate to begin with!

I was probably being tested on the Mercator projection, one of today’s most common maps. It was created in 1569 with colonial trade routes in mind. As a result, North America and Europe ended up disproportionally emphasized.

Since Earth is round, any two-dimensional map will be distorted. But the Boston Public School (BPS) system is trading out its Mercator maps for a more geographically accurate model: the Gall-Peters projection, which first started gaining traction around 1974.

When I first saw it, I was suspicious; the continents seemed oddly stretched. But the Gall-Peters projection accurately scales surface area, so you can see how big (or small) places actually are.

For example, on the Mercator map, Greenland rivals Africa in size. In reality, Africa could swallow Greenland nearly 14 times!

Hopefully the Gall-Peters projection will give BPS students a more well-rounded view of the world (pun intended).

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