How to Teach Coloring Maps and Map Coloring Theory

Most folks don’t know (or care) about coloring maps or map coloring theory, but today’s elementary school students are forced to take an interest.  For some reason, these subjects are often stressed on state achievement tests.  However, few textbooks provide practice or assessment for the skills.

What’s a teacher to do?

Turn to the Internet.  That’s what I did, and I found some resources that I hope will help others.

Back up and explain: coloring maps questions usually go something like this: what is the fewest number of colors needed to color this map so that no edges are touching?  (A squiggle of lines forming a “map” accompanies the question.)

Teachers and students were left to fend for themselves, drawing their best guess at sample maps, coloring them in, and trying to figure out how many colors were needed.  We never really knew if we were doing it right.

Someone already did this work for us, apparently.  My research showed that four colors are enough for any map you can draw.  Two two mathematicians, Ken Appel and Wolfgang Haken, figured this out in 1976.  If that’s not enough to convince the kids, I invite them to read about the four color theorem.  (Here’s the short version: four colors are enough!)

So, I taught my students a few things:

a)      It’s never more than four colors, according to mathematicians.

b)      On our practice tests, the answer is almost always three colors.  Ergo, this is most likely the answer to any coloring maps question life will throw at you.

c)      If the answer is only two colors, it will usually be pretty clear because the picture will look more or less like stripes.

I found an Internet tutorial on the subject that lets students practice coloring in the maps.   In our era of standardized testing, the ability to actually color in the map isn’t important, since it can’t be reduced to a bubble sheet answer choice.  However, the act of trying to color in the maps helps students understand why you never need more than four colors, and why three colors will usually suffice.

Click here to use the tutorial, from  I highly recommend the tutorial as a computer lab exercise for your students.

Click here for a printable coloring maps worksheet/tutorial.

Happy map coloring!

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Posted in Academics,Math,Tips for Teachers by Corey Green @ Jun 21, 2013


Keep it in perspective with Five Years Ago Principle

Lunch AnticsThis tip comes in the form of a question that instantly reframes my thinking.  It helps me keep my expectations of students in perspective.  The idea is simple:

What was this person doing five years ago?

Most of us haven’t changed much in the past five years.  For sure, we haven’t undergone the drastic changes that second graders have experienced in the same amount of time.  Those kids learned to speak, read and write.   Those are significant achievements.

The Five Years Ago Principle gives us appreciation for how far our students have come.   It helps us manage our expectations of what we think students should know and be able to do.

Consider the fifth or sixth grader, aged 10-12.  Five years ago, they were just starting kindergarten or first grade.  Since then, we think they should have learned to write complex essays, produce fancy reports, perform pre-algebra, and navigate tricky social relationships.  When I realize that there hasn’t been much time for a fifth-grader to learn these things, I become a little more patient.

When I presented at a national reading association conference, I had dinner with some well-known writers and their editors.  Both of the writers taught high school English, both were frustrated that their students hadn’t read many great works of literature.

I brought up my Five Years Ago Principle and reminded these writers that five years ago, their students were in fourth or fifth grade.  They were still reading Judy Blume and Captain Underpants.  Their students haven’t had the academic ability, maturity, or time to have read all the great works.

The Five Years Ago Principle can help us relate to our colleagues, especially first-year teachers.    A recent college graduate could be only 21 years old.  Five years ago, that person was just getting a driver’s license.  Just thinking of that should make veteran teachers and administrators more patient and nurturing.

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Posted in Classroom Management,Tips for Teachers by Corey Green @ Jun 14, 2013


What it’s like to be an elementary school teacher – Part 14

A National Board Certified Teacher explains what an educator’s life is really like. The series is a value-added collection of Best ClassAntics Posts EVER! Each post explains something about a teacher’s life and links to ClassAntics posts with relevant teaching tips.

Part Fourteen: We learn about the world, then teach our students

Teachers love to model what it really means to be a lifelong learner.  We want students to share our enthusiasm for a particular subject, but our real goal is to teach students how to learn about their world.  We want students to find the subjects and sources that make them want to learn more, more and more.

Holidays  and special events can be a great way to teach students about the world.  A shared celebration creates natural enthusiasm for lessons on culture, science, or literacy.

Free Leap Year Worksheets Part 1

Free Leap Year Worksheets Part 2

Free Leap Year Worksheets Part 3

Sunday is Jackie Robinson Day in Major League Baseball

Juneteenth (June 19)

April is Poetry Month: Kermit the Frog Poem and Worksheet

Winnie the Pooh Day is January 18th

Celebrate the World Series—Online Resources to Incorporate Baseball in the Classroom

History of the Easter Parade (with clips from Fred & Judy’s star performance)

 Movies and books make great springboards into lessons that delve into detail.  I enjoy teaching students about civil rights, and often find interesting hooks for lessons.

 Red Tails: The Tuskegee Airmen (Part 1)

Red Tails: The Tuskegee Airmen (Part 2)

Red Tails: The Tuskegee Airmen (Part 3)

Red Tails: The Tuskegee Airmen (Part 4)

Black & White – A Crystal Kite Award Winner

Teach the Jackie Robinson Movie “42”

 You might say that The Muppets are not really academic, and you’d be right.  However, clips from The Muppet Show make fun introductions to all sorts of academic lessons.  I had a great time writing posts on how to bring Kermit and friends to your classroom.

Muppets Teach the 3 Rs (Reading, ‘Riting and ‘Rithmetic)

Muppets in the Classroom Part Two

 Like many, I loved reading The Hunger Games.  Since I am a writer as well as a teacher, I analyzed the book from multiple viewpoints and created lessons that help students do the same.

Relationships Make Compelling Stories: The Hunger Games

The Hunger Games in the Classroom: How to Write a Dystopia

 Happy learning!



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Posted in Academics,First Year Teachers,Tips for Teachers,What it's like to be a teacher by Corey Green @ Jun 7, 2013