Social Education 58(4), 1994, p. 238
1994 National Council for the Social Studies

Wanted Poster Geography: A High Interest Teaching Springboard

Rodney F. Allen and Laurie E.S. Molina
Geography teachers are always looking for ways to excite their students while engaging them in geographic skills development-ways to link geography to useful skills and to students' life experiences. Perhaps Wanted Poster Geography will help fulfill this quest.
Our students at the middle school level have responded well to using wanted posters as springboards to geographic inquiry. Indeed, the posters engender high interest in the context of U.S. geography classes. After a careful examination of the posters (and the accused individual's record), students are eager to plot the geographic information from the poster on a North American outline map.

The unit focuses &Mac222;rst upon place-place of birth, where warrants were issued, location(s) of past criminal activity, and any other place information the poster provides. Wanted posters from state and local law enforcement agencies help students develop place knowledge and map skills in state and local geography; posters from national law enforcement agencies cover places across North America and, thus, help students develop continental place knowledge and map skills.

In addition, using the "Fifteen Most Wanted" by the United States Marshals Service, students can examine posters and plot data on maps to determine relationships, if any, between variables-relationships between, for example, place of birth and type of crime, place of accused criminal activity and place of birth, "most wanted" status and type of criminal activity, place of criminal activity and type of alleged crime. Students should support their conclusions about relationships among the variables with references to data on the map and posters. Then, they can engage in a discussion about the possible explanations for these relationships and any further data they would require to support those explanations. The emphasis here is on the difference between relationship (correlation) and explanation (causation).

Students might also compare the FBI's "Ten Most Wanted," the United States Marshals Service's "Fifteen Most Wanted," and similar lists compiled by state or local agencies. Which crimes appear? What geographic locations are included? Which crimes are most likely to lead to "most wanted" status? Does that change over time? Does that change from place to place? The last two questions are best answered through interviews with experienced law enforcement officers.

In addition to the wanted posters, we have used "Missing Juvenile" flyers. These flyers are emotionally far more moving, and teachers should spend some time preparing the students for the experience. Like the wanted posters, the missing children flyers contain considerable place/location geography for students to map. Furthermore, students can use sets of missing children flyers to search for patterns related to points of origin, possible destination(s), contact places, and status (runaway, abduction, or parental abduction). Moreover, studying the geographic aspects of missing children reports is a fine introduction to a more systematic examination of the phenomena of runaways, abuse, dysfunctional families, and child predators-all important topics, unfortunately, for children in the United States today.

Rather than writing letters, the most convenient way to obtain posters and information is to call the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the United States Marshals Service, or any number of local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies (e.g., sheriff, state police, Secret Service, postal inspectors, and Immigration and Naturalization Service). The telephone book will also list Missing Children hotlines and numbers for Child, Spouse, and Elder Abuse. These materials are free to teachers-an added benefit!

As teachers know and students can come to learn, even crime and tragedy have spatial dimensions. Using wanted posters and missing children flyers, students can further their development of a geographic way of thinking-of looking for patterns across both space and time.

Rodney F. Allen is professor of education at Florida State University, Tallahassee, Florida. Laurie E.S. Molina is with the Florida Geographic Alliance, Tallahassee, Florida.