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Digital Mapping: A Way to Get Grounded

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 “I live in the country of California.” I heard this statement from one of my third graders after a geography study and disappointedly, it wasn’t a true/false game. Learning geography and its terminology may be abstract for a young student who hasn’t traveled further than his neighborhood block. Reading maps can also be complicated. Having students produce a local map is a good introduction to understanding their place in the world. For starters, hand-drawing maps can represent a student’s concrete understanding of location and relationship to place. Now with Google Maps and other online digital mapping software making its way as a teaching tool, digital maps can be created easily, collaboratively and allow students to continuously upload new data. What makes a map? Maps can be about anything and are often focused on a particular collection of data identifying points of interest – a map of states, countries, best restaurants, schools in a district, or bike trails.

Mapping the Oddities in Life

Try mapping sights, sounds, and smells. Yes, smells! Sensory maps are a hot trend with maps identifying the smelliest places in New York or maps identifying sounds in London. Students can start mapping things they see, hear, smell around their schoolyard and en route back home.  Mark the smelliest or most fragrant places around your school. How would you describe these smells? Record sounds in your neighborhood at a certain time each day and map the data. Do the sounds change? What does one neighborhood sound like compared to others? All of these answers can be documented on a digitally shared map where students upload their data and have access to adding more places and new information.

There’s a Map for That : Other Ideas to Map


Literary Map – Follow the journey of a character from a fictional or non-fictional story.
Travel Map – Invite students to map their own journey from summer vacation or places where they would like to travel (a student’s version of 1000 places to visit before turning 50).
Playground Physics – Document and map the playground equipment that display concepts of physics.

Please feel free to add to this list in the comment section.

If you’re curious about mapping and how other people have used maps, listen to This American Life radio podcast, 110: Mapping. Learn to embed images, text, and video on maps by exploring Google MapsMapMaker, and UMapper (MapMaker and UMapper are capable of embedding or linking audio files, as well).

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