How to Use Maps in Any Classroom

by Jonathan Laxamana

map making tools

Image courtesy of Ohmega1982 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Using maps in the classroom once meant occasionally fussing with a hanging world map or too-small spinning globe (that usually collected dust) just to point out the location of a little-known country or quickly trace the progression of a military campaign in history class. Today, however, there are a number of web-based and desktop map-making tools available to help teachers use maps more creatively as visual tools—and outside of the history classroom.

For All Teachers

Google Maps offers a familiar and relatively easy interface for creating simple maps with markers, information, and routes. There are also features that allow users to import data, upload images and videos, and measure the distance between two points, which makes it a great tool for creating interactive activities about many topics.

For Science and History Teachers

National Geographic MapMaker Interactive allows users to layer maps from their collection. The collection provides data for a number of topics—from giant panda populations to mobile service subscriptions. This tool’s simple interface makes it an excellent tool for comparing, contrasting, and synthesizing information.

For History and English Teachers

History Pin is a tool that combines locations, images, and text to create a historical narrative. Here, users can either learn about the history of a particular location, group, or event—via tours and collections—or create one of their own. This tool is great for project-based learning, as it requires students to use their researching and writing skills.

Mixsee is similar to History Pin. It allows users to craft a narrative about a particular location. Students can attach images, videos, music, and descriptions to a place on a map, and these locations can be grouped together to create a guide. This tool is also great for project-based learning, especially short-term projects.

For Ambitious Math, Science, and History Teachers

CartoDB is a tool that maps data. Users upload data (via Microsoft Excel spreadsheets, Google Drive, Dropbox, etc.) or input data that will be depicted on a map. Using the interface is a bit challenging, and even high school students will need some assistance using this tool; however, the software is simple enough for a teacher to create step-by-step instructions for generating a map for a particular project. With this tool, students can create colorful images that help them easily understand or explain the results of a math, science, or history project.

Tableau Public is similar to CartoDB, but the interface is a bit more challenging because it can present imported data in a number of ways—as maps, graphs, charts, tables, etc. Users choose how they want the information to be presented and drag and drop the data they want to use. The software does most of the work, but the user can modify the presentation.

Creating a simple map with this tool is relatively easy with a well-organized spreadsheet; however, there are many options for customizing the presentation that can make using the software challenging. For a simple, clear project, this tool can help your students create stunning data maps.

These are just a few of the many tools available for making maps. Many of them use Google Maps in some way, but their interface, features, and focus vary greatly. When you’re deciding which tool to use, think carefully about which tool’s features are best aligned with the project you want to use it for, and consider how challenging it will be for your students to use the tool.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAJonathan Laxamana is Technology Manager of Green Light Professional Development. He has more than ten years of experience in producing educational software products, video, web-based content, and mobile apps. He writes about new hardware and software, troubleshooting tips, and everything iPad. 

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