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Google Maps in the Classroom

The moment students groan when a lesson is over and beg for more time makes my heart happy. Today interest was piqued and the students were invested in their learning of Maryland geography. I couldn’t be happier because I know when I was in elementary school I groaned at the thought of starting a geography lesson. It was always pull out an atlas and do this worksheet to go with it. It was boring and it caused me to have no interest in geography or cartography. For this very reason, I knew when planning and preparing for our geography learning in third grade that I needed to find a way to make it engaging and hook the students into exploring with a map.

In our third grade curriculum we learn about geographical regions and how development of those regions can change based on the geographic features. Our learning begins by first discussing physical features versus human-made features. We discuss the differences between the two types of features and how the types of features surrounding you might be different depending on where you are. For more, see my post on Physical vs Human-made Features. We look at our schoolyard environment and explore the features within this area and then discuss how the features in an environment like a desert might be different than what we saw around our school.

Our learning then progresses to discussing how land can change to meet the needs of people and populations by reading a cute story titled, The Little House. As we read, the students have conversations about the features changing around the home and why those changes are happening. We discuss the impact those changes have both positive and negative on the people living in that community.

Then we connect all of this learning to our own state and how our state has different regions with different features which meet the needs of people in different ways. This is where I usually zone out and lose interest thus I knew my third graders would feel the same way! The question became, how do I change that? How can I hook them and make it so they want to learn more? Google Maps was my answer.

Jason and I created a map of Maryland using Google Maps. The map has the state and Montgomery County outlined, the region divisions, and pins dropped for the seven Wonders of Maryland (which we discuss later in our learning). It was perfect because the map could be customized to fit my needs and it engaged my students with technology. For more information on the map and instructions for how you can build your own custom map using Google Maps, check out Jason’s Google Maps for Education Instructable!

The lesson began with a basic introduction to Google Maps and the different features. We talked about how you can toggle between two different types of maps (political or physical) and the different features of each type of map. We then explored the three regions using the satellite view and zoomed in on the land noticing how as we went from region to region the land and features changed. For example in Maryland’s Appalachian region there is very little development of cities and we discussed why that might be. Then as we continued across the state we noticed the Piedmont Plateau region had some city development but it also had farmland. The students were able to make observations and have conversations about what they were seeing across their state. We discussed the types of activities and the difference in climate that people would notice in the Coastal region versus the Appalachian region. Students could use what they were observing on the map to make these inferences. The conversations were meaningful and students were digging deep to understand the land within each region.

Integrating technology and allowing students to visually see the terrain and development of cities in certain areas was essential to their understanding and learning. The students thought it was the coolest thing to be able to zoom-in on the map and see how the features and land surrounding our school were completely different from the Appalachian Mountain region in western Maryland. They were excited to see places that they had never had an opportunity to visit. Most of all they didn’t want to stop learning! They begged to ask more questions and share more observations and honestly their interest and engagement made my day.

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