A map is a unique tool that you can use for a whole multitude of purposes. Google Maps itself is a perfect resource for a lot of these activities, but in some cases, Google Maps doesn't offer all of the features of functionality that you might need for certain subjects, like diving into the science behind climate, or exploring important social issues like population.
Thankfully, in addition to Google Maps, there are also websites that offer what are called "Google Maps Mashups", which are essentially additional tools that have been "mashed up" with Google Maps to provide a bit of added functionality or information to Google Maps. Some of these mashups are wonderfully creative, and extremely useful in a classroom environment.
The following list includes six creative ideas for activities you could do with your children in the classroom using either Google Maps, or a Google Maps mashup.
When most people think of Google Maps, they think of trying to get driving directions to some destination. However, there's a lot more to Google Maps than just simple navigation.
For example, if you want to research an area of the world with your students, Wikipedia is often an excellent resource. Luckily, Google Maps has incorporated a Wikipedia layer, so that you can actually access Wikipedia articles that apply to the region of the world that you're viewing with Google Maps.
The Wikipedia Layer on Google Maps
This is an excellent way for students to do research about a region in a format that allows the student to see where those articles and the described history geographically applies.
This can not only help students learn more about world history in a way that is interesting and fun, but it also improves geography skills so that students will more easily recognize regions throughout the world much more easily.
Wikipedia Articles on Google Maps
Whenever you hover your mouse over any of the Wikipedia icons on the Google Map, you'll see a pop-up excerpt of the article about that area. If you want to read more, all you have to do is click on the "Full Article" link.
You'll find that nearly every inch of the world is populated by interesting and informative Wikipedia articles. It's like your personal tour guide for that part of the world.
Another similar method to explore the world without the need to spend a fortune on field trips is to use the "Photo" layer on Google Maps. Enabling the photo layer will show all of the photos that other people have taken and posted to Google Maps while visiting that part of the world.
Great Pyramids on Google Maps
What better way to learn more and see more of the natural, beautiful wonders of the world than to browse through the sort of photo slideshows that you can find on Google Maps?
In the area of Mashups, one of the best is HealthMap. The motto of the site is "Global Health. Local Knowledge." This is because through learning about global healthy issues and epidemics, students can learn more about how local communities around the world need to respond to the threat of disease and other health issues.
The HealthMap mashup overlays recent, breaking health events, such as where clusters of diseases or outbreaks have occurred.
The HealthMaps Mashup
Each pin on overlaid on top of the Google Map represents a health event. By clicking on any of the pins, you'll see a pop-up that provides the date of the event, and other details such as the specific disease or illness, the location, and sometimes the source of the information.
The very bottom of the main HealthMap page lists hundreds of the most recent alerts, which you can scroll through to learn more about the latest disease outbreaks and health crisis throughout the world.
If you're teaching your students about climate change, one great Google Maps mashup to use is the Sea Level Rise map.
This tool lets you move to any continent in the world by clicking on one of the links at the top of the page. Then, change the sea level rise dropdown from 0 meters up to 60 meters, and watch how such a sea level rise will impact coastlines and islands all around the world.
The Sea Level Rise Map
The nice thing about this Google Map mashup is that you can zoom right in to local areas, and observe how sea level rises might impact local communities. Students will be fascinated to see how towns and cities that they might have visited would be virtually wiped off of the map by the rising ocean waters.
This exercise would do well followed by an examination of climate predictions, and what scientists say may be the reasons for these dramatic climate changes.
Another great resource for a science class where the discussion may be different cloud types, would be DaylightMap.com's Clouds mashup.
This tool shows weather patterns over the entire world using data from Google Earth's weather layer, NASA's Earth Science Office, and xplanet's cloud layer.
Watching the Clouds
The amazing thing about this map is that it is regularly updated, so that the clouds you and your students are observing very likely looked like that no more than six hours in the past.
This is a great tool to use to observe cloud patterns with kids, and to teach them how to identify cloud types, not only from the ground but from overhead satellite photography such as this.
A fascinating Google Maps mashup to explore with students is the Earthquakes Last Week tool.
This website overlays an Earthquake marker layer onto Google maps, with marker types showing the magnitude of earthquake that took place at that location within the past week.
Viewing Recent Earthquakes
All of the earthquakes featured on this map are from the last seven days, so students can expect to see markers for many earthquakes that they've probably even read about in the news.
This is an excellent tool to use when you are teaching your students about the Earth's fault lines, volcanoes and interactions between elements of the planet Earth itself.
As you can see, maps can prove to be an invaluable educational tool if they are applied in concert with other educational materials in the classroom. Google Mashups maps are particularly useful, because they give students a view of the world in an interactive way that will hopefully make the lesson more memorable.