Using Online Maps in Any Subject Area

Tuesday, April 1, 2014 -- Scott Sterling

One of the revolutionary technologies to come about in the Internet age has been the ready availability of incredibly accurate maps to anyone, teachers included. You might think that the use of online maps would be restricted to history and geography classes, but there are plenty of ways for all of the major subject areas to start implementing map study.

There are two websites that make map usage, particularly customizing Google Maps, easier. One, MapTales, is better for making your own maps. The other, MapStory, has a wealth of maps already made for various purposes (but you can make your own if you like). I will specify which is best for each proposed lesson.

English/Language Arts

Most fiction occurs in real-life places. Even if they might be called by other name, these places can usually be traced on a map. Think Tom Sawyer or Huck Finn. Their settings don’t actually exist, but they were based on Hannibal, MO. Use MapTales to plot key areas that influenced Mark Twain.

Of course, if the places do exist, MapTales becomes even better. Plot Odysseus’s trek home. Follow Steinbeck through The Grapes of Wrath. In all cases, make sure to highlight plot points using Google Earth. Maps are great, but giving students a real-life view (even if its historically inaccurate) can really bring stories alive.

Science

This is where MapStory shines. No matter what your unit calls for, chances are someone has built a MapStory for it. Just a quick scroll through the list provides MapStories that cover rising sea levels, the Apollo moon landings, where the Mars rovers have been, large asteroid impacts, and how the bald eagle has made a comeback from the brink of extinction.

The warning here is that MapStory is open source and creatively open as well. Preview anything you plan to use, not for content but for completeness and accuracy.

Math

Many people have used MapStory to plot out statistics that are better visualized by maps. For example, regional gas prices, population growth and density, and diabetes growth trends.

The Common Core State Standards call for teachers in all subject areas to start incorporating real-life critical thinking tasks in their lessons. These maps provide a great opportunity for math teachers and students to visualize real-life data and start building tasks around them.