Making and reading maps in the 21st Century

Making and Reading Maps in the 21st Century

Maps have long played an important role in exploration, commerce, and politics. Today, maps can provide a new depth of information and serve as an interactive tool for understanding the world around us.

​Objectives

  • Students will gain knowledge about the types of information (geographical, political, and demographic) that digital maps can provide.
  • Students will gain knowledge about various ways that users can interact with digital map information.
  • Students will gain an understanding of the general process of symbolic representation used in making maps.
  • Students will gain an understanding of how mapmaking has changed in history.
  • Students will develop skills for using digital maps to provide information or solve problems.
  • Students will develop skills for using a variety of map tools and features, such as finding locations, getting directions, and using pushpin markers.

Learning Outcomes

Students will use Bing Maps to create a customized map project and present it to the class.
Students will reflect on their experience of making and reading different kinds of maps that yield different kinds of information. 

Lesson procedure

Introduction

Maps are tools that we use every day to provide us with certain kinds of information about our world. We commonly understand a map to be a visual representation that shows all or part of the Earth’s surface with geographic features, urban areas, roads, and other details. Although maps are ordinarily used to show geography, they can represent any space, whether in the universe or the human body, and whether real or imagined.

We talk, for example, about a map of the brain or a map of Peter Pan’s Never-Never Land. The name for the study and practice of making maps is “cartography.” A person who makes a map is a cartographer. Throughout history, geographical maps have played an important role in exploration, commerce, and politics. [Show the students copies of maps from different historical periods and briefly discuss their use and usefulness. You may want to consult Maps and Mapmakers: Three Views of the World for a look at three ancient and medieval mapmakers who revolutionized the way maps were made.

Today, with digital technology advances, maps can provide a new depth of information and interactivity. Traditional maps, while useful, are limited to one view and can include only a limited amount of information. [Show students a historical map and point out the kind of information it can provide.] Unlike maps in the past, Bing Maps and other digital mapping programs are interactive. They can also show many different views of the same subject at once, for example, changes in scale and demographic information. [Show students one of the interactive demographic maps of census tract estimates or interactive carbon emissions maps on the Social Explorer site. You can also show students the sample Bing Maps project you created, highlighting one or several interactive features.

What benefits and limitations of traditional maps can you name? What benefits and limitations do contemporary digital maps have? What do you think is the main difference between these two kinds of maps?

In this lesson, you will learn how to make informed use of new digital mapping information and tools. [Hand out the list you created of Bing Maps tools. Using the Bing Maps project you created, demonstrate how each of Bing Maps tools on the list can be used to create a customized map. As you demonstrate the project, discuss the process you used to create the map. You may also wish to show students examples of Bing Maps projects created by students in previous classes.

Ask each student to submit an idea for his or her own Bing Maps project or assign each student a project. The following are suggestions for student projects:

Project ideas for students who are ages 5-10 years old

Using Bing Maps, locate a place your family has visited. Find out how many people live there and how far away it is from your home.

Plan a weeklong family vacation within your region. For each day, plan an activity, such as visiting an historic site, park, museum, or zoo. Try to travel no more than 200 miles each day.

Locate your favorite store or place of interest in another town on a digital map.

Label the site, and briefly describe the reasons that classmates would want to visit it. Provide directions to get there from your school, following three different routes. What are the advantages of each route?

Project ideas for students who are ages 11-13 years old

Trace the Lewis and Clark Trail on a current map. Label important locations along the route, and compare the differences between life along the route then and now, using demographic and geographic data.

Research demographic data about your town or city, comparing how the population and the number of schools have changed during the last 20 years, and projecting trends in the next five years.

Play "Where in the World Am I?" with your classmates. Find a location somewhere in the world that you would like to visit, and research its culture and attractions. Trace the most direct route to the location from your school, providing clues about the location and the route you have selected with labels along the route. Make sure classmates will uncover the labels on the map as they uncover the route and, finally, the location.

Ask students to work in teams to research different periods in the history of mapmaking, with each team presenting the following pair of maps: one showing the information mapped according to older forms of representation and the other showing how a digital map would display similar or different information about the place.

Project ideas for students who are ages 14-18 years old

Analyze examples of a topography map, relief map, hydrographic chart, and digital map. Describe the purposes of these maps and how they are created.

Research the viability of starting a business in your town or city using information such as population data in specific regions, number of competing businesses in your chosen industry, and site accessibility.

Determine the changing infrastructure needs of a major city by tracking demographic and resource trends. For instance, how does population growth affect the needs for housing, roads, and public services such as libraries and schools?

Make sure to evaluate needs within small regions or territories, rather than the city or town as a whole.

Study the history of cartography from ancient times to the present, focusing on three revolutions in mapmaking before the twentieth century and compare the current shift to digital mapping with these changes. Create maps for each major mapmaking shift studied.

Before students begin working on their projects, you may also want to do the following:

  • Help students develop a dialog about maps and how they can be used.
  • Help students set up their calendars by "backtracking" from the final project due date and setting deadlines for the separate project elements.
  • Assist students with the review of the set of mini-lessons you created on skills needed to complete the project.
  • During the project allow yourself time to meet with individuals or teams to assess progress and assist in problem solving. Make this an assessment time by checking off and scoring completed elements.

Teacher Tips

  • City planning

    Some cities have streets and roads that were designed on a logical grid, e.g., with numbered avenues running north and south, and alphabetically named streets running east and west.

  • Path of least resistance

    A topographical map shows the rise and decline of elevations for a given region’s terrain. Display one in front of your class. Choose a starting point and a finishing line.

Student activity

Follow the steps below to guide your students through this lesson plan.

Note teachers: Please download the student activity handouts located in the sidebar under Software and Materials Needed, for additional details about the main activities for this lesson plan.
 
  • Step 1: "Create your Bing Maps project"
  • Step 2, "Finalize your Bing Maps project and  present it"

Resources and Web links

  1. Examples of traditional and digital maps. The following Web sites provide many examples:
    1. Time Charts of Cartography - Includes a comprehensive index of maps from ancient times to the present, with links to images.
    2. Map collections - Provides access to digital maps within the Geography and Map Division of the Library of Congress from 1500 to the present.
    3. The David Rumsey historical map collection - Offers more than 8,800 online maps that focus on rare 18th- and 19th-century North and South American maps.
    4. Online encyclopedia - Use a site that offers photographs, historical timelines, graphics, and text on virtually any subject.
  2. A list of the particular Bing Maps tools that students will use for the project. This might include the following:
    1. Use a variety of views to display various kinds of information: Standard Road Map View, Aerial View, Bird’s Eye View, 3D View with the ability to change altitude, tilt direction, rotate, and more (download 3D for free to your class computer).
    2. Annotate the map: Use the Push Pin feature to add information, texts and images to specific locations.
    3. Copy the map or embed it in a class Web page.
  3. A Bing Maps project of your own that demonstrates a variety of Bing Maps tools, specifically the ones on your list.
  4. Project assessment rubrics: Project rubrics are an essential evaluation tool. Rubrics should reflect curriculum, state, and any other relevant standards. Ideally, rubrics are available to students at the start of a project and are used to evaluate teacher-created projects or other projects so that students can have a context for what is expected. Rubrics should be brought up frequently throughout the project and used as an ongoing evaluation tool for self, peer, and teacher assessment. A good source for rubrics is the Rubistar Web site.
  5. Student reflection handout. Student reflection is a vital element of any assessment. It is important that time be allocated at the end of the project for reflection on processes and products. Some questions you can ask are as follows:
    1. How are the digital maps of today different from traditional maps?
    2. What are the benefits and limitations of digital maps?
    3. When would you prefer to use a digital map instead of a traditional map or vice versa?
    4. How are locations determined on digital maps?
    5. What are the advantages and disadvantages of the different views available with digital maps? For example, what information does an aerial view provide? A 3D view? When might you prefer to use a standard 2D view? What is the advantage to being able to compare different views of the same location?
    6. How is the role and use of maps changing in our world today? Would you say their role is more or less important? Why?
    7. What did I learn?
    8. What did I do well?
    9. What would I change?
    10. If I were going to design a digital mapping program, I would include the ability to display ___________ (list the kind of information) and the ability to interact with the map by ____________.
  6. Optional materials
    1. Examples of student map projects from previous years.
    2. A series of teacher-created mini-lessons that address the skills and knowledge needed to complete the project. Students can use these lessons before beginning, to prepare, and/or during the completion of the project to help them keep on track.

Conclusion

  • Ask students to complete the student reflection handout you gave them.
  • Assess each Bing Maps project according to the project rubrics you created and shared with students.
  • Create a folder on the class computer to showcase all of the Bing Maps or other mapping projects so that students can view other students’ maps.