Monday Tech Minute - Google Maps

Welcome to the Monday Tech Minute! Each Monday, I'll give you three quick reasons to try a strategy or tech tool that I've used (or am wanting to use in the near future) in the classroom. The network outage we had earlier this month at Center reminds me that technology is a tool for learning, not the key itself to learning. The key to learning will always be helping students learn how to think and putting them in positions where they have to (and want to) think about the subject.

As a social studies teacher, google Maps comes in handy nearly every week that I teach. Here are three reasons why:

1. Google maps is a more interactive version of a traditional map
Traditional maps help students see where they are in relation to other areas of the world. They also help students get a sense of scope when discussing an issue. You can talk about how large Russia is, or you can find it on a map and show it. Students will always be more impacted by the visual.

A recent example from my class is a discussion we had on capitalism vs. socialism and how resources are distributed in each system. We had been talking about social revolutions, including Egypt and Ukraine today, so I pulled up a map of Egypt to talk about the importance of resources - namely water.

Map of Cairo, Egypt and surrounding cities, nearly all of which are located right next to water

This image helped spur conversation about the importance of water as a resource for a city or society. Why are all of the cities and town on the Mediterranean or the Nile River? How do governments and business protect/control/distribute the water we consume? What do you predict will happen to the cost of water in 50 years based on supply and demand?

2. Google maps can put a picture to a topic that you are discussing in class
When the protests in Ukraine reached their boiling point, I took a few days from class to discuss the issue. We looked up pictures and the arguments of both sides. We have been studying in class why revolutions tend to occur in big cities. This was a great opportunity to get students to think about how Kiev is set up for a protest movement and the important role that Independence Square was playing in the unraveling events.

Here's an example:
Independence Square in Kiev, Ukraine

Where would a protest occur in Kansas City? With Google Maps, you can easily switch to a map of the Plaza or the location of City Hall and make the discussion very real.

3. Google Maps can help explain trends in culture that have occurred throughout history
Why did the French invasion of Russia fail in 1812? Why was tiny Britain able to build such a powerful empire?* Maps can answer questions, but they are also great tools for finding new questions that need to be answered. I'm constantly surprised at how curious students get when you simply pull up a map and let the conversation flow. Do we get "off topic"? Sure we do. Is there value to stoking curiosity? Definitely. Plus, most situations can be discreetly brought back on topic without students even realizing it. That pull back is truly that art of teaching

*Each can be answered through maps. Students don't realize the distance between Paris and Moscow until they see a map. Britain is an island, making it difficult to invade and defeat. 

Here's another great example. When looking at the spread of ideas during the Enlightenment, I brought up a map of Africa to show an example of how culture and ideas can spread. In northern Africa, there is a very heavy Arabic and Islamic influence as shown by city names, the language and the religion. In southern Africa, this is not the case for the most part. Why is that?

Map of northern and central Africa, which shows the cultural blockage that
has occurred throughout history because of the Saharan Desert

The Saharan Desert forms a wall that completely blocked cultural movement from northern to southern Africa. The only exception is near Yemen where there is a very small amount of water to cross to get from Yemen to either Eritrea or Djibouti.

Students can read about this or listen to you talk, but the image is convincing and real. Google maps makes this kind of impact in a much more interactive way than does a traditional map.

Have you found Google Maps useful? Are there other map programs that do a better job for a certain task?

Love it? Hate it? Leave your thoughts below and let's talk about it!

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E-mail: alectchambers@gmail.com            Facebook                        Twitter: @chambersalec