Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Map Your World: Google Maps in the Classroom

Imagine a History assignment where a student must submit a write-up on Mughal Architecture (or the form it takes as an oft-asked question in exams - "the contributions of Shah Jahan to Indian Archtecture"). Or a "project" on the temples of India. Think of the way this is usually done - a hand-written write-up with pictures cut and pasted into the notebook. Or in schools where students have access to computers this would take the form of a Word document with text and images or perhaps a powerpoint presentation with text and images. While the latter may be much more appealing as an exercise and as a product, and uses technology for collating and presenting the information, it pales in comparison to the use of some of the coolest new tools on the Internet that would make all the sense for use in such an assignment, and result in much more meaningful and engaging learning - and of course, the end product would be way more cool too!

I'm talking about the use of Google Maps - Google's powerful but really easy-to-use mapping tool accessed at These maps are very well developed - with comprehensive information on local businesses too - for countries such as the US; they're fairly decently developed for Indian metros, and developing - slowly but surely for other parts of India too (thanks to In addition to local maps and landmark information, Google Maps also provides terrain maps, satellite imagery, and for some places (mainly in the US) a photographic “street view” of the real world. Using the “My Maps” feature anyone can create their own custom maps by adding new annotations or markers for just about any spot anywhere for which maps exist with some level of detail. These placemarkers can have a title and include text (which can be formatted like any Word document - with bullets, fonts - style and size, and other usual text formatting). What's most exciting is that it's also possible to include images, web links and video. These personalized maps can be saved, emailed and embedded (using the unique web address that each of these maps is given), and more than one person can collaborate to create one!

Now envision a work product for that history assignment - a map of North and Central India with placemarkers for all the monuments built during the Mughal period, with factual information such as dates, materials, architectural features and other details, along with images and videos from youtube. Not only is it visually more informative with the text, images and videos associated with each monument, but the location-based information conveys so much better the history, the spread and impact of the Mughal Empire in India.

I'm sure some of you may have tons of ideas already buzzing around in your head about the tremendous possibilities of the use of these in any subject or context where maps of the world have meaning. Here are some more ideas of the use of this tool -
  • in geography (maps with geological information; and for developing spatial and directional skills),
  • in literature and language ("literary field trips" on google maps),
  • in science (animal and plant habitats around the world),
  • in social studies (map neighbourhoods and local communities),
  • or simply have students document their field trips or holidays with their personal photographs and narratives (a great language arts activity).
If you and your students have access to the Internet, it does not make sense to ignore the potential of Google Maps as a learning tool. If you're enthused enough to give it a try, here's a video from the Google channel on youtube that'll help - it explains well how to create personalized maps --

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