Where in the World?

Using Mapping Tools to Enhance Social Studies Instruction

Engaging 21st century learners can be a challenge for teachers today. I explored and reviewed several map tools to evaluate their possibilities for classroom use. My favorite of the group was Google’s My Maps.

I used this digital tool to create a Social Studies review activity for my first grade students. As part of our second Social Studies Unit, students must:

  • Use geographic tools to locate and describe places on Earth.
  • Describe places in the environment using geographic characteristics.
  • Explain how transportation and communication link people and places by the movement of goods, messages, and people.
  • Describe economic choices people make about goods and services.
  • Describe the production process.
  • Describe types of markets in the community.
  • Describe how goods and services are acquired.

From a media perspective, this map activity also allows students to work on these AASL Standards (among others!):

2.1.4 Use technology and other information tools to analyze and organize information.
2.1.5 Collaborate with others to exchange ideas, develop new understandings, make decisions, and solve problems.

I plan to use this map to review and make connections between Social Studies concepts near the end of our unit. Students will have built prior knowledge of map skills using atlases and globes, they will have an understanding of goods and services vocabulary, production processes, and how transportation makes our neighborhood markets possible! Check it out here! 

Google My Maps was ideal for the creation of this activity, because it allows students to share their knowledge of our Social Studies concepts while making connections to their own neighborhood and businesses they visit. It also allows students to build digital map literacy: I plan to model with the starting point (at PRE) for the group, and then allow students to check out the other dropped pins in small groups to facilitate review discussions. Students can also use the “Draw a Line” tool to map out routes to the pins I’ve selected, or to a location of their own choice. Students can differentiate this tool for themselves easily using the map features: they can zoom in or out for better viewing, or view the points in a list to ensure that they’ve seen them all. I selected the map privacy setting as “Anyone who has the link can view.” This allows students to navigate freely, but not make any permanent changes. When sharing with other teachers (before or after students have access), I would switch it using Google’s Collaborate feature: I can share so others have access to view and edit when I share the link. The possibilities for editing and expanding my game are endless!

Though I would like to expand this project to student production, I’m not sure I would try it out with first graders. I could easily adapt my tool to meet third or fourth grade indicators, however. Google’s My Maps was easy to navigate and fun to explore. I think older students could easily create their own model of their neighborhood and create their own pins to demonstrate their new learning. Thanks to the Collaborate feature, the student sharing possibilities are also exciting. Groups could split responsibilities for creating and personalizing a more advanced map.

Google My Maps allows educators to create and share maps that are motivating and engaging to students while being incredibly user-friendly. There are so many possibilities for this great digital tool! Enjoy exploring the world of maps!


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