Friday, March 13, 2009

Using Google Map Mashups for Social Studies Projects

I just assigned a social studies project to my fifth graders this week on Westward Expansion. It's a collaborative project that requires them to take the role of a character (a prospector, a settler/pioneer, or a mountain man) and describe a trip west that this character would take during the 19th century.

While researching routes, one group decided to use Google Maps to see if they could find the Oregon Trail. I thought this was a cool idea and wished that I had thought to include that web tool in the project. Since then, I've been thinking of ideas for how I would have used Google Maps with this project. Unfortunately, the power of the software I think is creating your own maps & Google requires users to create an account to do that. A Google account offers a few too many features (since it provides an email account, search history, and more) than I feel my students need.

There are however quite a few Google Maps mashups on the Internet that teachers can use in place of Google Maps itself. They also require an account, but to get one students would only need to create a fake email address and username and password. After searching through my bookmarks, I found a couple that I think would work very well in a classroom environment.
  • Quikmaps allows you to perform many of the functions that Google Maps does: add markers, connected lines, and text labels. I created a map below using every function available except for scribbling. Click on the markers for descriptions.

I could easily envision having my students create a map for social studies. A number of topics in history would lend themselves to a similar type of map as the one above: The Underground Railroad, The Trail of Tears, Westward Expansion (trace the path of the famous wagon trails, Age of Exploration (trace routes of famous explorers like Magellan), and much more. What a cool way to integrate geography with history!

I can also see using these maps on my SmartBoard. I'm wishing I would have created one when I taught my students about the Erie Canal. An interactive map in the front of the classroom that traced the route of the canal--complete with markers--would have been extremely helpful to my students.
  • Wayfaring is another Google Maps mashup that I've tried out. This one provides essentially the same features but in a different manner. After signing up, you create your maps in a series of guided steps. Whereas Quikmaps provides the tools (map in the center, markers to the side, etc.) with little guidance, on Wayfaring you must use a map editor that directs you through a series of steps to create markers and routes.
I prefer learning to use the mashups without the guidance and I think my students would have no problem figuring out how to use them. As a result, Quikmaps seems like a better fit for the classroom.

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