George Lucas Educational Foundation
Technology Integration

10 Reasons to Use Google My Maps in the Classroom

February 12, 2016 Updated February 10, 2016

Mapping isn't just for geography and history classes. ELA, math, and science can use maps to organize work in a spatial context.

In fact, if I were a math or science teacher, requiring students to keep a journal on Google My Maps would be a simple, engaging, and useful way to incorporate content literacy without taking too much time away from application of formulas and testing hypotheses.
The following ideas are based on an activity that uses Google Forms to collect student work and Sheets to upload data to My Maps. 

1. Rigor (not my favorite word)

This word makes some of us roll our eyes, right? Well, it doesn't have to be so difficult. Making maps is as rigorous as an activity can get.

Let's consider the process and knowledge it takes to make a map.

2. Cooperative Learning

Make one map with contributions from groups of students or individuals. Kids retain and grow far more from contributing something to a larger product than doing it all on their own.

Here are the steps.

  1. List events and assign them to learning groups.
  2. Assign group members research roles based on themes, like legal, religious, education, etc.
  3. Research and combine notes to write a summary with one main idea.
  4. Submit the group summary with Google Forms. This provides a Google Sheet of responses for the next step.
  5. Import the sheet to My Map and provide students a link with editing permission.
  6. Finish by changing the color and shape of the map points according to categories of events.
  7. Add images and resource links to make the map more useful.
  8. Embed the map on a website or blog to publish.
  9. Share the link via social media, QR codes and e-mail. Sometimes we print one with a QR code for the hallway.

3. Students as Contributors

It's not enough to complete a worksheet and turn it in to an audience of a few. Class time is best spent coaching students to make things that have the potential to be a resource for anyone in need.

When my U.S. history students made a map of key battles of the Civil War, they were able to use the published work to study for summative assessments, as well as IB and AP exams in the future.

4. Project-Based Learning

Learning by working on projects is heavy with application, which is where schooling becomes training and assessment is ongoing. This approach develops the confidence of students, teachers, and parents that the work kids do makes a difference. 

It's also important to infuse opportunities for students to make choices whenever possible in PBL. This exercises imagination – the ability that Sir Ken Robinson says makes us human.

5. Transferring Data

We can't underestimate the power moving information from one format to another. It's basic yet very powerful for critical thinking.

Here's few examples of general activities that could work for almost any subject. 

  • Read a text→graphic organizer→map
  • Two-minute peer interview→notes→map
  • Research frequency of something in an area(s)→notes→map→make a video summarizing conclusions

When I taught ESL world geography, my students learned more confidently when they had to pull information from a text, organize it in a table, and map the locations around the world or in a region. 

6. Digital Literacy 

We are long past excuses like, "I'm not good with computers." If we can learn to check email, take pics with our phones, and use desktop publishing software, we can learn a few steps to make My Maps come alive.

Our students will need to be confident learning new digital tools to be competitive in the modern economy, and it's our fault if we don't prepare them.

7. ELA Read Non-Fiction, Too!

Informational texts under Common Core are about 50/50 before high school and increase to about 70 percent in high school. But this doesn't have to be a drag or take too much away from reading literature.

I reviewed the standards and within a few minutes figured out that using the suggestions in this post eats up about five standards related to informational texts. 

8. Make and Test Hypotheses 

A hypothesis is a prediction that guides experiments. Lee are constantly making predictions when we read and listen, so don't miss out on the opportunity to let your students make formal, testable predictions before they make a map.

Since the data is uploaded from sheets and is automatically distributed on the map, the predictions can be confirmed immediately. It's exciting and simple to do. Plus, it's a fun way to start the activity debrief.

9. Cross-Curricular 

Thinking globally also goes for concepts and skills. For example, learning about the concept of force in physics is applicable in physical education. 
An example of map activity for math, history, and ELA (depending on the literature) may be about calculating Cold War missile trajectories using trigonometric functions. 

Choice is very important to engaging our students, so they could choose the targets and warhead delivery systems, for example. 

For a more straightforward cross-curricular example, try making a map to visually represent knowledge of the origins of characters in a novel or biomes for biology. 

10. It's Fun!

Does this one really need an explanation? 

I will say that it may feel chaotic in the beginning, but the teams will settle down soon enough and your classroom will become a place for producing useful tools for learning. 

To see Google My Maps in action, check out my video here:

This piece was originally submitted to our community forums by a reader. Due to audience interest, we’ve preserved it. The opinions expressed here are the writer’s own.

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