google maps


Google Maps has been out for 10 years now. Digital maps…starting with Mapquest has been out since 1996 (technically 1993 but mapquest was the first main stream map most people remember). For those of you keeping track that puts us almost 20 years into the digital mapping word. 20 years we have been using digital maps and yet for some reason digital maps have not replaced (there’s that word again) mapping in our schools.

In 2007…8 years ago now….Apple put a map in our pocket. Fast forward to 2015 and almost everyone has a digital map in their pocket. Pilots now fly with iPads, ship captains now navigate with GPS and digital maps. Truck drivers now drive via digital maps and GPS location. So basically every professional that needs to use maps is using digital maps. I’m not saying we need to stop teaching how to read a paper map…but really…that should be 10% of the mapping work a student does not 99%.

With that in mind here are 10 ways you could use Google Maps in the classroom.

1. Latitude Longitude Scavenger Hunts

gmaplogoYou remember learning about Latitude and Longitude right? Well, in a paper map world it’s a place that is “kind of there” where your two fingers meet. In a digital world it’s a specific location. This allows us to do some fun stuff and learn about Latitude and Longitude at the same time.

What do these three places have in common?

24.007233, 38.210118

31.204263, 121.281686


Then maybe you have students go to the opposite hemisphere from where these places are and see what’s there. Is this math looking at x y axis and how we divide our world? Or is this social studies and looking at landmarks? Or is this English and we have the settings of the books we have read? Or is it History and we’re comparing and contrasting battle sites. In a digital mapping world Latitude and Longitude mean more than where your fingers meet…it’s a very exact location.

Google Sightseeing blog: View some of the great images from around the world

2. Earth Picker

earthpickerEarth Picker is a fun and addicting game. If you click on the link kiss the next 30 minutes of your life goodbye. The game reminds me a bit of Carmen Sandiego back in the day. Only in this game you need to be able to “read an image” a new skill that we need to be teaching students as more and more of our information becomes visual. What do you see? What clues can you find? A great little game to start teaching digital mapping skills.

Yes…Google does have a whole site dedicated to using maps in education

3. Smarty Pins

smartypinsSmarty Pins is a great game for educators to use and adapt. I encourage educators to play the game for awhile, yes the questions seem to be American Centric, however what we’re after here is the questions that Google is asking and how the game works. Once you get the hang of it an educator could create their own questions around their own content area. Students could put a pin on the map where they think it is…once the true place is revealed they could get driving directions to see how far they were off….now we bring math into the curriculum and have students add and keep track of their own distances. Think settings of books in English class, battles in history class, or create questions in a world language class and the country practicing language skills. Yes the game is fun….even better is how easy it would be to adapt it to fit your curriculum.

Create your own mapping game

4. My Maps

mymapsMy Maps is simply amazing. So much so that it is used in the next six ways to use Google Maps. My Maps allows you to create maps not just read and use them. All of a sudden we become digital map creators and the possibilities become endless.

5 ways to use My Maps in the classroom

5. Video Tour

mapvideoUsing My Maps students could add markers along a route of say…..Ferdinand Magellan. Students could create videos, or record their voice and actually embed them into a marker for others to learn about what happened at that spot on his travels.

Now….because this is Google…..of course you can share a map just like you can a Google Doc. Now you have 10 students working on 10 different explorers all of them adding their routes and videos to the same map. From there we can start to see patterns of routes, patterns of where explorers were going and what they were trying to do. Now we can start asking questions and as we find answers to them we create videos and add more information back to the world.

Want some training? No problem Google has you covered!

6. Create a map for your community

communitymapsMy Maps isn’t new. In fact I’ve been creating maps for different purposes since about 2007! Here’s a map that I created for friends that came to visit while we lived in Shanghai, China from 2005 – 2008. Are you studying your community? Your country? Your state/province? Why not create a map for others based on your favorite places to eat, visit, play, etc.

See how others are using Google Maps to help their communities

7. Create a route

vpqWe’re talking real skills here! Here’s a route I created when my wife and I visited Croatia last year. We had never been to Croatia before and didn’t know the roads or how long we should expect to drive between our destinations. Using My Maps we were able to create a route from hotel to hotel and get a really close approximation of the driving time we would have each day. So cool and digital maps has now forever changed the way you travel!

Keep up with what Google is doing with maps

8. Measure Distance and Area

googlemapsdistancesIn My Maps you get the ability to draw straight lines to see the distance between two points anywhere in the world. Better yet is the ability to draw out an area. Ever wonder just how big Russia really is? What if you draw an area map around your country and then move that area over Russia. How many of your countries do you think fit in Russia? In China? On the continent of Africa?

Using Google Maps in math class

9. See your World in 3D

googleearthMy Maps allows you to export your map in KML format. Funny….cause Google Earth allows you to import KML files to give you high resolution images of all your information in a 3D space. Expanding the conversation, expanding knowledge about our world…and beyond.

40+ Ways to Use Google Earth and Maps in the classroom

10. Mobile Maps

mymapslogoGoogle Maps is downloadable on every mobile device I know of and My Maps is as well (Android, iOS)! So now you can create maps and use maps on your phone, tablet, watch? No need to have a class set of laptops when every students has a phone in their pocket. Here’s the problem…..this is number 10 and now that we have the ability to make and read maps on a mobile device that has GPS on it…..we just opened up a whole new way to engage with information, create information, and teach students the skills they’ll need for their future in a digital mapping world!

Ideas of how to use My Maps on mobile devices

Maps I found in an antique shop. Yes...paper maps are now considered antiques.
Maps I found in an antique shop. Yes…paper maps are now considered antiques.

Yes…..paper maps days are numbered. Sure they’ll be around for awhile yet but really…that’s for our generations not theirs. They might never touch a paper map…never have to be frustrated with trying to fold it back up, worry about it ripping or whether or not it’s up to date. I know, I know….we loved our paper maps. But it’s time to let them go and embrace a new digital mapping world. For the sake of our students and their future.

Happy Birthday Google Maps….may you continue to lead me around our world!

I haven’t been blogging here much as my time has been spent working with teachers in their schools, Learning2 and COETAIL…which I love!

Replace is my new word of choice when talking about the skills of technology. 

replace1I have done the word dance on this blog. Going from integrate, to embed and now to replace. However, I think it’s just the progression of adoption of any new way of thinking any new skill set as we reach a new level. A level where we need to start replacing the skills we use to teach with new skills that must be taught. The standards haven’t changed….the tools and skills have and we need to make sure we’re updating the skills to match the needs of our students.

Here in Washington State our new state assessment is done on a computer. Typing has finally become more important than cursive writing. It must replace cursive writing and maybe even most writing done by students. Many schools are now complaining that students are doing poorly on the test because they don’t have the computer skills needed to even navigate the test software. So now we need to replace navigating a book with navigating a website. I wonder in how many schools these skills have been replaced?

I have been focusing my trainings on this idea. A standard is a standard I say….but the skill and tool to reach that standard has changed. Let’s look at a couple of examples.


Digital maps are replacing paper maps in our society as a whole. From your captain on an airplane to your captain of a ship. We’re relying on digital maps more and more. With pretty much everyone walking around with one in their pockets today I’m wondering why we are not replacing the paper mapping skills with digital mapping skills? The skills are different.

A paper map doesn’t zoom, a digital maps doesn’t have longitude and latitude lines.

A paper map defaults to North being at the top. A digital map can be changed to either North as being up or the way you happen to be facing.

A paper map you kind of know where you are, a digital map you know exactly where you are (within 30 feet and if you have GPS of course).

If you still want to teach the skills of a paper map….I don’t have an issue with that. But I do hope that we are introducing the skills of a digital map and we’re starting to replace the time we use to spend on paper maps with digital ones.

Reading Skills:

The new research, led by Donald J. Leu at the University of Connecticut, is appearing this month in Reading Research Quarterly. Although the study is based on a small sample, it demonstrates a general lack of online literacy among all students, indicating that schools have not yet caught up to teach the skills needed to navigate digital information. ~ NYTimes 24/09/14

This research shouldn’t surprise us. We’re spending more of our life online….outside of school anyway….and yet we are not replacing the literacy skills of reading offline with new ones of reading online. Skills such as:

When do you read a full article and then click on links?

When do you “link jump” looking for resources?

How do you quickly scan a webpage to recognize where the ads are, where the navigation links are, where the main content is located on the site? I have not heard of a single school that teachers the literacy of reading a webpage or a website.

Because an increasing number of life tasks and jobs depend on the ability to sift through boundless online information presented in various formats — text, videos, graphics and social media — the ability of a student to accurately search for and evaluate information on the web is becoming crucial to success. NYTimes 24/09/14

We know this but what are we doing about it in our schools? What are we replacing? 

The Common Core standards do contain references to digital literacy, however. “Whether you’re dealing with the readingwriting or listening standards, there’s a notion of students getting information both from print and digital sources and looking at credibility and accuracy of the sources,” said Susan Pimentel, a lead writer of the Common Core standards. NYTimes 24/09/14

creative commons licensed (BY) flickr photo by CaptMikey9: http://flickr.com/photos/mjsciald/9142453756
creative commons licensed (BY) flickr photo by CaptMikey9: http://flickr.com/photos/mjsciald/9142453756

Even the new standards as schools update them are adding in…or have long ago….added in the idea of understanding digital sources. Yet I find very few schools where these new skills are replacing the old skills. Instead we send student to the computer lab once a month to learn these skills completely out of context and with no real follow up or meaning. Would love to know if some district has added “Digital Search Skills” to the report card. Yes…that means you should be assessing students search skills!

These are just a few of the skills that need replacing in our curriculum and classrooms. The standards haven’t changed that much but the tools and resources we have to teach those standards have. The skills needed to use the tools that allow us access to the information to learn those standards have changed. So we must update the skills we’re teaching students.

I’m not saying you have to 100% switch. Sure…still teach paper mapping skills…but teach them 30% of the time and digital mapping skills 70% of the time. Talk about the benefits and drawbacks to the different types of maps. When should you use one over the other? How do you download a digital map so you have it on your device without a data signal?

These are all great questions to explore in the classroom just around maps! Just this one standard alone needs it’s skills replaced in order to stay relevant today. Want students to create that oh so popular map to their house…no problem…but let’s do it digitally on Google My Maps.

Nothing makes me smile more than running into a tourist in downtown Seattle who is looking at a paper map trying to figure out which way to go. They’ll ask me if I can help them……”Sure!” I say…….and then I ask to see their phone.

What other skills do you see needed to be updated or replaced in the classroom?

In the middle of completing my month long work/vacation tour of Europe and Asia (as I sit on a plane on my way to Doha), I keep reflecting on the experience that has been these past couple weeks hopping around from London, to Amsterdam, to Switzerland and Ireland and never relying on a paper map.

I didn’t have data on my phone, but what I did have was the ability to download Google Maps to use offline. It is a feature that came to Android last June. After experiencing using the offline maps the past couple of weeks, I really think the paper map’s days are numbered.

Why my digital map beats your paper map

Constantly Updated:
Let’s start with the fact that the map that we had in our guide book was two years old. Two years, it seems, in Ireland is a long enough time for roads to be built as we found ourselves on roads that didn’t exist on the paper map we had.

Where Am I Now:
By far the most useful feature is the ability to know exactly where you are. GPS works all over the world and by turning on my GPS and loading the offline maps we knew exactly where we were on the bus, on the subway, on the running trail or on the street. We were able to plot our route with precision instead of “I think we’re somewhere around here.”

Ability to explore and get lost with confidence:
What the GPS mentioned above allowed us to do was to explore with confidence. I was able to mark our B&B as a favorite on the map and then off we went. Walked around Amsterdam and when it was time to return home, pull out the map find where we were and plot a route home.

Ability to expand and zoom:
Your paper map can’t do this which is why you travel with a couple different ones. But on my phone the downloaded Google Map allowed me to zoom all the way in and all the way out to the point I downloaded the map from. Allowing me to see exactly where we were in the larger picture of the city.

Ease of carry and no folding:
Let’s face it, folding maps is never easy…..in fact I always used to see it as a traveling challenge that I had to solve. Now with the maps on my phone, nobody knows I’m a tourist. I just appear like everyone else looking at my phone and figuring out where to go next. I had the whole of Ireland in great detail in my pocket. Simply amazing.

Off the beaten path:
My wife and I wanted to go for a run in every country (mostly because we thought it would be cool to have it show up on our runkeeper timeline but also because we have a race coming up the beginning of April!). The Google Maps allowed us to find trails and details that were not possible on the tourist map we had. We were able to find running trails, to figure out our route and if we did get off track simply look it up on our phone. A great example was a trail we found that followed the subway line in Lausanne, Switzerland from our hotel down to the lake shore. We were thinking we would take the subway down to the lake, but after finding this hidden trail on the map we got an extra Km in on our run that we would not have known existed on the city map.

I could go on and on but I won’t. This is a game changer in all sorts of ways. Are we teaching students how to read a digital map? How to expand and zoom, how to orient the map to north vs the direction you’re walking and when to use both? Are we teaching the benefits of GPS, how to use it, how it works, and why it is a technology we all take for granted today but by itself is an amazing little feature built into almost every product?

This changes map skills, this changes what we need to be teaching students because the excuse of “what happens when you don’t have the Internet” just went out the window. With technology getting cheaper and cheaper, I wonder when a city might start distributing digital maps like this. Or what if you could check one out on a iPod touch from your hotel during your stay?

Game changer I tell you…..and one I’m not sure we’re preparing students for.