Teaching GIS to middle and high school students

Teaching GISGeographic Information System (GIS) is a system or software application for displaying, analyzing, and manipulating spacial data.  While the definition may make the concept seem like one that is way above the high school or middle school level, in reality, this is something that students may already use every day through their maps and GPS on their cell phones.

Hopefully these introductory GIS lesson plans will inspire you to dig a little deeper with your students.  Most counties in the U.S.  have GIS maps available online for you to explore your own neighborhood, adding in layers for topography, flood zones, planning and development, and more.

Introduction to GIS
website: http://education.nationalgeographic.org/activity/introduction-gis/
This lesson plan has several great introductory questions for leading students to understand what GIS is and how it is used in everyday life.  The activity using a large rope to make a map may be one that is better suited for classroom situations and younger students.  All in all, it is a good, quick way to introduce the concept.

Exploring Ecosystems with GIS
website: http://education.nationalgeographic.org/photo/new-gis/
Another quick lesson from National Geographic on GIS which would integrate nicely with an Environmental Science or Biology course.  The lesson uses the Jean Lefitte National Park FieldScope mapping software (free online) to bring real information into the lesson.  Using the FieldScope software, students used provided handouts to complete maps and questions.

Think Spatially Using GIS
website: http://edcommunity.esri.com/Resources/Collections/thinking-spatially—ago
This is a series of lesson plans for upper elementary or middle school level.  The lessons cover  I think that these lessons could be completed by middle school students without much direction, but elementary students would need a lot of help to get through the lesson.  There are nine lessons total, and each one builds upon what the student has previously learned.

Hands-on Exercises for GISday
website: http://gisday.com/resources.html
The GISday resources page has several great lesson plans for teens (grades 7 – 12).   Some of the links are to downloadable resources and other are links to other websites that you may want to explore further.   Some of the resources for those age 18+ are easily accessible to high school students as well.



4 Great Sources of Outline Maps

4 Great Sources for free outline mapsMaps are of course an essential part of geography, and a great outline map can be useful in so many learning situations.   Instead of spending a half our searching for the right map, check out and bookmark the resources below.

Education Place Outline Maps
website: https://www.eduplace.com/ss/maps/
These outline maps from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt are free to use for personal and classroom use.  The maps are organized by continent, and most are offered both with and without countries labeled.

MapMaker Interactive
website: http://mapmaker.nationalgeographic.org/
National Geographic’s MapMaker Interactive is an awesome resource for creating exactly the map you are wanting.  Starting with a base map of the world, you can zoom in to the area you want to see, add in layers such as political boundaries, and add in lines and text.  While this resource is great for creating a custom map, it does take a little time to learn all the ins and outs of making it work.

Contemporary Maps of World Regions
website: http://alabamamaps.ua.edu/contemporarymaps/world/index.html
This simple looking website from the University of Alabama is full of maps of the world regions in various formats including jpeg and pdf’s both in color and black and white.  Options include base maps, country labels, capitals, and major cities.  Maps are up to date and include new countries such as South Sudan.

Arizona Geographic Alliance
website: http://geoalliance.asu.edu/maps/regions
The Arizona Geographic Alliance is part of Arizona State University, and offers tons of resources for teaching geography.  Click on Regions to view very nice looking black and white .pdf’s of each region. The Countries tab will bring you to maps of some, but definitely not all, major countries.  

Four Great TEDed Videos for Teaching Geography

If you haven’t ever checked out all of the great videos on TEDed, now is the time to do so.  Go ahead, we will wait…

TEDed is the youth division of TED, known for excellent speakers and videos on all kinds of topics, from science to technology to world ideology.  And while TED Talks can be great to use with students, the shorter format and to-the-point narration make the TEDed videos a surefire way to engage students.

Here are just a few of the TEDed videos available along with some suggestions for using them with a study of geography.   You can watch the TEDed videos on YouTube, or you can watch them on the ed.ted.com website.  If you go to the TEDed website, there are usually quick quizzes and discussion questions to use with the videos.

Where Did Russia Come from?
This video would be great to pair with studying the rivers and physical geography of Russia. Or you could use it as a jumping off point for looking at some of the historic cities of Russia including Kiev and Moscow.  Another thought for human geography would be to look at how the different people groups still exist in Russia today.

The City Walls: Constantinople
You could pair this video  with a Google Street view or Google Earth view of modern Istanbul.  Zoom in on Istanbul, and you will see the same outline of roads today that are shown on the video. A search for “wall” will bring you to many places where you can see the ruins of the ancient walls in street view.  Spend some time traveling in Street View along the roads that flank the wall to see where it crumbles a bit in places and still stands tall in others.

The Infamous and Ingenious Ho Chi Minh Trail
This video would be great to use  when studying SE Asia, since the Ho Chi Minh trail stretches from northern Vietnam, through Laos, back to southern Vietnam and stretching into Cambodia.  The trail played a vital role in the Vietnamese War, and it has now become a popular route for adventurous motorcyclists.      Here is a travel article on motor biking the Ho Chi Minh trail: http://www.wanderlust.co.uk/magazine/blogs/insider-secrets/how-to-tackle-the-ho-chi-minh-trail-by-motorcycle?page=all
Where Did English Come From?
This final video would be excellent to include at the beginning or the end of a study of Europe.  Or you could use it along with lessons on languages around the world.  The video goes into the roots of English, going back even farther than the Anglo-Saxons and Old English.  Another fun activity to do would be to look at all of the countries today that have English as an official language and trace those pathways back to England.

Using Google Earth to Teach Geography

Google Earth Resources For Teaching GeographyGoogle Earth is an amazing free resource that every student should enjoy using.  Nothing gives a better overview of our world, while also offer a way to dive into the minute details.  The 3D imagery lets you view so many famous places in a way that you almost feel like you are there.

Google Earth is free to download.  Just go to the Google Earth website.   There is a desktop, web, and mobile version available.  The Google Earth Pro version is now free  and adds a few nice features for teaching geography, such as being able to calculate distances between points.

There are so many ways to use Google Earth in teaching geography!  This is just the first of several posts on this topic.  Below are several resources to get you started.

Tutorials on using Google Earth
website: https://www.google.com/help/maps/education/resources.html

From the 148 page users guide to the many tutorials available, there is no excuse for not knowing how to use Google Earth.  A great place to start is the tutorial on creating a narrated tour.  Narrated tours give you a way to create an automated video-like tour in which you can add your own narration, text comments, and zoom from place to place.  Use it to teach geography by assigning students a country and have them narrate a tour of famous landmarks.

website: https://geoguessr.com/world/play

This free online game uses Google images to plop you down somewhere in the world.  You can navigate around in the image and then guess, based on the visual clues, where in the world you are!  It is addictively fun.  (I just wasted another half hour on it!)

Google Earth Outreach Showcase
website: http://www.google.com/earth/outreach/stories/showcase.html

The Google Earth showcase gives examples of how different non-profit organizations are using Google Earth.  There are several in the showcase that could be used in your study of geography.  The USGS is featured with their real-time earthquake map.

Google Earth Tips and Tricks
website: https://support.google.com/earth/answer/148177?guide=22358&ref_topic=22361

This help site for Google Earth has several easy ideas for getting started with Google Earth.  They are a great way to introduce your students to the software and interest them in learning more.

Lit Trips
website: http://www.googlelittrips.org/

Google Earth Lit Trips are a great way to connect literature and geography.  The concept is simple: use Google Earth to create maps showing the journey of a character in a piece of literature.  From classics like The Odyssey  to more modern works such as The Kite Runner, Lit Trips are a great way to integrate these two subjects.  The website has downloadable files to get you started and inspire your student to create their own lit trip.