Mapping my World

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Mapping My World[edit | edit source]

Grade Level: 9th
Subject: Advanced Earth Science
Sub-Subject: Topographic Maps and Remote Sensing
Length/Duration: 2 class periods/ 1 block period: 1 hour 40 minutes
Technologies Used:

World's Largest Skateboard Ramp: [1],

Slope of a line: [2],

Interactive slope of a line:


Summary[edit | edit source]

Students use topographic maps of local areas, determine contour intervals, gradients, and latitude/ longitude. Students then use latitude/ longitude to plot location on Google Earth.

Students will measure distances using graphic and fractional scales, interpret map symbols, and draw a profile of a topographic map.


Students will understand that gradient is the steepness of a slope.

Students will know that gradient equals the change in elevation divided by the distance between two points.

Students will understand that remote sensing devices like google earth represents information plotted on a topographic map.

Students will know how to plot locations on google earth using latitude/ longitude points.

CA Standards[edit | edit source]

CA- California K-12 Academic Content Standards • Subject : Science • Grade : Grades Nine Through Twelve Standards that all students are expected to achieve in the course of their studies are unmarked. Standards that all students should have the opportunity to learn are marked with an asterisk (*). • Area : Investigation and Experimentation • Sub-Strand 1: Scientific progress is made by asking meaningful questions and conducting careful investigations. As a basis for understanding this concept and addressing the content in the other four strands, students should develop their own questions and perform investigations. Students will:

Standard a: Select and use appropriate tools and technology (such as computer-linked probes, spreadsheets, and graphing calculators) to perform tests, collect data, analyze relationships, and display data.
Standard h: Read and interpret topographic and geologic maps.
Standard i: Analyze the locations, sequences, or time intervals that are characteristic of natural phenomena (e.g., relative ages of rocks, locations of planets over time, and succession of species in an ecosystem).

The Lesson/ Planning A Camping Trip[edit | edit source]

Lesson Introduction

To introduce the lesson, I showed students a topographic map and photograph from a camping trip I took in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. I explained that one day they may take a trip like that with their family or friends. Students were instructed to pretend they were taking a hiking trip to Alaska with their group. Each group picked out a topographic map and decided the staring point and ending location for their hike. Students used this to determine the distance and steepness of their hike.


Students will use topographic maps of local areas of Alaska to determine:

  1. The distance between two points (A & B)
  2. The change in elevation between the two points
  3. The gradient of between the two points
  4. The latitude/ longitude (indicate the minutes and seconds)

Students will plot their ending location (B) on Google Earth to better understand the relationship of topographic maps to remote sensing devices.


  • Topographic maps
  • Poster board
  • String to determine distance between to points
  • Glue sticks, markers, access to Google Earth

Lesson Sequence

  1. Students pick two points on map (A&B). Then students determine the actual distance between the two points using the map scale provided on the map.
  2. Students determine the steepest gradient of their hike using the highest and lowest elevation between the two points. Students must know how to calculate gradient; this requires them to read index contour lines to determine the change in elevation.
  3. Once students have completed steps 1 & 2 they create a poster; the poster displays the map with hike highlighted, calculated distance and gradient, latitude and longitude using minutes an second of point A & B, and a profile of their calculated gradient.
  4. Students then use latitude and longitude of point B to find the location on Google Earth.
  5. As a class students look at their locations plotted on Google Earth. If students did not accurately figure the minutes and seconds of latitude/ longitude their points may be plotted in locations like the ocean. This is a good opportunity to explain why minutes and seconds are used to determine exact locations, and if they are miscalculated the location could be off by hundreds of miles.

Publishing Project

Students projects are displayed or "published" on the class website or/and class Facebook page.

Earth Science Facebook Page

Google Earth Image with Student Group Locations

Reflection[edit | edit source]

Successful Aspects

This lesson was implemented 10/09. Students liked the introduction commenting "You actually did that?"; I think the introduction was a good way to show students how this information they are using in class my be useful to them later in life even if they do not pursue a career in the sciences. I also tried to increase motivation by creating scenarios saying they were all CEO's of major companies and they wanted to go on a camping trip, but they needed to charter a helicopter to pick them up at their ending point. So this was why they needed to provide latitude and longitude points for the pilot. As I was walking around I heard students playing around with this scenario, "we need to tell the pilot where to pick us up" and "That is a high mountain to climb, we have the money should we hire a guide to carry our stuff".

Areas of Improvement

Students had difficulty determining the gradient, I feel this would have been easier for them if I included a warm up problem about gradients so they could have some practice prior to the project. Also, I feel next time I would have students use the computer lab and each group plot their location on Google Earth. This would allow students to use the technology instead of observing the teacher use it. Google Earth also provide pictures and information about areas plotted, students could use this application to research their area and how the climate of an area relates to the latitude and longitude.

Application for Future Lessons

Our class is now learning about weathering and erosion. The topography of an areas helps to determine the rate of weathering and erosion. Students refer to this project when explaining this relationship. They know the steeper the gradient the faster the processes of weathering and erosion take place.

Related Articles[edit | edit source]

Articles represented in the lesson are as follows:

  • Baumeister, R. F., Bratslavsky, E., Muraven, M., & Tice, D. M. (1998). Ego depletion: Is the active self a limited resource? Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 74(5), 1252-1265.
  • Dewey, J. (1916). Democracy and education: An introduction to the philosophy of education (pp. 12-27). New York, NY: The Macmillan Company
  • Zimmerman, B. J., & Pons, M. M. (1986). Development of a structured interview for assessing student use of self-regulated learning strategies. American Educational Research Journal, 23(4), 614-628.

Empirical & Technical Articles


“Ego depletion suggests that some internal resource is used by the self to make decisions, respond actively, and exert self-control” (Baumeister, 1998). When restraint or control is active, energy resources deplete (Baumeister, 1998). Based on these implications, the lesson focused on release of control to students in order to conserve energy resource needed for later problem solving applications. In other words, students freely chose aspects of the project and conserved energy needed to synthesize information later in the lesson. Students’ temporary ability of unrestrained choice enhances understanding later in the lesson sequence; this is how learning occurs.


This study finds that high achieving students use a high rate of social recourses such as teachers and peers to foster learning (Zimmerman, 1986). The group aspect of this lesson catered to these findings. Students used peers to gain knowledge presented by the textbook. The group learning sequence applied to the sequence with technology, student groups plotted determined locations to Google Earth. As a class, students and teacher compared and discussed accuracy of data. Technology promoted learning because the structured environment provided peer and teacher support.



Theory for this lesson stems from Dewey’s idea that education is a social function (Dewey, Democracy and Education: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Education, 1916). “The things with which a man varies are his genuine environments” (Dewey, Democracy and Education: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Education, 1916). Technology enhances learning because it is part of students’ genuine environment. “A being whose activities are associated with others has a social environment” (Dewey, Democracy and Education: An Introduction to the Philosophy of Education, 1916). Students use technology in social environments. Technology is a conceptual extension of their physical world. The lesson sequence places students in a hypothetical social situation where technology is used. Technology enhances learning because it enhances the experienced environment.

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