Where You're At

Mapping our connections to the river

Each of us has a personal landscape made up of our home, our school, the stores where we buy our groceries, our favorite park, the electrical power plant that produces the electricity we use...all the places that are important to our lives. We can explore our personal worlds using interactive mapping tools like Google Maps and Google Earth. By mapping the places that we love and want to protect, the places that are important for our health and well being, and the places that are harmful to us we can communicate how we view the world in which we live. A personal map can be a crucial first step to taking action to protect or improve the landscape in which we live.

The story of our travels

To begin the lesson, ask students to write a paragraph describing what they do on a typical day. They should be able to make their travels into a story first, and then create a map with place markers and a line that shows the path they take between locations. Have them number the various locations to show the time sequence (where do they go first, then where do they go next). There is an example map below; we have put text, links, and photographs in the icon pop-ups to help tell the story of our day.

Here is an example of a personal map

Treasure hunt

The second exercise can be run like a treasure hunt. Challenge the students to find places in their landscape: for example find a grocery store within 5 miles of your school, find the shortest path between your house and your school, figure out how far it is from your school to the Kansas River, find the fastest route. (You can either use measurement tools in Google Maps and Google Earth or you can use "Get Directions" to look at various scenarios and get distances and travel time estimates.) This can be made into a contest; for example, see who can find the most vacant lots in the city, or who can find the shortest path between your school and the public library.

Mapping our impact

The third exercise uses the students' personal maps to investigate their "carbon footprint." Have students calculate the distance that they or their parents drive for different activities and ask them to calculate the amount of gasoline that they use. Then challenge them to find alternatives that require less fuel, and see if they can come up with different scenarios; this may be as simple as changing the route that they take between different locations, or perhaps changing the stores they shop at by finding businesses closer to home.

The best of the best and worst of the worst

The final exercise asks the students to identify at least five of their favorite and five of their least favorite places. Have the students write a short paragraph explaining why they like or dislike each place and put this information in the marker pop-up. The students can use the "earth" or "satellite" view in Google Maps as well as "street view" to see these locations close up and in 3D. They can also take screen shots of each location and print them out. Using the print outs you can have students draw on the buildings or other objects-- challenge them to improve the locations that they dislike or highlight what is good about the locations they like. An advanced version of this lesson employs Google Sketch Up to create 3D visualizations within Google Earth.

Organizing your students' maps

One way to compile all of the personal maps that your students create is to embed them in a class website. This is a good way of sharing maps with classmates. Friends of the Kaw uses Google Sites to create our websites and Google Maps/Google Earth throughout all of our websites. These websites and maps can be made public or private, and viewing can be restricted.

Online safety for students

We recommend that teachers and parents familiarize themselves with online safety practices before having students post material online. Google provides extensive material to help with this on their Family Safety Center, and the NetSmartz Workshop provides a thorough guide to dealing with many potential issues that young people may face when learning how to present themselves online.