Background Knowledge & Context
With an increase in technology use and access to information, our world has become a smaller place. That being said, it is fascinating to still find that our students have such a limited understanding of the geographical world around them. How can we use technology to get students to learn about maps and geography? How do we teach them about how information is displayed about the world around them?
In our elementary school, we have been using the National Council for the Social Studies’ C3 Framework for teaching civics, economics, geography, and history. We use this framework because it aligns with the Common Core Standards for English Language Arts and Literacy in History.
By the end of 5th grade, students need to know how to create maps and other geographical representations. Here are the standards directly from the C3 Framework related to Spatial Views of the World and Places, Regions and Culture:
D2.Geo.1.3-5. Construct maps and other graphic representations of both familiar and unfamiliar places.
D2.Geo.2.3-5. Use maps, satellite images, photographs, and other representations to explain relationships between the locations of places and regions and their environmental characteristics.
D2.Geo.3.3-5. Use maps of different scales to describe the locations of cultural and environmental characteristics.
D2.Geo.4.3-5. Explain how culture influences the way people modify and adapt to their environments.
D2.Geo.5.3-5. Explain how the cultural and environmental characteristics of places change over time.
D2.Geo.6.3-5. Describe how environmental and cultural characteristics influence population distribution in specific places or regions.
Hands-On Geography Activities
The unit starts out with some typical activities such as identifying continents & oceans, how to use a compass rose & legend, and creating maps of their neighborhood. Some classes also made a connection to the class read-aloud book, Because of Winn Dixie by Kate DiCamillo and designed a 3D map of Naomi, Florida. These are great for building foundational skills around geography and mapping.
How Can We Integrate Technology into Geography?
I was asked by some teachers if there was a way to use technology for mapping. We looked at some options such as using Google Earth and seeing if there was a way to create their own maps digitally on iPads. While reading the New York Times section on the current infection rates around the world with covid-19, I started to think about how we see choropleth maps all the time now in the news. What if we could get students to create their own choropleth maps somehow?
Getting Started with Datawrapper (Free Guide)
With some guidance and a few clicks, students were able to get in and start using the app. In order to teach students the functionality of the website, we did a quick data collection in the classroom. This took about 5-7 minutes. Here is the process I went through with the students:
I remembered Datawrapper, a website that I use often for exploring data visualization. They have a feature for building choropleth maps. It seems a bit intimidating at first, but for the basics, I thought 8-year-olds would be able to do this.
Here Is What To Do
Time needed: 15 minutes.
- Create a list and select a choropleth map
I chose a list of countries that would provide a variety of results for travel. I did a quick headcount for students that had visited or lived in these countries. As an international school, we have a population that travels quite a bit. If you are in a location where there might be less traveling, you can easily change the map from a world map to a country or state.
- Choose a map and enter data
Choose the World map or another detailed map that works for your situation. We entered the data right in the website in the “Add your data” section. Once data was entered, clicking on the blue “proceed” button takes them to the next screen where they can choose a color scheme.
- Choose a color scheme
There is a lot happening on this page, but I just have them select a preset color scheme from the dropdown menu. We then move on to the next step where they choose an appropriate title for their map.
- Add a title and description
Finally, in the description section, they can type their name. With the exception of a few glitches of the website on the iPad, students were able to easily go back and recreate their own maps of places they have visited or lived. Once they had their map, they zoomed in and took a screenshot. This was used to share in other ways such as a slideshow or on Seesaw.
It was great to see how engaged and excited students were with creating their own maps. They picked it up easily and took off creating places they visited and then making new maps of places they wish they could visit. A possible extension of this would be to have students research a shortlist of countries and input information such as population, average rainfall, average temperature, etc to make choropleth maps similar to those they would see in the news or other media outlets.
If you are curious about other ways to use this website, please reach out. I will also be writing another article on using one of the other mapping features in Datawrapper. Be on the lookout for that.
If you want to be able to print out these instructions or share kid-friendly instructions with your students, you can download the free guide right now!