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Introduction to Maps

Summary:
Students are briefly introduced to several types of maps that are used for different purposes. Materials:
  • Globe
  • Road map
  • Topographic map
  • Raised relief map and/or shaded relief map
  • Satellite photo
  • Earthquake map
  • Bedrock geology map
  • River drainages map
  • Nautical chart
  • Paper/pencil for each student

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Source:
A classic classroom activity brought to Windows to the Universe from the Colorado Mountain Club’s Youth Education Program.
Grade level:
4-9
Time:
prep time: 5-10 minutes; class time:15-20 min
Student Learning Outcomes:
  • Students get an understanding of the variety of map types and that different maps are used for different purposes.
  • Students learn that maps are interpretations of the world, not actual representations. The type of interpretation determines its use.
  • Students learn about basic map elements such as scale, key, and cardinal directions, latitude and longitude.
Lesson format:
Worksheet with class discussion and short hands-on activity

National Standards Addressed:

DIRECTIONS:

  1. Setup: Set maps out around the room. Number them to avoid confusion when correcting student worksheets.
  2. Introduce terms with class:
    • Scale (large scale and small scale) (bar scale and fraction scale)
    • Key to symbols and colors
    • North arrow (and cardinal directions)
    • Title
    • Latitude and longitude
  3. Instruct students to answer the following for each map:
    • Type of map?
    • Map scale?
    • What does the map show? What would it be useful for?

ASSESSMENT:

  1. Setup: Set maps out around the room. Number them to avoid confusion when correcting student worksheets.
  2. Introduce terms with class:
    • Scale (large scale and small scale) (bar scale and fraction scale)
    • Key to symbols and colors
    • North arrow (and cardinal directions)
    • Title
    • Latitude and longitude
  3. Instruct students to answer the following for each map:
    • Type of map?
    • Map scale?
    • What does the map show? What would it be useful for?

BACKGROUND INFORMATION:

Map elements:
Scale: Scale is the relationship between the distance on the map and the real distance across the land surface. For instance if the scale is listed as 1:10000, then one inch on the map is equal to 10000 inches across the land. Large scale maps show a smaller area, often in more detail, and small scale maps show a larger area, often in less detail. (Students, and many other people, often get this concept backwards!)

Key: A map's key contains symbols that represent things on the Earth's surface such as houses, roads, towers, and elevation change.

Cardinal directions: The terms north, south, east, and west are used to describe direction.
Usually, the top of a map is the north side of the map. Look for a compass rose or north arrow to understand directions.

Title: The title of a map often indicates what type of map it is and the area of the globe that it covers.

Latitude and longitude: This grid of imaginary lines allows us to identify any location on the Earth's surface by its coordinates.

Types of maps:
Note: This is not an exercise in different types of map projections. Instead, it is about understanding how different maps emphasize different features of the Earth's surface.
Globe: Very small scale. Political boundaries and bodies of water are emphasized. A globe is useful for finding the locations of countries and oceans.
Road map: Larger scale than a globe. Emphasizes roadways, towns, sometimes rivers and railways. This type of maps is a good one for finding your way from one town to another via roads!
Topographical map: Often a very large scale map, it shows the shape of the land's surface. Contour lines connect places of equal elevation. When contour lines are close together, the slope is very steep. When contour lines are far apart, the slope is very shallow. This type of map is helpful when planning a hike. It is also used when planning the site for a building or the path of a new road.
Raised relief map and shaded relief maps: These types of maps also show elevation but may be less precise than a topographic map. In a shaded relief map, relief is indicated with shading as if the late day sun is hitting only western slopes and shading eastern ones. In a raised relief map, relief is indicated by the surface texture that is sometimes greatly exaggerated.
Satellite/aerial photo: These photos can be large scale or small scale. This photo of the Earth's surface is a picture so it tells exactly what is there. However, only certain features can be seen clearly. The shape of the land can be inferred, the vegetation can be broadly determined, as can the amount of development if the photo is at a large enough scale. A photo is not an interpretation, like maps are.
Earthquake map: This type of map shows the locations and magnitudes of earthquakes. You can find a small map of recent earthquakes in California and Nevada at: http://quake.wr.usgs.gov/recenteqs/.
Bedrock geology map: This map shows the type of rock that is at the Earth's surface. It also shows the age of the rocks and the location of faults.
River drainages: This type of map shows watersheds. That is, the location of rivers and streams within a region.
Nautical chart: Because this type of map is used to navigate the ocean or large lakes with a boat, the body of water is emphasized, as are features of the coast that would be recognizable from the water. A compass rose typically is provided for navigation, and on newer charts, lines used in GPS navigation are included.

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Last modified October 22, 2003 by Lisa Gardiner.

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