This week is Geography Awareness Week. It’s one of my favorite weeks of the year! Every year at this time I publish an updated list of some of my favorite games, activities, tools, and lessons to promote geography awareness. Here’s my updated list for 2021.
The first place to start a search for geography awareness week resources has to be National Geographic. On their Geography Awareness Week page you’ll find lots of ideas including this one for hosting a geography quiz night (link opens a PDF).
WorldCover Viewer is an interactive land use map produced by the European Space Agency. The map lets visitors see how land is used worldwide and in specific places. Visitors can pan and zoom to see land use for an area or use the statistics explorer tools built into the map to see land use statistics for a country, state, or province. Views of the map and associated data can be downloaded from the WorldCover Viewer. As you’ll see in my video overview of WorldCover Viewer, it include a tool for measuring areas of land use. In my video overview I also demonstrate how to enable different layers on the map.
I’m Feeling Lucky!
From voyages to games to simple measuring tools, the web version of Google Earth has a lot of neat features that can help students learn about the world. One of those neat features is the “I’m Feeling Lucky” button that is found on the left hand toolbar in Google Earth. Clicking that button will take students to a randomly-selected place in the world.
On its own the “I’m Feeling Lucky” button provides a good way for students to discover new places. That said, students learn more through the “I’m Feeling Lucky” button if you give them a little more direction than just “click the button and look around.” That’s why I created a little question sheet to prompt students to do a little research about the places they discover in Google Earth via “I’m Feeling Lucky.” My question sheet can be found here as a Google Doc.
This short video demonstrates how students can explore Google Earth in more detail after clicking “I’m Feeling Lucky.”
City Guesser 3.0
City Guesser 3.0 offers twenty-one games based on countries. There are also more than two dozen games based on major cities around the world. And there is a game based on monuments of the world. In addition to the new games, City Guesser 3.0 has two new game play modes. There is a “streaks” mode in which you try to make as many consecutive accurate guesses as possible. There are also two new “challenge” modes. There is a challenge mode in which you cannot move the imagery and have to guess from just one view. The other challenge mode is a timed mode in which you have to guess before time runs out. Watch this video for an overview of City Guesser 3.0.
With a free Mapbox Studio account you can create a custom outline map of any city, town, or neighborhood of your choosing. You can choose how much or how little detail you want to include in the map. Once you’ve made your selections you can save your map as a PNG or JPG file to print and distribute to your students.In this short video I demonstrate how to use Mapbox Studio to create your own custom coloring maps.
Mult Dev is a free tool that lets you quickly create animated maps. In the time since I wrote about Mult Dev a couple of updates were made to it. The most notable of those being that you now need to sign into the service with a Google account or a GitHub account. In this short video I demonstrate how to create an animated map with Mult Dev.
The Library of Congress houses the John Margolies Roadside America Photograph Archive. That archive contains nearly 12,000 photographs of interesting roadside attractions all over the United States and eastern Canada. The collection includes pictures of things like gas stations shaped like a dinosaur, windmills that serve as ice cream stands, funky miniature golf courses, and lots of neon signs for motels and restaurants.
The Library of Congress published an ESRI Story Map of photographs in the John Margolies Roadside America Photograph Archive. The map is titled Roadside America. You can view the images on an interactive map or simply scroll through some curated collections of images from the collection. I found it fun to click on the markers on the map to discover some roadside attractions in my home state as well as others around the country. But before you head out on the road to look for them I should point out that many of the photographs are of things that are no longer out on the roadside.
Roadside America provides a nice way for students to discover some pieces of Americana past and present. I’d use the map as a way to spark students’ curiosity to conduct a little research about some of these interesting roadside attractions. I might also use the map as a model for having students create their own roadside attractions maps of places in their home states that they may have seen and or taken pictures of.
Drawing on Digital Maps
Creating layers and tours in Google Earth and Google My Maps can be a great way for students to assemble collections of geolocated information to summarize research, create a book tour, or even develop safe walking and biking routes. But sometimes you just need to quickly draw or pin things to a digital map. In those cases, launching Google Earth or My Maps is a bit more than you need. That’s when Scribble Maps, Google Drawings, or Google Jamboard are handy.
Scribble Maps is a digital mapping tool that lets anyone make free-hand drawings on top of a variety of base maps. To use it simply head to ScribbleMaps.com/create/ and select one of the drawing tools. Registration is not required in order to use it although there are some pop-ups that will try to sell you on upgrades from the free version. Here’s a short overview of Scribble Maps.
Google Drawings and Google Jamboard both let you import images that you can then draw on top of. To do that just open a new Google Drawing or new Google Jamboard then use the integrated image search to find a map. Once you’ve selected a map you can use the drawing tools to mark on it. Here’s a demonstration of how that process can work in Google Drawings.
The process that I described above for using Google Drawings and Google Jamboard can also be done with the online version of PowerPoint. To do that, create a new slide then use the integrated Bing Images search to find a map. One of the nice things about the Bing Images integration in PowerPoint is that it will automatically search for Creative Commons licensed works and automatically insert an attribution link. Once the image has been added to the slide you can use the built-in drawing tools to mark on the map.
Earlier this year I read an interesting article titled Belgian Farmer Accidentally Moves French Border. The whole story is almost exactly what the title says. A farmer moved a stone that was in his way when plowing a field. It just happened that the stone he moved is a marker for the border between two small towns in Belgium and France. The border itself is not in dispute and the border is a relatively normal one between two friendly neighbors. Still, reading the story reminded me of a couple of videos that I’ve bookmarked about irregular country borders.
Countries Inside Countries (Bizarre Borders, Part 1) was produced by CGP Grey seven years ago to illustrate where some of the landlocked countries of the world are and how they became landlocked. The video also highlights countries that have only one neighbor.
Canada & The United States (Bizarre Borders, Part 2) explains why border between the United States and Canada might look like a long straight line in many places, but is not a straight line. The video also delves into some border quirks and disputes. The Google Earth file used in video is available to download here on CGP Grey’s website.
Tom Scott has also produced a couple of interesting videos about interesting borders between countries. In The Most Complex Borders in Europe: Why Do We Have Nations? he explains the complicated border between Baarle-Nassau in the Netherlands and Baarle-Hertog in Belgium.
GeoQuiz is an online geography game that just asks you to try to name as many countries as you can in fifteen minutes. As soon as you enter a country’s name the globe on the screen spins to center on that country. If you misspell a country the globe doesn’t spin and your entry doesn’t count. You can play GeoQuiz on your own or you can compete against other players in online rooms. Either way, you don’t need to register or enter any personal information in order to play GeoQuiz. To play against others you can join an existing room or create your own and invite people to join it. To have others join your room all you have to do is pick a name for your room and tell people to join it in the “online mode” on the GeoQuiz homepage.
The Mind Blowing Map Quiz
The Mind-Blowing Map Quiz is designed to help students understand how Mercator projection maps distort our view of the world. It does this by asking relational questions like “how much bigger is Australia than Alaska?” and “how close are Russia and the United States?” A few fun facts are thrown into the explanations of each answer.
Can You Make an Accurate Map? is a good video to show after students have played The Mind-Blowing Map Quiz. The video provides a concise explanation of why Mercator projection maps don’t accurately represent the size of things near the poles but are none-the-less used in many applications.
What is a Map?
By watching What is a Map? students can learn how maps evolved over time, the political implications of maps, and how maps are used to represent data as well as locations.
City Walks is a neat website that you can use to go for a virtual walk in more than a dozen cities around the world. You can experience the cities with or without sound. You can go for virtual walks in the daytime or at night. At the start of each walk you’ll see some quick facts about the city that might help you understand a little more about what you’re seeing during the walk.City Walks is essentially a really nice display of street-level YouTube videos with some additional menu options overlaid on them. That’s not meant as a knock on the site as it is a nice site. That does mean that there isn’t any interactivity built into virtual walks like you might experience in a virtual reality experience. The video sources for City Walks are clearly labeled in the lower-right corner of each screen.
Quizzity is an online geography game that uses a concept found in lots of map-based games. That concept is to show you the name of a place and then have you guess its location by clicking on a map. Quizzity quizzes you on cities all over the world. To increase the accuracy of your guesses you should zoom-in on a region before clicking the map. Each round of Quizzity presents you with six city names. Points are awarded for accuracy and speed.
Seterra offers hundreds of geography games in 39 languages. You can play the games online in your web browser or download the apps to play on a phone or tablet. In the following video I demonstrate four ways that you can play the online version of Seterra’s geography games.
Geocaching is a great activity to get kids outside for hands-on learning experiences. Last summer I outlined a handful of ideas for using geocaching to teach lessons on geospatial awareness, Earth science, and digital citizenship. Read more about those ideas here. If you can get parents to install the Geocaching app on their phones, geocaching could make for a great “at-home” geography lesson for parents to do with their kids.
Find the Towns of the Same Name
This is a modification of an activity that I did as a sixth-grader in Mrs. Carlson’s class in Manchester, Connecticut. She had us use atlases to see how many other Manchesters there are in the world and where they are. Then we had to write a short blurb about each Manchester. The modern version of this activity is to have students choose a common town name like Manchester and use Google Maps to find out how many towns in the world have that name. Then on their Google Maps or Scribble Maps students can add placemarks in which they write about interesting things about those towns. Students can add videos and images to their placemarks too.
Make a Group Map of Stories
Find Out What Geographers Do
Make Your Own Compass
Make Your Own Compass explains to kids what a compass is, how it works, and how they can make their own with common household products.
Mathigon Maps Lessons
In Surface Area of a Sphere Mathigon includes an interactive diagram that illustrates the problem that cartographers have when trying to create maps of the world. The interactive diagram shows four map projections and the areas of the map that are distorted by each projection. Students can click on each of the map projections to see a comparison of an area on the 2D map to the same area on a globe. Overall, it’s a good way for students to see how two dimensional world maps can distort the size and scale of an area.
Mathigon’s Map Coloring Challenge asks students to use as few colors as possible to color in all 50 U.S. states without having the same color touching two states at the same time. For example, if I color New Hampshire purple, I can’t use purple on Vermont, Maine, New York, or Massachusetts but I could use purple on Pennsylvania.
On a related note the USGS offers a free map projections poster (link opens a PDF). You may also want to take a look at Projection Wizard as another tool for showing students how various projections distort the regions of the world.
Timelapse Imagery in Google Earth
In this short video I demonstrate how to view timelapse imagery in the web version and in the desktop version of Google Earth.
In the video above I showed some of the timelapse imagery of urban sprawl around some cities in the United States. That imagery could be used as the prompt for a research assignment for students to investigate the causes of the growth of those cities.