Map your Learning with Google Maps



You are probably familiar with using Google Maps to get directions, but you may be surprised to discover how easy it is to incorporate customized, content-rich maps into your curriculum. Google Maps enables you and your students to look up addresses and points of interest anywhere in the U.S. and in many other countries, and get point-to-point, draggable directions plotted on an interactive street map, as well as search for nearby businesses or points of interest. You can freely switch between map, satellite, terrain, and streetview modes to gain various perspectives on a location.

Google Maps' detailed, highly visual information can be incorporated into numerous lesson plans, from History to Geography, Biology, Mathematics, English and even Economics. Students can use Google Maps to learn about specific locations and see what they look like from an aerial view; compare their home streets and neighborhoods with those of distant penpals; trace a historical or literary journey; map travel routes, and study satellite images superimposed on the maps.

With MyMaps, you and your students can create personalized, annotated, customized maps to bring learning to life. Whether you're planning a field trip, identifying habitats, writing "road" stories, or documenting a famous traveler's journeys, you can embed photos, videos, and descriptive text to make the content come alive. You can also publish, share, and invite others to collaborate on your project. Google Maps is, in a word, AWESOME.

Adapted from: Google Maps for Educators

Google Maps vs. Google Earth

While Google Maps is in some respects the "kid brother" to the mighty Google Earth, it offers many useful features, is very easy to learn, can be collaboratively edited directly within a web browser and published/embedded into any website. Google Maps is great for getting started with creating custom interactive maps and location-based learning in the classroom. (Google Earth must be downloaded and installed, and can sometimes be a burden on a school's bandwidth. It is, however, an amazing tool for real-world learning in every content area, and I encourage you to explore it if you are interested).

A Word About Mashups & Geotagging

At its most basic, a mashup combines elements of two or more things to make something new. If you listen to pop music or hip-hop, or watch Glee, you are likely quite familiar with song mashups. In Thing 10, we learned about how Creative Commons licensing allows users to re-mix, modify and recombine others' digital works to create derivative works, or digital mashups. An application mashup combines data or functionality from more than one web application to create a useful visualization or tool. A map mashup is a data and application mashup that combines geotagged content with a mapping tool such as Google Maps. Geotagging is the act of adding geographic "metadata" (informational tags) to media or content such as photos, videos, news stories, UFO sightings, etc... allowing it to be combined (mashed up) with a map and displayed by location. Many Flickr users geotag their photos so that they can be displayed on an interactive world map, updated in real time.

Discovery Exercise

Part 1: (~30-45 minutes) Explore several of these lessons and educational applications/mashups of Google Maps:
  1. Our City Podcast -
    Map of student-created podcasts featuring cities all over the world.
  2. Google Lit Trips -
    Award-winning, highly innovative application of Google Earth (Lit Trips may also be created using Google Maps) to map works of literature. Deepen context and background knowledge, connect to the real world and bring books to life for students.
  3. Bus Routes & Google Maps Help Teach Physics -
  4. Washington Post Time/Space Map -
    "Interactive map that allows you to navigate articles, photos, video and commentary from around the globe. Discover news hot-spots where coverage is clustered. Use the timeline to illustrate peaks in coverage, and customize your news searches to a particular day or specific hour."
  5. History Pin -
    Geotag old photos, placing them in context on a current map.
  6. Math Maps (Tom Barrett)* -
    Interdisciplinary map-based math problems for elementary students (could easily be adapted for older students). Combies real-world math with geography and basic information literacy / research skills.
  7. Story Map (Tom Barrett)* -
    Collaborative place-based story created by participants in the Google Teacher Academy UK.
  8. NYPL Maps Candide -
  9. Historical Map Collection (David Rumsey) -
    Historical maps overlaid onto the modern world map.
  10. Climate Change Data* -
  11. Paint Map* -
    Artists share scanned images of their paintings from all over the world.
  12. Earthquakes in the Last Week -
  13. Hummingbird Habitat Maps -
  14. The Lewis & Clark Trail on Google Maps -
  15. Placeopedia* -
    Connects Wikipedia articles to locations.
  16. BibleMap -
    Mashup of bible locations (searchable by book and chapter) with current world map.
  17. Google Maps Crisis Response Gulf Oil Spill -
  18. Assorted Google Maps/Earth Lesson Examples from Google Schools (UK) -

(*Ideas found via Richard Byrne's "Google for Teachers" guide pp 25-26)

PART 2: (~30 minutes) Create a Custom Map using MyMaps
First, watch this brief video to learn the basics of working with "My Maps" in Google Maps.

Next, create your own custom map using Google Maps, just for practice. Choose one of the following (A, B, or C). To get started, go to and log in with your Gmail username and password. The idea here is to have fun. Be sure to SAVE your map after you add each placemark. Click DONE when you are finished (you can always edit your map again).


Create a "walking tour" of any place you like, similar to the one in the video above. Be sure to include at least three custom placemarks with descriptions, a line showing the walking path, and at least one added image (try Flickr CC or Wikimedia Commons) or embedded video.


Create your own "math map" in the style of Tom Barrett. Include at least three custom placemarks, using the images from the street/satellite view to develop the math problems. Use Tom's Math Maps as your guide. NOTE: If you prefer to contribute a single math problem to one of Tom's existing math maps, you may do that instead! He provides instructions on his site.


Create a custom map of anything you want, local, regional or world-wide, on any topic of your choice. Be sure to include at least three custom placemarks with descriptions, at least one related link (to a website), and at least one added image (try Flickr CC or Wikimedia Commons) or embedded video.

‡ HELP Video: Add an online image to a placemark
‡ HELP Video: Add a YouTube Video to a placemark
‡ HELP Pages: Printable Guide to Adding Placemarks (Excerpted from from Richard Byrne's Google for Teachers)

More Google Maps Mashup Resources

Write a brief blog post reflecting on your exploration of Google Maps. Which type of custom map did you create? (Include a link to your map). Can you think of any applications of Google Maps for your classroom or professional role?

Stretch Task

Embed your custom map in your wiki sandbox page. (Look under the Link button for the code).