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Geography Tools: Maps, GPS & GIS

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  • 0:03 Geography
  • 0:54 Maps
  • 2:04 GPS & GIS
  • 4:00 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Natalie Boyd

Natalie is a teacher and holds an MA in English Education and is in progress on her PhD in psychology.

How can we study the earth and the features in it? Watch this lesson to find out more about common tools used in geography, including maps, global positioning systems, and global information systems, and their differences.

Geography

Melissa is very excited. She's studying geography in college, and she has a special summer project planned. She's going to hike through the mountains near her hometown and record the environment. She can't wait to get started!

Geography is the study of the physical features of the earth and of how human activity affects and is affected by the environment. For example, in her geography classes, Melissa has studied things like mountain ranges and state and national boundary lines, and she's also studied why certain cultures developed the way they did in response to their environment.

Now that Melissa's setting out on her summer project, she wonders what types of tools she should use to help her. Let's examine some of the common tools in geography, including maps, GPS, and GIS.

Maps

Melissa decides that she needs to know where she's going when she sets out on her hike. After all, the mountains have a lot of trails, and she doesn't want to get lost!

A map is a two-dimensional drawing of the earth's surface. It can be very simple or very detailed, and it can show natural landmarks, like mountains and lakes, and also show man-made boundaries, like state lines or roads and trails.

For centuries, maps have been the primary way to record geographic information and the primary way to get around. If you want to go from point A to point B and you've never been to point B before, you get a map and follow it.

Maps are a good place for Melissa to start out. She can plan her hike by looking at maps and take one with her to help keep her from getting lost.

Melissa also might want to draw her own map as she explores, marking the individual landmarks she thinks are important. A cartographer is a person who draws maps, so if Melissa makes her own map for her project, she will be a cartographer.

GPS & GIS

For most of history, maps were drawn on paper and there are still many maps that are available on paper. But lately, maps can be found electronically, too, via computer, phone, or other technological device.

Melissa wants to access maps electronically and also to keep track of where she is by using GPS, or global positioning system, which involves satellites projecting information to receivers on the earth's surface, calculating latitude and longitude positioning and offering directions.

Most people, like Melissa, have used GPS before, either in their car or on their phone. Like maps, GPS systems are used both by geographers and by everyday people who want to get to a new location.

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