Map Projections Lesson Plan

Instructor: Christopher Muscato

Chris has a master's degree in history and teaches at the University of Northern Colorado.

Flat maps and spherical globes present space in different ways. With this lesson plan, your students will learn about different forms of map projections and examine the difficulties in moving between two-dimensional and three-dimensional images.

Learning Objectives

Upon completion of this lesson, students will be able to:

  • Define three kinds of map projections
  • Critically discuss the differences between two-dimensional and three-dimensional depictions of the Earth
  • Follow a procedure for translating a two-dimensional image onto a three-dimensional object


120-180 minutes

Curriculum Standards


Follow precisely a complex multistep procedure when carrying out experiments, taking measurements, or performing technical tasks, attending to special cases or exceptions defined in the text.


Propel conversations by posing and responding to questions that relate the current discussion to broader themes or larger ideas; actively incorporate others into the discussion; and clarify, verify, or challenge ideas and conclusions.


  • Respond thoughtfully to diverse perspectives, summarize points of agreement and disagreement, and, when warranted, qualify or justify their own views and understanding and make new connections in light of the evidence and reasoning presented.


  • Copies of the lesson quiz
  • Copies of a Mercator-projection world map, enough for each student to have two copies
  • A globe
  • Yarn
  • Black markers (blue, brown, and green markers optional)
  • Measuring tape or rulers
  • Blank spheres (foam spheres from a craft store work well), large enough for students to draw on


  • Start class by giving each student a small map of the world (just a basic, flat, black and white map Mercator-projection map will do). Next, hold up a globe and display it so that students can see it. Tell students that they have 90 seconds to fold their flat paper into the shape of a sphere, making their maps into globes. Start the timer.
  • When the 90 seconds have elapsed, have students show off their results. Talk about this as a class.
    • Can you fold a 2-dimensional rectangular depiction of the Earth easily into a 3-dimensional sphere?
    • Why do we make maps this way? What do we lose in translating 3-dimensional space onto a 2-dimensional surface?
  • Begin the video lesson Map Projections: Mercator, Gnomonic & Conic.
  • Pause video at 2:13 and discuss this information.
    • What is the advantage of the Mercator projection? What are the disadvantages?
    • How many of you have seen a Mercator-style map? (Project an image of a Mercator projection world map on the screen or hold one up). How do you think maps like this shape our understanding of what the world is like? Is the world really like this? How is it the same? How is it different?
    • (Turn the map upside down). Is this incorrect? Why do we always show north on the top of the map and south on the bottom? Do we see how maps can shape our perspective of the world?
  • Resume the video, and complete it. Discuss this information.
    • How do gnomonic and conic projections differ from Mercator projections? Why do you think we use the Mercator projection the most?
    • If we used gnomonic or conic projections more, how do you think that would change our perspectives about the world?
  • You may test student understanding with the lesson quiz.

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