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Map Scale Activities

Instructor: Josh Corbat

Josh has taught Earth Science and Physical Science at the High School level and holds a Master of Education degree from UNC-Chapel Hill.

Teaching students about maps? Want to make your lessons a bit more experiential? This article provides a few ideas about how to get students workings with map scales in a more hands-on way.

Do Maps Still Exist?

A student actually asked me this question one day during one of my lessons. I was a bit miffed at first, but quickly got over it as I realized that students in today's classrooms have extremely limited experiences with paper maps. The maps they have experience with reside on their devices. This is an incredible opportunity for educators! No longer do students have to carry around maps and hope they have the right map for the right location and situation. Instead, everything is readily available via apps and the Internet. That said, it is important to help students understand map scales and develop spatial awareness. Here are some ideas to help students become familiar with how map scales work and how they are useful when viewing a map.

Map the Classroom

Pardon the pun, but this activity can be done on just about any scale. You can start small by having students map the classroom, or you can go big by having them map a hallway or the entire school grounds. The first part of this lesson would be to go over the math involved with figuring out the scale for their map based on the size of paper they're working with. This is a great review of students' algebra skills and cannot be ignored if you want students to be successful with map scales. This activity can easily be modified by chunking up the room (or school) or having students work in groups.

Compare Map Distances in the Real World

Students love it anytime they get to go outside! In this activity, once students have a basic understanding of map scales, encourage them to put them to use by plotting locations on a map. You will need a tape measure of some sort, as students will be measuring real-world distances, then using the scale on their map to plot the points. This activity will probably require you to run around a bit from group to group. It generally works best with an actual paper map, but I can see it being pretty successful on a mapping app that supports manual measurements.

Treasure Hunt

This one is fun for all ages, but can be especially thrilling for young students. Either you or groups of students will create a map of an easily accessible area (the school grounds work best, usually) that contains one or more marked spots where they can find treasure. Students will then use the maps and their newly developed map scale skills to locate the goods! This is a great way to help students develop the skill to read a map quickly and efficiently.

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