Sunday, March 15, 2009

Google Maps in the Classroom

I've now created my first Custom Google map! I know this isn't new, but it's pretty awesome! Our class has just read the first chapter of Jack London's famous tale The Call of the Wild, and John Krakauer's tragic tale of Chris McCandless who goes Into the Wild. Using the easy interface of Google maps I added the approximate location of the farm where Buck the dog lived in the Santa Clara Valley. Next, as Chris McCandless' journey was described, I put 3 more locations on the map in Alaska on the Stampede Trail, the Teklanika River, and the exact location of the famous bus where he perished. Here is the map.

There was already a link on Google Maps to several pictures of the Fairbanks bus-turned-outdoor-shelter, so I added the link to my 'pin' on the map. Embedding the map was easy, and within a few minutes while students read their novels, I had the map on our class wiki. Students then listened to the audiobook of Into the Wild and they used the map to zoom in on the harsh wilderness that Chris travelled through, observing photos of the bus and its surroundings.

That's when the REAL in REALity set in for the students. Many of them hadn't connected that the story of Alexander Supertramp was real, and it really hit home while looking at the photos at the same time as listening to the novel being read. Their faces said it all, and I knew I had them hooked. 

I gave them a link on the wiki to our class blog and asked them to read a blog post of a group of guys who spent the night in the famous bus. Using, I then asked them to tell me if they would spend a night in the bus, and again I embedded the results on our class wiki which updated live as each student voted. So far, only 25% of my class said they would spend the night for various reasons. The @ replies on this issue were also very interesting as I challenged each student to acknowledge one post of a peer whose opinion was different that their own. 

Tonight I rediscovered, and thanks to Mr. Thomas Cooper's students at the Walker School in Georgia, I was able to download and amend my custom Google map that they have completed of the travels of Chris McCandless. Anyone interested in creating a Google map for a novel study, for a history related unit, or for a virtual field trip, I highly recommend you use this tool. You can drop pins, customize the look of the map, add photos, links and so much more. 

Also, look around the web and install a KML file that someone else has created and import it into your map. You may not have to reinvent the wheel. I will share my custom map when it's done for The Call of the Wild for others to use. 

What would you do? Would you spend a night in the bus? Visitors please use the window below to vote. I will share the results with my students, by embedding the results on our class wiki. Thanks for your participation!
Create your own sms poll at Poll Everywhere

Happy mapping!