I have been fascinated with maps and globes for as long as I can remember. I often find myself perusing maps and dropping pins for real or virtual voyages. I still have a globe that my aunt and uncle gave me 25+ years ago. I treasure it. I am grateful to families and teachers who inspired this curiosity in me.

Today’s generation of students has an odd relationship with maps and locations. Thanks to GPS, they never really need to know where they are going, and I find they have lost a sense of wonder–and wander–in the world. And yet, the information availed to them to find their way in the world and their place in has never been more powerful. I would suggest that there is a way to leverage the same tools they currently use to move from point A to point B, yet to do so more mindfully.

With this is mind, here are 25 uses of Google Maps & MyMaps to connect students to local and global communities.

  1. Join literary journeys, real ones, like those of Jack Keroak or George Orwell.
  2. Join literary journeys, imagines imagined, like those of Don Quijote or Huckleberry Finn.
  3. Track existing historical trails, like The Freedom Trail, adding markers, comments and links.
  4. Map monuments around town, including descriptions, images, and historical references.
  5. Create original trails based on any theme, like Underground Railroad or the Silk Road.
  6. Create overlays to show expansion/contraction over time: empires, forest fires, deserts, developments, etc.
  7. Do any of the above and insert audio or video where students act as virtual tour guides.
  8. Map nature sounds from around the world.
  9. Map pronunciations/accents among countries in the Francophone world, Latin America, etc. Include audio files in the point markers of the map.
  10. Map effects of climate change.
  11. Create an insider’s guide to your hometown.
  12. Study another town and create an inside/outer’s guide.
  13. Create class-level heritage maps. What nations are families from? What narratives  emerge?
  14. Create school/district levels of heritage maps. What nations are families from? What narratives  emerge?
  15. Create sense of community: identifying civic offices, cultural centers, clinics/hospitals, houses of worship, etc.
  16. Tour UNESCO World Heritage Sites.
  17. Create personalized maps of world wonders, like my 7 Wonders of the (Industrial/Natural/etc.) World.
  18. Create “My dream itinerary” map. Have students describe where they would go. How? Why?
  19. Tour inside museums and other sites with Street view.
  20. Use images from maps to create art–collage, zoom in/out, abstraction, blurred border lines–by pulling maps into a drawing program like Google Drawing, Notability or Paper by 53.
  21. Seed conversations on immigration. Where are the pressure points? Why?
  22. Seed conversations on wealth distribution and concentrations of power. Where are the “power points”? Why?
  23. Cultivate a sense of scale using distance calculators and polygons [area].
  24. Use distances and markers from Maps to create math problems–area, distance-rate-time, etc.
  25. Do recon for your next ride or race.