My fascination with maps and virtual travel has been a constant source of inspiration. I have looked at world tours with iMovie, easy projects with Google Maps and, more recently, I took plotted statistics about gun ownership in Massachusetts.

On this occasion, inspired by the Tour de France and the other two Grand Tours, I offer three grand tours–ways to organize and present media using Google Maps. Each of these are scaleable as stand-alone projects and, in addition, they can be stacked to create more detailed maps.


Literary Landscapes

Possible tours? Mark Twain’s Mississippi. Hemmingway’s Hemisphere. Conrad’s Congo.

Last fall in Spanish 4 we recreated the literary landscape of Mexican author Carlos Fuentes. We combined geographical markers from both his life and literature. Students completed two tasks for each point. First, they wrote a short synopsis of where the point fit into Fuentes’ world. I dropped this text into the text box associated with the marker. Second, they wrote a script for a short video, which we eventually filmed in front of a green screen. I uploaded the videos to YouTube and pulled the link into the marker via the “Add image or video” option. When we were done we had 15 points on the map, each with a text and a video to explain its significance in Fuentes’ fiction.

Fuentes Map

Possible tours? Mark Twain’s Mississippi. Hemmingway’s Hemisphere. Conrad’s Congo. Almost any work(s) could be plotted on any scale. Google Lit Trips is doing some great work using Google Earth. These trips engage students, bringing the works to life and providing hands-on training in powerful tools. As I saw with the Fuentes project, students engage with the works and with each other in a whole new way within a framework like this.

It’s “win-win” if my students walk away with a greater understanding of literature and experience in tools to use in other disciplines.


Local Landmarks

The ethic of think globally, map locally could inspire some great work and some civic engagement.

As a counterpoint to sweeping literary landscapes, students could use Google Maps to plot point in their local environment. This could include landmarks like memorials or statues, libraries and museums, points of historical or literary significance, and other routes. The ethic of think globally, map locally could inspire some great work and some civic engagement. Wouldn’t it be amazing if students’ work became a resource for the public good. Talk about civic and school pride! The interface in Google Maps allows users to distinguish their points with colors, icons and other indexed markers. Given these possibilities, a whole grade-level could create a mega-map or individual student could create and share their own. Rapid advances in AR could mean that all communities become learning communities, no matter where they are–not just playgrounds for Pokémon GO.


Street Scenes

The power–and process–of creating a virtual tour goes well beyond the “Wow!” factor.

Google Street View has seen some interesting updates over the past few years. Originally, it worked as a great way to get a lay of the land or even do some advanced recon on properties. At that point, Google’s vehicles were the only ones equipped to create screet views. Fast forward to July 2016 and now we have the ability to create Street View scenes with smart phones or even smart sheep (Sheep Mapping App Resource Tracker = S.M.A.R.T?). In human hands, the Street View app can be a powerful tool. The app lets users upload 360 images using a 360 camera or even piece together 360 images with the camera in their phone. The app can be used to augment a more traditional map or it can be used as a stand-alone app to explore collections. These include Soccer Stadiums in the Americas, Museums in Latin America, Loire Castles in France, US National Parks and Historic Sites and many more. Combine these 360 scene with a Google Cardboard viewer and you have a virtual tour ready to go. The power–and process–of creating a virtual tour goes well beyond the “Wow!” factor. Students can travel virtually then come together to discuss what they noticed and how it compared to other environments. They can capture and describe a scene of their own. They can produce narration to accompany an environment or imagine new applications for immersive environments.

Street View


These are simply my three grand tours. What are yours? How can we augment existing projects and usits with these tools? How can we allow them to take us to unexplored places, if only in our classrooms and local communities?

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