Building a map with Google Maps is not difficult. You can find step by step instructions at Build a Custom Interactive Map. The new Maps Engine Lite, however, is even easier. Here we’re building a simple map of Africa. Get started by signing in to Google Maps. You’ll see the link to the Maps Engine right away.
Tell the maps engine where you want to go, just as you do at Google Maps, and you’ll be flown to the right part of the world. We’re mapping Africa, because we’ve found that many students are not clear on the countries of Africa. Unlike many other parts of the world, the simple task of learning something about the various nations will usually bring a lot of new information to the students. This means that the simple introduction to the Maps Engine Lite will prove educational.
This is a great way to keep track of learning during a study of Africa. If you’re using it as a technology or writing lesson, consider dividing the map up among your students. While there is some controversy over some territories or nations, there are approximately 55 countries in Africa, enough for most classrooms to give each student a different country to research.
Why not start by asking the class to name all the African nations they can think of? If you’re feeling bold, have students ask adults they know — and no fair Googling! Chances are you won’t be able to list them all.
Signed in? You’ll see the familiar placemark at the top of the screen. Click on the placemark and then on the location you want to mark. A placemark will appear, along with a box for your information.
Type a title into the space. Click on “Add a description” and you’ll be given a text box for your description.
Decide with your class what aspects of the country should be covered. The example above contains information that can be found just by typing the name of the country in the search box at Google.com, without needing to click through to any other websites. This makes the project simple and safe for all classes. The example below requires a little more research; this information can be found at websites like Wikipedia, the BBC news site, or the World Factbook. For more advanced students, increase the amount of data or the complexity of the writing assignment.
You can also import data, including maps you’ve created and stored in “My Maps” or tables of data in Excel or a similar spreadsheet. You can import documents from your Google Drive and create additional layers of information. For example, advanced students might create a spreadsheet including the GNP of each nation and import that data.
The simplest way to use this layer is to create documents in Google Drive containing the information students have discovered, and then to import them into a separate layer of your map. This tool also lets you create data balloons with photos and links using the rich text editor in Google Maps, and then import them into the Maps Engine.
Once you’ve created all your locations, you can customize the icons used as placemarkers. For a simple map where you are identifying countries, you may choose just to change the colors of the markers. However, there are icons for all sorts of locations and geography issues, from locations of restaurants to availability of sports to crises of various kinds — there’s even a special icon for infestations of monsters, so students who have learned about hic dragones can add it to their maps in a modern style.
As you can see, this is a project which can be used at many different levels just by altering the sophistication of the assignment. It can of course be done for any location. You could easily use your interactive map to store information throughout a study unit, and amaze yourselves at the end of the unit with the complexity of your map.
Diamonds are the state gem in Arkansas, where we live, but students everywhere will enjoy learning more about them. Diamonds are made entirely of carbon — we humans are about 18% carbon ourselves, but diamonds are all carbon. They’re the hardest substance in the world, and they reflect light in a special way (basically, the light bounces around inside the diamond) that makes them super shiny.
How diamonds are formed
- Diamonds began with stardust. As far as we know, pretty much all the carbon in the world came to earth as dust from dying stars. The stardust that ended up deep within the earth was the starting point for diamonds.
- The carbon inside the earth’s layers, between the core and the crust, got cooked and squished — it takes a lot of heat and pressure to create diamonds.
- When magma comes up to the earth during volcanic action, diamonds can come along for the ride. The results is areas where diamonds can be mined, as in the book at the Volcano Lesson Plans link, and also diamonds moved around by erosion.
Have students conduct research on each of these steps and create an infographic showing how diamonds are formed.
Read about Crater of Diamonds State Park, where diamond hunters can keep any diamonds they find — and large diamonds have been found there, including the “Uncle Sam” diamond, which was over 40 carats. Crater of Diamonds is the only active diamond mine in the United States, but it is operated as a tourist attraction; it was found that it could not be operated profitably as a commercial diamond mine. Download the Teachers Guide for reproducibles (reading comprehension passage, maze, and word find).
Plan an imaginary class trip to the park, figure the costs, and determine what sort of diamond the class would have to find to make the trip pay for itself. This project will give practice with online research, math, and problem solving.
Share A Diamond’s Journey , an interactive digital presentation from NBC news, with older students. There they can follow the diamond from the mines in Africa through cutters in India to sales in Europe and the United States. Have students create a chart showing the cost of a diamond and how much of that price goes to the miners, traders, cutters, and dealers.
Compare the Crater of Diamonds park and the commercial diamond mines. Discuss why a diamond mine in the United States might be harder to pay for than a mine in Botswana. Will American workers accept jobs like those of the miners in the Congo or the cutters in India? Would it be legal to pay an American worker $65.oo per month, the wage diamond cutters earn in India, or to have them live in tents at a mine?
The value of diamonds
Gem-quality diamonds are the first ones we think of. Have students explore Blue Nile’s Diamond Education section to learn about diamond shapes and the “4 Cs” of diamond quality: color, clarity, cut, and carat weight.
Don’t miss the chance to work with ratios on the Diamond Shapes page and measurement on the Cut page!
Now learn about diamonds as they are used in jewelry:
- Read about the history of diamond cutting and add the times and places to your class timeline and map.
- Explore a Pinterest board on diamonds which shows many of the most famous examples of diamond jewelry in history.
- Have students design a piece of jewelry for diamonds, being sure to incorporate what they’ve learned about diamond quality and cutting.
Wait — diamonds aren’t just for pretty! Only a small percentage of diamonds are gem quality. Most are industrial quality, but they are still extremely useful. Diamonds have some special characteristics that have nothing to do with their beauty:
- Diamonds are the hardest substance known.
- They do not conduct electricity well (they are semiconductors), but they do conduct heat very well — in fact, diamonds are the best material for thermal conduction.
- They resist water, but accept oil.
Brainstorm with the class situations in which objects with these characteristics might be useful. Share with students (after brainstorming) that diamonds are mostly used for cutting and polishing. However, there are many other uses for diamonds. For example, diamonds are used in micro-electronics to carry heat away from delicate machinery. They are used as bearings (like a ball bearing) in watches, because they are so hard that they produce no friction in this use. They are used as semiconductors in electronics.
If the point has not yet come up in your discussion, point out that diamonds are small and rare. As long as industry needed big pieces, diamonds were not as useful as they might have been. Now that we make very small things for electronics, diamonds are very useful.
99% of the diamonds used in industrial applications are synthetic. See the links below to learn more about making diamonds.
- Nature has video clips and discussion questions about diamonds
- The Mystery of the Hope Diamond includes video clips.
- PBS lesson plan on conflict diamonds.
- Diamonds and Water is an economics lesson on value.
- Toads and Diamonds is a traditional story.
World War I can be confusing to modern students. Here are some lesson plans that help make sense of the events and the experience.
Virtual Field Trip
Visit the new online exhibit of the National World War I Museum.
- Begin with the Interactive Timeline. The events are listed and described, but in a format that encourages additional exploration. Turn students loose to figure out the best way to include these events on your classroom timeline.
- Add these events to your classroom map as well.
- Visit Harmonies of the Homefront and listen to the WWI-era songs there. Five songs are available for listening and there are six more sheet music covers to view. Depending on the grade level of the students, choose a selection of the songs and have students conduct a survey to find out how many people remember these songs. Again depending on the age of your students, they might ask their parents and grandparents, survey friends and neighbors, ask their Facebook or Twitter contacts, arrange to visit a local nursing home to survey the residents, or prepare an online survey with a tool like Survey Monkey. Create graphs and charts to show the results of the survey.
- Visit Man and Machine, an online exhibition with quotations and photos showing the German soldier’s experience. Challenge students to write about the effects of technology on the war, as reflected in these materials.
- Download the Family Guide and print it out for some fun worksheet activities.
- Teachers can also request lesson plans called Lessons of Liberty.
If you’re near Kansas City, be sure to visit the Museum in person!
One of the online exhibitions of the WWI Museum is a collection of Canadian propaganda posters. FirstWorldWar.com has an international collection of posters (plus lots of other resources). Learn NC has American propaganda posters, with interesting commentary on each.
Use these resources to study propaganda posters from World War I. Here are some questions to discuss:
- What did these posters ask people to do? (knit, enlist, give money, grow vegetables, etc.)
- Why were people asked to do these things?
- What emotions did they appeal to?
- Which groups did they reach out to? (women, immigrants, young men, students, etc.)
- Did they show bias against any groups of people?
- What colors did the posters use?
- What styles of art did they use?
- What kinds of lettering did the posters use?
Compare WWI propaganda posters with modern Homeland Security documents. We found the “If You See Something Say Something” campaign, but you may have other examples. Although the United States has been at war during our students’ lifetimes, the American people are not asked to make sacrifices, to enlist, or even to plant vegetables. Have students research or discuss why those requests were made in the past, and why they are not made now. This will help students to understand the way that World War II affected the people “on the home front.”
Challenge students to create a modern propaganda poster, either using the “If You See Something, Say Something” slogan or encouraging people to take some other action.
Jeff Rivera’s books about Yuck Kingdom, Um, Mommy, I Think I Flushed My Brother Down the Toilet and Um, Mommy, I Think I Flushed My Brother Down the Toilet Again paint a picture of what happens when things go down the toilet that can make a fun introduction to the idea of wastewater treatment.
Real and Imaginary
Can people really get flushed down a toilet? Is there really a Yuck Kingdom? Certainky not. But there are things about the stories that ring true: older siblings can love their younger siblings and also find them maddening, kids can try to manipulate parents, and people can band together to stand up to something scary.
Have students list the real and imaginary things in the story.
Then study wastewater treatment and compare the reality with the imaginary Yuck Kingdom:
- Wastewater treatment information from USGS
- interactive water treatment tour
- GBRA interactive tour
- interactive map
Have students look at these interactive resources and identify the things that are the same in all of them and the things that are different. Are there any parts of Yuck Kingdom that are like real sewage treatment?
Have students draw a line down the middle of a sheet of paper or poster board. Have them draw a scene from Yuck Kingdom on one side and from a real wastewater treatment plant on the other. Label them “Real” and “Imaginary.”
The book has lots of groups of rhyming words. Have students write the words on word cards and sort them into rhyming groups. Have students find the parts of each group that are the same and the parts that are different. Find the groups where the same sound is spelled in different ways and those where the rhyming sound is spelled in the same way each time.
Some of the groups of rhyming words include made-up words. Find groups of words like these and have students divide the real words from the imaginary ones:
At one point, the young heroine of the story says this about her little brother: “He was a pain, but he was my pain.” Author Jeff Rivera has 12 neices and nephews, so he knows what it’s like to have little brothers and sisters. Ask how many students have younger siblings. Create a list of the things they do that make them a “pain.” Then discuss what’s great about having brothers and sisters.
Some students may not have siblings. Ask whether they have similar experiences with a pet, friend, or relative.
Falisha doesn’t want her mommy to tell her daddy what she has done. She’s able to make things right, and we don’t see her getting in trouble with her dad, or having more than a scolding from her mom. Why do kids get in trouble with their parents? Is it important to make things right when we’ve done something we shouldn’t?
How does Falisha make things right with her brother? How does she make things right with her mother?
Ask students whether they think Falisha and Jesse will get into trouble again in the future. Have them write a story of their own starring themselves and their sibling, pet, or friend.
Find more ideas for studying about families at our Families theme page.
In studying exploration, we tend to focus on the conquistadors of Spain and the great explorers of Italy: Columbus, Magellan, Da Gama, Vespucchi, and Cortez. When we’re thinking of exploration in North America, though, we should remember the French explorers.
There were French explorers during the Great Age of Exploration, including Jaques Cartier, who claimed Canada for France. However, France was engaged in wars during much of the Great Age, and didn’t get serious about exploration until somewhat later. French explorers like la Salle, la Harpe, Marquette, and de Bienville explored the New World in the later 1500s and 1600s, mapping the Mississippi and establishing towns like St. Louis and New Orleans. In the 1700s and 1800s, French explorers like De Surville, Bougainville, du Fresne, and d’Urville explored Polynesia and what is now New Zealand.
Begin your study of French explorers by learning a bit about France. use our Country Study lesson plans as a starting point. Some online resources:
- Paris 3D is an impressive introduction to the capital city of France. Play the Saga, an interactive exploration of the city that allows you to choose various buildings and different time depths.
- See modern Paris in 3D with Google Earth. The video below gives you a tour, but students may enjoy exploring the city and surrounding countryside on their own. Be sure to turn on the 3D buildings layer.
Once students have a sense of where these explorers were coming from, it’s time to do some research on the individual explorers.
- Have students choose an explorer from Wikipedia’s list of French explorers or the list from the Virtual Museum of New France. Each student can choose one and prepare a report for the class. As a class, determine the minimum information each report should include (consider full name, date of birth, hometown, parents’ occupations, first experience with exploration, reason for choosing this career, and main accomplishments). Upper elementary school students can find a lot of that information at the sites linked above, but secondary level students should branch out. A search for an individual is a relatively easy way to get started with online research, since there’s little difficulty with synonyms or commercial uses of those names.
- Use file folders, as we did in our Study of Heroes, and create a tablescape of French explorers. Be sure to add each to the class timeline. you can also mark the explorers’ main discoveries on your class map, or have students create a map for their reports.
Christopher Columbus was born in October, 1451, in Genoa, now Northern Italy. His father was a weaver and owned a cheese stand, where Christopher helped out as a child. He later claimed that he went to sea at age 10. There are records of him on a Genoese ship in 1470, and in 1473 he was apprenticed as a trader.
C9lumbus traveled in the Mediterranean and along the coast of Africa as a trader. He married and had children, but the sea and trading were his primary interests.
Columbus didn’t go to college, but he taught himself to read Latin, Portuguese, and Spanish, and he read many books on astronomy, mathematics, geography, and history. He didn’t just read these books, but studied them, making notes in the margins and returning to the books repeatedly. His studies led him to believe that it was possible to sail westward from Europe and reach Asia, an idea that had been suggested occasionally since the days of Ancient Rome.
The Ottoman Turks had taken over the Silk Road, and it had become much harder for Europeans to get to Asia for trade. Spices and silks were important and profitable trade items for Europeans, so traders of the time were working on new routes to Asia. Sailors from Portugal, where Columbus lived, thought that ships could sail around Africa and back up to Asia. Columbus thought his westward route would be easier.
People often think that Columbus was the one who realized that the world was round. This is not true; many people since the time of the Ancient Greeks thought the world was round. Columbus had a different idea of geography from most people of his day, though. For one thing, he thought the world was smaller than it actually is. He thought that Japan was far to the east of India, and he thought that the distance between Europe and Asia to the west was therefore not very great. These misunderstandings on his part convinced Columbus that a westward route to Asia was a practical plan.
It took Columbus years to find backers for his idea, probably because his geography didn’t square with what people knew about Asia, but eventually he persuaded Ferdinand and Isabella of Spain to finance his voyages.
In 1492, Columbus set out with three ships, the Nina, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria. He reached an island which he called San Salvador. It is not know which island he was on at the time, though the current island of San Salvador (given the name in 1925) is one possibility. He was somewhere in the Bahamas.
In those days, Europeans called most of the Asia “the Indies.” Columbus thought he had reached Japan, the westernmost part of the Indies.
Columbus actually discovered a place which was previously unknown to Europeans, but he didn’t believe that. He continued to believe that he had reached Asia. Columbus made three more voyages, visiting Puerto Rico, Jamaica, Honduras, Nicaragua, and Venezuela, and attempted to colonize Hispaniola, now the Dominican Republic and Haiti. He was unable to manage all his responsibilities, however, and was arrested and removed from his governorship of Hispaniola in 1500. He made another voyage after that arrest, but died in 1506.
Columbus wasn’t interested only in discovery. He wanted plenty of rewards in return for his service to Spain. He was given the title Admiral of the Ocean Sea and granted a coat of arms. He had four “books of privileges” made to record the deals he made with Spain, and later in his life he sued the Spanish court for the privileges he believed he was entitled to under those agreements. Some of the rights he negotiated include 10% of all the profits made from the new lands and the right to be governor of all the lands he claimed for Spain. The court cases continued (with Columbus’s descendants) until 1790.
Was Columbus a hero? To many people, he is, and we celebrate Columbus Day each year as a federal holiday.
Christopher Columbus was a trader who thought a new route to Asia would bring him wealth from the spice trade. Instead, he stumbled onto a whole new part of the world that Europeans didn’t know about (though Lief Ericson had visited North America earlier). Since there were people already living in the places he visited, it doesn’t make sense to say that Columbus “discovered” the New World, and of course he never came to the land which is now the United States.
Columbus certainly was the one who opened trade between Europe and the Americas, beginning the “Columbian Exchange” which brought horses and sugar to Native Americans and tomatoes and chocolate to Europeans. It also brought new diseases to both the Old World and the New World. Columbus himself was in favor of selling the people of the New World as slaves in Europe, though he didn’t live long enough to put that plan into action. He was accused by Spanish settlers in the New World of having exaggerated the wonders of the New World, and he was accused of cruelty to the people who were already living there. He had big plans for himself and his family, but was still in the early stages of those plans when, suffering from arthritis and fighting to regain the privileges he lost in 1500, he died just fourteen years after he had set out on his first journey.
Learn more about Columbus:
- What Was Columbus Thinking? gives students an opportunity to read letters from Christopher Columbus and get more insight into his ideas and intentions.
- An Ongoing Voyage is an online version of the U.S. Library of Congress exhibit about the world in the time of Columbus.
- A video about Columbus from National Geographic Kids.