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.