Interactive Online Maps: Powerful Tools Make Maps and Geography Come Alive

By Dyrli, Odvard Egil | District Administration, December 2005 | Go to article overview

Interactive Online Maps: Powerful Tools Make Maps and Geography Come Alive


Dyrli, Odvard Egil, District Administration


After Hurricane Katrina smashed the Gulf Coast, Larry S. Anderson, director of the National Center for Technology Planning, sent K-12 colleagues a link to online aerial photographs of the area taken by the Nicholas School of the Environment at Duke University. The photos "send chills up and down your spine," he says.

A year earlier, Anderson had been a speaker at Mississippi's Bay St. Louis-Waveland School District, but now "things are so blown away I can't even find the photograph of the school." Such visual resources bring powerful new dimensions to teaching and learning, and make maps and geography come alive.

Web-based technologies have revolutionized how teachers teach and use maps in K-12 education, and it is difficult to imagine finding locations and planning trips without services such as MapQuest and Mapsonus. Online mapping skills are now integrated into the curriculum in most schools, and many districts offer map-related resources on their Web sites. For example, Illinois' Indian Prairie School District provides Mapquest-generated driving directions to each of its more than 30 schools.

Integrated Satellite Views

But far beyond customized maps and driving directions are the new online technologies that marry photographs with geography so users see views from anywhere on the planet they choose to explore. Using technologies pioneered at sites including TerraServer--since acquired by Microsoft--and Google Maps, districts such as the Somerton School District in Arizona are adding satellite views to their Web sites, and inviting staff and students to travel the country virtually.

Through TerraServer, users can see any area in the U.S. as a topographic map or aerial photo, and visit landmarks including the Space Needle in Seattle, Mount Rushmore in South Dakota and the U.S. Capital in Washington, D.C. Similarly, the newer and more powerful Google Maps lets users move their mouse across a detailed road map of the United States--and selected other countries--zoom in on locations, jump to specific addresses, get driving directions between points, and view localities as road maps, satellite images or hybrid combinations of the two. …

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