The great thing about geography is that it can serve as a bridge to teach other subjects, especially when you work maps into lessons. Whether you are a homeschool teacher or a seasoned elementary school professional, you can make your lessons for nearly any subject interdisciplinary and active with just one prop – a world map.
Here are different interdisciplinary activity ideas to enhance classroom learning in math, history, science, and literature across age levels while developing map skills and connecting students to different cultures.
Math: Measuring Distances with a Map
Scale is a fundamental concept to maps, and it can be used to help learners understand how to calculate mathematical ratios and proportions. Exploratory or project-based learning,[i] especially to teach core principles of math or science, can fundamentally increase learning retention and understanding.
In your math class, give student(s) 3-5 exploratory questions where they have to use a world map to determine distances or proportions between countries, major rivers, continents, cities, or any other features. You can make questions as complex as your learners are. For example:
- For younger learners: How far is the Gobi Desert from the Sahara Desert? Elementary aged students just touching upon proportions will have to multiply the map scale by its correlating proportion.
- For older learners: Approximately how much land mass does the Gobi Desert take up proportionally to its continent vs. the Sahara Desert? This is a much more complex question that will involve several calculations and an understanding of calculating areas of shapes.
Political History: Comparing Political Maps Across Time
If you can get your hands on an older political map (anything before 1990/the end of the Cold War is significantly different from today) in your school library, great, or find one online and project it to your class or show it on your laptop to your homeschooler.[ii] Use them to teach how governments have changed over time.
- For elementary aged students, split them into teams or pairs and ask them to count how many countries are on each continent during each epoch. Make this a timed race to see who can count the fastest. Afterwards, discuss how countries are formed and change over time depending on governments.
- For more advanced students, split them into teams or pairs as well, but ask them to use the maps to speculate on a more advanced question based on your learning goals. For example, if you are teaching the rise and fall of communism, show a map from 1960 or 1970 and ask them to try to list the communist countries and the democracies/capitalist countries based solely on how the lines were re-drawn in the modern age.
Science: How Global Position Helps Determine Biology and Ecology
Even if you only have a political map, you can have students use latitude to make connections to where different biomes are, helping them understand the connectivity of earth science principles.
- For young learners, print out pictures of animals to represent all of the continents (polar bears, zebras, walruses, etc.). Put them in teams of three or four based on the size of your class. Show each team by turn an animal, and have them pin it to the map where they think it comes from. Give them a point for each correct response. This activity will make them think about what features animals develop to cope with their environments.
- For older learners, adapt the game to more complex biological principles beyond animals, such as forest systems, soil qualities, diseases, etc. You can open up a discussion about the equal importance of global location but other factors such as ocean currents, altitude, and precipitation on biological determination and ecosystems.
Literature: Global Tripping with Maps
Even literature can make use of your world map, and can aid understanding of complex reading for more visual learners. A phenomenal resource toward this end, if you have Internet in the classroom, is Google Lit Trips – free, downloadable files for Google Earth to visualize where classic characters journeyed or had specific adventures throughout novels and stories. Projects range from kindergarten to university level. If you do not have Internet in your classrooms, you can easily adapt the activities to a physical classroom map by pinning the locations as you go through the text. For examples:
- For elementary aged kids, We All Went on Safari follows Masaai children on an adventure in Tanzania.
- For middle school or high school students, Anne Frank, The Diary of a Young Girl tracks where the classic holocaust survivor lived throughout World War II.
Use your world map creatively to make your classroom lessons interactive, interdisciplinary, and applicable to nearly any subject matter and you will increase learning and connect students to other cultures.
[i] Curtis, Diane. 1 Nov. 2001. Project-Based Learning: Real-World Issues Motivate Students. Edutopia. http://www.edutopia.org/project-based-learning-student-motivation.
[ii] Wikipedia. 1 Nov. 2014. List of National Border Changes since World War I. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_national_border_changes_since_World_War_I.
- Coloring Maps – Printable maps that kids can color code for Africa, South America, Europe, the United States and the continents.
- Free outline maps – Printable maps for the world and the United States in PDF format. Ideal for printing out for lesson plans. All maps are blank with labeled and non labeled options.
- Five books about maps for children – these five volumes are great for teaching young kids about maps and cartography.
- Teaching basic map skills to young children – learn about some online and published resources for teaching young kids.