How to create media-rich, interactive maps for deeper learning

Google MyMaps lets students create maps with custom-pinned location. The magic, though, is in what you put in those pins. (Infographic by Matt Miller)

Google MyMaps lets students create maps with custom-pinned location. The magic, though, is in what you put in those pins. (Infographic by Matt Miller)

If we want to use technology in the classroom, we can’t just do the same kind of learning we did before it. Technology should improve the learning. Kick the lesson up a notch.

Otherwise, our technology isn’t any better than our paper and pencil lessons, right?

If your students are studying anything that connects to locations on a map, Google MyMaps is a great tool. It lets students create custom maps and add pins to certain locations.

Imagine dropping pins on locations for a historical event. Or a novel or short story. Or where animal or plant species can be found. Or even where students’ families live in your community! (Check out this post for 20 ways Google MyMaps can be used in the classroom.)

But that’s just the beginning.

What students can do with those pins is what’s really incredible. When you click on a pin in MyMaps, it displays a box that students can fill with information, images, links and more.

Identifying locations on a map is simple, low Bloom’s Taxonomy learning. Digging deep into the details of each location pushes us past that superficial stage.

Below are some of the things students can add to a custom MyMaps map, either to their own individual maps or to a class map that includes everyone’s work.

Plus, check out how they all look on this example MyMaps map I created! (Click here to see it if you’re having trouble seeing the embedded map below.)

adding-text1. Text — This is the easiest feature to add to a MyMap, but it’s probably the most useful. Students can gather facts or other data and add it to the text field in a pin (see right). Plus, they can change the title, too.

2. Images — When you click the little camera icon (see right) when editing a pin, it brings up the image and video menu. From there, you can add images from your device, using the webcam, from your Google Drive, and even Google Images.

3. Sketches with Paper — Paper is my favorite iPad app. It’s free, and it’s like a digital sketch pad with all these drawing tools. It’s great for drawing pictures, but it also lets you create great flowcharts and sketchnotes. These can be included in a map to add depth to a pin. Save your sketches as an image file on the iPad when you’re done. Then upload them to your Google Drive. Click the camera icon to add an image and use the Google Drive tab to pull those sketches in.

4. YouTube video — You can add a YouTube video directly on a pin. When someone clicks on that pin, he/she can watch the video directly from the pin without jumping off to YouTube in another window. Click the camera icon and then use the “More” tab to find YouTube options. You can add more than one video by clicking the “+” button in the bottom right of the video you just added. (If students have a mobile app, it’s easy to record and upload their own videos with the YouTube Capture app.)

5. Screencast video — Don’t just rely on what you can find on YouTube. Let students create their own videos with a screencast tool like Screencastify. Screencasting lets you take video of what’s on your computer screen (with audio and your voice if you want). Once it’s complete, upload it to YouTube and add it to your pin. (Or if YouTube isn’t an option for students, upload it to Google Drive and provide a link to the video in the pin instead.)

6. Video, image or web story with Adobe Spark — Adobe Spark is a web tool that lets you create beautiful text/image visuals, eye-catching webpages and animated videos. When you’re done with any of these, they can be included in a map by uploading the image, adding the video to YouTube and then to your map, or providing a link to what you’ve created. See the kinds of educational content you and your students can create in this post. 

7. Gone Google Story Builder video — Create fun videos that look like people are interacting with each other in a Google document using Gone Google Story Builder. These videos are easy to make and are great for dialogue, among other things. When the video is done, include a link to it in a pin in your map.

8. Custom website with Weebly — Want to really get deep? Students can create their own websites using Weebly (or you can create a website for them to view). These free websites can include multiple pages and subpages, visually appealing themes and lots of content. Provide a link to student websites (or individual pages on a site) in a map.

9. An infographic through Canva or Piktochart — Infographics are super popular because they present a ton of information in a fun, stimulating way. Students can create these infographics with the text, icons and visual elements provided. Plus, they can upload their own pictures or Creative Commons pictures they find (that they already have the rights to use) to these infographics. When finished, a link or a copy of the infographic image can be uploaded to a pin on a map.

10. A Padlet wall — Padlet makes collaborative information gathering easy. Plus, it lets you organize and arrange that information as if it’s on a digital bulletin board. Students can gather lots of links to various informational sites, videos, blog posts, articles, etc., on a Padlet board. Then, they can share the link to them in a pin on the map.

11. An interactive activity — SAS Curriculum Pathways has these interactive, multimedia activities that are hands-on and really make new topics crystal clear. (Here’s a great example: this activity digs into whether the Electoral College is a fair method for selecting a president.) Add a link to an activity like this from a pin on a map.

12. Digital resources from PBS LearningMedia — PBS LearningMedia hosts more than 100,000 digital learning resources, including videos, multimedia activities and more. Chances are there’s a good resource to help students dig deeper there. Have students add a link to one of their videos or resources to a pin on a map.

13. Google document, slide presentation or drawing — A MyMaps map can be a great jumping-off point to viewing files in Google Docs, Slides, Drawings and more. If students have already created those files in Google, they might as well share them in a related MyMaps map! Use the blue “Share” button in the Google files to generate a link that you can share in a pin on a map.

14. Survey — This is another easy way to make a map interactive. Create a survey using Google Forms and add a link to it in a pin on the map. Also, consider clicking the “See summary charts and text responses” option in the settings button (looks like a gear) when you’re done creating the survey. That lets everyone see what everyone else has voted for and written while taking the survey.

15. Wikipedia article (or other encyclopedic article) — Wikipedia is a dirty word to some teachers, but with being a collaborative site with millions of eyes on it, the community keeps it as accurate as most encyclopedias. Linking to a Wikipedia article is an easy way to put an additional layer of basic facts about a topic at the fingertips of students.

16. Historic newspapers (Google News Archive) — Google has archived centuries of newspapers from around the world. Looking back at how newspapers have covered history through the centuries can give a unique perspective. Links to individual newspaper articles (like this one from 1845 that describes a fire that destroyed $6,000,000 in property) can be added to a pin on a map.

17. Views from the street — Google Maps Street View lets viewers see what life is like on the streets and sidewalks of cities all around the world. From MyMaps, it’s pretty easy to access. If you add a pin by searching a location in the search bar at the top, that pin will automatically have a “View in Google Maps” link. Click that link, then drag the yellow “peg man” in the bottom right corner of the screen onto the map in that location. If there are images of that location, you’ll be able to see it from the street in 360-degree panoramic glory. (Note: If you’re using an iPad, other tablet or smartphone, you’ll want to download and use the “Street View” app to make this work.)

18. Twitter account or hashtag — See what’s happening up to the moment by including a Twitter account or hashtag in a pin. If there’s a leader, a celebrity or any other important person connected to a location, include a link to that person’s Twitter profile to see what he/she is up to.

19. Layers — This is a great feature of MyMaps for organizing alike content. By organizing pins in layers, you’ll be able to see a list of pins in each layer. Plus, by unchecking a layer in the list, you can turn all of those pins on and off. If there are a few (or several) major categories for the pins you’re creating, you may want to organize them in layers. (Use the “Add layer” button and then drag pins to the corresponding layer.)

20. Driving, biking or walking routes (with destinations) — Want to see how long it will take to travel from one pin to another? Click the button at the top with three circles connected by lines. This will let you create walking, biking or driving routes. You can also generate step-by-step directions and even see you how far apart they are.

21. Lines and shapes — Use the same button for routes, but choose “Add line or shape”. Draw a line to see how far it is from one location to another. Or draw a shape to display the area in square miles and the perimeter in miles.

By pulling several of these options and resources into a MyMaps custom map, students will be able to make their learning deeper and draw better conclusions. Plus, they can generate new questions they wouldn’t have considered if they hadn’t seen the data plotted on a map.

Wondering how this could connect to your own classroom? Check out that post on how to use MyMaps in the classroom that I mentioned earlier. There are lots of ideas there!

Question: How could these maps be used in the classroom? What else could you add to them? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

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3 thoughts on “How to create media-rich, interactive maps for deeper learning

  1. We are doing a Holocaust novel called “Surviving the Angel of Death.” I’m trying to decide if this would be a worthwhile project for my students. Would you have them all create a map together? Or in groups? Or individuals?

    • Great question. I’d say it all depends on how deep you want to get and how much time you want to allocate. With all the resources out there about the Holocaust, if it were me, I might try it in groups or even as a class. If the novel touches on lots of locations, it might be better as a class or group activity. If it’s focused in one specific location, maybe groups and individuals. (Just thinking out loud here … or I guess through my fingers on the keyboard … that sounded better in my head than it looks on the screen …)

  2. Hi Matt,

    I tried to enable My Maps on our Google Admin Console but received a message stating that we would need parent permission from anyone under 18 using this app. Have you encountered this? It’s the first time we’ve seen this type of message for an app. Have you heard of this issue from other schools? Are schools getting permission from all of their parents?