Thing x: Mapping & Geography Tools

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lego men exploring a map
photo credit: Dunechaser via photopin cc

When I start exploring maps and geography apps and tools, I can get lost for hours. Throw in photos and history and you might not see me for days.

With the development of online maps and mobile geolocation apps, there are endless possibilities for educational uses. Whether it’s exploring far-flung or nearby locations with street view, viewing historic maps overlaid in Google Earth, building customized “literature/history trip” maps or pinning scanned historic photos in HistoryPin, there’s something for everyone. So let’s just dive in and explore a bunch of tools and ideas.


Google Maps

Google Maps frequently updates it’s interface with new features. The About Google Maps is a good place to see the latest updates.

  • Your personalized maps are now in My Maps (help files for My Maps)
  • Explore: After you’ve found a location of interest, use the “Show Photos” option on the information card to explore pictures from the area.  The 3D button tilts the map and where possible shows a 3D view. Use the yellow “peg man” to get into street view and explore neighborhoods. (This article is a bit out of date, but the info is still very useful!)
  • Street View isn’t just for streets anymore – check out these Icebergs and the Aurora Borealis,
  • Create: Personalized memory map of locations important to the student. Save locations for a future trip. Share your favorite locations on a group map.
  • Try adding your favorite vacation spot to this collaborative map.
  • Google Maps Tips

Google Maps and Earth in Education

Google Earth

Some Google Earth features are integrated into the Google Maps interface, but the standalone desktop application has many more features. Create personalized tours of locations related to a book or research project. Turn those tours into videos that “fly” from location to location right in Google Earth. Explore 3D views of many cities. Use the history timeline feature to explore changing landscapes over time. Explore the many layers of information that can be overlaid on the maps.

Google Trips

Reading a book or doing a research project with a strong geographic component? You and your students can create tours of the locations mentioned and add photos, notes and more to add further context. This can be done in Google Maps or Google Earth.

History Pin, WhatWasThere, SepiaTown

HistoryPin, WhatWasThere and SepiaTown are sites that encourage users to add their own photos and stories and pin them to locations on an interactive Google map. They offer views of locations over time and insights into the history of a location. Use street views to compare historic views with current views. Check out History Pin in Schools for ideas and instructional materials. The HistoryPin mobile app helps you find photos and information about your surroundings while on the go.

  • Contribute: Students can gather, scan & edit their own family photos and old postcards to post to the site. Or work with local historical society or the public library history collection to select photos to share. Images can include descriptions of the photos and stories related to the location.
  • Collaborate: Work with community members to gather history of the area, stories around certain events and so on.
  • Tours & Collections: History Pin has options to create collections of photos around a topic or a tour of locations.
  • Research: These sites are treasure troves of images and stories. There might be photos of locations in books that students are reading or locations they’re studying in history. Students could find information about the towns and countries where their families are from. Or see what their favorite vacation spot looked like in the past.

More Tools and Ideas



Try something new or dig deeper into a tool you already love.

Some ideas:

  • Learn more about the Google Maps, create your own map for a classroom lesson, a field trip, vacation.
  • Create a Lit Trip with Google Earth
  • Explore the fascinating layers of information that can be placed on Google Earth, particularly the Global Awareness layers.
  • Upload a photo to HistoryPin or create a tour there
  • Try your hand at creating a QR code based scavenger hunt
  • Explore some apps for you iOS or Android device

If there are other tools and ideas you’ve wanted to explore, try them. Have fun, explore and most of all, share what works and doesn’t work in your blog post.


  • What tools did you use? How did they work? Share your successes, failures & tips.
  • How might you use these tools with your students?
  • What other teachers could you collaborate with on a map based project?


  • Write & publish your blog post.
  • Copy the URL (webpage address) for your post.
  • Return to the Google Classroom assignment page, find the assignment page for the lesson you just completed and follow the directions for turning in and sharing your work.

*Only for students participating in the workshop for PD credit hours through the Google Classroom.

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