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Learn about the world of information available to map readers. Understand the common and practical uses of maps—from finding one's way across town to finding the yearly rainfall in England. See examples of how symbols on a map stand for real features. Recognize relief, topographical, political, historical, population, and many more kinds of maps. Learn how grids are used on both globes and maps to find locations—and much more.

Learn how symbols help us read maps.

  1. Students will realize that maps are important to everyday life because they help people identify the features of an area and allow them to picture objects that cannot be seen easily. Also, by using a map, one can navigate from one place to another.
  2. Students will understand that different types of maps provide people with different types of information. For example, road maps inform people about the routes that they can use to get from one point to another and genetic maps help people identify the genetic codes of living things.
  3. Students will know about the commonly used types of maps and how they can be used to provide people with information.
    1. In a grid map, a city, or any other area, is divided into separate boxes, and each box represents a small part of the city. To find a specific street, for example, one can look up the box in which the street is located, find the box on the map, and then ascertain the location of the road. A grid map makes locating important features of an area much easier.
    2. A globe is a true, spherical model of the earth. Globes are superior to flat map representations of the earth because cartographers must stretch out certain parts of the flat maps they are producing in order to turn the spherical earth into a two-dimensional model. Consequently, certain areas of land or water appear larger in scale on a flat map than they actually are. Globes use a common grid, which permits people to pinpoint locations on the earth using latitude and longitude. Lines of latitude run parallel from east to west and are separated by measurements, called degrees. The zero degree line of latitude, the Equator, separates the Northern Hemisphere from the Southern Hemisphere. Lines of longitude, or lines of meridian, run from north to south and are divided into degrees. Longitude lines are not parallel. The zero degree line of longitude, called the Prime Meridian, separates the Eastern Hemisphere from the Western Hemisphere.
    3. A political map is effective in showing the boundaries between the states, nations, and provinces.
    4. Relief maps show the elevation of the earth's landforms.
  4. Students will realize that maps are important to help determine the time in an area. The earth is divided into 24 separate time zones, each approximately 15 degrees wide. The first time zone starts at the International Dateline, which is the other side of the prime meridian (180 degrees longitude), and time advances one hour per zone as one moves east around the world. Maps show these time zones making them helpful to people traveling long distances.
  5. Students will understand that maps have cardinal and, sometimes, intermediate directions located on a compass rose that aid in navigation.
  6. Students will notice that maps present their information through the use of symbols. For example, a blue area on a map could represent a lake. Each map has a key, or legend, that describes the meaning of the symbol.
  7. Students will realize that a map has a scale that relates the size of the features on the map to the actual size of the objects being modeled.
  8. Students will know that maps are either small scale or large scale. A large-scale map represents a small area, and contains a lot of detail. A small-scale map is without a lot of detail, but covers a large area.

  1. Before viewing the video

    1. Ask students to bring a map of any kind to class or gather as many maps as possible. Give each student or small group some maps to study. Have them list at least ten characteristics of the map (the key, the scale, symbols, roads, rivers, lakes, etc.). Compare notes and develop a class list of all the things discovered.
  2. After viewing the video

    1. Discuss the kinds of maps shown on the video and list them. Road, large scale, small scale, grid, globe, political, relief, rainfall, population, and animal habitat location maps might be named. Have each student write the main elements of any map: symbols, key, scale, compass, and ways to locate places.
    2. Have each student make a map — for example, from his/her home to the school, from the classroom to the cafeteria, from his/her home to an after-school activity. Make a large-scale map of the classroom. Make a small-scale map of the neighborhood.
    3. Have each student get a road map from a service station. Each student is to place a red mark on the map where he or she lives and select another town or city several states away. Trace a route to the destination and figure out how far it is and what parks or lakes are along the way.
    4. Have each student write on a paper the latitude and longitude of a city on a globe. Exchange with another student and have each person discover the name of the city.

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