Geography - A route to the future

17th August 2012 at 01:00
We're all tech-savvy now, so why not digital map in class?

Everything happens somewhere and practically all data can be mapped. It's hardly surprising, then, that using and making maps is an important 21st-century skill that helps us to make sense of our world geographically, and that technological advances have provided us with such a rich array of resources. What is surprising is that while we'll quite happily use mobile phone apps and satnav to navigate Bluewater or other essential geographical meccas, some of us still feel a tad queasy when faced with using digital mapping in the classroom.

How, for example, do you use maps when discussing local journeys such as children's routes to school? Do you walk it using Street View? Do you draw a route using Scribble Maps? Do you add emoticons to show favourite spots on the route using Quikmaps? Free mapping programmes such as these are intuitive and provide instant success with minimal effort.

Shift up a gear and try some of the free mapping mash-ups. TripGeo lets you input the start and end points of a journey and choose your mode of travel before showing you a split-screen, animated map and street view of your route. Get children to give a running commentary on their journey to school or challenge them to explore unfamiliar terrain both at home and abroad. Ask why some places are covered by the technology and others are not. Use the tools to make risk assessments, as settings for stories or to plot alternate routes. Alternatively, take a virtual bike ride over the Alps. You could even have one of the maps "playing" on your whiteboard as a timing device. "By the time we get to Madrid from Alcala de Henares you need to have finished ..."

The Ordnance Survey (OS) organisation, with its standard symbols for differently scaled maps, is one of our great British institutions. Once, we had to rely solely on those folding paper maps, but now OS Digimap for Schools allows you to view, annotate, print and save maps of anywhere in Britain at a range of scales. There are even a number of supporting lesson ideas.

Paper maps still have their uses, though, even if they're old and worn. Cut usable sections into small squares, laminate them and make packs of "jigsaws" as a great free resource.

A group working with a pack could, for example, describe the features in one square; find three squares linked by a continuous human or physical feature; choose a square that shows "the mostleast ..."; or just put the map back together. Putting nine squares together to make a map sounds like child's play but it's actually quite challenging. You have to recognise, describe, compare and explain places, patterns and processes. Hang about - that sounds a lot like geography ...

Dr Paula Owens is a primary curriculum development leader for the Geographical Association, an author and an educational consultant and trainer.


Check out DigimapforSchools' profile on TES Resources for plenty of mapping activities.

Help pupils to understand the local landscape with resources from OrdnanceSurvey.


Introduce Year 2 children to map work - there are lots of handy tips in this discussion on the TES Resources geography forum.

Find all links and resources at

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