Secondary ICT - We've got it all mapped out

9th January 2009 at 00:00
Using digital and paper-based maps together can help pupils make sense of everything in front of them, says Roger Davies

So many stories lie within maps. If a picture is worth a thousand words, a good map is akin to a literary compendium. To the uninitiated though, they are a bewildering mass of lines, colours and symbols.

One way teachers can bring this to life is to combine paper-based maps with their digital counterparts. Thanks to Ordnance Survey (OS), free 1:25000 maps are available for pupils in Year 7.

Introducing a corresponding digital map - using a software tool such as Memory-Map - can help pupils make sense of it. For about Pounds 100 you can buy software for 35 networked PCs, aerial photography and the OS area of your choice.

Simple things make this a classroom hit. Large maps are cumbersome. Sections of digital maps can be printed out and projected to the whole class. Two elements, the ability to zoom in and highlight, aid clarity.

Standard whiteboards are small so consider "going large". You could use a big screen or blank wall and ZoomIt, a free tool, to identify symbols more easily. Topographic features can be identified by displaying OS and aerial maps in adjacent synchronised windows.

Marking routes (lines) on handouts makes creating exercises to investigate distance, scale and relief a doddle. Pupils can estimate or measure distance and graph elevation data, essential in developing awareness of contour patterns.

Once complete, the correct elevation profile can be displayed above the projected map. Run the cursor along it and the position is displayed on the route below. One click generates a 3-D image. It can be panned, zoomed or rotated and light source altered to emphasise relief. Used selectively (and slowly) these awesome tools help pupils grasp the most difficult concept - visualising 2-D diagrams in 3-D terms.

The ability to combine these ICT skills with geographical fieldwork, trips, orienteering and expeditions, brings the creative potential of digital maps to the fore. Joint work in Year 7 is often possible so consider using ICT lessons. ICT staff will welcome genuine projects bringing together data from various sources.

Pupils can plot route maps, points of interest marked with instructions, icons or questions. Route cards can be created to include maps, elevations, waypoints and even estimated times.

Outdoors, a digital camera is essential. A global positioning system can record a tracklog of where you have been. Uploading the tracklog to Memory-Map provides a visual comparison between your intended and actual route.

Exporting route cards to spreadsheets allows data to be recorded against waymarks, graphed and embedded in a final report - ideal for scientific fieldwork involving data logging.

The 3-D fly-throughs, as popularised through Google Earth, are also simple to create. Video fly-throughs using map and aerial images, though large in size, can be edited in Windows Movie Maker to produce animated journeys, fading one to the other, interspersed with photographs and supplementary information. Voice-over narration and a suitable soundtrack complete the package. Once finished, ensure pupils delete the originals to reclaim disk space.

Roger Davies is director of ICT at Queen Elizabeth School in Kirkby Lonsdale, Cumbria.

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