Personal Connections and Google Maps
As a Social Studies teacher, I hate hearing the saying, “History is boring!” One of the reasons I wanted to be a teacher was because I wanted students to fall in love with Social Studies and, in turn, fall in love with learning. Students lose interest in subjects that they feel no connection to. I find this to be extremely true when discussing geography. You introduce a geographic feature or some geographical content and the students that MIGHT be interested in it are the ones who have had an experience with it, like a family vacation to the ocean. This issue of no real-life connection gets even more drastic when a student is learning about an ancient culture, a location far away, or a foreign language that they only speak in the classroom. There is no connection at all.
We all know that technology can spark an interest in students no matter what the content is, but it is even greater to see that interest stick around when they see it connect with their own lives. As a teacher, I was able to see this first hand with an activity for Veteran’s Day involving Google’s My Maps. I come from a community with a strong military presence, so naturally, Veteran’s Day is an impactful day. Another teacher and I planned that the students would place a pin where they knew a family member who was a veteran served. The whole class had a specific link to the blank My Maps world map in order to contribute. For example; a student placed a pin in Vietnam for a grandfather who served during the Vietnam War. Students researched about their family as far back as they could. The students placed a pin on the map, added a description and a thank you, as well as a picture if they had one. We had an amazing spread of pins, from fathers and mothers in Iraq to a great-grandfather in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean during WWII. The total of 120 kids and some staff involvement was over 150 pins. The best part of this activity for me was the level of interest. It was a real-life connection for them and their classmates. I had students who were talking about other students pins in the hallway or working on their pins outside of class! They were ACTUALLY doing homework! This was awesome and I thank Google Maps for the awesome possibility to collaborate!
The activity had the technology (which we all know has the quick initial spark of interest), geography, history, collaboration, digital citizenship, and real-life connection. It’s already known about technology’s impact on education and one can see from the activity how history and geography were tied into the lesson, but let me unpack the other three aspects to the greatness of Google’s My Maps in the classroom and hopefully, it will inspire you to use it!
Collaboration: Google My Maps allowed me and my students to work across all classes. It was not one class that made a map and then another class made a map, it was one class for the 7th grade. They worked on it during class, but still had access out of school and worked on it then. This made the students not only say “Look what I made!”, but “Look what WE ALL made.” It brought all the kids together, not just one class. Students had collaboration before, but My Maps took this activity to homes and families.
Digital Citizenship: One of the biggest questions for me during this activity, or any shared My Maps activity, is Digital Citizenship. I was more concerned on this specific assignment because this was a very personal project, students were sharing personal family stories. The biggest fear is a student would go home and mess with it (This is a fear of any collaboration project). So a solution; I and my fellow staff members have focused on the class setting up “Blog Guidelines” Restating these expectations every assignment truly helps. Students responded well to these expectations, especially if a grade is attached to the guidelines, and this assignment was even greater because it was so personal.
Once that was set up, I also wanted it to make sure the map link was secured. In all Google Collaboration projects, you can pick the level of privacy. For a grade level collaboration, I always select a link that is only accessible with a school-wide email and if I shared it with them. This keeps the project within the school and within the students I selected. To learn more about Digital Citizenship check out Ed Techs resources at
Real-Life Connection: Students were able to connect on many different personal levels. They did not just connect with their own lives, they connected with their families, I had students calling grandparents (way cool). But the best part was having them make real-life connections with their classmates. It is special to see students connect with each other on a personal level. A personal level that will leave a lasting impact and memory.
Another example of an activity would be to have students place a pin at their favorite vacation spot, or where they were born. They can upload, photos or even videos!
Fountain Middle School
7th Grade World History