If history can be read as a series of interlocking maps, then teaching social studies can be thought of as more of a visual activity. Whether it’s for showing the westward trek in the U.S., how people made it from Asia to North America or the movement of troops during just about any war, the right maps can make social studies come alive.
The good news is that there are dozens of high quality map apps that are either free or cost next to nothing. The bad news is that few work on both iPads and Android slates, making it an either-or choice.
The next time you want to discuss how Hawaii came to be a state or why the Suez Canal was so importnat to the British empire, put the text book aside and reach for a map app. It’s all there.
Sometimes all you need is a little trick or game to teach a class the names of the states or European countries. That’s where the $2 United States Puzzle Map comes in. It not only has a game where kids drag the state to its proper position and give it a name, but as you play the game, the hints start to disappear. There’s also a trivia game to help them remember the difference between North and South Dakota. The prolific Jenny Sun has created a whole family of related Puzzle Map iPad games with ones for Europe, Asia and Africa, among others.
As its name implies, GeaCron involves the intersection of time and geography. Actually, it’s an impressive app that can show human history for the past 5,000 years in terms of land and people. You can keep the maps simple or layer in detail, like topography and events and roll the timeline forward or back to see the action. Tap or click on a name label to get details about the place and move around to see where the action is. It’s an excellent way to show the class what’s going on at different places in the world at the same time, such as the effect of the Napoleonic campaigns and our War of 1812. Just pick your time, place and scale, and you’re off. It’s an Android only app that costs $3.54.
Put together by Seungbin Cho, Maps of the World has a slew of them, perfect for teaching about anything from early polar explorations to the battle for the Aleutian Islands during World War II. The free History: Maps of the World app only works on iPhones and iPads and lets you choose from hundreds of key maps that illustrate the before, during or aftermath of a change or conflict, sometimes all three. There are also versions of the app for showing the history of Asia, Oceania, America and the Middle East and the site is ad-supported. All have links to Wikipedia for detailed information and are overflowing with maps that can be printed or emailed to students.
Why rely on others to make maps for you when you can make your own set of historical maps for whatever the lesson plan is for the day. The key is learning the ins and outs of Google Maps. By taking a couple of hours to explore what’s possible with this amazingly deep program, you can get the idea of how to create your own teaching maps. There are ten lessons that run from the basics to 3-D imagery. It can turn jsut about any teacher or student into a map pro.
When it comes down to it, you don’t need a tablet at all to view a series of instructive maps of the world. Old Maps Online is an excellent repository of antique maps that not only works in any browser window but has one of the best ways of finding a cool map for your lesson. On top of a basic map of the world is a zoomable rectangle that shows its geographic scope and a timeline above for the time period you’re looking for. The maps are generally of exceptional resolution and quality, range from 1000AD to the present. They come from the world’s greatest collections, including the Biblioteca Nacional de Colombia and the Utrecht University Library. Every map is a gem and a potential class lesson.