Hey teachers, students, parents and geography lovers, did you know that this week is Geography Awareness Week? It was established by the National Geographic Society 25 years ago to encourage American citizens to “think and learn about the significance of place and how we affect and are affected by it.” The event seeks to raise awareness about the deficit of geography education in American schools and to excite people about geography both in education and everyday life. In addition, because GIS (Geographic Information Systems) was viewed as the primary tool to help educate Americans about Geography, GIS Day was added to Geography Awareness Week in 1999. For those of us in the mapping community, GIS is likely a familiar term, but if you are not familiar with GIS, National Geographic provides a great overview.
What can help in geography education? Bing in the Classroom offers daily lesson plans focused on the Bing homepage image, and many of them are focused on geography! They’re age-specific, Common Core aligned, and designed to teach critical thinking and search skills. You can find these plans on the Microsoft Educators Network by filtering for “Geography.” These lesson plans utilize resources like Bing and Bing Maps to learn about geography and cultures around the world.
Another resource for fun and interactive geography education from Microsoft is Mystery Skype, a global guessing game where classrooms across the world try to guess each other’s locations. In addition to these Microsoft resources, the National Geographic Bee is accepting registrations for this year’s competition. This site also has great resources for fun geography activities and quizzes.
I’d like to walk through a Bing in the Classroom geography lesson to give you an idea of how they work and how Bing Maps can be leveraged for geography education. I chose “5-8 Green Mountain National Forest“, which combines two of my favorite things, geography and the outdoors. In this lesson, there is a complete teacher’s guide that can be downloaded as a PowerPoint, and that walks through the activity. This particular lesson focuses on the question of “What do nature trails have to do with the health of people and the earth?” Both Bing and Bing Maps are used in this activity through 5 interactive questions for the students:
Let’s take a look at question 1, “Find the location of the Green Mountain National Forest…”. Launch Bing Maps either from Bing.com or directly at bing.com/maps . Type “Green Mountain National Forest” into the search bar. In Bing maps, National Forests and other forest areas are displayed with green shading.
This is also a great time to have the students switch to the aerial photography view and look at the high resolution imagery over this forest. To switch from road view to aerial view, click on the down arrow button next to “Bird’s eye” and choose the “Aerial” option.
As students zoom in, something to point out is the difference in tree canopy shape and color. Foresters and ecologists use this information to understand the species composition, age, and health of trees.
For question 2, “Find an image of the Appalachian Trail,” search for the “Appalachian trail” using Bing.com. This produces a variety of results from trail maps to pictures from hikers.
Question 3, “How long is the Appalachian Trail?” The answer might surprise the kids, roughly 2,180 miles! To find this answer, type the question into the search bar on Bing.com. Depending on your location, an example of a distance from you city to another major city might help the kids understand just how long the trail is. For example, the distance from Seattle, WA to Chicago, IL is about the same distance as the trail. To do this, go to bing.com/maps and click on “Directions” just under the search bar. Enter the start and end location and click “Go”.
Question 4, “How has the Appalachian Trail been used historically?” There is a rich history surrounding the trail and the people that built it. The Appalachian Trail Conservancy has a great overview of the history of the trail and how it came to be. There is also a comprehensive Wikipedia article that covers the history of the trail.
Question 5, “What is the dominant vision for the Appalachian Trail today?” This question is a bit tricky, but the Appalachian Trail Conservancy provides an explanation of their organization’s mission statement that matches the goals for the trail.
I hope this provides a useful example of how the resources for educators and the tools in Bing and Bing maps can help teach and inspire kids to be interested in geography. Here at Bing Maps, we love geography, and we hope that Bing Maps can help you and your children develop a deeper understanding of the world we live in.
Alicia Sullivan, Bing Maps Program Manager