Friday, July 26, 2013


I might be the rare one here, but I love teaching geography, history, government and really anything to do with maps.  My grade level happily appointed that FOSS science kit to me (well, land forms) because for some weird reason, being a cartographer and making sand models only appeals to me and my inner five year old.

For fifth grade purposes, we go over physical, political and topographic maps.  We use post cards from around the world to examine different land forms, learn about the fifty states and regions of the US.  We use this map and the matching world version to go over political maps, focusing on state and international boundaries along with capital cities:

(Map is from FAO Schwartz, but the Discovery Channel makes a very similar one that is not only less expensive, but usually on sale at Kohls!)

We use our globe, atlases and old-school pull down maps to go over the physical features of the earth (land forms) and visit both using the different layers on Google Earth.
If you haven't played with the 3D buildings, I highly recommend it! We used it for looking at the monuments in Washington DC and for exploring the remains of the Titanic.  There are also premade tours on Google Earth, which you can access in the gallery or clicking the tour button under "my places"

The topographic maps are included in our FOSS science kit, but I extend the learning by printing out topographic maps of our area so the kids can make connections with our own mountains.  Mount Shasta, as nifty as it is, doesn't have the same connection as our own Mt. Charleston in Las Vegas. 

Besides exploring our surrounding neighborhood and US land forms, we also use Google Earth for virtual field trips.  A favorite is to visit the moon and Mars :)  
On the Google Tool Navigation Bar, select the planet and pull down to visit the moon, Mars or the sky.  The default setting is our own planet but you can go elsewhere.

Since I'm in charge of reviewing the solar system, it makes perfect sense for me to take my little astronauts on a virtual trip to Olympus Mons, Mars.  We talk about the name, make the connection to Mount Olympus (since they study Greek mythology in fourth grade) and they absolutely love it.  I often have to shoo them out of my room come recess time so I can eat.

When we talk about land forms, volcanoes inevitably come up.  While I'm not opposed to the traditional baking soda, red food coloring & vinegar "volcano explosion", that experiment is part of another science kit.  So instead, we visit the volcano builder website and play with virtual volcanoes.  

The students learn the vocabulary associated with volcanoes (viscosity, magma, etc) as well as the classification of types of volcanoes.  They make predictions about the types of explosions that will occur when the pressure and viscosity levels are changed.  We also watch volcanic eruptions and discuss the geological processes that are occurring   A tip I picked up from Discovery Education is to play the video clip on silent and have students narrate what is happening on the condition that they use the academic vocabulary.   We use Discovery Education and PBS video streaming, but teacher tube, you tube, National Geographic and other sites have similar footage.

To check their understanding of maps, I created a sort which is available on TpT.  Hopefully your students love earth science as much as mine :)  You've got to put the joy in teaching and if tech toys don't do it for you, find something that does.

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