While primarily a geography resource, interactive maps can be used across various subjects within the social studies domain.

Enhancing classroom learning with interactive maps 

While primarily a geography resource, interactive maps can be used across various subjects within the social studies domain

Key points:

As most teachers will tell you, in the post-Covid world, technology is an everyday part of education. It has undeniably transformed the way educators engage students and deliver content.

As an educator with 10 years of experience teaching in diverse settings in the United States and abroad, interactive maps have become a staple in my lessons. While primarily a geography resource, interactive maps can be used across various subjects within the social studies domain. Teachers can integrate maps into lessons related to history, cultural studies, and geopolitics. These maps go beyond traditional static maps, allowing students to investigate, evaluate, and engage with spatial information.  

Interactive maps help students develop a more comprehensive understanding of spatial relationships. It can be challenging for them to grasp distances on a static map. By manipulating an interactive map, they can understand the scale, proximity, and relative locations of various places, allowing a deeper understanding of global contexts. Interactive maps have the advantage of integrating multiple layers of information, unlike traditional maps. This feature allows educators to present numerous datasets simultaneously, which helps students analyze correlations and patterns more effectively. I find this particularly valuable as I seek to differentiate for all learners, ensuring that each student can engage with the material in a way that suits their abilities and strengths.  

Some interactive maps provide real-time data, allowing students to stay informed about current events and changes around the world. This is helpful in demonstrating how historical research is connected to current events. This is one effective way to prepare our students to be global citizens and fosters cross-cultural understanding. 

In addition, interactive maps are a terrific way for students to explore new areas of the world. In general, students are drawn to maps and globes in the classroom and the beauty of the interactive map is that it allows them to zoom in, pan, and click on specific regions or events, which encourages even more active participation and sparks their curiosity.  

There are many digital interactive maps available to today’s educators, but here are my top three choices: 

The Discovery Education interactive map: This resource within the Discovery Education Experience platform is user-friendly and covers a wide range of topics and all continental regions, making it a versatile tool for various social studies lessons. It allows students to explore human geography changes over time with overlays such as Political Boundaries, Political Labels, Landform Labels, Water Labels, Major Cities, etc. and various base maps like Physical, Elevation, Climate Zones, Biome, Predominant Religion, and more. Discovery Education allows for seamless integration with multimedia resources, allowing teachers to supplement map exploration with videos, articles, and images. It saves hours of scouring the internet to find resources because there is such an abundance of quality supplemental materials found on Discovery Education. For what I need in the classroom, the Discovery Education Interactive map fits the bill.  

The National Geographic MapMaker: This is another valuable classroom resource I recommend for your teacher toolkit. This functional tool includes a launch guide for educators and allows teachers or students to create custom maps. MapMaker allows for in-depth research into locations down to the street level. This program allows the integration of real-time data, so students engage with current information. MapMaker also offers interactive learning activities that encourage student participation. Whether it’s creating custom maps, exploring overlays, or analyzing geographical patterns, these activities make the learning experience robust. There is a learning curve with MapMaker and it will probably require more support than other resources, but tech-savvy students will love it.  

Running Reality: Running Reality is a digital history tool that brings history to life in an accessible, immersive, and engaging way for students through a striking visual narrative. It is a remarkably simple-to-operate resource that allows students to see the events that have shaped national boundaries and culture throughout world history. With Running Reality, students can explore historical events and understand how they affected the world as we know it. They can visualize the changes in national borders, watch as empires rise and fall, and understand how diverse cultures have evolved over time. Running Reality uses innovative technology to create a fully immersive experience, allowing students to feel like they are witnessing the events as they unfold.  

These tools are a wonderful way to make history come alive for students who may struggle with traditional textbooks or lectures. By engaging with history in a more interactive way, students are much more likely to retain what they have learned and develop a deeper understanding of the world around them. If you want to teach history in an engaging and accessible way, then these are some incredibly valuable tools for you! 

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Laura Ascione
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