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20 October 2014
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The Beauty of Maps - Digital maps

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Lesson plans

BBC links

Full details, including credits and location for the maps featured can be found on the BBC Four site.

Aims and objectives

  • To understand the great changes of the age of Exploration on the beliefs of society.
  • To consider how exploration meant the production of more accurate maps was valued.
  • To consider the development of the ideas of Empire and imperial competition.
  • To consider the reliability of the source material available to map makers.

Resources required for this lesson

  • IWB
  • Video clip of the maps
  • Paints and crayons
  • Computers

The lesson plan


  1. Watch the video.
  2. Split the class into pairs.
  3. Ask the pairs to discuss the questions below.

    • Are digital maps mapping things we need to know about?
    • Do digital mapmakers know anything more about the exact details of the shape of the world than a sailor who sailed around the coastline?
    • Do mapmakers need technology to create the maps?
    • Are these maps art or not?

  • Discuss as a class.
  • Activity 1

    1. Split pupils into groups so that they can create a modern star map.
    2. Tell pupils they need to use a variety of crayons to completely colour in a piece of paper of A4 paper.
    3. Then pupils should cover with black poster paint.
    4. Pupils should put it aside to dry.
    5. Give students a piece of plain paper.
    6. Ask students to imagine that they are looking down from space and have to draw in the imaginary lines of internet connections. They have to think about what the map would look like.
    7. Put up the map from the BBC Four website on the IWB for the class to look at.
    8. Tell pupils to draw a rough draft of their map on plain paper.
    9. Give pupils back their black pictures and tell them to use a pencil to expose the crayon below and create their picture.
    10. Discuss as a class whether or not it would have been better to use technology in order to create this map.

    Activity 2

    1. Split the class into groups of 3 to 4.
    2. Give each group a basic map of the school.
    3. Send groups to various rooms in the school and record where electricity points, computer points and phone lines are positioned.
    4. Each group then needs to share their research with the rest of the class and every group needs to record the details on their map.
    5. They then need to go to a computer and create a digital version of the school map marking in the passage of electricity with lines in one colour with the phone and internet connects in other colours.
    6. They can create a map of the school and classrooms using text boxes to draw the box shape of classrooms.
    7. The lines can then be drawn in by inserting shapes and then drawing lines in different colours.
    8. They should produce a brightly coloured map like those on the video.
    9. In their groups pupils should be asked to make a list of the advantages and disadvantages of using technology to create maps.
    10. Feedback and discuss as a class.

    Activity 3

    1. Split the class into groups of 3-4 pupils.
    2. Ask them to look at the pictures and key information recorded on the fact cards (found on worksheet 1).
    3. Complete the activities:
      1. Place the maps in chronological order.
      2. Make a list of similarities between all the maps.
      3. Decide which map maker used the most direct observational information.
    4. Discuss as a class.
    5. Plenary

      1. In pairs discuss the statement below.
        'Maps can never by a useful source of information about the society in which they are produced if they are a work of art'
      2. Feedback and make a class discussion.


      1. Look at the digital maps in greater detail:
      2. Research the computer software used to design digital maps.
      3. Find out how scientists collect the data necessary to create maps of the moon, earth and the universe.

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