Place—Mapping the Connection

Summary: This focus area begins with the recognition that the ability to read and understand maps is essential to place-based learning, and can help students construct ideas about the relationship between where they live and the ocean. Students practice reading different kinds of maps, and they use maps to find out how their school is physically connected to the ocean through natural and human-made geographic features.

Concepts to teach: What maps show, map symbols, scale, cardinal directions, watersheds

Goals: Students locate their position within a watershed and determine how they are physically connected to the ocean. They understand the spatial concepts of location, distance, scale, movement and region, and use maps and other tools to acquire, process and report information from a spatial perspective.

SS.08.GE.01, SS.08.GE.02

Specific Objectives:

  1. Use maps to find distant and local landmarks.
  2. Define a watershed and identify the watershed in which the school belongs.
  3. Trace both a land and water connection between school and the ocean.

Activity Links and Resources:

  • Introduction to Maps—In this classroom activity from NESTA, students learn or review basic map elements and types of maps, and identify how different maps are useful for different purposes.
  • Mapping the Classroom—Page 26 from Princeton University’s A Teacher’s Guide to the Universe
    curriculum. Students explore the concept of varying map scales by constructing a scale model of the classroom. If desired, this activity can easily be modified to apply to a small outdoor area rather than a classroom space.
  • Google Earth hunt—Instructor creates a scavenger hunt of relevant locations that can be found on Google Earth. Students virtually “fly” from site to site collecting place-based information.
    • Extension: Have students create their own hunts and then test each others’ creations.
  • For maps of your watershed, contact your local watershed organization. Search OWEB for watershed councils in Oregon.
  • Real-time streamflow data is available on the USGS WaterWatch website
  • Online source for visualizing different kinds of Oregon maps


  • Use or develop formative assessment probes to gauge student understanding about the water cycle. The following probes from Uncovering Student Ideas in Science, vol. 4 could be applied or modified (to obtain Uncovering Student Ideas in Science publications or access sample chapters, visit the NSTA website):
    • Where Would it Fall?—gets students to think about how much of the planet is covered by the ocean.
  • Probe: Connections to the Ocean—explores student ideas about connections between Oregon communities and the ocean.
  • Have students use a map and written instructions to describe a driving route from school to the ocean.
  • Have students use a map and written instructions to describe a water route that connects a nearby stream to the ocean.