Using Google Maps in your History Class
History Teachers’ Association of Victoria
This article accompanies the video:
“Google Maps for History Teachers”
From Analogue to Digital – Be careful! You might just learn something about learning on the way!
In 2005, The Department of Veteran Affairs and the Board of Studies NSW published a fantastic resource called
‘Operation Click: Anzac to Kokoda – Investigating Australia’s wartime history with the websites Visit Gallipoli
and Australia’s War 1939 – 1945
In 2005, the types of skills highlighted as favourable by the resource were:
Needless to say, our students have come a long way since then.
With the range of digital resources and tools that are now available, and free to use, it’s time to ensure that students are
prepared so that they are able to use them.
This resource made me think about the type of skills we expect students to have in our history classroom. Yes, we want
our history students to be digitally literate – but do we want that at the expense of their historical knowledge, skills and
understanding? Of course not, but there has to be a much wider acceptance that digital literacy is embedded, not
separate, part of students’ learning in today’s classrooms.
How we used to do it in the olden days ...
When I looked through some textbooks, I found the following tasks, almost invariably at the
beginning of a unit of work. The tasks set here have a purpose – for students to ‘know’ the area that
they are studying. For example:
• View the maps on the website and then locate Anzac Cove and
Gallipoli using an atlas”
• Find these places on the map and put the number beside each.
• Find and highlight on the map the places mentioned in the table.
• draw in the modern borders and add the names of the countries that
are there today.
• Locate ‘x’ on the map. Which direction is it from your house?
I am not suggesting that asking students to locate a place on a map is a bad thing. Students need to be
geographically aware, especially when learning about the past. However, I do not think that the task
“Locate x on a map”, in isolation, assists in the process of historical understanding.
Students are used to this sort of task because they appear time and again in text books. And, often
these type of questions appear in isolation.
What’s the solution?
An annotated map exercise
The remedy to this problem would be to set a
task such as an annotated map exercise –
where students can still demonstrate their
knowledge by including dates, times and
locations on a map but then
locate, perhaps, other resources, and provide
some brief annotations or explanations.
Annotated maps are great because we can
combine the idea of geographical and historical
understanding in one. Students enjoy creating
annotated maps because they aren’t simply
‘locating x on a map’.
In an analogue classroom, we may give
students an outline of a map and ask them to
In a digital classroom, we can use a digital
map, annotate with references from a much
broader scope than the books or textbooks in a
school library and have a fluid document that
can change, be added to or be a truly
Use Google Maps for your next
Annotated Map Exercise
This video explains how to get started using
By placing landmarks, writing
content, making links to outside
sources, your annotated map becomes
very rich in resources.
In Google Maps, an annotation that
accompanies a land mark can look like the
image to the left here.
Of course, like any task, the digital
annotated map needs to be well planned Google Maps
and have clear objectives. to Google
Some ‘tasks’ that you could set for your Earth in one
students might include: click!
•Providing a narrative.
•Selection of documents / sources.
•Collection of evidence to support an
•Analysis of evidence.
Also, when you create a map in ‘Google
Maps’ you can easily make it into a ‘layer’
so that it can be viewable in Google Earth.
Approaches for teachers
An annotated map exercise is a task that has to be well-scaffolded. That is, you
cannot just have an instruction such as “Make an annotated map of the Gallipoli
Campaign in 1915”. Creating an annotated map this way, not only challenges
students’ historical thinking skills, but also challenges their digital literacy skills as
Your annotated map exercise might be planned into four stages:
Stage One: Locations and dates
Stage Two: Description of event at each location
Stage Three: Select an appropriate image /
document which related to the location and date.
Stage Four: Analysis of image or document.
Other ideas and approaches
Approach 1: Teachers could establish the basic map for the students including basic
details ‘Date’ / ‘Event’ with a view to getting students to elaborate on event
details, significance and to select appropriate documents.
Whilst this seems to be the logical way to begin – it does require quite a bit of autonomy. It has
been my experience that if students don’t have the basic skills for locating information for a
topic, not to mention the skills of being able to discern what is valuable information and what
isn’t, then the quality of work produced on the topic will be low. However, maybe this approach
could be used once students have had experience in this sort of task and have acquired more skills
and confidence in collecting information.
Approach 2: Assign an event / date as a small group activity
Students in the small group could first collate information on the assigned point /
event. Presented with a variety of documents – preferably online – they could read for
the basic knowledge that they need for the exercise then compare and contrast views
which will lead to more sophisticated analysis of the event or period.
Approach 3: Teachers could establish the basic map for the students including
basic details ‘Date’ / ‘Event’ and provide students with documents to analyse.
The teacher could include cross-references to other web resources. Instead of just creating a list of
the resources to give to the students, why not set up a social bookmarking service that you can invite
your students to use? For those of you who may be unfamiliar with this sort of tool, imagine if you
could share your bookmarks or ‘favourites’ not just with people who happened to use your
computer but with everyone who had access to the internet. Instead of just keeping your bookmarks
to yourself, you would be sharing them with like-minded people.
Diigo is one such social bookmarking service. It allows you to set up an ‘educator’ account so that
you and your students are in a protected environment. In it, you can set up a list of readings or
resources for your students to use. The advantage of this being that you can have some control over
what resources the students are using or can have access to. This is sound practice at the beginning
of a unit because the task of “finding information on the internet” is not presented as this huge,
amorphous task. Once the students have started to make their annotations, you will find that they
will then use their natural curiosity to establish more complex research patterns and produce
sources of their own.
I learned some interesting things about my own
learning when I created this task.
With a digital annotated map your
The reason why I chose the Boston Tea Party was students:
because I asked a colleague: “Quick, give me an
event in the American Revolution that you could
create a timeline for!” “The Boston Tea Party” was
her response hence, here is the map I created.
I had taught a brief survey of the American
Revolution in an Australian classroom and admit
that I knew the basic lead up to the event and why
it was significant. Locate Historical
However, as I was creating this example I found
that I started asking more and more questions and
discovering more and more about the Boston Tea
Party – where was Griffin’s Wharf? Who was Analyse and evaluate
involved? What sort of person then was the mayor? historical sources
And as I was creating the task I found that, almost
by default, I learned much more than the basics.
More importantly it made me want to know more
– what was the next part of the story – after all, the
‘grand narratives’ form an exciting part of studying
I think that if questioning of historical
sources is modeled and practiced in a
classroom, then students will start to use
the same techniques in their gaining of
historical knowledge and understanding.
The map in itself then could be used for
the basis of a wider historical
investigation and the development of
skills related to historical understanding.
And, because the map is in a digital
format, it is something that the students
can return to and amend in the later
stages of the project as the development
of their understanding and skills
Contact: Annabel Astbury
Please feel free to view one of the maps
I have created at firstname.lastname@example.org