Mapping lesson makeover featuring Google My Maps

In my grade 7 practicum, I taught a geography lesson I titled Discovering Canada Using an Atlas .  Students labelled a blank map of Canada with the names of provinces, territories, cities, bodies of water and other important landmarks using an atlas as reference. I thought this would be a decent way to introduce students to the idea of mapping and familiarizing themselves with some of key places and features of Canada.

When I announced what  we would be doing one student asked me, “What’s an atlas?” Momentarily taken aback I replied, “An atlas is a book with maps and charts and can tell you things like population, and elevation of land compared to see levels. “Another student raised their hand and asked, “Why would we ever need to use that? We have the internet.”

At the time I gave some weak response along the lines of, “Well what if the internet was down? You’d be glad you knew how to use an atlas then!” and encouraged them to use the atlas. But realistically speaking, that student was quite right; there are very few reasons to use a paper Atlas. Google could tell you where anything is in the fraction of the amount of time it would take to  look it up in an atlas. And only today did I wonder: could I have completed the same assignment using Google Maps? Or better yet, could it have been better? In short, the answer is yes. Much better.

Image result for google maps


Most of us have probably used Google Maps at some point in our lives but I didn’t know until quite recently that it had applications in education. In fact, Google Maps provides a whole web page explaining just how useful it can be right here. It suggests different applications and resources to better educate yourself on how to use it in the classroom. The tool that I found within Google Maps that had the most promise was My Maps.

My Maps is a shareable Google map that can be customized in many different ways; it is similar to how a Google Doc is essentially a shareable Microsoft Word document. Here is a picture of one detailing the minor league baseball teams found in the USA.

Image result for my maps

Contributors can add “pins” to any location that they click on the map by clicking on the “Pin” icon on the toolbar (on the map above, these are the names of the teams). If they click on one, they can then add any relevant information they want: name of pin, description, images, you name it. All of these pins are automatically added to a “layer” which is basically just a group of pins. Ideally one would want to group like pins into the same layers (as illustrated above by the different classes of teams). From here contributors can use the “Line” tool (next to the “Pin” icon) to draw lines, or travel routes between pins (even having the option to pick their mode of transportation). The search bar at the top of the screen functions just like it does on Google Maps; type in the name of any location or even the GPS coordinates and My Maps will immediately place a pin at the relevant destination. They then have the option of adding that pin to an existing layer and editing its information tied to it.

With these tools, I could have put a whole new spin on my lesson. My students could have collaborated and worked together to make something useful and meaningful, rather than just idly flip through an atlas and jot down the names of places on an 8′ by 11′ paper map. I could have had them go on a GPS coordinate scavenger hunt. I would assign each student two or three different GPS coordinates of interest on the map of Canada. They would enter their coordinates into the search bar and find out where the coordinates took them. Then they could add that place to an appropriate pre-existing layer that I had set up (perhaps sorted into cities, bodies of water, landmarks, parks, etc.), research it and add the relevant information and pictures to the pin description. I would probably want to outline exactly what type of information needs to be found but, in the end, my students would have created a relatively comprehensive map of Canada that they can access on any device with an internet connection.

Rather than just make a map, I could have them make a road-trip through Canada. I could put them in groups of two and charge them each with a province. I could have them pick two or three places that they would want to visit, research them, and then connect them via the travel route options. Not only would students get to see what they thought was the most interesting parts of each province, but they could laugh at the laughably long journey that they would doubtlessly create. I could extend it and restrict the amount of time they had to make their trip, forcing them to work together to make a more efficient route.

These are only two potential options, but I think they are far more interesting than my initial lesson idea. The collaborative element and the tangible final product would have significantly increased drive and interest.

Should the class have finished early, there are a couple of neat games powered by Google Maps that could be entertaining and educational. Smarty Pins is a game where students must drop a pin on the correct location on the world map based on a provided description. After each guess, they are told how far away they were from the correct location in kilometres. That distance is subtracted from a pool of “Kilometres Remaining” (below the description). Should it hit zero, it’s game over.

Map game 1.PNG

Earth-Picker is another cool game where students are given a Google street view of a location on Earth and are asked to guess where in the world it is. They are then told within how many kilometres of the correct answer they were and compared to the average number of kilometres off they were.

Map game 2.PNG

Given all the tools Google has made available, I’m hoping my next lesson on mapping will be a lot more interesting!

If you are interested in resources, I found this TheThinkingStick article very handy for ideas (also where I found the games). Additionally, I found this video to be useful for a quick overview of how to use My Maps in the classroom.


Technology (or the lack thereof) in my practicum

In my practicum experience, I was only able to use technology in a fairly limited fashion. Due to a combination of lack of available technology and a general lack of EdTech know-how, I was only able to incorporate technology into my lessons in relatively surface-level capacity. However, I do have a few ideas of how I could have better integrated technology to really enhance my students’ learning.

With a grade 7 geography class, I had groups of 4 students become an expert on the extraction of a specific natural resource in a specific place (ie: gold mining in South Africa, oil extraction in the UAE, beef cattle farming in the USA, etc). This lesson was preceded by a class brainstorm on the different types of natural resources that we use. They needed to learn how the resource was extracted, the impacts that the extraction methods had on the environment and society, and whether or not the practice was sustainable. One of the main goals of this lesson was getting the students comfortable with one of the most  widely-accessible, free, and most important technological tools at their disposal:


I gave each group a couple of links to get them started, but we also brainstormed keywords that might help them become more effective researchers. I gave them a few days to research and had them prepare a poster with the goal of doing a gallery walk to showcase their work and use as a springboard for the next task: becoming an advocate for more sustainable practices pertaining to the use, extraction and waste management of natural resources and convincing the “government” (me and the rest of the class) that something needed to be done. Regrettably, my practicum ended before I could put this part of the lesson into motion.

Essentially, Google was used as a substitute for doing research using books. Obviously, this makes research more efficient by being able to comb through large amounts of data quickly with a few keywords and the click of a mouse. I had expected most students to be fairly adept at this but I was surprised to learn that many students typed full-sentence questions into Google when they were looking for information. So, in completing this task, my students learned how to better use Google not just to research their natural resourcce, but how to use Google to look up anything they wanted.

There were some challenges in having the students on devices using Google. For starters, my class only had about 8 Chromebooks between our class of 25 so many of them had to use their cellphones to search. So naturally, the distraction factor already present when allowing students to use the internet in class was enhanced by the fact that they could also be texting or on social media. But generally, the students found the task to be engaging enough that this wasn’t an issue too frequently.

There are many ways I could have enhanced my lesson through the use of technology. In my introductory PowerPoint presentation, I have a slide asking students to recall knowledge from a previous lesson. But I could have used a quick Kahoot! quiz to draw them in with something fun. If I had Chromebooks for my whole class, I could have had them compile their data on a Google Doc as opposed to having one student compile the data on their own on paper or on a Microsoft Word document. This would allow multiple students to contribute to the project at once.

As I mentioned earlier, I had intended for the students to become advocates for sustainable practices pertaining to natural resources and present to the rest of the class once the posters were done. They could have made a Google Slide presentation or a Prezi to frame their presentation. But imagine what it would have been like if rather than presenting to each other, they presented to an expert on the topic (like an environmentalist). The Digital Human Library could have been a way to get in touch with someone who could have done just that.

While it’s true that I certainly didn’t do anything groundbreaking in terms of technology use, but I think that there are definitely lots of ways to incorporate technology into my lesson. But that’s the fun thing about being a teacher; I can always try again and aim to make it better!

If you are interested in resources for the geography  lesson I did, click here for my lesson plan and here for the presentation I used to explain the task.


Using Prodigy in the Classroom

A rare form of math game that is both highly functional and lots of fun!

Sometimes it can be tricky to find new ways to make math exciting for students. But, in my experience thus far, I haven’t seen anything quite as fun and engaging as the math-based game called Prodigy.


Prodigy presents itself as a fantasy role-playing video game geared for students from grades 1 to 8. As of now, the game supports curriculum from Texas, Florida, Common Core (American), and Ontario. Students create a wizard avatar to represent themselves in the game. They are seeking to improve their magical prowess, explore their world, defeat monsters and ultimately, defeat bosses. Combat is turn-based, allowing students to select their spell of choice. The catch is that before they can cast a spell, students must first complete a math problem. As students progress, the game collects data on the students’ answers to the math problems and adapts to their level of proficiency.

Signing up is pretty straightforward and is done through the Prodigy website. An account is free for teachers (so no need to worry about using school resources.  Devices with access to a web browser and an internet connection are all students will need to play the game.  To sign up, teachers have to provide their name, email address, a password, school (optional), grade of students and curriculum covered. For a step-by-step guide provided by Prodigy, click here.

Since Prodigy is free, I thought I would make an account and explore the features for myself. Here’s what my class “Dashboard” looked like after I set up my account.


Prodigy provided me with the next three steps I would need to take to get my class started on Prodigy. When I clicked “Classrooms”in the top right corner of the page, I was able to see my class and given the option to add more (which was also free). Frequently asked questions were found lower down on the page.

As a fan of video games, I couldn’t help but want to try to see how the game actually played (what better way to showcase how the game works?) . So I followed the instructions on my teacher “Dashboard” and made my own wizard.


For all those visual learners, this is what “combat” looks like. I selected my spell (students would get access to more as they continued to play).


Then, I was presented with this math problem. I’m happy to say I was able to solve it.


This allowed me to successfully cast my spell and damage the opposing creature!


Pretty neat right? I can definitely see the appeal this game would have for students. Admittedly, it may lose its appeal with Grade 8’s as the graphics are somewhat childish, but it may still be a useful tool for differentiation among some students that age. Perhaps if there were a modified version of the game that made the game seem slightly more mature, it might be more well received by older students.


Having seen it work very well in a Grade 4 setting, I imagine Prodigy would work especially well in classrooms ranging from Grade 3-6, . The students liked the aspect of the challenge and getting more powerful spells and equipment, much like the appeal of an ordinary video game of that genre. While curriculum is supported for grades 1 and 2, the interface and the concept of a role-playing game might be too advanced for younger students. They may be unsure of where to go or what to do once the tutorial ended. You can use and equip gear that you collect by clicking the backpack option and see the pets that you find during the game by clicking the paw icon, but the game never tells you that; the student must figure that out on their own. I think it’s worth mentioning that because the game is built around a “combat” system, there is some cartoon violence (ie: firing colourful magical orbs at foes). That being said, creatures run away at the end of a battle, so nothing dies and there’s certainly no blood. If I had to make a comparison, I would say it’s a more tame version of what kids would see on a Pokemon tv show or video game.

Getting back to the teacher side of things, this is what my dashboard looked like after my “student” joined the game:


From here, I could now an overview of my students performance (or student, in my case), the plan my class was on. I went into greater detail by clicking on the the options below “Dashboard” on my menu.

Clicking on “Students” lead to a class list and the ability to link parents to the student accounts. It also gave me administrator rights in managing the students names and log-in information. But the most exciting options, in my opinion, were under “Planner” and “Reports”. This is what my planner looked like:


Normally, the game will generate random math questions that cover the entirety of the curriculum and grade level that you set. In the students first few “battles” the game starts with questions that are two grade levels lower than their actual grade to get a feel for where they are. However, under the “Create Plan” tab, I was able to make it so that questions focused on addition to 100 for the next week. This would allow a teacher to focus the questions generated by Prodigy on whatever they were covering in class. If they were so inclined, they could make plans for the whole month, or even year!

Under “Create Assignment” I was able to set the game to test for specific skills over a certain number of days. I could even assign which students I wanted to it, allowing for different tasks for different students. Essentially, an assignment would dictate the next few questions that my students would get when they played the game and would take priority over any plan that I had in place. For example, if a teacher was working with their class on fractions, but it became apparent that the students needed a review of addition, the teacher could make an addition assignment and have the next 10 question Prodigy asks the students be addition related before switching back to fractions. This, in my opinion, could serve as an excellent form of differentiated homework, tailored to each student and their specific needs.

The “Reports” section helped me keep track of how my students were doing.


Prodigy gathers information on everything from knowing when students are playing Prodigy, to how well students are doing on each topic (right down to which exact questions they got wrong and how they answered), to how much of the curriculum or a given topic they have worked through. All these reports serve to help teachers identify students strengths and weakness and help them accordingly making it a fantastic diagnostic tool for teachers.

As I mentioned above, Prodigy can be used as a form of homework either for the whole class or as a differentiated alternative for some students. It can also be used in the classroom as something students can do when they have finished their classwork or as a free time option.

Without a doubt, Prodigy’s greatest strength is its ability to engage students. Because it presents itself like a real video game (rather than a math game website that’s obviously purely for learning), students are drawn into the world that Prodigy presents and are highly motivated to answer the math questions and progress through the game. As illustrated above, its ability to adapt and differentiate for students of many skill levels is truly impressive. That’s not to say it is not without its flaws. The game may fall flat for students on the younger and older side of the advertised age range. Additionally, students may be motivated to simply cheat on the questions they struggle with for the sake of progressing through the game. That’s why I think it is important not to just give students the game and leave them be, but to be present throughout the learning process at school and have parents help at home.

Overall, I highly recommend this game for use in Grades 3 to 6. I can say from experience that its lots of fun!

For more detailed video instructions on how to get set up and use Prodigy’s features click here.

All screenshots were taken from either my account on the Prodigy website, or my student account in the game it self.