Google Earth for Mapping Math

Our grade 5’s have just finished using Google Earth to solve a math problem designed to build large number sense.

The students were challenged to find a route across Canada, starting in Calgary, that would take them to each of the capital cities. The trip could go in any order after leaving Calgary, but the students needed to complete their trip using at least 20,000 km and not going over 25,000 km.

In order to complete the trip, the students first needed to know the names and locations of all 14 capital cities, including territories and the capital of Canada, and how to add digits with decimals. Interestingly, many student used print altases to gain remind themselves of the names and locations of the cities. (It was also a great review of the capital cities of Canada – also part of the grade 5 curriculum!)
A Google Earth demonstration was given before the challenge. The class was shown how to fly between locations using addresses as well as the names of locations.
Other tools that shown included: how to measure between two locations using the “line” and “path” function, how to move within the screen, how to zoom in and out of locations and how to mark locations that they had visited.
The class first explored these tools by locating their homes, the Calgary Science School and the Calgary International Airport. Once all the locations had been found, they were asked to find the distance between their home and the school, the school and the airport and the distance around the school yard.

Armed with these basic measurement skills in Google Earth, the students were let loose to solve the problem:
Here’s one of the student’s final calculations (you can see the three attempts made):
As with all our projects – we welcome feedback, comments, and suggestions in the comment box below.

2 thoughts on “Google Earth for Mapping Math

  1. I like the idea. I'm assuming that the goal was for the students to do some problem solving and practice their calculations?

    What do you think of Conrad Wolfram's recent TED talk about the role of computation in what we do in mathematics education?

  2. Hi David! Interesting comment about Conrad Wolfram. I recently watched a video from a presentation he gave about making math education more relevant to kids. See Link –

    At the Calgary Science School we work hard to find connections between the math curriculum and real world practical applications requiring these skills. In this project, the curricular outcomes were varied but included…
    -Working with decimals and place value.
    -Estimation skills
    -Adding and Subtracting decimals.
    -Problem Solving and mathematical communication skills.
    -Charting and organizing data points.
    -Canadian Geography (Social Studies Curriculum)

    The students were engaged throughout the process of this assignment and really enjoyed the challenge of finding all the airports of the capital cities. Many of the kids didn't even realize they were doing math, so we knew we were on the right track! One kid even joked about needing an atlas in a Math class!

    One thing I would do differently if I did this project again, is focus more on their specific strategies for finding an efficient route between the various cities. I would also get them to record a video where they explain their strategy and why they chose the route they used in their calculations. I think this would give us more insight into their thought process and potentially eliminate them using chance to solve the problem. These enhancements would add time to the assignment for sure, but would give us a better understanding of their reasoning and problem solving skills.

    Thanks for your comment!

    Greg Neil
    Grade 5 Math Science Teacher
    Calgary Science School

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