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Thrill Your Students with Virtual Geography
by Grant Zimmerman


Thrilling Virtual Mapping Activities
There is no better time to have you students use and apply the modern web based mapping applications. Both Microsoft® Bing Earth (formally Virtual Earth) and Google® Earth provide tools to take and create 3-D tours on every ocean and continent.  Your students will love leaning about the U.S. and, at the same time, actively participate in creating the map. Collaborative
The National Geography Standards include the following skills:
•          asking geographic questions;
•          acquiring geographic information;
•          organizing geographic information;
•          analyzing geographic information;
•          answering geographic questions.
Open in your browser Bing™ Maps  and sign-in with your Windows Live ID. You can use Bing Maps without a Live ID.  Creating 3-D tours and saving your collections, however, needs a Windows LiveID sign-in.  I do suggest signing up for the free LiveID.  
Ask your students to locate the physical features listed below and place a push pin at each location. Download the student handout. This Bing Maps showing Leech Lake, MNpicture shows that Leech Lake was entered in the Bing search bar. It also shows that in order to save the collection one must be signed in with a LiveID.
The greatest attribute of virtual mapping applications lies in its ability to zoom in and out of locations thereby gaining a greater perspective of the location. This perspective is important in understanding where we are in the world. 
Using these standards as our guide, hand out to your students a map of the United States. After the physical features are uncovered during the research, follow up the online virtual activity by asking them to locate and color code each physical feature on a blank map of the United States using colored pencils. Each person in the collaborative team should learn the whereabouts of America’s natural features. Also, be sure that the students identify each state. Perhaps, label each state with the two letter, capitalized postal code abbreviation.
This last step is important. The students take what they have learned and show that they know where the physical features are located. I do suggest incorporating this activity into a larger unit of study of geography. Once you decide on the physical features to locate, this active learning activity transfers to each country and a multitude of research parameters.
Oceans, Gulf, Lakes, and Bays (blue)
·         Gulf of Mexico
·         Atlantic Ocean
·         Pacific Ocean
·         Lake Okeechobee
·         Great Salt Lake
·         Lake Superior
·         Lake Michigan
·         Lake Huron
·         Lake Erie
·         Lake Ontario
·         Chesapeake Bay
·         Puget Sound
·         San Francisco Bay
·         Lake Tahoe
·         Lake of the Woods
·         Tampa Bay
·         Lake Mead
·         Salton Sea
·         Leech Lake
Capes (green)
  • Cape Cod
  • Cape Fear
  • Cape Disappointment
  • Cape Hatteras
  • Cape Mendocino
 Rivers (blue)
·                     Yukon
·                     Mississippi
·                     Missouri
·                     Rio Grande
·                     Colorado
·                     Columbia
·                     Snake
·                     Potomac
·                     Hudson
·                     Ohio
·                     Tennessee
·                     Arkansas
·                     Yellowstone
·                     Sacramento
·                     San Joaquin
·                     Red
·                     Brazos
·                     Sabine
·                     Colorado (Texas)
·                     Delaware
·                     St. Lawrence
·                     Susquehanna
·                     Alabama
·                     Chattahoochee
·                     Roanoke
·                     Platte
Neighbors (red)
  • Mexico
  • Canada
  • Cuba
  • Bahamas
  • Puerto Rico
  • Virgin Islands
  • Haiti
  • Dominican Republic
  • Russia (Siberia) 
Mountains (brown)
  • Rocky Mts
  • Appalachian Mts
  • White Mts
  • Green Mts
  • Cascade Range
  • Mt. Rainier
  • Sierra Nevada Mts
  • Ozark Plateau
  • Mount McKinley
  • Mount Whitney
  • Adirondack Mts
  • Colorado Plateau
  • Allegheny Plateau
  • Allegheny Mts
  • Wasatch Range
  • Teton Range
  • Coast Range
  • Mauna Kea

Other Features (orange)

  • Mississippi Delta
  • Florida Keys
  • Grand Canyon
  • Sonora Desert
  • Death Valley
  • Mojave Desert
  • Bering Strait
  • Vancouver Island
  • Donner Pass
  • Niagara Falls
Grant Zimmerman is a Program Associate and National Faculty Member of the National Paideia Center at the University of North Carolina. He leads educators in Professional Development sessions on the Paideia Seminar and the Paideia Project. Grant is also a Senior Education Consultant with Knowledge Network Solutions—Leaders in Technology Integration in schools. You can reach Grant at