Wednesday, May 6, 2020

Hawaii Unity Study: Make a Corrugated Cardboard Topographic Map of the Big Island

I know it's taken us almost a year to complete this unit study of Hawaii (including when we actually WENT to Hawaii in June 2019!), but this study has actually been a pretty comfortable one to keep on the back burner, just dipping into it every now and then when we've got a free hour or so in our school day.

It was easy, then, to look at my massive stash of corrugated cardboard Girl Scout cookie cases this winter, and think, "Hey! This would be a great time to talk about mapmaking and Hawaii!"

Our specific lesson was on contour maps, the circumstances under which you'd want to make or read one, and how to interpret the information--not super high-level stuff, but useful, practical knowledge for kids who have vastly more experience looking at hyper-real digital maps than they do black and white paper maps.

There are a lot of resources online for learning the basics of contour maps. This lesson specifically connects the study of contour maps to Hawaii, so was perfect for our purposes. This graphic shows common contour map topography linked to their elevation profiles. This USGS mapping system lets you dial down all the way to your neighborhood, seeing increasing layers of detail in the contour map as you go. Here's the USGS map legend so you can interpret what you see.

We also read a little bit from this book that I happened to have on hand. It isn't terribly rigorous but IS very clear!

Mostly just for fun, but also to make sure the kids internalized the connection between the 2D map and the 3D topography, I had them translate a 2D map into a 3D one, using this contour map of the Big Island of Hawaii as their template.

The process is dead simple: print that contour map of the Big Island as big as you'd like, then let the kids cut it up, trace the contour lines onto corrugated cardboard, cut the layers out--

--and hot glue them in place.

The result is a quite accurate and good-looking 3D representation!

I like the way that this overhead shot matches the 2D map:

To make the project more rigorous, you could require a higher level of craftsmanship by having the kid paint each layer, or label various features with toothpick flags. It would be especially interesting to map the Big Island's towns onto this, so you can see how elevation affects where people choose to live, or river and volcano features, so you can see how they affect topography, or even just the special and iconic tourist sites.

If you're including this in a deeper study of geology, you could even add the underwater elevations to your island--the Big Island would be massive if you mapped it from its true base!

If you've got a few kids or are in the mood for a super big project, you could even take the giant map of Hawaii project that we did here and translate the whole thing into a 3D contour map!

If you're not studying Hawaii specifically, you can give a kid much more ownership of the project by allowing her to choose what she'd like to map, and this would also make the project more rigorous as she'd have to figure out what to choose and how to source that contour map for reference. Or you could give the project a theme, and ask kids to build and compare different volcanoes, or different mountains.

I also like this project, which first has a kid build a model mountain, then slice it into elevations to draw the contour map. It would be fun to do this if you're reading a book that contains interesting and important topography--how cool would a map of Mordor be?!?

*wanders off to make a corrugated cardboard topographic map of Mordor*

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