5. From Maps to Models

Most middle school students have not seen or used topographic maps before. Conceptually, it is difficult for kids to see how a 2 dimensional topo map represents elevation. In this activity, students learn how to create and read topo maps. By the end of the activity, they should be able to read a topo map and identify simple geographical features from a map. Teams of students mold a landform out of clay then place it into a clear plastic container. Water is added to the container in 1 cm intervals and students trace the “shoreline” of their model onto a transparency placed on the box lid. The resulting topo map is traded with another group who is then challenged to turn the 2 dimensional map back into a 3 dimensional landform. Several options are provided for creating the final model based on the materials available to the class. In fact, having more than one option of how to create the model often leads to greater understanding of how topo maps represent elevation.

Can understand the construction of topographic maps and the use of contour lines to show the Earth's surface in three dimensions.
Can identify major geographical features on a topographic map.
Can recognize what lines on a topographic map represent.
Can create a topographic map from a 3 dimensional model.
Can create a 3 dimensional model from a topographic map.

Contour line
Topographic map

5. From Maps to Models - Logistics

5. From Maps to Models - Background

5. From Maps to Models - Getting Ready

5. From Maps to Models - Lesson Plan

5. From Maps to Models - Assessments

5. From Maps to Models - Sources and Standards