Hands-on Activity: Using Map Scales to Figure Distances and Areas

Contributed by: Adventure Engineering, Colorado School of Mines

A portion of a map showing a grid and distance scale. Each grid side is 10 km.
Students use map scales to determine map distances and areas,
copyright
Copyright © 2005 Adventure Engineering, Colorado School of Mines

Summary

Continuing the Asteroid Impact challenge, students learn how to determine map distances and areas using map scales. They get a feel for how much an area represents on a map in relation to the sizes they are suggesting for their underground caverns to shelter the Alabraska population.
This engineering curriculum meets Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS).

Engineering Connection

Many types of engineers—civil, geological, petroleum, environmental—must fully understand maps, map reading and map creation to assist in the research and planning of engineering design solutions, such as designing roadways and tunnels, drilling for water or fossil fuels, creating dams, and tracking air pollution.

Pre-Req Knowledge

Some knowledge of length, width, area and volume; multiplication.

Learning Objectives

After this activity, students should be able to:

  • Use a map scale to determine distances between cities on a map and the size of areas on a map.
  • Compare map areas determined in this activity to areas from a previous activity.
  • Relate map areas and lengths to a real-world situation.

More Curriculum Like This

Topo Map Mania!

Students learn to identify the common features of a map. Through the associated activities, students learn how to use a compass to find bearing to an object on a map and in the classroom.

Middle School Lesson
Identifying Possible Underground Cavern Locations

Students apply their knowledge of scales and areas to determine the best locations in Alabraska for the underground caverns. They cut out rectangular paper pieces to represent caverns to scale with the maps and place the cutouts on the maps to determine possible locations.

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To kickoff the Adventure Engineering Asteroid Impact unit, students learn of the impending asteroid impact scenario, form teams and begin to study the situation in depth. A simple in-class simulation shows them the potential for destruction and disaster. They look at maps and complete a worksheet an...

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Educational Standards

Each TeachEngineering lesson or activity is correlated to one or more K-12 science, technology, engineering or math (STEM) educational standards.

All 100,000+ K-12 STEM standards covered in TeachEngineering are collected, maintained and packaged by the Achievement Standards Network (ASN), a project of D2L (www.achievementstandards.org).

In the ASN, standards are hierarchically structured: first by source; e.g., by state; within source by type; e.g., science or mathematics; within type by subtype, then by grade, etc.

  • Construct an explanation based on evidence for how geoscience processes have changed Earth's surface at varying time and spatial scales. (Grades 6 - 8) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Fluently add, subtract, multiply, and divide multi-digit decimals using the standard algorithm for each operation. (Grade 6) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Solve problems involving scale drawings of geometric figures, including computing actual lengths and areas from a scale drawing and reproducing a scale drawing at a different scale. (Grade 7) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Fluently add, subtract, multiply, and divide multidigit decimals using standard algorithms for each operation. (Grade 6) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Solve problems involving scale drawings of geometric figures, including computing actual lengths and areas from a scale drawing and reproducing a scale drawing at a different scale. (Grade 7) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Develop and communicate an evidence based scientific explanation around one or more factors that change Earth's surface (Grade 5) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Analyze and interpret data identifying ways Earth's surface is constantly changing through a variety of processes and forces such as plate tectonics, erosion, deposition, solar influences, climate, and human activity (Grade 5) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
  • Gather, analyze, and communicate data that explains Earth's plates, plate motions, and the results of plate motions (Grade 7) Details... View more aligned curriculum... Do you agree with this alignment?
Suggest an alignment not listed above

Materials List

Introduction/Motivation

Now that your engineering team knows the required cavern area, your task is to translate that information to a map to see how big the cavern is compared to the size of the state of Alabraska.

Procedure

Background

As necessary, refresh students' knowledge on how to use map scales.

Before the Activity

  • Gather materials and make copies of the handouts.
  • Post (or project) the large-sized Alabraska General Map at the front of the classroom.

With the Students

  1. Hand out the materials to the groups. 
  2. Re-familiarize students with the maps by asking them a few questions, for example: What is the capitol of Alabraska? Where is it located in terms of grid coordinates? What types of transportation are represented in the state of Alabraska?
  3. Discuss the map scale with students. Lead them through some examples by making map measurements with a ruler and then determining how many miles this represents according to the map scale. For example, if 1 centimeter = 10 kilometers, then 3 cm on the map represents 30 kms in the real world.
  4. Give the engineering teams time to complete the worksheet. Tips for worksheet questions:

Q1: To put the worksheet answers into perspective, ask students to compare their answers to their own home-to-school distance.

Q2:The grid space area is determined by multiplying length by width.

Q3: Expect students to figure out that they can count grid spaces within the military base and multiply by the area per grid space (Q2 answer).

Q4: This is to give the students perspective.

Q5: Expect students to find that Alabraska is much bigger than the required cavern area.

  1. As time permits or assign as homework: If students drew plans of their cavern designs at the end of the previous activity, now have them re-draw them to scale. An appropriate scale is 1 cm = 1 km.

Attachments

Assessment

Worksheet: Review students' answers on the Scaling the Map Worksheet to gauge their mastery of the subject matter. Refer to the Asteroid Impact Student Workbook Example Answers provided in the unit document for example worksheet answers.

Quiz: To conclude, ask students to estimate distances using a different map. For example, estimate the distance from two cities such as London and Moscow, or the area of a U.S. state. Or have students conduct the Extension Activities.

Homework: If students drew plans of their cavern designs at the end of the previous activity, now assign them re-draw them to scale. An appropriate scale is 1 cm = 1 km.

Activity Extensions

  • On a map of the U.S., use the scale to determine the area of any state.
  • Find the largest country in the world and use the scale to determine its size.
  • What are the tallest buildings in the world? For example, the Willis Tower in Chicago is 1,450 feet tall (110 floors). If you were asked to build a model of this skyscraper at a scale of 1 inch = 100 feet, how tall would the model be? (Answer: 14.5 inches tall.) For extra credit, convert English units to metric units (442 meters).

Copyright

© 2013 by Regents of the University of Colorado; original © 2005 Colorado School of Mines

Supporting Program

Adventure Engineering, Colorado School of Mines

Acknowledgements

Adventure Engineering was supported by National Science Foundation grant nos. DUE 9950660 and GK-12 0086457. However, these contents do not necessarily represent the policies of the National Science Foundation, and you should not assume endorsement by the federal government.

Last modified: April 3, 2018

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