Universe Cycle - Earth (K)

  • Exploring mountains and plains.
  • Identifying mountains on a map.
  • east
  • land
  • mountain
  • plain
  • relief
  • west

Students make a relief map.


When students look outside, they see that the Earth is not flat like most maps make it appear. The Earth has mountains and valleys, hills and depressions. The Earth has what is called "relief", or changes in elevation on its surface

A map is usually a two dimensional picture or representation of the Earth's surface. Maps have many purposes, such as showing distances between objects, portraying relief, and navigation. Most maps, whether printed on a flat piece of paper or viewed on a computer screen, are two dimensional representations of the real, three dimensional Earth. A map is not a picture or photograph of the Earth's surface. It is a drawing which highlights some feature of interest, such as a road map. Maps can thus make clear details that might be hard to interpret from photographs.

All maps have a scale, which relates map distances to real world distances. On the United States placemat, a bar scale shows distances in miles and kilometers. Note that different scales are used for the Alaska and Hawaii insets.

In this lab, the students will use the United State placemat. The colored side of this shows the fifty states, their principal cities, national parks, and major rivers and mountains. The black and white shows major rivers and the locations of state capitals. You may wish to explain the scale to them, as a way of understanding "how far away" things are from each other. The relief map is a special type of three dimensional map which portrays changes in elevation on the Earth’s surface. They are an excellent tool to help students understand the concept of relief. Note that relief is exaggerated on the map. This is necessary, because in reality mountains are really tiny "bumps" on the Earth’s surface.

  1. Introduce maps to the students. Some of them may be familiar with maps from computer or video games. You may wish to show them a road map of your local area, to demonstrate maps as navigational tools. Explain the concept of relief to the students, and tell them that some maps show relief.

    Show students the United States relief map. Have them touch all the "bumps". Explain that these bumps are mountains. Make sure the students see that the United States has mountains on the east coast and the west coast. Explain that the middle of the United States is flat. When land is flat it is called a plain. You may wish to illustrate mountains and plains with photographs.

  2. Have the students work individually or in groups. Give each student or student group a United States placemat and play dough. Have the students make a relief map, using the two dimensional map as a base. The key objective is for the students to outline mountains near the east and west coasts. The western mountains should be larger. Have the relief map available, so that the students can refer to it. Check their maps after they completed their assignment.
  3. Check the students’ maps. Do not expect too many sculptured master pieces! Just working with the playdough, attempting to make mountains is sufficient. Have the students clean their placemats and put the playdough away.

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