Trail Planning Using Topographic Quadrangle Maps

Blog, She Wrote Trail Planning Using Topographic Quadrangle Maps

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This year our high schoolers are taking Earth Science. Typically, earth science is a middle school course, but in NY it’s a high school requirement. So, I set out to find some high school level earth science activities. I came across a NY website for science teachers and modified an activity to suit our needs. Our kids enjoyed Trail Planning Using Topographic Quandrangle Maps.

Topographic Maps in Geography & Earth Science

Topographical maps are useful in both geography and earth science. Typically, in earth science students learn to work with and make their own topo maps while in geography students spend time interpreting the topo maps. In NorthStar Geography by Bright Ideas Press, topographical maps are in lesson five on topography. In addition to the activities found there, the USGS site has some challenging exercises for topographers.

What Is a USGS Quadrangle Map?

The United States Geological Survey (USGS) makes maps available on their website. The USGS is a science organization which provides information on the health of our ecosystems and environment along with information on natural hazards and our natural resources. They are also in the business of cartography (map making). Quadrangle maps are available for free download from the USGS.

  • Shows elevation and other features of the land
  • Historic topo maps can show physical and cultural features of an area at a certain point in time- you can see how an area looked before development
  • Used by recreationists- great for hikers & cross country skiers
  • Helpful when you are looking to by land for building or buying a home- gives a good idea of drainage and don’t forget to visit when it rains!

Blog, She Wrote Trail Planning Using Topographic Quandrant Maps

Trail Building with a USGS Quadrangle Map Reference

The task was to plan a new recreational trail within the area of the quadrangle map using a few criteria:

  • Must be easily accessible from the road & include parking
  • Four different habitats must be present along the trail
  • Establish two new trails
  • Include a picnic area
  • Beginner Trails- are defined by a distance less than 5 miles, looped trail, no gradients larger than 150 ft per mile
  • Advanced Trails- are defined by a distance 5-10 miles long, begin and end at a park access road, no gradients larger than 500 ft per mile
  • Turn in a hand drawn map of the trail and surrounding area with labels
  • Include a data sheet with a key listing out the criteria met on the map

Some of the challenges include interpreting the quadrangle map and following the guidelines to complete the task within the parameters. The results of this assignment were delightful!

More Posts on Topography at Blog, She Wrote

Teaching Geography with Earth Science

We’ve been working with maps a lot this year. Here are a few related posts:

Maps are fun for our family and topographic maps add a special challenge to map adventures. Find yours with your kids today!

North Star Geography homeschool curriculum


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Making Edible Maps

Blog, She Wrote Making Edible Maps

With a homeschooling spread of high school to elementary school, it’s fun now and then to work on an activity together. Long gone are the days of working all together all the time, but we come together whenever we can throughout the week. Making Edible Maps was perfect for my seafaring  younger boys and our geography and earth science studying high schoolers.

Choose Your Map Medium

Blog, She Wrote Making Edible Maps

You could go with a salt dough recipe and mold the topography right into the making of the map itself, or you could go with a cookie dough recipe. In the end, my 11th grader suggested it would be a lot more fun to eat the map than to watch it crumble in a corner later on. He and I are always pragmatic.

  • Salt Dough- Allows you to mold the land features like you would with playdough or clay. You can also paint the finished map. Storage when complete must be considered.
  • Cookie Dough- Edible so long term storage is not necessary. Topographical features are outlined by the drawings on the top of the cookie rather than molded. Instead of painting, you can decorate with icing and other food items.

Either way, I think the take home message here is to make the time to explore something in a fun way. Even when you have high schoolers. When my kids were all little, it was great fun to take an afternoon for something like this. It’s a great learning activity which engages younger kids for a long time. Now it’s fun because they can do it all themselves and I can leave decisions up to them and they get to enjoy it. I get to have fun watching and chatting! When it comes to hands on activities, I have rule of thumb.

Never spend more time on prepping for an activity than your kids will spend doing the activity.

I know some homeschooling moms like to put a lot of time into preparing lots of great activities, but I am very careful on where that energy is spent. If I know a concept is not a major one or that my kids really already get it, I won’t spend the time on it. If they need more help, then it might be worth the time. I found it frustrating when my kids were younger to spend a ton of time preparing games, etc only to see them master the concept in a flash and the activity or the game to quickly become obsolete. So, evaluate where your time is best spent. An edible map combines cooking skills and makes for a fun activity without a lot of mom prep time. That’s a win.

The Cookie Recipe

We used a chocolate chip cookie recipe and made a double batch (measurements for double batch are below) which the kids split once the sheets were baked. It was a nice consistency for map building.

  • 2 cups Crisco shortening
  • 1.5 cups white sugar
  • 1/5 cups brown sugar
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 tsp baking soda
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 4 tsp imitation vanilla
  • 6 cups flour

If you want to make the cookies then you can substitute one cup of oatmeal for one cup of the flour and you’ll want a 12 oz bag of chocolate chips. If you want giant flat cookie maps, then leave out the chips and oatmeal.

Grease a baking sheet and bake the sheet cookies at 350* for 9-10 minutes. We used 2 half sheets for baking pans and cut them in half after baking, giving us four maps.

Of course, the quick homeschool mom alternative is to purchase ready made cookie dough or at least the kind in the bag you just mix with liquids. There’s no shame in that!

Choose Your Map

Blog, She Wrote Making Edible Maps

Now that the basic landscape is ready, it’s time to get serious about the area featured on your map. Your students can choose a variety of areas to focus on. For example:

  • Continent- this would be a wider scale area for this medium, but the mountain ranges and sea level areas would be easy to see.
  • Country- choose a favorite or some other place you are studying this year
  • State- wonderful idea for state geography
  • National or State park – Niagara Falls would be interesting in salt or cookie dough, don’t you think?
  • Local Quandrangle- our high schoolers recently did a project in earth science involving our local area using a USGS map (see link below)
  • Fictional Location- what fun to map a world they love in stories. This is a great way to engage kids with books and Grow a Reader.

In the end, of our kids chose to make an edible map of a fantasy world they love. Are your kids creating or immersing themselves in other worlds? Chances are they contain some of the same geographical features you want your kids to notice and remember in this world.

Add Topographic Features to Your Map

Blog, She Wrote Making Edible Maps

My kids are old enough now that I let them decide where to take this. Projects are a lot of fun when you don’t feel like you have to micromanage! If you are doing a salt dough map you’ll be representing topography with the dough itself and painting details. With an edible map, our kids chose icing and other fun edibles to depict the features on their maps. Here are some things they chose to include:

  • mountains
  • bodies of water
  • gorges
  • forests
  • fields
  • volcanoes
  • marshes
  • bogs
  • lakes

Some kids chose to use icing of various colors and others used chocolate chips, sprinkles, and squeezable decorator tubes to make the designs. I didn’t do any special shopping for this project, they used what we had on hand. They had fun hunting for items they could use and improvising.

More Topographic Map Links

We’re doing Earth Science this year in conjunction with NorthStar Geography and this is one of the fun activities adapted from the chapter on Topography. It’s been a good combination for us to approach physical geography from the perspective of Earth Science. How do you study physical geography?

North Star Geography & WonderMaps Combo


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Teaching Geography with Earth Science

Blog, She Wrote: Teaching Geography with Earth Science

This post contains affiliate links. Thanks for your support!

Not only will our high schoolers earn a high school credit in geography, but they will also have their earth science high school credit. We can get a lot of mileage out of the content and videos in the earth science text when we are doing physical geography, but there are also beginning concepts which compliment one other. Here’s a look at How We Teach Geography with Earth Science.

Blog, She Wrote: Teaching Geography with Earth Science

High School Earth Science Topics which Go along with NorthStar Geography

There is some amount of overlap between geography and earth science. Physical geography includes discussions on earth science. While physical geography teaches the various features of the earth, earth science will not only name them and describe them, but will tell us how they were formed. In looking at both resources, I made a list of the shared concepts.

  • Maps & Direction- Types of maps and how to use them. For example, topographical maps (including contour maps), geologic maps, bathymetric maps.
  • Navigation- Subtopic of maps & direction. Lines of longitude and latitude, tropics zones, prime meridian, etc.
  • Structure of the Earth- Plates & continents. Earth Science will talk about composition of the earth while geography will touch on the people and their boundaries.
  • Topography- Bodies of water, man-made features, the lay of the land so to speak
  • Lithosphere- Mountains, volcanoes, and earthquakes.
  • Hydrosphere- Oceanography, freshwater systems
  • Atmosphere- Climate, weather, weather maps and interpreting weather data

Blog, She Wrote: Teaching Geography with Earth Science

How We Use Ck-12 Earth Science for High School with NorthStar Geography

CK-12 is an open source text book out of California which offers courses in science and math for free. The open source nature of the site means you can enjoy lots of content folks share including quizzes, tests, labs & activities. This particular course (Earth Science) has quite a lot of front matter, so we skipped it having met those topics in our science courses many times. We began with the Earth Science content.

Here are a few ways we have found to work these two courses together so far this year:

  • Read the chapters in both the NorthStar Geography text & the Earth Science text- the matching concept chapters compliment one another and come at a topic from a different perspective.
  • Watch the embedded video from the Earth Science text- For example, after doing the chapter on maps, we watched a video on latitude.
  • Activities & labs from Earth Science work well with geography and vice versa. We did the mapping activities with NorthStar Geography as our work for Earth Science.
  • NorthStar Geography Activities- Can add hands on fun to the Earth Science sections which are the same.

Blog, She Wrote: Teaching Geography with Earth Science

Flexible Technology Allows us to Use Both NorthStar Geography & High School Earth Science

Part of working with both of these resource tools together is to make use of technology when we can.

  • We use the ebook & print version of NorthStar Geography- The student reader is available in either the print version or the digital version. If you purchase the printed version, it comes with a CD which includes the digital edition.
  • The earth science text and NorthStar Geography were put onto my students’ kindles- They can watch embedded videos right from the text and read anywhere without sharing the resources with each other. The earth science text is offered in a mobi file for Kindles and the geography was loaded as a pdf.
  • If they want to compare resources they can read off the computer while viewing their NorthStar ebook or text book. With two kids taking the courses at the same time that’s handy. They will be busy with assignment and not necessarily work at the same rate or in the same way, so having options with no extra expense is a bonus.
  • Using a Kindle in Your Homeschool- Do you use a Kindle in your homeshcooling? Our student Kindles have been invaluable to our studies as our children have gotten older. Reading, research, and organization tools are used every day by our students. Amazon has a new Kindle- the Kindle Fire HD6 is $99 and offers the same excellent features as the one we use (with the bonus of a camera) with a slightly smaller screen. That’s a cost effective way to enter the world of tablets!

Blog, She Wrote: Teaching Geography with Earth Science

Benefits of Choosing NorthStar Geography for High School Credit

So far, the course has been enjoyable. We love geography at our house and even our high school junior, who considers himself a geography buff, could stand to brush up on his knowledge- especially in the area of human geography. What makes this one credit course right for us?

  • It’s easy to follow and very thorough- I think it’s especially easy when you have WonderMaps because the directions tell you what features to choose in the map before you print it.
  • There are several schedules you can use depending on how often you want to study geography in a particular year.
  • Hands on activities for every chapter- There are activity directions for each chapter which are easy to access and print for your students.
  • Build your own student atlas using WonderMaps printables or the ones included in the resource disc.
  • Hands off kids can work on memorizing the maps- They can choose to make an atlas or concentrate on memorizing only. There are a variety of ways for students to approach the course by choosing options along the way.
  • Customize to your needs and abilities- With so many components and the clear directions not to use them all, you can easily customize the course to your student’s strengths and your goal with the geography course.
  • Purchase alone or as a bundle with WonderMaps- If you already own WonderMaps you can go right for NorthStar. If not, you can purchase them together. The maps you need are included with NorthStar, but I love to make custom maps for our work and for any other of our map needs!

My plan is flawless except for the Lyme Disease which my high school junior is fighting. Whenever you are working with multiple ages and coordinating curriculum, something is bound to go wrong- in case you might think the world is perfectly aligned with such a great plan! So, our high school freshman must work ahead at this point. Ethan will have to catch up later or they will continue separately or mixed and matched with labs and activities. It’s important to remain flexible and keep forging ahead with circumstances as best you can. The plan is still there to keep on us track and let us know where we are headed!

We are delighted that earth science and NorthStar Geography are part of the plan this year!

North Star Geography & WonderMaps Combo

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