Engage: Observing Elevation
Imagine you are part of a group of scientists trying to understand the surface of a planet. You want to propose future landing sites for exploration that will help answer scientific questions.
Carefully study the map of Mars below and then think about the questions that follow.
1. Where do the red, orange, and yellow colors tend to occur?
2. Where do the greens and blues tend to occur?
3. What about the tan and white colors?
4. Which colors represent higher terrain? Lower? How do you know?
5. What patterns do you observe?
6. What areas (colors) on the map look rough? Why? What do you think caused it?
7. Based on the map, where would be a good place for a safe landing site? Why?
Explore: Maps to Models
This activity will show you how to take an ordinary map and create a three-dimensional topographic map. You will be able to see the elevation of the area.
The materials and instructions are provided in the presentation video below. The Maps to Model Student Sheet is found in the Related Items section.
Explain: Going Up
Exploring Topographic Maps
You just learned a little about topographic maps. Let's look a little more closely at what you can expect to see on a topographic map. The video below explains how to read and interpret a topographic map. Download the Going Up Student Sheet in the Related Items section to record what you learn in the video.
Explore II: Play-Dough Topo
You have investigated and studied topographic maps. Now it's time to look further. You will create your own landform using Play-Dough. When the landform is completed, you will learn how a three-dimensional object is represented on a flat surface by creating a topographic map!
The materials and instructions are in the presentation below. The Play-Dough Topo Student Sheet can be found in the Related Items section along with a link to a play-dough recipe so you can make your own.
Explain II: Topographic Maps and Satellite Images
When you look at a topographic map, you see what the Earth looks like from a bird's eye view—a view from above. These views help keep track of changes on Earth's surface, such as erosion or a volcanic eruption. Satellite views also help to monitor these changes. Satellite images, particularly today, allow for the rapid creation of topographic maps, particularly in places that are difficult to access. Take a moment to look at the satellite image (in black and white) and the topographic map (in green and white) below. Are you able to see similarities? Would you be able to match them up if you were given several maps and several images?
Elaborate: Reading Topographic and Satellite Maps
Using the EarthExplorer website will help you further your skills using topographic maps. By navigating throughout different areas of Texas, you will analyze and compare different land features and their corresponding contour lines. These maps will also help you to predict future changes in the terrain. The Elaborate: Reading Topo and Satellite Maps Student Sheet can be found in the Related Items section below. Complete the student sheet as you work.
In this activity, you will observe the topographic map and satellite image of the same area. These areas are:
- Enchanted Rock
- Palo Duro Canyon
- West of Palo Duro Canyon, near Interstate 27 (Stay on the Palo Duro map and move left)
- Big Bend National Park
For each location, answer the Analysis Questions based on what you observe.
1. Go to //earthexplorer.usgs.gov
2. Type the name of the location (ex: “Enchanted Rock”) in the search bar on the left side of the page. Make sure "Address/Place" is selected and click “Show.”
3. Click on the link that appears below the search bar.
4. In the upper left, click on the “Map” button, and make sure "Terrain" is checked.
5. Zoom in all the way to the location on the terrain map (contour lines will appear), and answer the associated questions on Elaborate: Reading Topo and Satellite Maps Student Sheet. Note: If you zoom in too much, you will not see the contour lines. Zoom slowly and allow the map details to load.
Teacher Notes (these notes are also available for download in the Related Items section below)
This resource is a compilation of text, videos, and other elements to create a scaffolded 5E learning experience for students. This is meant for Tier I instruction under the Response to Intervention (RtI) model for grade 8 science TEKS (9)(C).
Be sure to review the entire resource and the related items before assigning it to, or working through it with, your students to check for prerequisite knowledge and skills as well as differentiation needs.
This resource can be used for instruction in a variety of ways.
• Use with a single computer and projector; this can be delivered in a traditional classroom.
• Use with a combination of teacher computer/projector and individual student computers (in either a computer lab or other 1:1 environment).
• Assign to students as work to do outside of the school day as part of a "flipped classroom" to allow for application, practice, and additional support during the school day.
• Use with students as tutorials.
• Share with parents to inform them about what their child is learning in school.
• Use with students who are unable to participate in the traditional classroom environment.
Students observe the map of Mars and answer the questions provided. This is an inquiry-based activity that helps students become familiar with the topography of Mars. The questions are based mainly on observing patterns. Based on the students’ prior knowledge, you can increase the difficulty of the questions to suit your classroom.
Provide the class, groups of students, or each student a map of Mars. Have them first brainstorm and list general observations about the map in their science notebooks. Then provide the questions and have students answer in their notebooks. Discuss students’ findings and thoughts about the topography that they observed.
Students have the opportunity to explore topographic maps by creating a three-dimensional model from a two-dimensional map. The map provided is from Angel Island in San Francisco Bay, California, but any map that fits inside the plastic trays is acceptable. By creating the three-dimensional model themselves, students can see the elevations that a flat map represents in real life.
Administer copies of the Angel Island (or another preferred) map to groups of 2–3 students. Ask them to observe the contour lines and discuss the topography of the landform. The presentation allows a step-by-step procedure that can be easily followed as the students move through the activity. Any plastic food trays/lids work fine as long as they stack together. Depending on the map, the number of lids used can be adjusted. Permanent markers work best and will not smudge; however, using a dry erase or overhead marker allows for recycling of the lids! Students can record observations and check for understanding by completing the Maps to Models Student Sheet. At the conclusion of the activity, discuss the connections between the map and the three-dimensional model created.
This section of the resource provides students with a summary of what they discovered in Explore I. The important part of this section is the important terms and visual examples.
The presentation can be used in different ways depending on the needs of the students. It can be used “as is” and paused when needed. Have students complete the Going Up! Student Sheet while viewing the presentation. For higher level learners, the presentation slides can also be printed and given as a gallery walk; students can use the student sheet and complete it while visiting the information placed around the classroom. A PowerPoint presentation of the video can be found in the Related Items section. At the conclusion of the gallery walk, students can discuss findings and make connections. With struggling learners, teachers may choose to create their own student sheet and go through the presentation at their own pace, possibly highlighting important information for the students.
Students have the opportunity to make their own clay landform and then create a topographic map to represent it. It reinforces the Explore I activity by again showing how a three-dimensional model is represented on a flat map.
In a classroom setting, this activity is ideal for student pairs. The presentation offers a step-by-step procedure that easily can be followed as the students move through the activity. Play-Doh® works very well, but soft modeling clay or homemade play dough is also an option. Dental floss is perfect for cutting through the clay, but fishing line is another alternative.
Distribute enough clay for students to mold a landform they can work with. Students should create a landform that shows elevation, steep or gentle slopes, a valley or a depression. Depending on the class, all groups can make the same landform, just different versions.
Once all of the landforms are sliced and the topographic maps are created, the students should complete the Play-Dough Topo Student Sheet. Another way to further students’ learning is to have a gallery walk. The students walk around and observe the other groups' landforms and matching topographic maps to see the correlation. For higher learners, separate the landform from its topographic map. Mix them up and have students try to correctly pair the map with the clay landform based on their knowledge of elevation and topography. Discuss with students the future of each land feature. What will it look like as time passes (due to erosion/weathering/catastrophic event)? How will this change the contour lines on the map?
This section of the resource provides students with a summary of what they discovered in Explore II. The important part of this section is the important terms and visual examples. This presentation further explains topography, but now discusses satellite views to identify land and how it may be reshaped by weathering.
The presentation can be used in different ways depending on the needs of the students. It can be used “as is” and paused when needed. For higher level learners, the presentation slides can also be printed and given as a gallery walk- students can use the student sheet and complete it while visiting the information placed around the classroom. At the conclusion of the gallery walk, students can discuss findings and make connections. With struggling learners, teachers may choose to create their own student sheet and go through the presentation at their own pace, possibly highlighting important information for the students. Students can also be given sets of cards and use them to match the satellite with the landform view.
This activity further reinforces the skills needed to interpret topographic maps and satellite images. Students use the website to visit different locations, observe the elevation, and answer questions.
The Reading Topographic Skills and Satellite Maps Student Sheet can be downloaded from the Related Items section. The student sheet lists the step-by-step directions in order to access and navigate through the website successfully. Teachers may use the program “as is” or change the locations that the students will visit. If so, the analysis questions may need to be adjusted as well. Another option is to give students an extra quest at the end to choose their own location and create their own topography questions. Students can switch with a partner and work on each other’s analysis questions.