Topographic Maps

Topographic Maps: How steep is it?

This week, students became expert topographers and learned all about topographic maps. Topographic maps are a way to represent the three-dimensional features of a landscape on a two-dimensional surface (a map) by not just showing locations, but also by showing the elevation changes of the land. The varying elevations of an area are shown using contour lines, which connect areas of equal elevation.

Students learned why topographic maps are so important and who might use them: architects would evaluate sites for buildings, marine biologists might look at the depth of the ocean where they discovered a new species, we all might look for flat trails for an easy hike or steep cliffs for rock climbing.

Students then had the opportunity to make a model of a landform using Play-Doh and slice it up into segments to create a topographic map of their model. Some students also had the chance to create a model of Hawai’i’s Big Island, only based on the information given in the provided topo map. Work with your student on the follow up activity and ask your student to show you how to interpret a “topo” map of their hand!

Mapas Topográficos

Esta semana los estudiantes aprendieron sobre mapas topográficos y se volvieron expertos topógrafos. Los mapas topográficos son una manera de representar estructuras tridimensionales en un mapa de dos dimensiones. No solo señalando puntos geográficos sino también mostrando los cambios de elevación del terreno. Estas variaciones de elevación son mostradas usando líneas de contorno las que conectan áreas de igual elevación.

Los estudiantes aprendieron por qué los mapas topográficos son importantes y quién puede usarlos. Entre ellos encontramos: Arquitectos los utilizan para evaluar sitios de construcción, Biólogos marinos para analizar la profundidad del océano y buscar nuevas especies o nosotros que los podemos utilizar para planear senderos para una caminata fácil o buscar acantilados para escalada vertical en roca.

Los estudiantes además tuvieron la oportunidad de fabricar un modelo geográfico tridimensional usando plastilina. Este fue cortarlo en segmentos y con ellos crearon un mapa topográfico de su modelo. Además algunos estudiantes tuvieron la oportunidad de crear un modelo tridimensional de la isla grande de Hawái, solo basados en la información dada por un mapa topográfico. Trabaja con tu hijo o hija en la actividad enviada para la casa y pregúntale cómo interpretar el mapa topográfico de su mano.


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Leighann Sullivan earned her BS in Biology from Cornell University. For a number of years she taught math, science, and language skills at a secondary school for learning disabled students. She subsequently earned her PhD in Biochemistry and Cell Biology from Rice University. Her dissertation was entitled, “Molecular and Genomic Analyses in Clostridium acetobutylicum.” When not pursuing academic interests she enjoys spending time with her family, traveling, reading, and experimenting in the culinary arts.

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