Urban Planning 101: Map Appreciation

Jill Baumtrog
National Center for Earth-surface Dynamics
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This is a synthesis activity, providing closure to river and/or map units. Students will begin by looking at a series of maps, including 3D maps. They will brainstorm ways the natural world may interact with humans and vice-versa. Students will then come up with a list of features of a city or town, make decisions where to set up the infrastructure, and construct a city while focusing on the interaction between humans and their surroundings.
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This activity emphasizes cooperative group-work appropriate for an Earth Science class, 6-12th grade.

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered:

As a synthesis activity, students should have experience with the following from previous lessons:
  • topographic maps
  • 3D maps
  • basic river principles
  • dams and their effects
  • cooperative group-work

How the activity is situated in the course:

This is a culminating project, that pulls together multiple concepts from rivers and mapping exercises.

National or State Education Standards addressed by this activity?:

National Science Foundation Science Content Standards: 5-8

Earth and Space Science, Content Standard D:
  • Structure of the Earth System
  • Earth's History
Science and Technology, Content Standard E

Science in Personal and Social Perspectives, Content Standard F:
  • Populations, Resources, and Environments
  • Natural Hazards
  • Risks and Benefits
  • Science and Technology in Society


Content/concepts goals for this activity:

The goal for the concept of this activity is to design a city to see how their decisions effect other communicaties and the land around. The students will examine various maps and make observations to gain perspective on human interaction with the natural ecosystem. In addition, students will use scientific understanding to plan and analyze their land use decisions.

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity:

The goal for higher order thinking skills in this activity is to synthesize ideas and concepts behind rivers, maps, and human interactions with the land.

Other skills goals for this activity:

The goal for other skills in this activity is to work cooperatively in groups and communicate the final product via a map.

Description of the activity/assignment

As a class, students examine 3D maps of an urban area and brainstorm features of cities. Students take into account of the natural features of the land and how natural processes (flooding, earthquakes, etc) may be planned for or mitigated. In groups, students receive a map with just the topography and water features. They work together to create their own city. What the students do not know is that all the map sections connect to form a single river system. The conclusion of this ativity will look at the cumulative effects of their cities downstream.

Determining whether students have met the goals

Students may be evaluated in several different ways. They may assess each other for participation and group-work. They may also analyze their city and write a page summary answering specific questions about their city. Students may also be evaluated on quality and content on their maps.

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Supporting references/URLs

Downloads of this activity and the necessary map components can be found at: