STEM: Incorporating Math and Geography

STEM: Incorporating Math and Geography

Welcome to part 4 of a series about incorporating geography with STEM. In part one, I wrote about studying science and geography together and in part two, I shared ideas for learning about technology in conjunction with geography. Part three taught about engineering with cartography. The final part in this series moves onto the M in STEM: math.

Math and maps…two of my favorite things on the planet. You may be wondering what math has to do with geography.

Why is math important in the field of geography?

  • Math is used in map creation.
  • Math is used in surveying land.
  • Math is used in city planning.
  • Math is used to create GPS software.
  • Math is used to plan trips.
  • Math is used to create population and census tables.
  • Math is used to analyze problems caused by changing geography.

Now you see how important math is to the study of geography. Scientists and engineers who specialize in geographical fields often need at least 8 different college level math courses. But, in simple terms, how can we incorporate math in our everyday homeschool study of geography?

The tools you need

There is one simple method and all you need are 3 tools: WonderMaps, a ruler, and a pencil.

One of the earliest geography experiences we probably all had was to learn how to measure distances on a map using the map legend scale and a ruler. I’ll never forget the silly joke my teacher told us, “Where can you find two cities within an inch? On a map!!”

Terms you need to know

  • The graticule is the imaginary grid that is formed by latitude and longitude lines. You’ll see the term graticules as one of the layered features that you can turn off and on in WonderMaps.
  • Latitude lines run east-west, parallel to the equator.
  • Longitude lines run north-south, from pole to pole.
  • This whole system of lines is also known as a geographic coordinate system.

Calculating the distances on maps can be quite complicated if you want to be perfectly precise. Just look at the formulas in this Wiki article. Daunting for even a high school student! What if your student is interested in just seeing a simple estimate of how far Ohio is from California? Or how far Ireland is from Denmark?

Remember, you shouldn’t always rely on the Internet or Google maps. This is where the ruler and pencil come in.

What to do

Since WonderMaps by Bright Ideas Press is my complete go-to map program, I’ll demonstrate this using one of their printable and personalized maps for the United States. If you have the program, print out your standard US map. If not, what are you waiting for…go buy it. During the month of May, you can use the code 5dollars2016 to receive $5 off WonderMaps. The final price would only be $44.95 and you can download it right away.

The distance between each degree of latitude is approximately 69 miles. Longitude is trickier because the lines do not run parallel and the distance shrinks as you get closer to the poles. (The widest point, 69 miles per degree, is at the equator and the lines shrink to zero when they reach the poles.)

You can use latitude lines as a guide to measuring anything on Earth. (Remember, these measurements will be a rough estimate. There are free calculators online if you want to be 100% precise.) Since printed maps vary in size, you should use a ruler to measure the distance between two latitude lines.

Math and Geography2

As you can see in my photo above, the distance between 30-degrees latitude and 40-degrees latitude is exactly 2-inches on my ruler. This means that our guide for measuring is 2-inches = 690 miles. 690 miles is the distance between latitudes 30 and 40.

Math and Geography3

Now I can flip my ruler and determine that, based on its measurement of 5.75 inches, central Ohio is roughly 1980 miles from Los Angeles, CA, if you keep in a straight line.

Again, remember that doing manual calculations of distances on a map is a great way to teach your children the skills of measurement, estimation, and multiplication. Not to mention memorization of place names!

Have fun with your maps and don’t forget to use your Bright Ideas Press discount code before May 31.

*Disclosure: this post may contain affiliate links.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *