Some people will say that maps are dead, but they can be one of our most valuable educational tools. Now, instead of unfolding a map, we can unfold our students' curiosities. Whether you are teaching ancient civilizations or “The Watson’s Go to Birmingham,” help your students plot a course that will build a greater understanding of our world by using Tour Builder.

Tour Builder is a beta version website powered by Google. While it offers pre-made tours of many places around the world, its real value is in having students create their own. Not only can students use Tour Builder in the same way they would use Google Earth or Google Maps, but they can also add text, research, photographs, videos and more.

Now your students can quickly travel from place to place without ever leaving the classroom. On Tour Builder they can see these places as if they were walking down the street. Students can follow in the footsteps of history, plan a journey, or walk the paths of their favorite literary characters.

Getting started

Starting with Tour Builder is easy. If you have a Google account, simply sign in. From there you can explore a gallery of publicly shared tours, or you can begin creating your own.

To start your own tour, create a starting place by searching for it as you would with Google Maps. Type in the name of the place you are trying to find and Tour Builder will take you there, give you an option for using street view, and allow for detailed information to be recorded and curated along the way.

Options for curating information

Once you choose a location to add to the tour, you can add up to 25 photographs or videos, text, and links to related content. You can also add dates if your tour is historical in nature, or follows a specific timeline. Using these options allows you, or your students, to document what they have learned about a specific location. You could choose to send them on a tour and have them research, or use the tour to demonstrate their understanding of events in each place. No matter how you choose to use the tool, it allows for a clear, succinct way to sort and curate information as it relates to both times and places.

How I am using it in my elementary classroom

This year I am using Tour Builder with first and second grade students, primarily for social studies. We have been connecting with classes from around the world. The students ask their counterparts around the world about their communities, their schools, and themselves in either live or recorded videos depending on time zones. We then add what we learn to the tour we are building.

Students have the chance to see other places they may otherwise never experience. They spend time learning about the similarities and differences of different cultures, communities, and of the people themselves. Each time we add a new school or location to the tour, we reinforce common map skills, and learn more about various modes of travel and different climates.

Through Tour Builder I have seen my class develop a greater understanding for both the people and the places in the world. Each time we plot a new location on the tour, they know the direction we are going, they learn about the continent, country, and town to which we travel, and of course, its people.

While this is the primary use of Tour Builder, we are also going to map out prominent locations from the lives of historical figures such as George Washington and Abraham Lincoln.

Tour Builder is still growing, but the potential application to education is diverse and significant. Through developing students’ understanding of their place and events as they take place in a larger world, we are giving them an opportunity to experience learning in ways we could have never dreamed possible. Not only will our students have a means for accurately organizing information as it relates to maps and dates, but they will have a greater understanding of the places, the distances and their world.

Brian Costello is a math science and social studies teacher at Weymouth Township Elementary School in Atlantic County. He blogs at btcostello05.wordpress.com and can be reached at btcostello05@gmail.com.