George Washington, The Map-Maker February 08 2010

An overlooked piece of history concerning George Washington was how much land he owned and how extensively he

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mapped it. He was, first and foremost in his career, a student of geography and cartography.

Throughout his life, George Washington owned an impressive amount of land. Edward J. Redmond of the Library of Congress stated, "His will, executed in 1800, lists 52,194 acres of land to be sold or distributed in Virginia, Pennsylvania, Maryland, New York, Kentucky, and the Ohio Valley. In addition to these properties Washington also held title to lots in the cities of Winchester, Bath (Berkeley Springs), Alexandria, and the newly formed City of Washington. [xiv] "

George Washington was an avid map maker. A book of his maps, entitled The George Washington Atlas, was published in 1932 in honor of the 200th anniversary of Washington's birth. His early career as a surveyor benefited him throughout his life.

Now your students can make maps just as George Washington did with this map making lesson plan!

A Map Making Lesson Plan

This is the perfect opportunity to introduce or review the concept of the Birds-Eye View. I like to tell my students to imagine that they are birds themselves, and that the term "Birds-Eye View" means exactly that - the view from the perpective of a bird flying through the air and looking down on all of us and how we live.

If you have younger students, start with your classroom. If a bird was looking down on your classroom, what would it look like? Sketch the perspective on a piece of chart or butcher paper. Then expand outward - what if a bird was looking down on your neighborhood? What would it look like? Start the sketch by drawing in the location of your school and moving out from there, drawing in prominent places around your school.

Education Place has a great Community Map for student practice that employs a Map Key. Use this map with your students, then draw in a map key for your neighborhood map if you haven't included one already.

Surveyor For A Day

Surveyors actually have complicated tasks to perform. They observe and research land, writing descriptions and making sketches for public record. Cartographers are similar to Surveyors, only they deal in much larger areas of land and/or water mapping.

So for this lesson, students will be practicing surveying as George Washington did. What they survey and draw will depend on the age and skill level of your students. Since the classroom was used as an example for Birds-Eye View, it might be a good idea to have your students survey and map sections of the playground or common areas around your school, such as the cafeteria, library or gymnasium.

For the next step in the lesson, have your kids keep their maps untitled - in other words, instruct them to leave the name of the mapped area off the map. The map should show the landmarks of the area, noting any differences; for example, does the land change from grass to mulch to dirt? If so, the maps should indicate this, and similar, changes.

Follow Those Maps!

Once your students finish their maps, block out a separate time for them to trade with each other and then take a tour of the school and grounds based on the maps. An easy way to do this is to have kids guess what area the maps cover, then group by these areas and visit each one. I like to have students draw on the maps they're using with pencil, sketching in any missing landmarks or descriptions.

Debrief once you and your students get back to the classroom. What was it like to survey the land in specific areas? Was it easy or difficult to use a Birds-Eye View? Why do they think George Washington made so many maps, and seemed to enjoy surveying so much?

After this exercise, a good extension might be to do some research on George Washington, surveying or cartography, depending on the observations and questions generated by your students. In any case, they'll have a connection to our nation's First President that they haven't had before!

Read more interesting facts about George Washington, as well as George Washington Facts, Firsts and Onlys!

Books To Read:
George Washington (Welcome Books)
George Washington (Rookie Biographies)