Students Use Google Maps to Plan Field Trips

Each May, our fifth grade stu­dents go Walk­a­bout. No, we don’t send them into the Aus­tralian Out­back, but we send them into the city to find writ­ing inspiration.

Plan­ning a real-life field trip is a project that requires stu­dents to research online, explore the geog­ra­phy of the city using Google maps, col­lab­o­rate in small groups, plan for and use pub­lic trans­porta­tion, cre­ate rea­son­able timeta­bles, orga­nize itin­er­aries on a spread­sheet, bud­get, and com­mu­ni­cate with parents.

While on the field trip, stu­dent groups make stops at places where they write for 20 min­utes and take pic­tures. Most writ­ing is descrip­tive, but we ask that stu­dents draft at least one haiku.

When they return to school, stu­dents revise, edit, and pub­lish their haikus. Pic­tures and descrip­tive writ­ing are turned into nar­ra­tives, pho­toes­says, and more.

Brain­storm­ing Places to See

The class begins by explor­ing some of Hong Kong’s great tourist attrac­tions and look­ing through vir­tual tours. Indi­vid­ual stu­dents list places that trig­ger fond mem­o­ries as well as places they’ve always wanted to visit. Indi­vid­u­als then iden­tify at least three places they believe will inspire good writing.

Indi­vid­u­als with sim­i­lar lists are paired up or grouped together to plan a joint trip. Pairs and groups are then matched with par­ent chaperones.

Learn­ing the Geog­ra­phy of the City

Many of my stu­dents have lived in Hong Kong for years but do not know the geo­graphic loca­tions within the city. Which attrac­tions are on which island (after all, there are 260+ islands in the Spe­cial Admin­is­tra­tive Region)?

In order to visit as many places as pos­si­ble, stu­dents need to iden­tify the most effi­cient order of des­ti­na­tions. More than a few groups begin with itin­er­aries that cross Vic­to­ria Har­bour numer­ous times or double-back across Hong Kong Island. When asked to point out their des­ti­na­tions on a map, the “Ohhhhh“s and “A-ha“s are audible.

Click on the image to go to the Google Map


Plan the Route

Once stu­dents have iden­ti­fied loca­tions on a map, they must plan how to get from place to place. They ride the school bus to the Cen­tral part of Hong Kong Island. Then, they are released to fol­low their itin­er­aries through­out the city.

We ask stu­dents to use pub­lic trans­porta­tion rather than pri­vate vehi­cles (no dri­vers, no taxis, no pri­vate cars). They com­pare the length of time it would take them to get to a des­ti­na­tion using the MTR (sub­way), using buses, and walking.

Google maps allow stu­dents to make those comparisons.


Cre­ate a Detailed, Fea­si­ble Itinerary

The goal is that stu­dents get to all their des­ti­na­tions, write for at least 20 min­utes in each loca­tion, and return to the school bus by 1:15 in the after­noon. Groups used the Google spread­sheet to collaborate.

When stu­dents began enter­ing times, some time­frames were very gen­eral. When con­fer­enc­ing with groups, I’d hear them say We’ll be here be [this time] and there by [that time].

What time wil you leave x-place to ensure you are in y-place at your des­ig­nated time?” I’d ask. Many planned to arrived at a loca­tion, stay for 20 min­utes, then leave. They didn’t allow room for explo­ration or photography.

Other stu­dents looked at the Google routes and gave them­selves the exact time indi­cated on the “Direc­tions” loca­tor. They would catch the bus at 10:42 and arrive at their des­ti­na­tion at 10:54. When I asked how they could be so cer­tain about the times, groups said Google maps say that the bus ride is 12 min­utes long. I had to explain that a 12 minute bus ride began once the stu­dents were on the bus and the bus was mov­ing. The time does not account for walk time to the bus stop, wait time at the stop, and pos­si­ble traf­fic delays. Students had to prove their timeta­bles were feasible.

Itin­er­aries include lunch at a loca­tion cho­sen by stu­dents and a bud­geted amount of money.

Below is an exam­ple of an itinerary.


Trip Expec­ta­tions

While on the field trip, stu­dents were expected to write for 20 min­utes in at least three loca­tions. Since we’re in the midst of a poetry unit, stu­dents were asked to draft at least one poem and one Haiku.

Stu­dents were also encour­aged to take pic­tures and write detailed descrip­tions of loca­tions, includ­ing sounds, smells, and sights in each location.

Follow-up Writ­ing

Using ideas put forth by Richard Byrne at Free Tech­nol­ogy for Teach­ers, stu­dents posted pic­tures and Haikus around a Google map of Hong Kong.

Click on the image below to view the final project:

A detailed expla­na­tion of teach­ing Haiku and putting together the final projects can be found on Expat Edu­ca­tor.

Real­ity Check

Cities vary in terms of safety and ease of pub­lic trans­porta­tion. Also, schools have dif­fer­ent lia­bil­ity con­cerns. That said, stu­dents could use maps to plan itin­er­aries within smaller areas such as zoos, National Parks, and his­tor­i­cal areas such as Gettysburg.

Stu­dents might be able to walk around small cities with par­ents, stop­ping to write about parks, rivers, or fire sta­tions. Alter­nately, a Walk­a­bout trip might be an exten­sion activ­ity for par­ents and stu­dents to do together on the weekend.

What are your ideas for project using Google maps?


  1. […] The project begins with the field trip. In short, stu­dents research about the city, learn the geog­ra­phy of the city, plan their travel using pub­lic trans­porta­tion, cre­ate detailed itin­er­aries, and make a bud­get. Specifics of the research process is posted on 1:1 schools. […]

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