Sunday, May 1, 2016

Using Google Maps Bike Directions to Teach Math and Social Studies

National Bike to School Day is celebrated in May each year as part of May being recognized as National Bike Month. Many schools around the country celebrate the day with a focus on bike safety and encouraging students to ride their bikes to school that day.

Technology can be integrated into Bike to School Day by incorporating Google Maps. In addition to driving directions, Google Maps also provides directions and details for different modes of transportation including walking, riding a bus, or riding a bike.

See the rest of the blog post below to learn how to use this feature, as well as other ideas for how this can address curriculum topics in math and social studies.

Using Google Maps for Biking

When we think of Google Maps it is usually to get driving directions for a trip we need to take. However, Google Maps provides directions and other details for more than just driving a car. Specifically we can use it for riding a bike.

  • First go to Google Maps at
  • In the search box type in the name or address of your school and click the search button.
  • After Google Maps finds your school, click the “Directions” button in the panel on the left.
  • Now enter or search for your starting location, such as your home address (in my example I used my work address).
  • Then click on the bicycle icon at the top of the panel to get bike riding directions.
  • The map will now update to show you the route to take to bike to school.
  • In the bottom right corner of the map you will find the map scale. You can click on the scale to switch between standard and metric units.
  • In the bottom left corner of the map you can click to switch between the road map and the satellite imagery map.
  • In the panel on the left you will find several details including time the bike ride will take and the distance covered.
  • The panel also shows a line graph of elevation changes during the trip, and lists the lowest elevation, highest elevation, number of feet that are uphill, and number of feet that are downhill.

Uses for Social Studies

Using Google Maps for biking directions can have several applications for Social Studies content. Below are several ideas and standards that can be addressed (from the Ohio’s New Learning Standards for Social Studies).

Use Google Maps to show students how maps represent and help you find real places.
  • Kindergarten - Geography Strand - 6. Models and maps represent places
  • Grade 1 - Geography Strand - 4. Maps can be used to locate and identify places.

Use Google Maps to show how symbols can be used to identify locations including schools, restaurants, stores, and other places of interest.
  • Grade 2 - Geography Strand - 5. Maps and their symbols can be interpreted to answer questions about location of places.

Switch between the normal map view (a road map) to the Google Earth view (a satellite imagery map) to show how different types of maps can serve different purposes and represent the world in different ways.
  • Grade 3 - Geography Strand - 4. Physical and political maps have distinctive characteristics and purposes. Places can be located on a map by using the title, key, alphanumeric grid and cardinal directions.

Use the scale in the bottom right corner of the Google Map to estimate distances between other locations.
  • Grade 4 - Geography Strand - 9. A map scale and cardinal and intermediate directions can be used to describe the relative location of physical and human characteristics of Ohio and the United States.

Uses for Math

Using Google Maps for biking directions can also have several applications for Mathematics content. Below are several ideas and standards that can be addressed (from the Common Core Math Standards).

Google Maps biking directions include a section that shows elevation changes over the course of the trip. It lists how many feet you will bike uphill and how many feet you will bike downhill during the ride. For example, something like up 45 feet and down 82 feet. These elevation changes can be used to model positive and negative numbers (integers), such as up 45 feet = +45 and down 82 feet = -82. Furthermore you could model adding the integers by asking what is overall net change in elevation from where you began your ride. For example:

Up 45 feet and down 82 feet = +45 + (-82) = -37 = down 37 feet overall
  • CC.6.NS.5 Apply and extend previous understandings of numbers to the system of rational numbers. Understand that positive and negative numbers are used together to describe quantities having opposite directions or values (e.g., temperature above/below zero, elevation above/below sea level, debits/credits, positive/negative electric charge); use positive and negative numbers to represent quantities in real-world contexts, explaining the meaning of 0 in each situation.
  • CC.6.EE.7 Reason about and solve one-variable equations and inequalities. Solve real-world and mathematical problems by writing and solving equations of the form x + p = q and px = q for cases in which p, q and x are all nonnegative rational numbers.
  • CC.7.NS.1b Understand p + q as the number located a distance |q| from p, in the positive or negative direction depending on whether q is positive or negative. Show that a number and its opposite have a sum of 0 (are additive inverses). Interpret sums of rational numbers by describing real-world contexts.

Google Maps biking directions include a section that shows how many minutes the trip will take and how many miles will be covered. Students can determine how many miles per hour they would be travelling. They could also change their speed and determine how long it would take then.
  • CC.6.RP.3 Understand ratio concepts and use ratio reasoning to solve problems. Use ratio and rate reasoning to solve real-world and mathematical problems, e.g., by reasoning about tables of equivalent ratios, tape diagrams, double number line diagrams, or equations.
  • CC.6.RP.3d Use ratio reasoning to convert measurement units; manipulate and transform units appropriately when multiplying or dividing quantities.
  • CC.7.RP.1 Analyze proportional relationships and use them to solve real-world and mathematical problems. Compute unit rates associated with ratios of fractions, including ratios of lengths, areas and other quantities measured in like or different units. For example, if a person walks 1/2 mile in each 1/4 hour, compute the unit rate as the complex fraction (1/2)/(1/4) miles per hour, equivalently 2 miles per hour.

Google Maps biking directions include a section that shows how many minutes the trip will take. Have students use that information to determine what time they need to leave from their home to make it to school on time. This can be a good way to practice subtracting measurements of time.
  • CC.2.MD.8 Work with time and money. Solve word problems involving dollar bills, quarters, dimes, nickels, and pennies, using $ (dollars) and ¢ (cents) symbols appropriately. Example: If you have 2 dimes and 3 pennies, how many cents do you have? 
  • CC.3.MD.1 Solve problems involving measurement and estimation of intervals of time, liquid volumes, and masses of objects. Tell and write time to the nearest minute and measure time intervals in minutes. Solve word problems involving addition and subtraction of time intervals in minutes, e.g., by representing the problem on a number line diagram.


Google Maps has a multitude of applications for the classroom across all grades and subject areas. Above are just a few ideas that tie in with National Bike to School Day. It is a great way to learn how to use maps, calculate speeds, work with integers, and prove once and for all that you can’t really walk to school uphill both ways in the snow.

Use the comments section below to share other ideas for how Maps and Bike to School Day could be used to address topics in various grades and subjects.

Post by Eric Curts. Bring me to your school, organization, or conference with over 50 PD sessions to choose from. Connect with me on Twitter at and on Google+ at