With the touch of a button, some enthusiasm, and the help of products and services like web mapping APIs, any student can create gorgeous maps. Whether the school project requires building a U.S.-location map or a global history project, interactive data visualizations help students understand the complete picture. Most mapping tools feature a way to import data, with plenty of examples, search functions, and instructions to help users.
Web mapping APIs (Application programming interface) saves time and effort, allowing anyone to create maps without writing codes for essential map functions. Some APIs for web maps include Google Maps API, OpenLayers, ArcGIS, and Mapbox.
We’ve spent hours creating a comprehensive list of the best mapping software products, comparing the best online mapping tools and printable maps for classroom mapping purposes.
Online Mapping Tools And Printable Maps Compared
Best Technical Features For Large Datasets: ZeeMaps
Zeemaps is the best online mapping tool for the classroom. Its technical features and ability to handle large datasets make it ideal for lessons on geography, biology, global news, or environmental issues.
Import data from Excel, Google docs, or CSV to create and publish interactive maps. Zeemaps map creator software uses the spreadsheet data as the base layer map. Highly customizable features include color regions, custom icons, multimedia, and creating custom fields without development knowledge or experience.
Use Zeemaps annotate markers to identify newsworthy hot spots, historical sites, places of interest, information for student research, or customize a map for the classroom from students’ bucket list must-see locations.
No software installation is required, and with unlimited map markers, teachers and students can create phenomenal interactive maps. The Zeemaps free version allows for five free maps. The viewer, member, and admin access permit teachers and students to interact in group data analysis projects and create classroom presentations.
Best For Classroom Customization: National Geographic’s MapMaker Interactive
With the updated National Geographic MapMaker Interactive mapping features, anyone can engage in cartography, create custom maps with the online map tool, or use their tablets.
Creating a geotour (map-based narrative), for example, is one way of using a map creation tool to have fun, create interest, and learn about a town, nation, or foreign country. Students can add photos, links, and information related to locations to visit. When completed, they can share via email their geotour with peers.
The National Geographic MapMaker Interactive is an excellent introduction to geographic information systems. The product features include:
- Seven base maps have zooming abilities down to the street level.
- View multiple map layers simultaneously to identify geographic patterns and correlations.
- Prepare students for complex map interactions and geographic analysis with GIS.
- Add map layers and reorder them by dragging and dropping; students can also control the transparency level.
- Add photos, video links, drawings, labels, and markers to the map with the Drawing and Editing tools.
- Bookmarks provide location data as stories, creating exciting geotours.
- Country Facts and Flags offers information about the student’s country or territory, including economic drivers, population, and currency.
- The Latitude and Longitude feature help users work with coordinates.
The NatGeo MapMaker Interactive is an excellent map alternative to Google Maps for the classroom.
Best Platform Integration: Google Maps API
Most people are familiar with Google Maps API and have used it for real-time traffic updates, plotting the route for a road trip, or an overseas holiday. With over 100 million places to discover, you’ll never run out of venues.
Google Maps API tool features
- Static and dynamic maps help students plot directions to specified locations, for example, from home to school or the library.
- Installed and activated on iOs and Android devices, Google Maps URL launches in Maps.
- Get directions, navigation data, perform a general search or specific location search, and display map views on any platform; you don’t need a Google API key to use Google Maps URLs.
- Customize maps with labels, visibility levels, or color.
- Use the Distance Matrix API to plot distances and travel times to multiple destinations.
- Roads API provides exact routes to a destination on Google Maps.
- Convert static addresses into geographic coordinates and reverse the geocoding into readable street addresses.
Best For Beginners: My Maps
Create custom maps with My Maps, a by-product of Google Maps, on Android devices or laptops. Anyone with a Google account has access to the clean design and map creation tool.
Maps designed with the My Maps web-based tool are web-based and not downloadable. However, integration with Google Drive allows map integration and sharing. Search maps in Google Maps mobile app to find places on the go.
Best Styles for Google Maps: Snazzy Maps
Snazzy Maps contributes style to maps from common sources. With free design templates, users can embed chic maps complementing the website theme.
Licensed under creative commons, all styles are entirely free. Since its launch in 2013, Snazzy Maps products include a map styling tool, WordPress plugin, downloading map images, and since 2017, a Map Builder helping users to create a map for their website with a few clicks.
Best Map-Based Teaching Activities: Esri GeoInquiries
GeoInquiries are 15-minute instructional activities based on interactive maps. It reinforces lessons on standard-based topics for 4-12 graders.
Teachers can display the map on a classroom whiteboard and verbally present the activities from the teacher guide. Students can also follow the teacher’s presentation on their smartphones, tablets, or Chromebooks. A third option is providing students with a map URL for that lesson and student worksheets they must complete; worksheets are easily accessible in Google Docs.
GeoInquiries are available for:
- U.S. History
- World History
- World Geography
- Earth Science
- AP Environmental Science
- American Literature
- AP Human Geography
- Government and Civics
- Upper Elementary
Esri offers a free ArcGIS Online school bundle enabling teachers to customize, save, and share maps privately to their students or publically through ArcGIS Online. Teachers can use GeoInquries without needing to know what ArcGis is.
Each set contains 15-20 Level 1 lessons. Level 1 GeoInquiries use visual analysis and run on any computer or device without account login or installation. Level 2 GeoInquries require login to use ArcGIS analysis tools, and users must have access to Publisher.
Best Professional Looking Maps: Mapbox
With the Mapbox geo-visualization mapping platform and products, teachers and students create professional-looking mobile maps and interactive web maps. Users have complete control over map styling, giving them the freedom to be creative.
Advanced features include geocoding, integrated satellite imagery, and directions. By using vector maps, users apply real-time data directly in their online maps. Smart Directions API is Mapbox’s unique feature that automatically generates directions for anyone when integrating live directions into a map.
Users can choose one of the professionally designed maps for their project or customize the map in Mapbox Studio. Design 3D life-like landscapes without coding, import data to make choropleth maps and scaled point maps, or add your fonts, icons, and textures.
Best Multimedia Content: Mapme
Mapme for Education has an interactive map builder for school projects where students learn to create and share maps. Mapme is ideal for the history, geography, social studies, and foreign language classroom.
Tell stories with the custom map creator tools using images, videos, text, drawings, and icons. Students can import content to their maps and show 3D buildings on maps. Categories and filters organize the map locations making it easy for users to find a location by category.
Share maps with students and teachers, publish on social media platforms or print the map. Mapme’s key feature is no coding knowledge is required to build awesome maps. It’s easy to involve the community, maps are embeddable on external websites, and the mobile-optimized version makes it mobile-friendly.
The Mapme design is not limited to school but works well for real estate, government, events, non-profit, and travel; kids can continue using Mapme as adults. With over 100,000 maps from various industries, a student should find an example to inspire them.
Mapme has a 7-day free trial option; after that, you must subscribe. The student plan and classroom plan account come at a significant discount price. They also offer multi-maps packages.
Best Topographic Map: The National Map
The National Map provides topographic information for the U.S. provided by a collaboration between the U.S. Geological Survey’s (USGS) National Geospatial Program, Federal, State, and others.
The products and services grant access to geospatial information. Use the National Map Viewer (TNM Viewer) to navigate these eight foundational base maps or create specific types of maps. Geographic information categories include boundaries, land cover, elevation, geographic names, hydrography, structures, transportation, and ortho-imagery.
Easily accessible for display on the web, the National Map also supports data download in digital and print versions.
Best Interactive Fun On A Large Scale: National Geographic Giant Maps
With the National Geographic Giant Maps, students from K-12 grades can walk, play, and lie on these giant maps. Roll it out on the basketball court or outside on the playground and watch how these massive maps break down barriers. Engage students’ interest with fun activities and games, for example, finding and standing on top of Australia or measuring in steps the distance from one location to another.
The NatGeo MapMaker Kits takes learning about geography, ecosystems, and cultures to the next level. Using NatGeo MapMaker Kits, students can find places where volcanoes erupted, earthquakes occurred, track Olympic host cities, study countries taking part in the World Cup, or create an island. The NatGeo MapMaker kits series also include physical mapping features, the weather, studying languages, world heritages, major battlefields, and even mapping sled dog races.
Best Wall Maps For Education: Ultimate Globes
Ultimate Globes offers a full range of School Maps and Globes for teachers who prefer wall maps with rails or a spring roller. Maps vary from large formatted maps to smaller desk pads and outline maps for desk teaching.
Wall maps come in various formats to accommodate all classroom needs. The ready-to-hang wall maps feature top rails and bottom rails to keep maps sturdy. The pull-down map with a spring roller works well in limited wall space; the spring roller pulls down when needed. The standard laminated maps roll up for easy storage when not in use.
The map range includes the US and world history maps, shaded relief maps, State thematic maps, physical maps, political map series, primary maps, and beginner maps for pre-K to first-grade students. The kids’ globes series includes the MagneGlobe with magnetic marking pins and the Inflatable Solar System.
Best Mapping Software For Biology: DIVA-GIS
DIVA-GIS is a free computer program for mapping the world or specific locations on your Windows desktop; an excellent tool for Biology class. Free spatial data include country boundaries, global climate, species occurrence, high-resolution satellite images, and location sites observing animal species.
Use the program to analyze data, for example, making grid maps of biological diversity patterns, predicting species distributions, or mapping and query climate data.
Best Desktop Geographic Information Systems (GIS): QGIS 3
QGIS is a volunteer-driven project from the Open Source Geospatial Foundation (OSGeo). The desktop application is a professional GIS application that runs on Windows, Mac OSX, Linux, and Android.
The product feature
- Viewing combinations of vector and raster (2D and 3D) data formats and functionalities.
- Managing, editing, and exporting data.
- Performing spatial data analysis using integrated GRASS tools or QGIS geoprocessing, geometry, and data management tools.
- Publishing maps online.
- Extending functionalities with plugins; coders can program new applications with C++ or Python.
- Making printable maps.
Which online mapping tool is your favorite, or do you prefer a wall map with a spring roller?