Google Goes 'Global' - and - Students to Get Better Education

Today’s release – a bit different –brings you two separate news stories. If you’re fascinated with maps, well, that’s what they are about; if your priorities lie elsewhere, I think you’ll find the stories significant, speaking to broad issues, even to how we will live in the world.

Google Maps now has a '3D Globe Mode' for desktop users. 

With 3D Globe Mode on Google Maps desktop, Greenland's projection is no longer the size of Africa.

With 3D Globe Mode on Google Maps desktop, Greenland's projection is no longer the size of Africa.

This Mashable article discusses the change, noting that Greenland, which is 836,300 square miles, is no longer the size of Africa which is 11.73 million square miles.

Now to set Google’s decision in context:

  • Google did the right thing.  People have lived with the fake views perpetrated by the Mercator map for centuries; change, though belated, is worth a celebration!
  • Google is, however. no pioneer in preferring accuracy of size over getting it wrong.  Rather, it is following a highly regarded lead: as far back as 1974 Professor Arno Peters was interpreting his true-to-actual-size breakthrough world map to German cartographers; it broke into the English-speaking world in 1983. Based on all the evidence, it has ascended in popularity polls to rival the Mercator, which continues to fall out of favor. Other mapmakers since Peters have prepared their own versions of a map to do what Google is striving for: show the world fairly and accurately.
  • Google’s route to the “Holy Grail,” which is to give up on traditional maps and go for a globe. is an easy answer since globes – and only globes – can show distance, size and shape as they really are.
  • Any globe, however, has severe limitations. Since a viewer sees only half the world – or less – at a time, it can never effectively offer the desired whole-world image. Sheer size presents another problem: if a globe is big enough to give much detail, it’s too big for most rooms. Classrooms, homes, offices, even books and magazines continue to rely on flat maps. The Peters and Hobo-Dyer are top choices in the field.


Going for a real, not false, education

A forward-looking school in Afton, Virginia, like Mounds Park Academy in St. Paul, Minnesota, like the public schools of Boston – indeed, many places – has found a great alternative. Actually, several options exist better than putting up with the distortions of the old Mercator or the practical problems of a globe; chief among them is the Peters Equal-Area map. Or the Hobo-Dyer, both available through Many Ways to See the World.

(For further info on these and other map choices, see How Maps Change Things or Seeing Through Maps, either print or digital versions.)

So our second story of the day comes from Afton, a continent away from Google‘s offices in Mountain View CA. The letter below is from Katrien Vance,  a teacher in North Branch School, to Bob Abramms of ODT Maps.

Hi, Bob -

I am the lucky, lucky recipient of your Hobo-Dyer Equal Area map, as a gift from one of my students' families (Corry Andrews). She wanted to contribute something to the classroom, and I suggested a number of things, including a new map. We had a wall-sized Mercator projection, and after a unit on maps (including watching your video) back in October 2017, the students were up in arms that the map needed to be changed. We held a debate on Grandparents' Day, and teams of students explained to their grandparents what was inaccurate and misleading about our current map. 18 of my 22 students wanted a new map, and the grandparents agreed. But I explained that we did not have the money to replace the map, so we knew we would spend the year looking at a map we knew was inaccurate/misleading. So when Corry asked, at the end of this year, what the classroom could use, I told her a map. I had seen your website, but I felt the price was way out of our reach. I told her what I wanted, but I steered her towards less expensive (and less perfect) options. She found your site and said,"Ignore the price--is this what you want?" and I had to admit that, yes, it was! And now I have it! Attached is a picture of it up on my wall with the help of two of my just-graduated 8th graders. We just stared at it for a good long while, marveling at all kinds of things.  

Corry said you were interested in hearing my plans for the map. Well, it actually won't stay up this year, as I am doing an all American-history year this year (I do a 2-year cycle with my kids), so that wall gets a huge map of the US. But in 2019-2020, this map will go up on the wall when I go back to European history from 1350 - 1900. I love having the students place everything we do both in time and place, so on our classroom map and on our classroom timeline. So when we study the Black Death, for example, we stick little stickers of rats and fleas on key cities. When we study explorers, we trace their routes with different colors of yarn. But by far the most important thing we'll do with the map is learn what a projection is, and how every map tells a particular story with its own distortions, and how whatever map we choose to use shapes the way we see the world. There is still a huge Mercator projection down in the Science room, so students can stare at that one during one class, and then come back to this room (their homeroom and Humanities room) and wonder, "Why is Africa so much bigger on this map?" or whatever else they are inspired to wonder. Every single person who has walked in my classroom since I put that map up this summer has made some remark--"Look at Australia!"  "Look at Europe!" I have been working in my room this summer, putting things together for the fall, and I find myself staring at countries, enjoying how clear all of the labels are and marveling at all the places that were lost on the old map that jump out on this one.

Anyway, I just wanted you to know that you have a full convert here to your ideas about maps and how important they are shaping the way we view the world. I wanted my students to have several different versions of the world around them at school (we have the "upside down" map up in another part of the school, and the map based on population is one of the kids' favorites--that's in the bathroom!!). Lucky for me, I've been able to make that desire a reality, thanks to a generous parent.

Thank you for opening my eyes to the power of maps!


I am so excited for this generous gift, and I can't wait to use it with my 7th and 8th graders.

Katrien Vance

Several things strike me in this:

  • Students care what they are taught. In this case they were “up in arms” when they learned of the distorted views the school was feeding their minds with.
  • Grandparents care, too. They took action and helped shape the future.,
  • Even one student can make a difference. Never say an 8th-grader has no power!
  • This story shows education in the best sense: experience that leads to a positive difference. In this instance students are engaged in their own growth; they get the point, they internalize and continue to talk about it.

What if something that good happened in your school, your community? Hey, why not?