Make Your Own Contour Map

Earth Science Unit Study

Week 8: We created our own contour maps.

Contour maps are valuable navigating tools for hikers and naturalists. The wavy lines indicate elevation and are always closed loops. The video How to Read a Map & Contour Lines explains several unique features of contour maps. For example, when the wavy lines point towards a peak, that is an indication there is a low path such as a stream bed running down the mountain.

After watching the video, we completed a project from Janice VanCleave's A+ Projects in Earth Science: Winning Experiments for Science Fairs and Extra Credit in which we created contour maps using clay, toothpicks, rulers and embroidery floss (or dental floss).

First an irregular shaped mountain was created.

Next toothpicks were stuck into the mountain parallel to the table at every centimeter of height.

Additional toothpicks were added such that four lines running down the mountain were stuck with toothpicks at every centimeter of height.

Next the mountains were placed on a piece of paper and a pencil was used to trace around the base. In addition, the locations of the four columns of toothpicks were marked on the paper.

Wrapping the floss around the mountain and pulling the ends together just under to bottom row of toothpicks the bottom layer was sliced off the mountain. Then the mountain was then lifted from the paper, the bottom layer placed on the table and the mountain placed back on top of the paper ensuring that the toothpick paper marks were lined up. Then the next contour line was drawn and the process was repeated until the top of the mountain was reached.

Looking at the above contour map, several features of the mountain can be seen. There are two peaks indicated by the two small circles. The slope on the left side is gradual which is indicated by the larger spaces between the contour lines. There is a valley between the two peaks indicated by the contour lines pointing toward the peaks.

This visual, hands-on activity created a much deeper understanding of reading contour maps.

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  1. These look fantastic! What a great geography activity!

  2. What a great project - cutting off each layer is very creative! I need to save this one for future use.


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