Caring For The Kaw Part 4: Map Your Connection to the Kaw

This lesson was developed by Dr. Cynthia Annett. There is a notebook in the attachment section that can be printed out on 4x6 cards and

bound with book rings. You can view, print or download the slide presentation from Google Docs Presentations by clicking here The student activity can be found at Caring for the Kaw Part 4: Map Your Connection to the Kaw

Overview: Students will learn how to orient themselves within their watershed, and will create their own personal map of the Kansas River.

Suggested grades: 6-9

Objective: Create a sense of “ownership” of the river by learning that they live in a watershed. By understanding that their activities within the watershed impact the river students will understand that they have a personal stake in reducing pollution and improving the ecological functioning of the Kansas River.

Materials: A computer with Google Earth installed. You can download Google Earth for free. Google Earth for Educators provides a variety of resources to help you incorporate Google Earth into lessons.

We use Google Earth for this lesson for a number of reasons- the program is downloaded onto your computer and does not make your maps public, which improves online safety for students; it does not require a Google Account which allows younger students to create their own maps without requiring an adult to provide a Google Account; and it contains a tremendous amount of content and advanced tools that will allow students to explore the world. We have found that Middle School students will enthusiastically use Google Earth to learn geography as if it were a video game, and will continue to explore places that they are curious about on their own time. Exposing students to Google Earth allows them to gain experience using a simple form of Geographical Information Systems (GIS). In fact, Google Earth Pro can be used to manipulate GIS files created by more conventional GIS programs (in GIS jargon these are SHP files which can be converted to KML files). This is an important "21st Century" skill for career development.

We provide additional lessons using Google Earth on our High School curriculum website that can easily be adapted for Middle School students.

Lecture:  The Kansas River (which is known locally as the "Kaw" after the original Native Americans of the region) begins at the confluence of the Republican and Smoky Hill Rivers near Junction City. It flows 173 miles to Kansas City where it joins the Missouri River. The Kaw watershed drains almost the entire northern half of Kansas and part of Nebraska and Colorado (53,000 square miles).

The Kansas River is the world's longest prairie river. This means that the entire river (including the headwater tributaries of the Republican and Smoky Hill Rivers) is in the prairie and it does not have any connections to the mountains. This can be contrasted to the Missouri River and the Arkansas Rivers, which start in the Rocky Mountains. There are some important differences: the Kansas River depends only on the rain and snow that falls in the prairie, while the Missouri and Arkansas Rivers get a pulse of water in the spring from snow melt in the mountains.

The Kansas River runs west to east through parts of Colorado and Nebraska and the entire length of Kansas. Over 600,000 Kansans depend on the Kaw for their drinking water, and the river is home to many native animals and plants. 

You can show students a photographic tour of the Kansas River using resources in our County Atlas section
Activity: The file in the Attachment section at the bottom of this page contains a map pop-up with the instructions embedded as a slideshow. The slideshow is also available on the student activity page and as a Google Presentation. The reason we provide the instructions as a kml file that can be opened in Google Earth is to simplify the mechanics of accessing the instructions-- rather than printing them off or toggling between the website and Google Earth, students can view everything within a single window.

Using Google Earth students will create a simple map that includes markers indicating the location of their school and the river. They will draw a path between their school and the Kansas river-- more advanced students can do this by tracing the path that water will take down the nearest stream to the river. The exercise can also be expanded by asking students to trace the Kansas River to the Missouri River, the Missouri River to the Mississippi River, and the Mississippi River to the Gulf of Mexico. This provides students with a sense that the rivers are connected into a network, and that what happens to the Kansas River has larger implications (for example, the dead zone in the Gulf of Mexico).

Encourage the students to explore the Google Earth Layers for Global Awareness, and explore the Google Earth Gallery. You will see these circled in red in the picture below (along with the controls for Street View).

We suggest that you have the students look for specific landforms, river characteristics or objects to help them organize their exploration. Some possibilities that are relevant to river ecology include:

  • Are there any bridges or dams on the river near where you live?
  • Can you find any islands in the river?
  • How about sandbars?
  • Are there trees along the river?
  • Do you see any industries, electrical power plants, or other “point sources” for pollution?
  • What is the most interesting thing that you have found along the river?
Many students will only experience seeing the river when they drive across bridges, so these are good objects to locate on Google Earth to help students orient to the river. Sandbars, islands and trees are easily seen in Google Earth and important for river ecology. Electrical power plants, sewage treatment plants and other industrial developments can be found with some practice (you can look for locations on the maps in this section of our main website on industrial facilities).

Once the student is comfortable navigating in Google Earth you can challenge them to find things that are odd looking or interesting-- this will give them practice interpreting satellite imagery.

Here are some additional tips for Google Earth- we would like to thank Ron Hall from the Spokane Riverkeeper for his suggestions:

Bandwidth: If you have a slow connection to the internet and bandwidth is a problem, you can have the students work in teams or project the image on a screen and make this a class exercise.

Keyboard Shortcuts: Here is a link to Keyboard Shortcuts on the Mac and to Keyboard Shortcuts on PCs -these are very helpful for maneuvering through Google Earth. We have formatted them so that you can print them out on 4 x 6 cards-- go to the Attachment section at the bottom of this page to download the files.

Sidebar: To turn on and off the sidebar you can also use "View" in the drop down menu at the top in the "Task bar"

Marker Icons:  After you type the name of the marker in the dialog box, you have to click on the box in the Icon dialog box, then also check "OK" in main box, otherwise you might cancel placemark creation. (If you just type the name in and click OK it will erase the name of the marker.)

Path Tool: There is a second way to use path tool by accessing through the "ruler"/choosing path option - this allows you to see the path length grow/vary - you do have to save the path afterward. Also - right clicking on entry in side panel allows you to open up/edit the path again.

River View: Google is actually developing a "river view" to compliment "street view" Google River view/Google Boats

Folders: Although we end the session by creating a folder and saving everything, you can also start your session by creating a folder. Then "highlight"/select the folder before you create placemarks, and the placemarks will be in that folder. This is actually a shortcut which will save work dragging and dropping links for markers and paths.

File Format: Google Earth and Google Maps save files in kml format, which is the extension you will see on the file name. You can also use kmz format, which is simply a zipped kml file that is easier to send and download if your map is large.

Historical Imagery: To see an example of how islands and sand bars in the Kansas River change over time, fly up to the Route 59 bridge over the river, turn on historical imagery (see below) and move the slider bar back and forth - note dates and changes in look of islands in river.

Photos: You can view photographs of the river organized by county on the main Friends of the Kaw website, or for the entire river on our Kansas River Inventory website (you can download the kml file from this website as well). For photographs uploaded into Google Earth by the public, click on Panramio Images in the Layers section of the Google Earth sidebar.

Fly the Kaw: You can use the path tool to create fly through down the river corridor, there is a kmz file in the Attachment section at the bottom of this page of a path down the river that you can use to try it out.

Elevation Profiles: Create a path, then with the sidebar link highlighted click Edit>Show Elevation Profile

You can move the slider and see what the elevation is for specific locations along the path. Note that the elevations are calculated from the top surface, so you will see the surface of the water and not the channel (the top of the bridge, roof of buildings, etc.)


County Atlas

River Inventory

Life on the Kaw

Industrial Facilities

Additional Map Labs

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Dr. Cynthia Annett,
Jan 3, 2012, 6:51 PM
Dr. Cynthia Annett,
Jan 8, 2012, 5:42 PM
Dr. Cynthia Annett,
Jan 8, 2012, 5:40 PM
Dr. Cynthia Annett,
Jan 3, 2012, 12:39 PM