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Exploring the Third Dimension with Captain Cooke

Cynthia Cooke


With the British explorer and cartographer James Cooke as inspiration, Exploring the Third Dimension with Captain Cooke shows students how to use contour lines to create a three-dimensional map of an island. As artist/cartographer Cyndi Cooke says, students are limited only by their imagination in choosing the islands' shapes and features. The project can also provide opportunities for portfolio writing as students explore their islands' government, plant and animal life, history, and more.

Lesson Focus

An exploration of the way in which topographical maps are created. Children construct their own three-dimensional map of an island using scientific terminology, contours, and a variety of point, line, and area symbols.

Time Requirement

A minimum of one to two hours is needed for the hands-on work. Teachers need to schedule the activity over two or more days so the glue used in the project will have time to dry between sessions. More time can be allocated as needed for students to write portfolio pieces about their islands.

Skill Development

Exploring the Third Dimension with Captain Cooke provides skill development across the curriculum in art, math, science, and the humanities. The activity encourages students to take intellectual and creative risks as they depict scientific information artistically. Students learn to build a three-dimensional map using all the basic elements of art -- shape, line, color, texture, space, and form. They also learn the techniques of the artist/cartographer -- researching and gathering information; designing the basic layout of geographical information with title, text, scale, legend, north arrow, etc.; making a mosaic or compilation of the information with three-dimensional contours and point, line, and area features; and creating a legend to include all represented symbols.


Exploring the Third Dimension with Captain Cooke gives students the opportunity to experience maps as works of art, historically and culturally; to make connections between topographical maps and other three-dimensional art works; and to see maps as expressions of perceptions and ideas and as tools for information using art techniques.

Related Artists/Art Works

  • M.C. Escher, Self-Portrait in Spherical Mirror (1935), Reptile (1943), Drawing Hands (1948) (Photographs of these works appear in Meulenhoff's M.C. Escher, published in 1983 by Harry Abrams Publishing; ISBN 0-8109-2268-1.)
  • Vincent Van Gogh, Landscape of Arles (1889)
  • Claude Monet, Field in Spring (1887)
  • Ed Hamilton (of Louisville, KY), Civil War memorial sculpture to African-American soldiers (a work in progress for Washington, DC)
  • Kano Ikkei Joryo, detail from Japanese folding screen, c. 1650
  • Egyptian wall relief mural, c. 2550 B.C.
  • Stenosaurus fossil relief, c. 160,000,000 B.C.
  • architect's model by H. Hollein for Abteilberg City Museum, Germany

Connections to Educational Standards

The following Kentucky Academic Expectations are all related to Exploring the Third Dimension with Captain Cooke:

  • 2.22: Students create works of art and make presentations to convey a point of view. (The students' maps display their point of view about a place-real or imagined-to others.)
  • 2.23: Students analyze their own and others' artistic products and performances using accepted standards (by presenting their map projects to peers after having learned the basic mapping principles and techniques).
  • 2.25: In the products they make and the performances they present, students show that they understand how time, place, and society influence the arts and humanities such as languages, literature, and history. (Maps are composites of art, history, language, and culture.)
  • 2.26: Through the arts and humanities, students recognize that although people are different, they share some common experiences and attitudes. (Differences and similarities are easily discerned through area, line, and point symbols and through maps from different places and times.)

Materials Needed

  • graph paper
  • pencil
  • colored markers, pencils, or crayons
  • fabrics, yarn, or other materials to represent features on the maps
  • scissors
  • low-heat glue gun
  • glue sticks
  • 3-D material (preferably foam, available from craft or fabric stores. Baer Fabrics, 515 East Market Street, Louisville, KY 40202
    1-800-769-7778, offers great discounts to schools on foam. When you call, ask for Kevin Payne.)
  • heavy paper or cardboard (for mounting contours)
  • cardboard box

Vocabulary Used in the Lesson

  1. area
  2. contours
  3. three-dimensional
  4. two-dimensional
  5. key
  6. legend
  7. line
  8. pattern
  9. perspective
  10. symbol

(For additional geographic terms related to mapping, see cARTography.)

Lesson Instructions

Guide students through the following process:

  1. Using graph paper, draw the coastline of your island. This can be a free-form shape or a tracing of something else, like your hand. The coastline is the island's sea-level contour. Add a variety of interesting coastal features, such as bays, capes, or fjords-long, narrow, deep river valleys with steep cliffs.
  2. Repeating the shape of your coastline, draw the contour line representing 100 feet above sea level. Label it 100'. Remember, contour lines never cross, and they should be kept far apart. One exception is drawing steep cliffs, like the cliffs bordering a fjord. The contour lines up to the height of the cliff are drawn close to or conjoining the lower contour lines.
  3. Draw the contour line for 200 feet above sea level, still echoing the shape of your coastline. Label it 200'.
  4. Draw the highest contour line, the line 300 feet above sea level. Label it 300'.
  5. Decide what features you want to have on your island and where they will be placed. Features might include lines, like rivers, creeks, roads, and railways; areas, like forests, beaches, and lakes; and points, like houses, schools, and other buildings.
  6. Choose symbols or patterns for your features-a dashed line for a stream, a piece of blue yarn for a river, a crosshatched pattern for the beach, etc. The symbols should match the symbols you provide in your map legend.
  7. Using colored pens, pencils, crayons, or other materials, add the features to your map.
  8. Cut out each contour level of the map, using the innermost part of the scissors and your other hand to move the paper.
  9. Glue the 100', 200', and 300' contours to the foam. Glue the sea-level contour to the heavy piece of paper. (If you're using a cardboard box, pre-cut the paper to fit inside the box.) Make sure you allow enough room to include your map's title, compass, key, and scale. Wait overnight or longer to be sure the glue has bonded properly.
  10. Cut out the 100', 200', and 300' contour levels around their outside edges and then assemble the map as you would a puzzle, stacking each one on the map and gluing them together. Make sure you line up the pieces correctly.
  11. Color your map. If you like, you can add bits of material or three-dimensional objects for more detail and interest.
  12. Add your title, legend, compass, and scale. You can create these items separately and then glue them to your paper base, or draw them directly on the paper.

Response to Art

Have students share their islands and their ideas with classmates. They can also keep a journal about their adventures discovering and exploring their island.

Exhibition Suggestion

Create a festive presentation occasion featuring the islands. Let each student present his or her own map and read an excerpt from the journal or portfolio piece inspired by the activity. The audience could be the class itself, other classes, and/or parents. These maps also make a colorful presentation when mounted side by side on a hallway wall or on tables in the halls or classroom.


Social Studies

Have students discuss and/or write about one or more of the following topics:

  • What happens if someone already lives on your island when you discover it? What if someone comes to live on your island after you're already there? What happens to the other people's traditions? To your traditions?
  • What is the currency of your island? What do the residents exchange in trade? What is your island's economy based on?
  • What rules do the people of your island follow? Do they need to have rules? What kind of government would you pick for your island? Monarchy? Democracy? Dictatorship? Why?


  • Determine your island's dimensions-its length, width, altitude, perimeter, circumference, area-using the scale you have set up (one inch = 10 miles, one inch = 1,000 miles, etc.).

Language Arts

  • Create a descriptive piece on the life forms (unique plants and animals) found on your island. This piece could be illustrated with drawings of the life forms.
  • Write a personal narrative describing how you arrived at your island, how your island looks, and what you did to survive.
  • Create different writing pieces based on your island (a journal, an advertisement to attract tourists, a scientific study).
  • Write a poem about your island for your writing portfolio. Like your contour map, a poem reflects patterns-both auditory patterns such as rhythm and rhyme and patterns of meaning (repeating words, images, and phrases). Putting together a poem can resemble putting together a puzzle as you figure out what words you want to use, possible rhymes for those words, a rhythm pattern you want to follow, etc.


Field Trip Destination

Printing House for the Blind
1839 Frankfort Avenue
Louisville, KY 40206
The Printing House has a great museum for students to visit.


Bednarz, Sarah. Geography for Life. National Geographic Society, 1994. ISBN 0-7922-2775-1
Berthon, Simon and Andrew Robinson. The Shape of the World: The Mapping and Discovery of the Earth. (Also a PBS series.) Rand McNally, 1991. ISBN 0-528-83419-3
Carlisle, Madelyn W. Marvelously Meaningful Maps. Barron's Books, 1992. ISBN 0-8120-4735-4
Starkey, Dina. Atlas of Exploration. New York: Scholastic, 1994. ISBN 0-590-27548-8
Strain, Priscilla and Frederick Engle. Looking at Earth. Turner Publishing, 1993. ISBN 1-8786885-24-4
Taylor, Barbara. Maps and Mapping. Kingfisher Books, 1993. ISBN 1-85697-936-9

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Last Updated: Monday, 09-Nov-2009 14:27:22 EST