Making Map Projections

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In this activity about cartography, learners work in teams to create two different map projections: a planar (or polar) and a cylindrical (or Mercator) projection. Learners construct an imaginary polar continent from a soda bottle and shine a flashlight directly above it to make a projection. They trace this projection onto a piece of paper to create the planar projection. They then use another portion of the bottle to create the cylindrical projection. This activity will help learners understand the challenges of creating maps of the Earth.

Quick Guide

Preparation Time:
Under 5 minutes

Learning Time:
45 to 60 minutes

Estimated Materials Cost:
1 cent - $1 per group of students

Age Range:
Ages 11 - 18

Resource Type:


Materials List (per group of students)

  • 1 clear plastic 2-liter soda bottle
  • sharp knife (optional)
  • 1 flashlight
  • 1 marker or grease pencil
  • journal
  • scissors
  • 1 ruler or tape measure
  • 2 sheets of tracing paper
  • tape


  • Earth and Space Science
    • Earth Structure
  • Engineering and Technology
    • Technology
      • Information and Communication
  • Mathematics
    • Measurement
      • Size and Scale
  • The Nature of Technology
    • Technology and Society
      • Impacts of Technology


To use this activity, learners need to:

  • see
  • read
  • touch

Learning styles supported:

  • Involves teamwork and communication skills
  • Involves hands-on or lab activities


This resource is part of:

Access Rights:

  • Free access



  • All rights reserved, American Museum of Natural History and Rice University, 2002