Real World Math: Project Based Learning - Typhoon Project

Included is an example of how Google Earth can be used to graph historic events, such as a typhoon or hurricane. 

Google Earth allows students to interact with the data on several levels and include images in their presentation.  The “Play Tour” option lets the viewer follow the storm along its path as it intensifies.  In a sense, this is an interactive line graph.

The main download provided on this page, and for students, is a sample track from the Western Pacific of Super Typhoon Paka.  Additional sample data and worksheets are included with the Teacher Downloads for Super Typhoon Pongsonga, but this activity will be more meaningful to students if relevant data is used.  You can use recent hurricane tracks or use historic storms such as Katrina.  Storm data is available online in several locations.  The desired data should include the storm’s position by latitude and longitude for 6 hour time periods, and wind intensity.  It is recommended that these data sets be cleaned up by transferring the information into a spreadsheet for students.

The students plot the data into Google Earth by entering the latitude and longitude coordinates into placemarks.  The coordinate setting can be changed within Google Earth’s preferences from hours/minutes to decimal, if needed.  Specify the size and type of placemark labels and icons you wish the students to use.  Descriptions can be added to each placemark if desired.  This may include closest point of approach (CPA) distances found by using the ruler tool.

Next, have students draw a path connecting the placemarks.  The path and icons can be color-coded to indicate intensity of the storm.  Finally, add titles or storm images to complete the graph.

There are a number of extensions possible for this lesson.  One example might be offering students only a partial set of the data and asking them to predict and plot where they think the storm may go next.  Ask other teachers to add to the project.  Science can cover meteorology, Social Studies can incorporate historic research, and English can offer creative writing exercises. As a Project Based Learning activity, this activity will take students several days to complete.  Students can work together in pairs, taking turns reading and plotting data.

Data links:


  • Create an interactive graph of a historic event
  • Use spreadsheet data to chart and annotate coordinate positions with speed, date, and time
  • Express time in 24 hour clock format
  • Measure and annotate distance
  • Use color and images to present information

SuperTyphoon Pongsonga example
Pongsonga Data Sheet
Typhoon Assignment Sheet
Typhoon Assignment Rubric

Science Topics
Technology Topics
GPS & Satellites, Online & Software Tools
Math Topics
Data, Graphing & Statistics, Measurement & Time, Ratios, Rates & Percents
Social Studies Topics
K-6, Middle School, High School, Educator
5th Grade, 6th Grade, 7th Grade, 8th Grade, 9th Grade

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