Free Technology for Teachers: Felt
About a week ago Larry Ferlazzo mentioned a new mapping tool in one of his blog posts. That tool is called Felt. I tried it a few days ago and I have to say that I like it a lot. Felt offers a lot of easy-to-use tools for creating custom maps. Some of the features that immediately stood out to me included the ability to draw and type on maps, highlighting on the map, and adding multimedia placemarks to your map. But in my initial testing of Felt I found the best feature to be the library of data layers that you can overlay onto your map.
To use Felt to create a custom map you do have to register for a free account. Once you’ve registered there is a helpful tutorial that walks you through ten things that you can do with Felt. The tutorial is displayed on an interactive map that reminds me a bit of gameboard like you might find in The Game of Life or Candy Land.
The easiest way to customize a map on Felt is to use the drawing, typing, and highlighting tools. Those tools and all of the other Felt tools are displayed at the bottom of any map that you view. To draw on the map simply click the marker icon then draw on the map. You can choose different marker colors and marker stroke thicknesses to meet your needs. Highlighting is just as easy as drawing on the map and is done in the same manner. Typing on the map simply requires you to click on the type icon then click wherever you want your text to appear. And, of course, you can use all three tools together on the map.
As previously mentioned, Felt offers a library of data layers that you can apply to your custom map. That library contains dozens of datasets divided into five categories. Those categories are Boundaries, Climate, Infrastructure, Nature & Exploration, and Science. All that you need to do to display a data layer on your map is click on it once in the library while working on your map. You can display multiple layers at the same time. For example, in the demonstration video that is embedded below I displayed both county borders and time zones.
Applications for Education
My initial impression of Felt is that it is easy to use to create a custom map. In fact, I think it’s probably easier to use for the first time than Google’s My Maps or Google Earth is to use for the first time. And if you don’t have a Google account, you can still use Felt to create a custom map (you do need to have a valid email address). That said, Felt doesn’t have as many data layers as Google Earth so if you’re looking to have students to dive into making detailed, mapped data displays, Google Earth is still going to be your better option.