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Land Use – Shoreline of Champlain

Name of Corresponding Unit Plan: Human Impact on Lake Champlain

Grade Level: 6-12

Common Core Standards
RS.3 Follow precisely a complex multistep procedure when carrying out experiments, taking measurements, or performing technical tasks.

Content Areas: Science, Geography, Math

Recommended Length/Duration: One or two 45-60 minute periods

Learning Goals: Students will identify the land use pattern around the shore of Lake Champlain.

Students will become familiar with the major geographic features of Lake Champlain.

Students will learn to identify land use from aerial photographs.

Students will learn to navigate the Google Earth program (free download).


  1. Introduce the inquiry by asking students to identify the major land uses in the Champlain Valley (e.g. agriculture, forest, industrial, residential, recreational, quarry/mining). Ask which of these are likely to be found around the shoreline of the lake and determine a manageable list that can be readily determined by observation. (To simplify the inquiry, teachers may use a standard list of: Undeveloped, Agriculture, Commercial/Industrial, Residential, Recreational)
  2. Use a map of the lake to review the extent of the shorelines. Note that shoreline length is not always directly related to the width of the lake. Also note that islands have a disproportionate shoreline length compared to the mainland.
  3. Divide the lake shoreline into roughly equal shoreline segments to be examined by two person teams. The number of segments will be determined by the size of the research group.
  4. As a class demonstration or on individual computers, have students open Google Earth and fly to Lake Champlain. Demonstrate how to use the following program tools.
    • Adjustment of "Eye Altitude"
    • Directional movement over the ground
    • Measuring a straight line and path
    • Latitude and Longitude (GPS) coordinates
  5. Once students are comfortable with these tools, have each group identify their assigned shoreline segment.
  6. Students should hover over one end of their segment and adjust their altitude to about 3000 feet so that they can see surface features clearly.
  7. Students should identify the apparent type of land use at their starting point from the aerial photograph. This should be recorded on their worksheet.
  8. Students should open the ruler tool and choose the "path" option. Clicking on their starting point, they should record the Latitude and Longitude (GPS) coordinates.
  9. Students should then create a path as close as possible to the shoreline by clicking at points along the shore. They should continue until they encounter a different land use area. The length of the path they have traced should be recorded as well as the new GPS coordinates.
  10. Each time a different land use area is encountered, a new path should be begun with starting and ending GPS coordinates and the shoreline distance between them. This should be repeated until each group reaches the end point of their lake shore segment.
  11. Once the entire length of each segment is analyzed and recorded, the total length of each land use should be added and recorded.
  12. Once each group has totaled the land use lengths for their segment of the lake, the class should combine data to determine the land use for the entire lake shoreline.
  13. Land use expressed in distances can be converted into percentages of the total lake shoreline.
  14. Discuss your findings. Guiding questions might include:
    • What is the total shoreline length of the lake as measured by the class?
    • What is the most/least common use for shoreline land? Does that surprise you?
    • Do you think the use of land was different in the past or might change in the future?
    • How much of the land appears to be in its natural state? How much appears to have been impacted by human development?
    • Where is the lake most/least impacted by human development?

Assessments: Student's worksheets can be evaluated for completeness and accuracy.

Materials/Resources: Land Use – Shoreline of Champlain worksheet (pdf)

Special Considerations: Students unfamiliar with Google Earth may need additional instruction to use it for this type of inquire based research task.

Classes that do not have access to enough computers to do this task simultaneously can organize it into a workstation for groups to work one at a time.

Extensions: Students might be interested to look at the land use around other bodies of water, including tributary rivers. Students might want to add additional land use categories to refine the data.