Back to the Teacher Pages News | Resources | Calendar | Teaching Activities | EEK! Home


Changing the Land

Bulldozer Grades: 6-12

Subjects: social studies, science, language arts

Objectives: Students will 1) compare historical aerial photographs with current aerial photographs and determine what factors influenced land use decisions; 2) evaluate the impacts of different land uses on an area; 3) consider future changes in land use and the affect on a community.

Material: aerial photographs (one historical and one current for each team of 3-4 students); plastic sheets the same size as the photos; washable markers in various colors.

Background: Communities make land use decisions every day. Take a look at areas surrounding large cities, in redeveloping downtown areas of older cities, and in the countryside and you'll see land use changes.

Given the impact that humans have already had and continue to have on the land, a major challenge facing communities, both urban and rural, is how to plan for continued growth. What are the best ways to accommodate growth and minimize the negative impact on the existing community and the natural environment?

The purpose of this activity is to evaluate past land use changes in a community and determine the impact of these changes on the land. Changes in communities can be easily seen by comparing historical aerial photographs to current ones. To make this activity most relevant to your students, try to use photos of your community. Aerial photos can be purchased from most Regional Planning Commission offices. Most locations have photos going back to the 1960s or 1970s. Another source of aerial photos is your county Land Conservation District office.

In looking at land use changes, students will consider what factors may have been involved in making the various land use decisions. Students will try to determine what future land use changes may occur and suggest ways these changes could be implemented to reduce the impact on wildlife habitat, water quality, and quality of life.


1) Divide the class into teams of 3-4 students. Place the plastic sheets over the older aerial photographs. Identify the different land uses on these photos using different colored markers to show each land use. Look for waterways, forests, agriculture, residential areas, industry, parks, and transportation corridors.

2) Place the same plastic sheet over the most recent aerial photo. Identify the changes that have occurred in land use. Students should answer the following questions:

    a) What were the major changes in land use? What developments occurred? Use markers to show the changes.

    b) What types of land use were lost? Forests? Agriculture? Why do you think these changes were made?

    c) What changes occurred in the roadways or railways? Why?

    d) Was there any commercial development? Parking lots?

    e) What are the effects, both positive and negative that have occurred because of these changes. Are there effects on water quality? Wildlife habitat? Quality of life?

3) Ask each team to identify new areas for community development. Assume your community will require 50 additional single family homes, five apartment buildings, and five new businesses in the next year. (If you're doing this for a large urban area, you may want to increase the number of required new homes, apartments and businesses to better reflect reality or you may want to single out and plan for a certain area of the city.) Have students mark where this development should occur. Discuss why teams targeted certain areas for development. Will transportation systems need to change? List the impacts of these developments on your community.


Local Planning. Investigate local zoning ordinances in your community. Who is responsible for land use planning? Who develops the zoning regulations? Invite a local planner to your classroom to talk about their role in community land use planning.

Undeveloped Areas. Identify an area on the aerial photo where no development has occurred. Complete an on-site inventory of the plant and animal life found there.

Community Survey. Develop a survey instrument to administer in the local community. The survey could measure people's responses to community growth, new roads, and other land use issues.

This activity was developed by the Project WILD program, Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources, and is an extension of the Project WILD activity, "Dragonfly Pond."

Back to Teaching Activities.

Back to the Teacher Pages News | Resources | Calendar | Teaching Activities | EEK! Home
Workshop and Events Calendar Teaching Activities Educational Resources What's New for Teachers Back to the Teacher Pages Index