July 7, 2020

Enhancing Curriculum through Google Earth

Google Earth was originally released 19 years ago. It is a powerful tool that allows users to navigate the globe using satellite images. Originally a free desktop application, Google Earth is now even more accessible with a web-based version (currently available on Chrome, Firefox, Opera, and Edge). Google Earth is a great tool for students and teachers to use in classrooms at all levels.

Why might educators use Google Earth in the classroom? As one Google employee shared in a documentary on Google Earth’s 3D imagery, “Google Maps is for finding your way. Google Earth is about getting lost”. It is the largest collection of digital images that capture our planet (and beyond). The massive amounts of data provide a plethora of potential learning opportunities. Google Earth can help students:

– Explore the world
– Visualize data in engaging ways
– Develop critical thinking skills
– Become creative communicators

Explore the world
Google Earth allows users to explore the globe using a variety of navigation tools. You or your students can ‘fly’ to a specific location using the search bar, or click and drag directly on the map to explore an area. Cities and many cultural landmarks also have knowledge cards containing detailed information about that location or place, along with suggestions for related places to explore. View the map in 2D or 3D, turn on latitude and longitude lines, and customize what appears on the map. Zoom out to see the entire globe or use the ‘pegman’ to zoom in and utilize Google Street View. Check out Geoguessr, a game where your students can guess the location based on context clues in Google Maps Street View. Or, click on the ‘I’m Feeling Lucky’ button in Google Earth to be transported to one of 20,000 random locations around the globe! This could be a great discussion starter.

Google Earth Voyager includes curated projects and guided tours organized by topic (e.g., culture, games, layers, nature, street view, travel). Remember the game Where In the World is Carmen Sandiego? You can now play on Google Earth! The games section also includes geography and history-based quizzes. Cultural voyages include topics such as building famous buildings, following famous artists, or literary locations come to life. Layers make historical (e.g., Congressional districts) and scientific data (e.g., sea surface temperatures) come to life. The nature section includes visits to national parks, while the Street View and travel voyages allow you to explore cities and countries from an on-the-ground perspective. Voyager even includes a section specific to education, with voyages on topics from ‘The ABCs of Space’ to ‘Math and Architecture’ to ‘The Underground Railroad’ and more.

Data visualization
Google Earth includes simple measurement tools. Students can measure the distance between two points, or create a shape to compare the area and perimeter of different locations. Once a line or shape is created, the measurement can be copied to a different location – for example, a shared spreadsheet. There are a variety of units to choose from including CM, M, KM, Nautical miles, IN, FT, YDS, Miles, and even Smoots! Google Earth only measures in straight lines, so measurements also help students develop estimation skills.

Critical thinking
Even a basic feature such as the ‘I’m Feeling Lucky’ can be used as a tool for developing students’ critical thinking skills. Have students click the button twice to compare the geographic and other features of a location, then compare and contrast the two locations. Random locations could also be used as a creative writing prompt.

Creative communication
Your students can use Google Earth creation tools to develop creative communication skills through digital storytelling. It allows students to create location-based stories that incorporate drawings, 2D and 3D images, text, and more. In presentation mode, viewers ‘fly’ from one place to another, creating a compelling, multimedia narrative.

Google Earth Tutorial: Intro to Creation Tools (2:06)

Other resources 
In addition to Google Earth, Google Geo provides several resources for developing critical thinking skills.

Google Earth Education Links to Voyager’s curated stories related to educational topics, along with supplemental classroom activities and related lesson plans.

Google Earth Engine Includes a public data archive with 30+ years of geospatial and historical data  (e.g., climate, cropland, ocean temperatures). Based on these datasets, Google Earth Timelapse visualizes historical trends in topics like bushfires, construction, deforestation, mining, and urban growth.

Google Earth Outreach Highlights organizations using Google Geo tools for environmental and social projects that impact local and global communities. Filter by country, tool, or topic.

Google Arts and Culture Interactive exploration of art, culture, landmarks, and museums incorporating Google Earth satellite imagery and street view features.

Want to learn more ways to create digital learning experiences for your students? Interested in how to incorporate technology into teaching history and social studies? Looking for ideas on project-based learning in a virtual classroom? Check out 2020 Virtual Summer Workshops for teachers at https://edtechteacher.org/summer/