It may feel daunting to have another classroom tech tool to learn, but trust me, Google Earth is a total game-changer when it comes to student engagement. And it can be used across multiple content areas, so it’s a win-win!
Google Earth is a free program that renders 3D representations of the world using satellite images (not to be confused with the Google Maps we use when we’re lost). One of the most incredible aspects of the program is the “street view,” which allows a user the ability to “drop in” to a location through aerial photography and GSI data. This means that our students can “walk” along the Great Wall of China or take a virtual tour of the White House from their classroom or home.
I learned about Google Earth in 2012 and decided to give it a try with my first graders. At the time, I was teaching a unit on communities. Many of my students hadn’t traveled far outside of town, and I needed a way for my firsties to grasp the vastness of the world around them.
I started the lesson by typing in our school address on Google Earth.
This allowed my students to “see” our school playground and buildings on our big screen. What I didn’t expect was the immediate sense of awe and wonder it created!
Next, I zoomed out to view our community. Students began to recognize buildings and places in town. Suddenly everyone wanted me to look up their home, their best friend’s home, and their grandparents’ place.
Finally, I zoomed out even more to view different towns, cities, and locations around the world. My students immediately begged for more. I found myself pulling up Google Earth not just during social studies, but in other content areas as well. It quickly became my go-to tool.
Google Earth can be used across grade levels and content areas. It’s a great tool to help students visualize texts. For example, when reading the book A Long Walk to Water by Linda Sue Park, it can be helpful to provide background knowledge and build some context before reading by literally showing students images of the terrain, plant life, and community structures in Sudan. Google Earth provides an interactive and engaging visual so that our students better understand the country and the surrounding area as they go through the book study.
And better yet, research shows that reading gains are most significant when students have more background knowledge, so adding Google Earth is another powerful way to do just that!
When we can make real-life connections, our students are more likely to find value in what they’re learning. If you’re teaching geometric measurements, the measurement tools within Google Earth are a great tool to utilize. For real-world mathematical problems, pull up the school playground or football field and use the measurement tools to determine the perimeter or area of the space. For additional visual practice, have students find geometric measurements of specific locations or landmarks.
If you’re studying biodiversity or habitats, the “street view” feature of Google is a powerful way for students to conceptualize the world. Have your students “visit” the Amazon rainforest:
Or take an underwater tour of the Great Barrier Reef:
The panoramic views on Google Earth provide an opportunity for students to “look around” or explore the biodiversity of the world, which is sure to keep them engaged.
If you’re being pulled to cover another class because of the current sub shortage, or if you need an engaging activity to leave with a guest teacher, consider a Google Earth–integrated virtual field trip. Make Google Earth purposeful by taking your students on a virtual tour of a key landmark, country, or specific historical site while also integrating reading and writing skills. Combine informational text on the topic, Google Earth links, and critical thinking response questions to provide your students with a virtual field trip. If you have devices, your students can complete this as an independent, self-paced activity. Or your guest teacher could serve as the tour guide and navigate through Google Earth whole group.
With technology today, we have new ways to engage our learners and provide lessons that move beyond the textbook. The world of teaching possibilities is limitless with Google Earth.
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