40+ ideas on using Google Earth and Maps in the classroom

These are some teaching ideas to accompany the Digital Explorer presentations at the Playful Learning Zone at BETT this year. Come and see us to find out more.

First things first, if you don’t have Google Earth, download it for your own computer and then be sure to pester the IT office to download it for your school. See the Digital Explorer research if you need to make a case to senior management. To use Google Maps fully you will need to have a Google account, sign up if you haven’t already.

Virtual Atlas

Here are some basic ideas about how to use Google Earth and Google Maps as a virtual atlas projected on a screen or interactive whiteboard. Some of these ideas could be used by pupils on individual computers.

Art: search for locations of galleries, artists, locations of landscapes or use geographic features to inspire Land Art projects
Citizenship: show where events are taking place
Design And Technology: identify different types of shelter in different environments
English: search for locations of books, authors and locations or use locations to inspire creative writing and poetry (e.g. Romantic poets)
Geography: search for locations, physical and urban features and go on virtual field trips
History: search for locations of events and go on virtual field trips
Maths: use for real world distance/speed/time puzzles or use for fractions – e.g. find a car park and give the fraction of number of places filled
Modern Foreign Languages: search for locations to contextualise language learning or ask pupils to give directions in target language
Primary: a range of interesting ideas from Tom Barrett
RE: search for locations e.g. Bodh Gaya, Medina, Bethlehem
Science: look at power generation – wind farms, oil rigs, coal mines (open cast best)

Geographical Encyclopaedia
There is a vast amount of additional information available to users of Google Earth and Google Maps above and beyond basic map data and satellite imagery. In Google Earth, much of this information is stored in layers which are accessible to anyone opening the application. You can also search for kml or kmz files (these are the file types that Google Earth uses) and download information from the internet. When using Google My Maps, users also have access to a large directory of content that they can open.

Art:open tours of art or architecture – e.g. Art Nouveau
Citizenship: use prepared lessons on Google UK Schools site or look at layers such as Fair Trade and the Crisis in Darfur (under the Global Awareness section)
Design And Technology: open tours relevant to technology – e.g. Green buildings
English: open tours of well known novels from Google Lit Trips
Geography: open tours from a range of sites such as Antarctica or see lessons from Google UK Schools
History: see prepared lessons
Maths: looking at the volume of solids – e.g. pyramids
Primary: have a look at some of the teaching ideas on the Google UK schools Site

Digital Mapmaking
Once you are confident with using Google Earth and Google Maps in the classroom, you can start creating your own content and working with your pupils so that they can create their own work as well. Download the Digital Explorer basic manual on using Google Earth to help you create your own content. There is also an advanced manual for additional techniques. Information on Google Maps can be found in the school grounds projects manual.

Art: add more advanced content to placemarks such as paintings, interviews with artists, etc.
Citizenship: Crime local area study, adding data, information and video interviews to a map with potential to collaborate with other schools in the area
Design And Technology: Create a tour showing how shelter and environment are related or plan urban development using 3D polygons as buildings
English: create a tour of a Shakespeare play with images and voiceover or find locations to make a film of a book
Geography: import GPS data and then add photographs and video from a fieldtrip
History: create a narrated tour of an historical event
Modern Foreign Languages: create tours of tourist spots in target language country with images or narrate a tour in the target language
RE: narrate the life of a religious figure with placemarks for main points
Science: plot species distribution in the school grounds using My Maps and share and collaborate with other schools to cover a larger area

Problem solving
When you are confident creating your own content, you can start to transfer these to more project based and enquiry style learning. Google Earth and Google Maps can provide a much greater level of engagement as well as activate a host of different learning styles and thinking skills.

Noel Jenkins has produced some excellent examples on his Juicy Geography site.

But you can come up with your own ideas without doing too much preparation, once your class have the skills needed. For example, if you are teaching a class about calculating distance, speed and time and you wanted to assess how well they were doing, consider setting them a challenge using Google Maps. How long would it take to complete the Three Peaks Challenge? Pupils would have to research the locations, plan a route, and work out whether the time estimates in Google Maps were accurate (pretty sure you could drive faster in some places). This task could involve teamwork, synthesis, judgements, comparisons, research and a host of other skills and above all it might just be more fun. And how do you calculate how much time it takes to walk up Ben Nevis?

Out and about
This is where Google Earth and Google Maps really come alive for learning. Pupils have moved from being passive consumers looking at maps and content on screens to being active creators of content. In this final step, teachers and pupils use Google Earth and Google Maps as tools for sharing pupil voice and generating discussion and change on important issues.

Have a look at this video to see how Google Earth, Google Maps and other tools were used at one school and then download the manual (PDF, 2.6MB), the Teaching Materials (ZIP, 21MB) and have a look at an example blog and see an example Google Earth file.

4 Responses to “40+ ideas on using Google Earth and Maps in the classroom”

  1. Bob Lang says:

    good range of ideas

  2. [...] 40+ Ideas for Google Maps & Earth in the Classroom [...]

  3. [...] Here are two blog posts on the use of google maps – Google for educators and 40 ideas. [...]

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