What a difference a few years can make! A recent post on Mashable about some radical differences in satellite imagery over the course of just a few years in Google Earth got me thinking. How could a Geology or Math teacher use a time-lapse video of the terraforming taking place in the thriving Middle Eastern metropolis? Over the last decade or so, Dubai has managed to build extravagantly expensive archipelagos for development, and with the advent of satellite imagery and the “time slider” in Google Earth (more formally known as the Historical Imagery tool), you can peer back to a time when all that existed off the coast of Dubai was ocean. Below is a brief example of myself walking through a quick “time travel” in Google Earth.
I’m not sure how a roomful of students could escape asking the curiosities about how much time is taking place, how much land, soil, and silt is being deposited in the ocean, and what does it even cost to build one island, let alone an entire peninsula out into the ocean. Using some of the other tools in Google Earth you could challenge students to find the average land area added each year, or the rate of expansion from one year to the next. Science teachers could challenge students with some great open ended questions about the systems being altered by such human activity (tides, long shore currents, animal habitats, etc.). Social Studies and Civics teachers could even delve into the deeper implications that such activity possess; where do resources come from for projects such as these, and at what cost to other projects and realities that municipalities deal with?
I’m not sure if it’s the particular subject matter (the environment, science, terraforming) that captures my interest, but I’m left wondering what other areas of the Earth could we explore through time, to see how human beings have changed their habitats. It might play nicely into an opportunity for teachers to invite older members of a community into their classrooms, to talk about and share photos and stories of what our urban landscape and the neighborhoods around us looked like decades ago. I have one of the last remaining apple trees from the orchard that my neighborhood was built upon in my front yard; I would LOVE to know the history of how the neighborhood developed, how long people held onto a fruit tree or two from the old farm, and how the changing landscape also changed the local economy as rural lands turned to residential. There’s a lot of questions here, and I feel as though I’m only starting to scratch at the surface; it makes me wonder if time-travelling in your classroom might spark the curiosity of learners as well.