No no, Google Earth REALLY is a tool!

I gave all of my fifth graders two entire class periods in November to “play” with Google Earth. I gave them free reign to zoom, tilt, pan, fly over their homes, and check out any of the bells and whistles that makes GE such a great tool. I then went on to give them a choice day in December (they could choose between 3 different computer activities) and most, if not all, decided to “play” around with Google Earth again. The theory was simple; let them play enough, and they’ll get it out of their systems so we can really start using it as a tool. The same idea behind introducing a new math manipulative.

Which brings us to today. The first week back from break, and I’m ready to start a project that involves Google Earth. Using an assortment of online resources, I’d like to create a Michigan sightseeing map, in the same vein as the Google Earth Sightseeing folder that’s included with the program. The idea is fairly simple; the students will all pick a few sites and/or points of interest in Michigan and then create place marks for them using GE. Once all of the work is done, I’ll be able to combine all of their KMZ files and create one large sightseeing folder to post on the web for all of the parents and students to check out at home. They might even find it useful in planning their next vacation.

In order to prepare them for this I wanted to give them a chance today to explore the one last tool that they hadn’t “played” with yet. I had them open up Google Earth, quickly demonstrated how to add a place mark (Just click on the “Add” menu and then click on place mark), then move it to where it needed to be, give it a name, and a brief description (“Look, I’m a place mark!”). Within seconds of my short demonstration students were spinning the globe wildly, searching for their homes, and zooming in on Comerica Park to show their friends where they sat at the ball game they went to last summer. Obviously, these kids need a lot more time to work the playfulness out of their system, or perhaps the nature of Google Earth means they’ll never stop playing. I quickly retooled the activity; trashed it and started over from scratch with me showing them what to do BEFORE they opened up the program. I’m still worried though that they still won’t be prepared to use the program as a tool, and not just a toy, next week when we start the project.

Perhaps when I fully explain the project, give them the tools they need, and outline my expectations they’ll get down to business…..then again, it’s only a matter of time before one of them discovers crop circles in the shape of the word “poo!” 😛


  1. I think that was the right move Ben. I encouraged some teachers to let the kids play first but a few opted not to and that led to a lot of playing when we were really trying to work. I hope you keep us updated.


  2. Really, does one ever get over the urge to play when Google Earth is open on the screen?
    However, I definitly want to see the finished project and hope you will keep everyone informed.

  3. True enough Rick; I still like to play with the tool myself. I can’t imagine how much worse it would be if they had access to Google Earth 4 and Sketch Up to play with their own buildings.

    Tom: I’ll try to come back to this project on the blog. I definitely will post the final results.

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