Google Earth

Imagine a world map that fits on a desktop and includes overlays for political borders, geographic terrain, sites of major volcanoes and fault lines, city boundaries, U.S. congressional districts, railroads, schools, and airports. Now imagine that you can zoom in or out on the map from as far out as a view of the entire world from space to as close as the tip of the Great Pyramid in Giza, Egypt. Now consider that the program also displays streaming satellite images of the earth from the Internet and includes 3D maps of some of the largest U.S. cities. The map is Google Earth, and it’s free!

I’ve been playing around with Google Earth for the past week discovering whether or not the Great Wall of China really is visible from space, exploring the Grand Canyon from vantage points not available to me on my last trip to Arizona, and wondering just how amazed my sixth grade students will be when they realize they can zoom in to within meters of their home and the school. After the initial “cool” factor wears off, I’m anticipating using this highly versatile digital globe to help illustrate points about geography, ecology, and much more. Students will be able to follow drainage patterns of local streams and rivers to see how pollutants would affect the watershed or fly over the Sahara and the Middle East as we discuss ancient Egypt and its influence over the Mediterranean thousands of years ago. Math teachers can use the program as well; it measures distances in miles using both straight-line tools and path tools, so distances can be compared using direct and practical travel methods. It even includes a web window so you can still surf and discover resources as you continue to view a particular region.

Sorry Mac users, this one is only available for Windows’ users at the moment. Every teacher of social studies and science should at least download the free version to explore the possibilities of using it as a visual aide if not a student tool. Keep it mind it does require an Internet connection to run (the images are streamed to the application). Thanks Sean, for cluing me into this great program.