CIA Factbook Data Visible in Google Earth

With a headline like that, I don’t expect many to read the post, but my brain is a bit mushy this morning, so bear with me, please.

The CIA Factbook is one of those “old internet” websites that is a treasure trove to educators helping students gather facts and information about foreign countries. You want the birth rate of Bulgaria? It’s got it. The age of suffrage in Somalia? It’s got it! The median age of people in Madagascar? Yeah, it’s all on the CIA Factbook. Everything from the Geography to an overview of the Transportation and Economy of a nation is registered on the Factbook; which is great for older students, or those with proficient reading skills.

kml_factbookFor younger students, or learners that don’t have very well established vocabularies, the CIA Factbook is difficult to pull information out of. That and it makes comparing data quickly a bit cumbersome. Which is why the KML Factbook is so impressive. Frank Taylor of the Google Earth blog wrote about it, and I couldn’t resist playing around with the visual data. Comparing population growth, or the percent of people below the poverty line is as easy as seeing the difference in height and color of the nations outlines. Each country produces a 3D outline that is raised or lowered depending on the data being compared. Highly useful for secondary Social Studies or Economics classes, these visual tools can be downloaded as a KML file and then opened up locally in Google Earth on your computer, or just viewed on the web. Clicking on the individual countries flags pulls up all of the information that the CIA Factbook contains about that country, so you still have access to the written data.

The data loaded a bit slowly when I was playing around with it, so you might want to consider preloading the data you want to use with your class, or download it for future use. However, I was able to capture an image of one interesting set of data; the amount of debt each nation owes. Yup, that’s the U.S., with it’s massive red tower of debt, which might help explain why so many more free programs and open sources resources are being used in schools these days 🙂

KML Factbook

Thanks to Frank Taylor – KMLFactBook – A Data Visualization Tool with Google Earth


  1. Sometimes “old technology” still has its merits 🙂 I really enjoyed playing with this program with thoughts towards my own classroom. The comparison of countries is obvious but there are other correlating possibilities. With the use of the debt information you pointed out, students could compare import/export amounts within the same countries. They could also use the regular Google Earth program to determine the amount of tourist attractions within different areas. The fact that a lot of countries outside of the US have economies that partially rely on tourism is often overlooked in US classrooms. With technology linking more people around the world everyday, I think it’s important to teach students a global awareness as soon as possible.

  2. I just remembered another benefit of this program. Students will learn that Alaska and Hawaii are not actually next to each other(as on a flat map). I had a student ask why one was cold and the other was hot if the states were so close to each other. It took me a little while to figure out why they thought this.
    .-= Jean Mellor´s last blog ..Three Things a New Teacher Should Know =-.

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