Google Earth: 1 Billion Downloads and So Many Uses in the Classroom

Google Earth was one of the very first pieces of software that I began to create educational resources with. As I put it in one of my first ever blog posts 5 years ago: “This app won me over straight away.” The engaging environment really struck a chord with me and I remember fondly my first forays into using it to support learning.

It has developed so much over the years – I remember using it for a Geotweets lesson, when we had to track down people replying to us on Twitter and find their exact location in Google Earth.

It feels like a true Autumnal day today in England – despite the temperature anomaly we had just recently – which again reminds me of one of the first resources that I thought was truly magical from the Forestry Commission here in the UK. It was a network link in Google Earth that showed the colour of leaves at different sites around the UK and the icons would change colour accordingly. I loved how the information was live and changing constantly.

Nowadays the Forestry Commission has moved the Autumn Leaf colour project to the Google Maps platform which is similar to what I did with Maths Maps in the end.

I found this old image of Google Earth which was the starting point for Maths Maps years ago – a car park in Las Vegas. The original resource in Google Earth explored the rudimentary 3D shapes layer as well as webcams that could be viewed to count the frequency of cars on Las Vegas highways!

Google Maps in the end added the collaboration that I was seeking, that made it much easier for people to add resources and ideas – and to share amongst a class. Google Earth kmz files were much more complicated to work with. And so I moved the Maths Maps idea across – you can see them all here or use the link at the top of the page.

One of the most fun uses of Google Earth is the Monster Milktruck. I used as a starter to a maths lesson exploring different types of 3D shapes which we spotted as we drove around San Francisco.

Another memorable use of Google Earth and a successful writing project in my class was creating an escape story based on James and Giant Peach (make sure you follow the links to the other 4 posts). I found that so many children found it much easier to write about what they could see as they navigated around our story location in Google Earth. The engaging visual imagery helped them make a start in their story and seeing the progress or journey of our character reinforced the story structure.

Before the Roald Dahl inspired piece, I was using it to plot the course of diary entries we wrote with a Year 6 class as they took on the role of Mina Harker from Dracula who set sail from England to track down her stricken husband Jonathan in the depths of Transylvania. I later used the story maps idea in my session at the Google Teacher Academy in London.

One of the most impressive resources I have seen was the Ancient Rome 3D model that you could download and explore in Google Earth – allowing you to explore the ancient streets and buildings. I recall one morning starting the day by exploring the 3D model of the Collosseum and drawing lots of wows from the class. A stunning resource that brings the ancient city life for students.

I also really enjoyed the 3D Google Earth model of the tomb of Tutankhamun, which was the first time I think I saw the textures being rendered on the shapes – again such a rich resource for helping children better understand the topic. We of course used the models of pyramids well in our lessons on shape properties in maths too!

It is great to hear that Google Earth has been downloaded over 1 billion times – amazing.


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You can explore all of my archived posts I have written about using Google Earth use in the classroom here. And don’t forget to explore more ideas for using Google Earth in the classroom in the Interesting Ways presentation – as well as the Google Maps version too.

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