Sunday, May 17, 2009

We Need Our Earth

A group of fourth graders from Thomas Fleming Elementary School have been busy rounding up signatures for their petition. The petition was not about getting to wear hats in school or extending recess time (all very worthwhile pursuits). This petition which includes a cover page of a hand drawn earth with a handwritten title "Google Earth- We Need Our Earth" has two goals:
  • get Google Earth upgraded to the latest version in their school
  • get more time to play with Google Earth

I learned about these marvelous and curious students while helping a colleague plan a workshop featuring Google Earth uses in elementary and middle school. I learned so much working with David Davidson, tech integrator in Essex Junction, I'm not surprised that the students in his schools are petitioning for more Google Earth time and resources.

The first thing most everyone does when introduced to Google Earth is find their house. But what next? Everyone needs time to explore a new tool, but with this Google Earth Scavenger Hunt, David has students looking for their school, a very tall mountain, a very long river, or the Egyptian pyramids. Using Google Earths "copy image" feature, the students copy and paste their "finds" right into their Scavenger Hunt worksheet as evidence. Not only do the students explore Google Earth, but the teachers take the opportunity to debrief about search techniques or geography concepts.

David helps teachers at his schools use Google Earth to introduce elements found in different physiographic regions. A simple worksheet like this helps their students make observations about population density, tree cover, urban vs. rural, physical features, elevation, etc of different regions of their state or country.

One teacher who has skillfully layered her overhead transparencies to show students connections when you add data to a map now enjoys using premade layers of volcanoes, earthquakes, populations, tectonic plates to create those "Aha" moments.

David, his teachers and their students do not limit their Google Earth uses to the classroom. Students at Hawiatha Elementary School recently completed a community walk with sketchbook in hand to draw sketches of historic buildings in their town. Completing a Google Maps and Google Earth Version of their Community Walk not only allowed students to complete their sketches after the tour, but also gave parents and community a window into the activity.

With the use of a camera and GPS and a pioneering teacher, David helped the students at Westford Elementary School create a virtual multimedia map of the trails in their backyard. Although, creating waypoints is probably not an entry level skill, with the right support the students made a significant contribution to their community.

David is exploring new features such as Google Earth Sky or Google Earth Ocean to expand the activities he helps teachers create to places below and above the earth's surface. He's also pondering the possibilities that Google Earth's TimeLine View will bring to the classroom as it allow you to move back in time.

About the only place David had not taken his students and teachers to using Google Earth, was to the world of make believe. "Finally I have something to add to the planning session," I thought as I described how a group of 7th graders used Google Earth to go beyond the boundaries as defined by today's political maps, and create their own country. After hearing Jim Moulton challenge students at a leadership conference to take on the role of bringing new tools into their classrooms, four 7th grader students in St. Albans Vermont asked their teacher if they could use Google Earth to complete their "Create a Country" assignment (create maps of a fictional country whose characteristics follow the laws of nature based on where you place it on the globe). While their peers created their fictional country using markers and construction paper, these students used Google Earth layers to create maps that showed the physical, political, climate, population, energy uses and more. Their teacher's appreciation of differentiation and the students practice of leadership skills resulted in a 21st century design for a project that's been part of the curriculum for years.

After sharing our own experience and examples and highlighting other fabulous examples such as the award winning Google Lit Trips or the inspirational San Francisco Project, Dave and I concluded our workshop by pointing to just a few of the many resources for educators wanting to use Google Earth in their classrooms. And if you don't find what you want by combing sites like Juicy Geography, Real Word Math, CIA Factbook, Google for Educators, Google Earth Education Community or Google Earth Gallery, you can always use Google's advanced search feature to search by filetype (kmz or kml) on practically any topic you can think of.

But don't wait until you find the perfect Google Earth Lesson or have mastered all the features of Google Earth to explore the power of Google Earth in your classroom. Find one idea that looks interesting and explore it with your students -tap their infinite thinking skills and turn them into curious 21st century explorers of our world using Google Earth.