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Using Google Earth across the curriculum

New York Teacher

Measure how Alaska’s glaciers have receded. See how a New York City block has changed since 1930. Trace Marco Polo’s journey through Asia. Google Earth is a powerful online tool that enables you to integrate mapping into nearly every subject you teach.

Google Earth has two platforms to choose from: an online version available only within the Google Chrome web browser, and a software version called Google Earth Pro, which you can download. Both are free.

As the name implies, Google Earth Pro is more powerful, but also has a learning curve. The online version of Google Earth needs practically no instruction ahead of time and contains built-in layers and tours designed for educators. In either version, if you have an interactive whiteboard, you can “spin” the globe with your hand and double-tap to fly into a location, which can be an engaging, hands-on presentation method for you and your students.

If you’re new to these maps, start with the online version and then work up to Google Earth Pro. One major benefit of the online version is Google Voyager, a set of interactive tours organized around different themes, many teacher-friendly, such as: Exploring Earth’s Ecosystems; Explorers: Early Connections; Math and Architecture: Circular Structures; Behind the French Revolution; the Underground Railroad; or Myths and Legends from Around the World. These tours can be used across the curriculum.

With the Pro version, you and your students can do some pretty cool things like create your own custom tours, discover detailed demographic data, view 360-degree interactive photos, measure distance and elevation, and explore the historical maps layer. Depending on your location, there could be historic satellite or street view imagery dating back as far as 1930. In general, big cities like New York or London will have more historical data available than remote locations have.

Also with Google Earth Pro, you can add more tours and layers than what is built into the software. Visit collections like Google Earth Library to download additional layers and overlays, like historical maps from as far back as the 1800s. If you need a tutorial, visit Google Earth Outreach.

The possibilities are endless.

Of course, you can use Google Earth to help students become more familiar with the world. Global scavenger hunts are fun, and making comparisons of all sorts of things — such as rural vs. urban areas; different climates; and different types of homes around the world — helps students acquire spatial sense, cultural knowledge, navigational skills and global awareness.