Google Earth Is Now Ready For Chrome

I get to present about Google Earth pretty frequently and mostly in the context of  teachers whose schools or school districts have adopted Google Apps for Education.    They come to my presentation with their new chrome books in hand hoping to find relevant ways to incorporate the information I provide into their teaching.  Alas,  among my first pronouncements in full disclosure is that Google Earth won’t work on the chrome book.   I then have to qualify the statement and try to convince them that their time in learning about Google Earth is not wasted as it is an important development platform for activities they wish to publish in Tour Builder or Maps.

Glad to say that isn’t the case anymore.  I can look out at the audience, ask’m to open their chrome book and go here:

Yep,  that’s Google Earth in a chrome browser.

I can die now.
At first glance,  the new interface seems like a totally stripped down version of the original.  What few tools that exist are on the left side panel and they are limited,  so developing on this platform seems like a difficult proposition.

I took this new baby for a ride last night.  The first thing I wanted to know is if the lesson content I created and wrapped up into a KMZ file was going to transfer into this new environment.     So,  I picked my Regions of Virginia KMZ file and this is what happened:

It pulled in all of the content.  I had to tell the chrome based version of it to allow KML/KMZ uploads first,  which is just a preference setting, and then use the unfamiliar layer panel to show the items, but it pulled in all the placemarkers, polygons and content within.

There were some problems with formatting though.  I had linked to some very large images (large in the sense of vertical and horizontal pixels) and the presentation frames in chrome GE did not expand the window to see the images.   That’s an easy fix if you are developing content as one would just format the images in a valid display size.  No big deal.

So that’s it.  I need to get crack’n on  my course,  The Best Earth Ever,  to incorporate this aspect of Google Earth into the content.

Oh, and there’s more.  Google has provided some  pre loaded content for teaching.   Here’s a link from Tech Crunch which further describes what you can do:

Google Earth for Chrome & Android gets upgraded with guided tours, more discovery features


Walking the Ocean Floor

A day at the beach
A day at the beach

As a mountain dweller, I find the coastal areas enchanting.  The complete change of scenery always elevates my spirit,  and a day on the beach, even more so.  I often find myself looking  out into the Atlantic and wondering were I would end up if I could walk straight across the ocean.   I think the answer is,  somewhere on the African coast.

Fifth graders in Virginia get to learn about the features of the ocean floor and Google Earth supports this unit in a number really interesting ways.  As I was playing with some features of the globe, I found  a setting which lets you determine the ocean depth by “pinning”  a placemarker to the ground.  Typically, the placemarker will show you the elevation at such a point.  If the placemarker happens to be pinned underwater, it will display the depth at which it is pinned.   So one can essentially find the depth of the ocean anywhere one can place a pin.

I thought about my habit of looking across the ocean and thought it might me interesting to entertain a walk across the ocean floor.  It also occurred to me that if the depths were accurate,  then placemarkers could be arranged is such a way that they represented some of the features students  are tasked with knowing about:

  • Continental Shelf
  • Continental Slope
  • Continental Rise
  • Mid Ocean Ridge
  • Abyssal Plain
  • Sea Mounts

So I placed markers at regular intervals and used Google Earth’s measuring tool determine the distance from Virginia Beach to the placemarker.  I figured if I had the distance from the shore and the depth I could possible graph it and a subsequent plot of the data might give a reasonable cross section of the features mentioned above.  The map looks like this

To test the my hypothesis, I created a google sheet, entered the distance and the depth to the sheet and created a scatter plot.  Here’s calculation sheet,  and if you click on the the second link called “Ocean Depth Profile”, the resulting plot will also display

So the resulting graphed profile actually is a pretty good representation of depth and the required features.   In fact here’s a  image which represents the same profile with labels:


Here’s an interactive image of  picture above with definitions:

So,  I used curve smoothing feature in the chart and then created an image of the smoothed curve chart.  I put this image onto a Google Drawing and then added the vocabulary as text objects.  Here’s what a student final project looks like:

So in this way,  students can actually come to some conclusions by acquiring  and analyzing some data.

To get them to think about about these features I ask them to compare the cross section in their graph to the geologic drawing I found.   I took a picture of the graph that was generated and put into a google drawing.  I then put the important terms on the drawing and had students label the graph accordingly.

I like the idea of students using authentic data to  acquire  knowledge.  In this case, I had to do a lot of organization to make it work for them.  Ultimately all they have to do is  read numbers from a map and type them into a spreadsheet,  then make sense of the world they have constructed.




Measuring the Great Pyramid of Giza

Among the most fascinating and thoroughly studied architectural achievements of humanity

The Great Pyramid
The Great Pyramid

are the pyramids of Egypt, and of all the pyramids, the Great Pyramid of Giza is the one usually the one that comes to mind as a prime example of these magnificent structures.

It has been the subject of intense exploration and speculation.   Some insist that space aliens drove all way across the galaxy to construct it,  or at least show the ancients how to do it.  (That’s a mighty long trip to build something out of of rocks.)

I once had man explain to me how it was used to channel energy.  He had  a cardboard replica with the same ratios of construction and insisted I sit in front of it while he adjusted it to better channel energy into me.  Apparently he couldn’t quite get the tuning right as I steadfastly remained unchanged.   (Or did I?)

In my view,  these are just complete sideshows to some truly remarkable human history.  These large structures have endured over  the eons of human civilization and remind us of our ingenuity, persistence and, of course,  the fleeting existence of a particular culture.   There aren’t Pharaohs anymore, but there are pyramids,  and the can be studied from the comfort of you desktop computer.

So it turns out that  4th graders in Virginia need to know how to distinguish between area and perimeter.   They mostly do this on paper and typically with worksheets on which they can count unit squares:

Visual Area and Perimeter
Visual Area and Perimeter

Its a good way  visualize the concept, but once they understand how to do the calculations,  why not take out into the real world of archaeology and do some real world calculations?    The pyramids on Google Earth work really well if you are so inclined. First,  Google has excellent high resolution images of these famous objects and they easy to locate.  As always you get the additional value of geographical knowledge, and once at the location students can do some meaningful measurements using Google Earth measurement tools.  They too are easy to use.

The Great Pyramid is perfect object for area and perimeter.  Its almost perfectly square and its easily visible.  Here’s birds eye view from Google Earth:

Screen grab from Google Earth


Looks like an nice square to me.

Here’s the same view with a measurement tool overlay:

Screen Grab from Google Earth with Measurement Tool

So, it’s easy to find each corner and measure.  In this case, I chose to use meters,  but there are many different units one could choose.

To make this even more interesting,  students can compare their results with those collected in archaeological studies.

Like most of my Google Earth activities,  I direct all of the student work with a KMZ file.  In this case,  I embed  google forms which students use to record their results and which captures their answers for assessment.  If you don’t want to work with forms,  an advance organizer on paper which allows them to enter data and do calculations is quite handy.

I also provide a link to known archaeological data  so they can compare their results to the highly precise measurements done by surveyors at the site.  Turns out the students can get pretty close to the results by the experts.

There are many other connections on could make.    Volume calculations come to mind and it would be interesting to compare the footprint(area) of the Great Pyramid to a modern building or other historical buildings. Students also have to put their  addition skills to good use.  I require them to measure to the nearest 1/100th of meter,  which fits well with the math skill set to which they have been introduced.

To download resources you might want to use for this lesson,  just click below.  Of course you can’t use my forms, but you can can make a copy of the advance organizer and download the GPC KMZ file as an example and modify it for your own use.  There’s also a KMZ file that gets the students to the Pyramid and locates the corners.

Measuring the Great Pyramid of Giza




Real Horror Stories told with Google Earth: The Black Death

Saint Sebastian
Saint Sebastian Ministers to the Plague Stricken

If you are a fan of using story narrative as a means to capture attention, you probably also know that scary things stir the emotions and can be used as a “hook” to motivate students.   R.L Stein made a nice living with children’s books which capitalized on this phenomenon and who in a certain generation didn’t  curiously find Max’s friends in Where the Wild Things Are to be, at least,  little frightening?   One of the best things about using the macabre to stimulate interest is that its not necessary to invent ghost stories.  It turns out history has plenty of downright horrific examples to exploit in this way.  So it is with The Black Death,  the ancient deadly disease that wiped whole communities off the map in Asia and Europe.

In this lesson,  students are introduced to the historical context of the Black Death as a means to get students to:

  • analyze graphical data
  • speculate as to how data for ancient events can be acquired
  • investigate the causes and effects of massive epidemics
  • understand processes and conditions that lead to epidemics
  • consider the Black Death in modern context
  • analyze the spread of disease over time using an interactive map

This lesson was developed to support a unit  by  educators who work in our gifted children’s program and has been successfully implemented with some pretty sharp 4th and 5th graders.   It certainly can be modified for  a much wider audience, especially secondary students whose analytical skills should be getting a regular rigorous workout.   Since I already had extensive experience with this period of history and a background in microbiology,  it was easy to create and find appropriate resources for it.   So,  to start,  I wanted to create a “driving question” that serves as a little bait for the “hook”.

What happens when a deadly disease strikes a community?

The first thing students need  for this project was a little background as to the events.  As  is my habit,  I created a KMZ file as a device to organize my lesson resources and leverage Google Earth to incorporate the geographical context of the lesson.  In this case,  the data and information mostly pertains to medieval Europe,  so I put the place marker in France.  The first link inside the place marker is to a short narrative which tells the students what the plague is.  This can be read independently,  but I’ve been working with small groups of motivated students,  so I generally display Google Earth on a presentation device (big  HD TV or interactive whiteboard), pull up the narrative and let students read aloud.  This also provided a great opportunity to ask at least a few questions about the geographic context of the topic.

The next task is up to the students and involves analyzing some widely quoted graphical data regarding the plague:

Modified Plague Graph
Modified Graph from William Langer’s February 1964 Sci Am Article


Since my students are novices in analyzing graphs,  this images was modified with some orienting points to make it a bit easier to get started with analysis.  The actual form is linked here.   It starts with basic closed ended questions to guide the students and requires them to read, calculate and interpret  the data .  Each of my students has their own computer to analyze the data and complete the entry from.

It wasn’t necessary to create all the resources for this lesson.  With just a little bit of searching I was able to find a KMZ file in which someone had added a historical time line overlay which shows the spread of the plague through Europe.  The analysis of this information was also part of the form.

There are myriad of interesting questions in regard to this topic.  Here are a few that come to mind:

  • How is it possible to calculate populations changes?
  • What social institutions in Europe kept records?
  • What archaeological evidence might exist to verify the records
  • How are the events of the Black Plague depicted in literature and art.
  • Is plague still a problem in the world today? If so, where?  Is there plague in the United States?

Generally this a pretty entertaining way to get students to process some data and think critically about it.   Armed with some really good resources and a great interactive application like Google Earth,  one can provide a learning experience which goes far beyond the simple goal of analyzing a graph.   With just a little bit of extra work  the student can experience something relevant and rigorous and maybe even interesting.

For a complete archive of all the resources for this lesson and how you can use them you can go to this page:

Before Modern Medicine Resources

The Plague Doctor
The Plague Doctor

As if it could be worse,  if you got the plague in the 16th century  and did see a doctor,  their official clothing for plague fighting is shown in the image above.  Apparently the beak had herbs stuffed in it to prevent the spread of disease.  Surely one would be convinced that hell was just around the corner when one of these guys came to the home.  Imagine this as your last visitor.










The Jamestown Journey

Jamestown Shpis
Replicas of the Susan Constant, Discovery and Godspeed

I live in Virginian and have for most of my life.  Even before I entered 4th grade in the fall of 1968,  Virginia’s  4th grade students were learning about the first permanent European settlement on North America.  It seemed a matter of State pride  to do so.   The lessons generally focused more on Jamestown than the journey to it ,  and in the intervening years since I was first introduced to this historical event,  much more has been discovered  at the actual site of Jamestown.  The archaeological stories  which have come from years of study  are both rich and intriguing.

Captain Newport
Captain Newport

Some things have  been added to the narrative since I was in fourth grade.  Christopher Newport was the captain of the expedition.  For some reason his name wasn’t mentioned back in the day,  but now he’s listed as a first class explorer with Jacques Cartier,  Juan Ponce De Leon and, of course, Christopher Columbus.  Captain Newport even has a University named after him.


As a technology resource teacher,  I have been asked about a zillion times to come up with materials about the aforementioned explorers  as they are part of our State’s  history curriculum in grade 3,  wherein our students  learn about the exploration  and geography of the exploration of the Americas.   When Google’s map products became available,   I naturally started to think of ways students could use these tools for this particular topic.  Its a perfect fit.  It even works better for the more extensive investigation in the Virginia Studies Unit in grade four.

My first idea was to have the students plot the journey from England to Jamestown.    Then I quickly realized that I knew nothing about this other than they started in England and ended up at a place they ended up  calling Jamestown.   I needed to find out more about this and after about 20 seconds of searching with Google,  came up with a guy named George Percy.

George Percy
George Percy

Percy was one of the original settlers of Jamestown and actually managed to survive. (Mostly because he didn’t stay.) Luckily,  he was an educated man who liked to keep a journal  and it is this primary document  which details the trip from London to Jamestown with descriptions of many events along the way.  Most importantly ,  he was good about writing down both places and dates.  Nothing beats  having a primary document as a source of valid information.

The problem with this particular primary document is that it is written in the language of the time.   My students are still  developing their comprehension skills  with modern language, and asking them to interpret an archaic form of English would be tough.  So,  to expedite the project,   I decided to  pull out the important places and dates and chunk them into a more reasonably interpreted format. As you can see,  its simply a three column document with the place marker number,  the content for it,  and the location it will go on the map.

Ah,  but that’s getting ahead of the instructional story.  I should have started with a nice instructional goal:

Given a succinct summary of dates and places described in George Percy’s  travel journal to Jamestown,  the learner will create a map on which connected place markers show the path of the journey and the dates at which each location was visited.

The next issue is exactly what tool I wanted to use.   We are GAFE school and I could choose between Google Earth,  Google Maps and my new favorite,  Google Tour Builder.    Tour Builder is my primary choice because of its ease of use and because it integrates so well with our Google domain for students.   It automatically saves their work,  requires less technical training to use and is accessible on their Chromebooks.  It also allows the student to share their  work with their  teacher.  Since Google Tour Builder is so easy to use,  the students can actually learn to use it at the same time they start this project.

It’s fun to watch.  Our 4th graders have nearly zero experience in using maps.  They’ve  have some experience with “components” of a map, but this doesn’t mean much in to context of  using it for directions or to locate points on earth.  If you’ve looked at the summary of dates and location from George Percy’s journal,  you might recall that their trip originated on the docks in London, England.   That’s the first puzzling thing for students,  as they have no earthly idea where England is.    If they then  scroll down the page of the  document,  you’ll see nice image captures I’ve include to help students place the locations detailed in the narrative.  Its seems like cheating,  but if this is the first mapping activity that uses a globe,  students have very little context to connect their prior knowledge to the tasks they are being asked to do.

Getting the 12 place markers accurately on the map is the first goal and the search feature of  Google Tour Builder is both a help and a hindrance.   For an island, say Martinique, it provides a quick way for students to  find a specific location on the journey.   For a more abstract  term,  like “Tropic of Cancer”  there’s an infinite of possibilities returned in the search and I know from experience that students will place the on the map even if they don’t make a lick of sense.  My admonition is to “look at the map and make sure you place marker makes sense,  that is it is in the right part of the world and looks like it is going in the direction that would allow the travelers to complete their journey”.    I tell’m this and still get some interesting  maps which make no sense at all.

There’s more.   Simply getting place markers on the map accurately is only a tiny part of what kids can think about.  Each place marker in Google Tour Builder  is container for media.  Images,  hyperlinks and media can make the journey informative and entertaining and the spin off projects are endless:

  • Adopt the persona of a young boy forced on to the trip and describe the trip from his perspective
  • Use some basic math skills and the measurement devices on maps to determine average rates of travel. Compare the travel to modern methods
  • Use modern weather records to speculate about temperature and weather during the original trip and what it must have been like for people from England to encounter the weather in the Caribbean or  North America

To be sure,  this kind of project with 4th graders is a process.  Their knowledge of geography in general and  the technology of maps is not well developed.  Nor is their ability to write easily.   Still,  it’s a project that requires many skills and introduces technologies that will be important to their lives.

If interested,  the resources for this project are here.  Feel free to copy and modify the materials for your own use.     If interested in learning more about Google’s geographic products,  why not learn more in a online course adventure here:

















Getting Started with Google Earth in Your Classroom?

From time to time instructional leaders in a school system will  stumble upon a real problem and attempt to constructively address it.   The most recent example of this in my instructional neck of the woods was a perceived problem  related to geographical awareness, or the lack thereof .   To be honest, I’m not sure exactly what metrics led to the this conclusion, but you wouldn’t have too much trouble  at any grade level getting a teacher to  verify their perception that most kids don’t know much about geography,   especially once they get to high school where their previous school experience  in global studies should better prepare the for the rigors of  world studies or world geography.

Apparently,  not so much.

So, in an effort to address this problem,  my school division decided that geographical studies are important and that we really needed to develop a better curriculum in support of improving student outcomes.   Typically  this involves  a group of teachers working tirelessly for a week or two in the summer to  find resources and package them in a useful way for their colleagues who also will be asked to improve  student performance in the realm of geographical knowledge.   That’s exactly what was done in our case  for our fifth  grade teachers and students, and that’s the situation I found when I returned from my  summer travels.

I was more that gratified to find one of my teachers inquiring about the possibility of using Google Earth as a cool application to support the new initiative.  The teacher had some great ideas,  but because most teachers haven’t designed Google Earth  lessons for students,   the implementation needed  some informed support.  Simply wanting students to use the tool is only  the first step in preparing them to use it effectively for lessons or projects.

Google Earth isn’t a paper worksheet to color and it requires a good bit of technical expertise on the part of the teacher who wants students to use it and student preparation  to make it work.  It’s a “no brainer” as an appropriate tool, but any teacher who wants to leverage the tool really needs to analyze the task(s) and prepare their students for success.   It’s a process not an end point.

After listening to my colleagues ideas,  I knew she was on to something good, but also knew  she was naive about what 5th graders know about using this particular technology.   Its my job to get her and the students to the point where they can fully understand how to manipulate the virtual globe and add their own content to it………….. and save it for assessment!   Assessment is the big thing , and saving work in KMZ files is a fairly complicated concept for 5th graders.  Indeed,  in working with about 70 kids who where tasked with putting a polygon on the South Eastern United States, only about 20 of them successfully completed the task the first time.  Their problems ranged from awkwardness with the polygon tool to an unfamiliarity with the general process of saving work.  They are perfectly  capable kids,  but they have little experience doing these things.

I hope we develop the perseverance to keep on working at it!  These kinds of skills are increasingly  important.  These kids are more than likely going to encounter jobs or practical uses for such technologies and I know from own children’s experience that there is a payoff for knowing how to use these tools.  It’s harder than a worksheet,  but  nobody in academia or  the job market is making worksheets the focus of their mission.