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




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.