7 Tips for Google Earth in the Classroom

Remember when Google Earth was a slow desktop program? Thank goodness it is now has a sleeker web version (earth.google.com/web) that is perfect for teaching geography. This is especially true for students using touchscreen Chromebooks. Additionally, the iTunes Store Google Earth app is great on iPads. Here are 7 tips for getting the most out of Google Earth in the classroom.

Tip # 1: Use Google Earth for Geology Concepts

Do you teach about volcanoes, plate tectonics, seafloor spreading, or other geology concepts? If so, click the ship steering wheel in Google Earth to access Voyager.

The steering wheel in the Google Earth toolbar opens Voyager: Interactive stories and maps.
Look for the steering wheel.

Then click “LAYERS” and enjoy some very useful content. Watch as I demonstrate:

Tip # 2: Use Google Earth for History

Google Earth Voyager has plenty of great content besides Geography. Click the steering wheel and click “HISTORY.” Each unit of content, called “stories,” leads students through an interactive map. PBS Learning Media authored five of the History stories. Watch as I demonstrate how to access Voyager History stories and the first two scenes of the Underground Railroad story:

Tip # 3: Find Voyager Stories

There are stories in each tab in Voyager. The tabs other than Layers and History are Editor’s Picks, Travel, Nature, Culture, Sports, and Education.

The tabs other than Layers and History are Editor's Picks, Travel, Nature, Culture, Sports, and Education. 

This content is very useful but challenging to find because there is no search function inside Voyager. Scrolling is the only option for finding stories in Voyager. The good news is the search in the Google Earth toolbar searches Voyager stories. At present, a search term has to match a term in the story title. Watch as I demonstrate:

Tip # 4: Learn More About Countries and Cities with Points of Interest

Search Google Earth for a country or city. The search will take you there on the map and add points of interest in the right part of the screen.

Points of interest in Google Earth.

Each point of interest comes with content. What a great way to introduce foreign places. Watch as I preview Tanzania’s points of interest:

Tip # 5: Use Google Earth to Measure, Distance, Area, and Perimeter

The ruler in the Google Earth toolbar is useful for showing students real-life applications for the geometry concepts they learn in math class.

The ruler tool in the Google Earth toolbar measures distance and area.

The ruler measures the distance between points on a line. It also creates shapes and displays their perimeter and area measurements.  On the iPad, there are buttons for copying that data:

Screen capture of a shape in Google Earth. There are buttons for copying the area and perimeter measurements.
Notice the “copy” icon to the right of the area and perimeter measurements.

One drawback of shapes in Google Earth is they cannot be saved. To level up using Google Geo Tools to teach geometry, have students create shapes in Google My Maps. This is a great way to teach scale and how maps can be distorted. For example, maps show Greenland to be about the size of Africa. Is that true? Make a copy of this Google My Map and have your students move the shape to find out.

  • Click the [    ] in the upper right corner to view this map fullscreen.
  • Click the three dots. Then click “Copy Map.”


Watch as I demonstrate using shapes in Google Earth and Google My Maps:

For more information on Google My Maps, please read my blog post, Google My Maps Tips and Tricks.

Tip # 6: Perfect Image Captures on the iPad

The camera icon in the Google Earth iPad app.
Notice the camera icon in the Google Earth iPad app.

Pressing the camera icon results in a screen capture of the Google Earth screen without toolbars:

A picture produced by the Google Earth iPad app.

Tip # 7, Your Anchor Activity: Use I’m Feeling Lucky for Anchor Activities

All done reading the first 6 tips? Great! The Google Earth toolbar has a dice icon. When clicked, it functions as “I’m Feeling Lucky” and takes students to a random location. What a great anchor activity!

The dice in the Google Earth toolbar Is
Roll the dice. Or to be more precise, click the dice.

When students say, “I’m done,” reply with “Great! Click I’m Feeling Lucky and share three things you learned about your random location with the class during the last five minutes.” Watch as I demonstrate using the “I’m Feeling Lucky” dice:

Thank you for reading this post! What Google Earth questions do you have? Please comment below or tweet me @TomEMullaney.

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