If you’re looking for instant engagement with your elementary students, Google Earth is it. Nothing is cooler to a bunch of kids than seeing a birds’ eye view of their community, or visiting places they’ve only read about!
Before I go further, what do I mean by Google Earth? Google Earth is a digital tool that launches in your web browser. It’s a 3D representation of Earth that’s made mostly from satellite images. It’s free and doesn’t require a Google account to use. This is NOT the same as Google Maps – it’s so much more!
Google Earth is basically an interactive globe, so certainly it’d be useful when you’re teaching kids about geography. But there are so many more subjects that it works with! Today, I’ll share some ways to use Google Earth with your upper elementary students.
How better to teach and review geography topics than with a virtual Earth? Have your students identify geographical features, continents, countries, oceans, bodies of water, landforms, and more. You can even make it a scavenger hunt for extra engagement.
Toggling between the 2D, 3D, and street views can also help your students explore elevation and topography.
If you want to review map skills, click on Menu>Map Style, and then turn on latitude/longitude gridlines.
Google Earth would also come in handy when you’re teaching the 5 themes of geography!
Google Earth is great to use when you’re teaching students about a particular person, place, or event from history. Here are some examples:
- explore the cities and land where a famous person was born, lived, or died
- determine what natural resources are found in a certain location (i.e., proximity to a water source or to a forest)
- explore ancient trade routes or migration routes
- analyze geographical features that might have impacted a battle
- explore important landmarks, such as the Great Wall of China
- locate the place where a current event is happening
Have students turn on street view and “walk around” just like the people they’re studying!
Explore Story Settings
Historical fiction, folktales, mythology, and other genres really come to life when you use Google Earth to explore the places described in the text. Have students determine the setting of the story and then take a virtual field trip to explore it!
Connect to Science
Google Earth is also awesome to use to teach science! Some upper elementary topics you can support include oceans, landforms, climates, biomes, ecosystems, natural resources, weather, and habitats. Zoom out far enough and students can even explore space!
If you click on Google Earth’s Voyager from the toolbar, and then on “Layers,” you’ll find lots of science-based features that are great if you teach volcanoes, sea floor depth, watersheds, and severe weather!
Speaking of weather, you can click on Menu>Map Style, and then turn on animated clouds to see a time-lapse of the last 24 hours’ worth of cloud coverage.
Studying climate change or human migration? Check out Google Earth Timelapse!
The Google Earth toolbar includes a ruler that lets you measure distance, perimeter, and area in both U.S. Customary and metric units. Students can measure the length of a path between two landmarks, for example, or the distance between the east coast and west coast of the United States.
Take a Virtual Field Trip
Nothing beats learning about a place like going there, right? Luckily, Google Earth can take you on a field trip without the money and hassle! Try giving students a location to search and explore using the 3D, 2D, and street views.
If you don’t have a particular place in mind to visit, you can have your students click on the die in the toolbar. This “I’m Feeling Lucky” button takes them to random places around the world and is a fun way to explore new areas.
Even better? There are TONS of already-made interactive virtual field trips in Google Earth’s Voyager. This link will also take you to games and other educational resources that are a GOLD MINE for educators for many different subjects!
Showcase Student Learning
Like all things Google, there are awesome tools built right in that students (and you) can use. If you are a Google Apps school, you can have students sign in to their Google accounts and create projects directly in Google Earth. They can pin locations and add photos, videos, text, etc. right there. This creates a presentation they can share with the class!
I highly recommend checking Google Earth if you haven’t before, and taking time to play around with the many different options. And this is definitely a tool to share with the specialists in your building, too. As you know, Google updates its platforms all the time, so be sure to keep checking back to see what else it can do!