Google Earth Lessons

An Educational Resource for Teachers

Previous Headlines about Google Earth:

December 28th, 2007 - Maps Galore! WikiMedia Commons on-line Atlas of the World! - When teaching about various places around the globe, it sure would be handy to have access to a digitized atlas that would allow you to create overlays to show concepts such as historical boundaries, etc. Well, the WikiMedia Commons offers that resource! The great majority of the maps are freely available for teachers to use under either the GNU or Creative Commons licenses.

Wikimedia Sample

Great maps (and more!) await you and you students at the WikiMedia Commons!

By downloading the maps and creating an image overlay, you and your students can examine Earth in great new ways!

Adding an Overlay

Adding an overlay to show Germania provinces in 9 A.D.

December 28th, 2007 - Great new tools for Geo-tagging! - Two wonderful new tools have emerged that allow teachers and students to create awesome placemark collections quickly and easily that include embedded images. JetPhoto Studio is my favorite as it runs on Windows or Mac and has lots of extra features like being able to build Flash based galleries as well as smooth GoogleMaps/GoogleEarth integration. For $25, the Pro version allows you to even run your own photo gallery server that is 100% Google Maps and Google Earth enabled! (check out the GELessons tinkering around with it albums!)

Locating an image with JetPhoto Studio

Geo-tagging an image is very straighforward with JetPhoto Studio

GeoSetter is the other new kid on the block and will also output placemark collections that are geo-tagged. It runs under Windows only, but is 100% freeware and has an impressive feature set! GeoSetter can also be downloaded as a zip file, meaning that it can be run without administrative access on locked down school computers, or even from a USB flash drive.

Setting a location with GeoSetter

GeoSetter allows you to tag photos manually, or by synching with a GPS log!

Both programs work very well with GPS devices, so even if your digital camera doesn't have a built-in GPS capability, you can plug in your car or handheld GPS unit (certain models, of course) and the software matches up the pictures with the GPS tracks!

Here is an example of a track made by my 5th Grade team GoogleEarth KMZ filebefore I found these great new tools to show some of the possiblities of equiping students with a digital camera and a Garmin handheld.

November 2nd, 2007 - PhotoOverlay Creator Tutorial - Create immersive content with the free PhotoOverlay Creator software. Works on all platforms, Win, Mac, Linux. (requires the latest version of Google Earth and Java needs to be installed)

November 2nd, 2007 - New Lesson Plan Added! - Boom Town by M. D. Harrison. This is a neat, well written, lesson that focuses on the Gold Rush, natural resources and geography. To quote: "This lesson has students go through a simulation to learn about value, abundance, and scarcity and asks them to consider the things that they would be willing to work very hard for." Wonderful!! Full of excellent links!

October 23rd, 2007 - gives a thumbs up to including its Flash based content in Google Earth placemarks! For those of you who use Windows computers, that ability of Google Earth to show Flash content has just been boosted a hundred-fold thanks to Quia's decision that embedding it's flash based content in balloons falls within their appropriate use guidelines! This means that 1. While students are interacting with Google Earth they can also be interacting directly with curriculum based activities. 2. In teacher led situations, you can play knowledge games without leaving Google Earth! This is WAY cool!

Example of Quia Activity inside Google Earth

The four types of flash activities include:

  • Battleship (I would suggest this for students 8 and older)
  • Challenge Board (A great Jeopardy clone)
  • Rags to Riches (a 'Who wants to be a Millionaire' clone that the kids love!)
  • Hangman (for reinforcing vocabulary)

Quia is a subscription based service, but they have thousands of great free pre-made activities here. With a subscription you can create your own custom activities as well as have html based quizes that are scored by the system. And no, I am not being paid anything, not even a penny, by Quia to plug it. I just thought it was a neat mash-up and that it was neat that Quia was cool with it!

A GELessons Nifty Tricks Tutorial on how to create the interactive balloons with Quia content is here. The balloon above can be grabbed here.

October 21st, 2007 - New Lesson Plan Added! ISTE Aligned Professional Development Plan created by S. Hansen!

October 15th, 2007 - New Lessons! Not one, not two, but three great new lessons to explore with your students! The origins of inventions and business provides the foundation for The Origins of Business lesson. A traveller's dealings with Time Zones provides students with insights, and personal histories are explored in Where are You From!

October 14th, 2007 - Thanks Minnesota! GPS to Google Earth for free on Windows. If you happen to have Garmin GPS units, like the educationally popular eTrex Legend, there is a way to move your data from the GPS into Google Earth without having to get a Google Earth Plus or Pro license for your students if you are using Windows computers. It is thanks to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources. The DNR Garmin software can be used for many things, like transfering waypoints and tracks to multiple GPS units, but it also has the ability to export the data to Google Earth in .kmz format! Not only that, but the data is perfect for lesson integration with spreadsheets and other applications! I will try to put together a Nifty Tricks page together in the near future.

DNR Garmin Screenshot

October 7th, 2007 - New Lesson - Sheila Samuel shows how 'traditional' lessons can be updated to take advantage of new technologies such as Google Earth and Smartboards in this lesson where students investigate the Migration of Neo-Tropical Songbirds! Be sure to download the in-depth lesson file (pdf)!

September 22nd, 2007 - Multimedia Leaves Google Earth (except for Flash)

It was really cool while it lasted, and hopefully it comes back soon, but as of the latest Google Earth build Google Earth has lost the ability to play MP3's and other multimedia content except for Flash .swf and .flv formats. Bummer.

September 1st, 2007 -MultiMedia comes to Google Earth!

Most Google Earth fans are aware that they can now view YouTube videos inside Google Earth placemarks, but what they may not be aware of is that Google Earth supports all Flash content as well as Windows Media compliant formats as well! This means that you can put anything from home or instructional videos to what I am calling 'geoCasts', geographically referenced audio files (podcasts with a place attached!), all within placemarks. You can download the placemark examples here. (Windows Only, you must have the newest 4.2 release of Google Earth installed)

Imagine being able to give a quiz right in Google Earth!

screen capture of quiz

For a fuller discussion and tutorial on embedding multimedia content, please visit the Nifty Tricks Tutorial page.

July 12th - There is a neat new site for teachers to use with Google Earth that was just announced, allows students to learn about Geography, Math and Business as they set up their own airline! Students select a Departure and Destination city from a pull down list, select other parameters such as departure times and flight speed (a pop-up window shows you the aircraft! Cool!) and then it creates KML files with the flight paths and the positions of the aircraft when they are in flight! There is even the opportunity for pretend Corporate Sponsorships called 'TidBits'! Some teaching suggestions though, the kids need an email address for their passwords to be delivered (the account I set up let me in without a password, so I don't know if all you need is a unique email address or what) and it will help if you have them design a little square logo for their airline before signing up. A cool concept courtesy of the Huxley College, Department of Geography, Western Washington University!!


On the Fly (pun intended :-) KML placemarks and flight routes are delivered to students!

July 8th - A new Beta Version of Google Earth is released with better memory management! This would be a livable version to update to if you can't wait for the final version. My recommendation about holding off to deploy on a large scale still stands, but it definately is getting closer! There is also talk about Picassa being integrated into Google Earth, allowing you to geo-code photos easily, but at this time there are no details available. If it should come to pass it may provide for some neat lesson possibilities!

June 20th - New versions of Google Earth and SketchUp Review: Well, I am back from holiday in Europe and while I was gone there was a major release of a new version of Google Earth along with a sister update of SketchUp! There are a lot of GREAT, AWESOME, FANTASTIC things about both, but at this time I am recommending against deploying the new versions to classroom computers. To learn more, click here.

May 26th - If you haven't downloaded it yet, there is a neat free tool for Windows users that allows you to create charts and graphs inside Google Earth. GEGraph takes either raw data or basic placemarks, allows you to enter data and then it creates some neat graphs (bar, circle, squares,...). When used with data sites such as world population data through the US Census Bureau, neat lessons are bound to materialize! Here is a simple sample comparing infant mortality rates in North and South Korea. (Note from David: We head out tomorrow for Europe, so there won't be any new posts for a few days until I can find a network to link off of. I am taking the new Garmin eTrex I got at BestBuy and will post some tracks, photos and educational stuff about the Bavarian Alps when I can :-)

GEGraph Screenshot      Google Earth Screenshot
When students see raw data represented graphically it builds important skills.

May 25th - If you are studying the US there is a neat resource available courtesy of the Feds that provides customizable, printable maps to use in the classroom. The website has a wealth of premade maps or you can design your own with the interactive map builder using hundreds of data sources. It is then a simple matter to add the map to your Google Earth Lesson as an overlay or series of overlays!

Website shot          Print and Save your Map!
Create a map, print it, then save it to use as an overlay!

May 23rd - One of the most effective tools for teaching with Google Earth is an interactive white board, but jeepers they are expensive! A low cost alternative is to use your projector or screen and a Screen Pen! PC users can use the freeware JiniBong while Mac users can use either Doodle Draw ($10) or Scriboard ($20).

Screen Pen in action!
Inexpensive way to focus student's attention!

May 22nd - Forget Earth, how about Mars! There have been rumors for a while that Google was going to release a 'Google Mars'. You don't have to wait. There is a Google Maps web type interface already available with search options that your students can use today! You can find it at Another option is the large Mars Map Pack (4.5M) for Google Earth. Be sure to turn off all placemarks and layers though. Wanna see something cool? Check out the Top 20 Pictures from the Opportunity and Spirit Rovers!

google mars site options
A familiar interface for a different planet at

small mars
Click for full size.
The Mars Map Pack has valuable information such as regions and spacecraft landing sites

May 20th - Thanks to Frank Taylor over at the Google Earth Blog for spotting a fantastic new effort by the Smithsonian Institution's Global Volcanism Program! Countless hours must have gone into creating the world's most comprehensive and informative placemark collection that details all of the world's Holocene volcanos. With images, links, descriptions and details about thousands of volcanos around the globe, you will want to add this incredible resourceGE KMZ icon to your educational arsenal! From a quick visual representation of the impact of plate boundries on volcanic activity to the historic impact of volcanos, there are literally hundreds of lessons waiting to happen with this one!

screenshot of volcanos
Click for larger view

May 19th - GPS Visualizer has an incredible new Network Link! You and your students can instantly create overlays of a diverse range of data, from high resolution images of 'low res' areas in the US, to topographic overlays, infrared and more! For a brief tutorial, visit here.

Low Res to high res
Topo to Infrared

May 16th - A new site about SketchUp,, has some nifty tricks, including one about how to create 3D fonts using a freeware program called 'EleFonts' (PC Only, Xaos Tools has the TypeCaster plug-in for Macs, not free though). With a little creativity, your students, or you, could enhance their placemark reports by creating 3D placemarks! Here is one that was tossed together in under 10 minutes. Check out the GELessons Nifty Trick tutorial on how you can create your own!

3d Placemark

May 6th - GECommunity user ozlingula from Australia posted a 'must have' collection of Google Earth Utilities! In it you will find links to some of the best tools available for teaching and lesson development with Google Earth including a Dynamic Scale bar that can help students put what they are viewing in perspective (either km or miles), Dynamic Compass heading, links to interactive websites, tools for making graphs, and paths and many more! There are two flavors available. One is a network link, the other is a stand-alone.

Compass heading
Dynamic scale bar

April 27th - Google Releases a FREE version of SketchUp!!! Talk about AWESOME! Now you can have your students build their spatial skills as they build whatever their imagination comes up with! For those of you who don't know about SketchUp, it is a very intuitive 3D Modeling program. I tried it with the 4th & 5th graders a while ago and most got the hang of it pretty quickly! A Geometry teacher's dream come true! Download the FREE SketchUp here (19M) Stay tuned for lessons that harness the power of this incredible addition!

April 25th - Google Earth in Education, in Action!

The American Embassy School in New Delhi, India led by Social Studies teacher Mrs. Paulson working along with Technology Leader Warren Apel is showing how effective Google Earth can be in the classroom! Their 5th Graders used GE to chart the paths of early explorers, creating presentation of their work! Great job Mr. Apel, Mrs. Paulson and especially the kids! You can see the collected project placemarks here - 1M total (remembering that they are 5th Graders of course :-)

April 20th - New Search Features in Placenames!

After the latest update from Google, there is a great new research tool available in Google Earth! To take advantage of the new links,
1. Activate the 'Populated Places' Layer 
2. Click on the name of a town or city name. More information, quick research links!

*Teacher's Note: I always get nervous with 'Images' and internet in the classroom but after browsing 30-40 pages of image results for several locations I saw no pictures of violence, drugs or nudity. The single even close to questionable one was on page 2 of the Paris results which would draw giggles from the 8 year olds, but not much else. Good job Google!