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Google Earth Lessons Blog

Google Earth Lessons Blog

An Educational Resource for Teachers

Wow! This is messed up!

Filed under: General — GELessons Blog Admin at 11:22 pm on Thursday, April 30, 2009

Can’t figure out what is going on…

Sunshine Tool Tricks - Solstice, Equinox made simple…

Filed under: General — GELessons Blog Admin at 4:14 pm on Sunday, March 1, 2009

One new function of Google Earth that I have been dying for was the ability to control the sunlight as it hit earth to demonstrate to students why we have seasons, longer and shorter days, etc.

Happy days, now you can!

sunlight button
time tool

While I am not certain how precise the daytime/nighttime visual data is, it is at least close enough that now you can animate the entire solar year to show all sorts of cool stuff, like why parts of Alaska get 24 hours of sunlight in the summer, and no sunlight in the winter.

Here is a brief, 3 minute, video showing how it works.

A lesson I am putting together for my upper Elementary kids is going to include having them pick locations on Earth (based on Latitude) and have them chart the amount of sunlight the place receives throughout the year in a Google Docs Spreadsheet. Then they will make line graphs to compare Northern, Southern and Equatorial locations average sunlight during the big solar days (equinoxes and solstices). An extension includes having them collect monthly temperature data (via the iFrame placemark trick to display the World Climate Data website) and charting it along with the daylight data to see if there is any correlation between average temperature and hours of daylight. I’ll post it when I get it all on digital paper.


Google Earth 5 Hidden Secrets

Filed under: General — GELessons Blog Admin at 11:57 pm on Saturday, February 28, 2009

Sorry things have been so quiet here lately. The site has been shunted to a lower priority for a variety of reasons lately, not the least of which is all the other cool stuff that has been happening in Ed-Tech and Web 2.0 that has distracted me.

As you are probably aware, Google released the new Version 5 of Google Earth about a month ago. It garnered wide spread acclaim for some of its amazing new features:

  • The ability to record tours that include models, sound and animation.
  • Underwater terrain and a moving sea surface.
  • Mars!
  • Historical satellite imagery.

While each of these advances are amazing in their own right, taken together they increase the educational potential of the tool to new heights. Frank Taylor over at Google Earth Blog has been doing a fantastic job of keeping us up to date as some of these capabilities are explored. Meanwhile, Richard Treves, the renowned Geographer and highly innovative educator in the UK has been sharing what he has learned about the new tour function along with sound design principles on his Google Earth Design blog.

Yet even with all the buzz on the blog-o-sphere about the new Google Earth and its capabilities, some of the more subtle changes seem to have gone unnoticed. Below are a couple of the new tricks and changes that I have stumbled on (download the sloppy example placemark here):

  1. The almost full support of html in placemarks. While you could use html in the past, it was a bit sketchy on what would actually work. Now, that support is almost full on, with support for forms, frames and other nifty html functions. For instance, you can now include interactive forms, background textures and more.
  2. Support for the iFrame tag. What this means is that you can now easily embed webpages in your placemarks. Some caveats however. Java is not supported yet. I thought it would be cool to embed a Google Doc in a placemark so a student could enter data, but it doesn’t work. Also, you can’t navigate back, you can only click links to go forward in your research. In the example placemark above you can navigate Google Maps inside Google Earth.
  3. Animated Gifs can be viewed in placemarks. I know this is a little thing, but for kids it can mean a lot. Children are more engaged when there is motion and stuff zipping around. While you can do that by embedding Flash content, gif content is a more mature technology (one most students can create with simple paint programs) and does not require messing with complicated embed codes.

Over the coming weeks I am going to try to find time to develop some of this further and see what else I can discover and as I do will share the results here.

In the meantime, if you haven’t grabbed the latest version of Google Earth, do it now, you will not be disappointed!


Attn: Cool Tech Teachers - GTA in Chi Town!

Filed under: General — GELessons Blog Admin at 1:38 pm on Friday, August 8, 2008

Great news from Google this morning, they are taking the Google Teacher Academy on the road!

Coming up Sept. 24th there will be an academy in Chicago, and the buzz is that there will be one in New York as well!

Having just had the experience, I can tell you that it is probably one of the most remarkable professional development experiences you will ever have!

Find all the application details here:
But hurry, application deadline is the 24th of this month!

Good luck !


The new school year…

Filed under: General — GELessons Blog Admin at 3:51 pm on Friday, August 1, 2008

What a summer it has been!

I hope all of yours was pleasant, productive and filled with great experiences!

Here at GELessons things have been quiet for a number of reasons, including a 9,100+ mile journey from Florida to Puget Sound, Washington and back. While you might think it crazy to go on such a long road trip with gas prices the way they are, there was a really cool reason. It is because I had the honor of being invited to the 2008 Google Teacher Academy at Google Headquarters in Mountainview, California!

What an amazing experience! There were over 50 of the most remarkable education professionals in the world there! While being somewhat geeky myself, I wasn’t prepared for the level of Tech-Ed expertise that Google managed to gather in a single room! From my old friend Cindy Lane who I met at FETC, to teachers from as far away as New Zealand the group represented the new age of teachers who are taking technology to whole new levels in the classroom. I even had the honor of meeting the founder of Google Lit Trips, Jerome Berg himself!

Google Earth was just one of the tools that we worked with during the academy, most being related to the Web 2.0 capabilities of other Google products, such as Google Sites, Blogger, Docs and all the rest.

Anyway, we are back from the wonderful exploration of some of the U.S.’s most fantastic natural wonders like Redwood National Park, Mt. St. Helens, Glacier, Yellowstone and even the Badlands of South Dakota and it is time to get back to work after being in tents and away from computers and the internet for a month and a half.

Expect some changes around the site as I implement some of the things I learned at the academy!

More soon!


P.S. I tossed all the pix my wife and I took on-line so her parents in Germany could see the sites along with us. Feel free to use any of the pix you like for non-commercial, educational purposes only. You can find them here. I created a bunch of Google Earth enabled panoramas which you will find linked off the home page of this site as soon as I have the time to code them.

Neat GE Alternative Developing!

Filed under: General — GELessons Blog Admin at 10:47 am on Saturday, May 10, 2008

Geo Geeks most likely are already aware of a great new tool but regular teachers might not know about NASA’s latest initiative, World Wind Java.

The new Java based World Wind allows for some really neat functions with more being developed every day by commercial and non-commercial enterprises alike. Since it is Java computer language based it will run on Apple, Windows or Linux computers and allows for innovative stuff like having a Google Earth-esque window in a web page among others.

Some caveats for teachers though:

1. It requires the downloading and installation of the Java applet, so in restrictive network environments you might not have enough administrative rights on your computer to use it. Ask your Tech people to see if there is a solution or if they can unblock you.

2. It needs the latest graphics drivers, meaning the computers need to be pretty up to date. I ran it on my fussy old laptop just fine, where Google Earth freaks out, so you are probably OK, but test it out first.

3. The updating of imagery seemed slower for me than Google Earth, so depending on your network, you might have more student downtime waiting for the imagery to appear.

Given the level of creativity of developers out there, this is definitely a remarkable new tool to keep an eye on that offers functionalities Google Earth doesn’t, and again, it is free! 


New stuff…

Filed under: General — GELessons Blog Admin at 2:03 am on Monday, May 5, 2008

Finally had some ‘Dave time’ today to get a couple ideas down that had been rattling around in my noggin for a couple weeks now. They are detailed on the home page so I won’t go into great depth here. I swear, I need to spend about a month and redo this whole site so that it makes more sense. I know some folks subscribe to the RSS feed from this WordPress blog, while others stumble on the home page. It would make a lot more sense to have the blog as the home page, but the WordPress editor and DreamWeaver don’t like each other as much as they could.

Anyway, not to be confused with Dr. Seuss,

Thing 1. A fun little idea for Flat Stanley in Google Earth. Flat Stanley is a boy who gets flattened one night while sleeping and has inspired some neat inter-school communication since in the story Stanley’s father mails Flat Stanley to see his cousins in California. The Flat Stanley Project has leveraged the web to get kids writing and learning about different parts of the world. It seemed like a natural fit to me that Flat Stanley could also travel the world in Google Earth, so I made a little custom icon (copy into your custom icon address field to join the fun) for folks to use to pinpoint where they have sent Flat Stanley, or where they want to learn and write about. Here is Flat Stanley visiting the Queen of England at Buckingham Palace, replete with the 3D building.

Flat Stanley meets the 3D Queen

Thing 2. I have been fascinated with WMS (Web Map Service) for a while and struggled to find a way to make it useful for teachers since it has the capability to display a broad range of information quickly and easily through the use of image Overlays in Google Earth. To add an image overlay that incorporates WMS technology just visit the new, somewhat thin, Nifty Trick page about Insta-Topos that teaches you how to get instant topographic map overlays for anywhere in the U.S. with less than two minutes of development time. I wish I knew more about how WMS works, especially how Google Earth queries the servers, so that I could provide a more in-depth tutorial. But seriously, it is a click, click, click and then no matter where you look in the US, boom a topo map appears. Pretty cool.

Sample topo WMS overlay

and last but seriously not least,

Thing 3. An effort that puts me to shame. Some fellas in New York have come up with possibly the cleanest, most straightforward, most succinct overview of how regular teachers can create lessons utilizing Google Earth ever. Steve Kluge and Drew Patrick from Fox Lane HS along with Eric Ferman from Eastchester HS put together: “Designing and Creating Earth Science Lessons with Google Earth” and even made it available in PDF for our convenience.

With that single great page they have made it possible for trainers everywhere to rip out two hour Google Earth workshops without blinking.

That makes two who have really taken some basic Google Earth concepts and produced some really sweet educational web resources! Thomas J. Petra’s is the other. I’d better watch out or I’ll be out of a job (oh wait, this is a hobby) :-)

One final reminder, if you have comments, don’t bother with the comments section here since it is running an average of 300 spam entries a day (wish I knew how to kill them off!) so everything gets pitched. If you need to drop me a line, email me at I would love to hear some of what you are doing with Google Earth in your classroom!

Happy upcoming summer vacation!!!


I stand corrected…

Filed under: General — GELessons Blog Admin at 2:09 am on Monday, April 21, 2008

After spending the better part of a week with the newest version (4.3) of Google Earth on two different models of laptop (one with only 512M of RAM, both with on-board graphics cards) and five different desktop computers (ranging from 512M - 4G of RAM and four different graphics cards) on three separate networks, I really must say that I stand corrected concerning GE’s performance and impact on lower end computers.

The more I use it, the more impressed I am by the performance improvements, especially the right-click zoom and rotate feature. If you haven’t tried it yet, simply right-click and drag anywhere on Earth.

click zoom

The effect is smooth, quick, easy to control and is a whole lot faster than using the slider control and there is no need to go into the options window to change your fly-to speed.

Another significant improvement is the relatively blazing speed in switching between Earth and Sky. I honestly used to hesitate to switch due to the lag time that would allow students to get slightly unfocused. Now, however, the switch is rapid and clean.

As to StreetView and 3D Buildings, there is a negative performance impact, but it is less than I thought. Due to the GE Team reprogramming how 3D buildings are delivered and rendered, it is a lot quicker to load the models now than before which can allow you and your students to focus on topics of interest, rather than twiddling your thumbs while the models loaded. It does seem to be the StreetView imagery and placemarks that slowed down the computers I tested it on, partly due to the rendering of the ’snapshot’ arcs and spheres.

I can see how lessons, like those created by Noel Jenkins at Juicy Geography where land use/urban planning and analysis plays such a key role, could really be enhanced by literally immersing the students in the urban environments under study.

The current version is still, officially, a Beta version meaning that improvements and bug fixes are on the way, but in the meantime here are a couple tricks I found work to alleviate two odd issues I discovered:

1. Rather than displaying the longitude and latitude, etc. at the bottom of the screen there appear to be random numbers flashing around. To resolve this issue open Tools:Options and under the 3D tab, switch from OpenGL to DirectX rendering (or the reverse).

Direct X

On the Gateway Profile computer with a PCI Nvidia graphics card in the lab that was exhibiting this behavior, it fixed it right up. You might notice a strange blocky rendering pattern on Earth’s surface after you switch, but as the imagery comes in clearer the blockiness disappears.

2. The Sunlight, Day/Night function does not show the correct shadow for the time of day it is (accompanied by odd letters and digits on the time slider). Click the clock symbol by the time slider option step 1 to open the time options and put a check in the box that says ‘Restrict time to Selected Folder’option step 2, click on the Primary Database icon in the Layers panel and it should clear up the problem for a while. I almost think that the issue I saw was more due to a conflicting time animation somewhere in the Places (buried in the tons of placemarks or Layers on that particular workstation) or Layers than an actual problem with the Day/Night option.

Speaking of the Day/Night, the Google Earth team added a subtle, yet beautiful, feature for computers with high-end graphics cards. Shadows, lighting and even starry skies! Tilt in a mountainous region at dusk especially and the effect is bound to be inspiring to your students!

Another little bonus is the fact that the Flight Simulator mode is now a menu option under the Tools menu.

tools menu

Not only is flight entertaining, but with the speed and altitude indicators there must be some fun math activities that could be created for students. I will leave that up to talented teachers like Thomas Petra from or you :-) Frank Taylor at GoogleEarth Blog has a number of excellent tips on how to make Flight Sim mode more effective and enjoyable for you and your students, while the Google Earth manual lists over two dozen keyboard commands you can take advantage of while you fly.

Oh, one last thing while I have you here. Does anyone know why in the world there is a very large, very perfect equilateral triangle in the middle of the desert (kml file) near Phoenix?


New version of GE - Beautiful, yet Brutal!

Filed under: General — GELessons Blog Admin at 12:56 am on Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Just released this evening, the new version 4.3 of Google Earth is amazing!

Screen shot of the new interface.

For teachers, however, my first impression is that it will offer mixed blessings.

Big changes:

There are all new navigation tools, there is the ability to display the day/night line (this is something I have wanted forever!!), dated images when available, and the ability to view the Google Street View images directly within Google Earth for the first time (it has been available for quite a while in Google Maps, select cities only).

The new look and feel are incredible and the new changes will not be without a significant impact!

My first impression after about 10 minutes of playing with it are generally all thumbs up, but the big, big downside has to be the Street View images. They just brutalize the network and the computer! I am running a fairly good Windows computer with tons of memory, and it brought my fancy computer to a crawl when the images were loading. I hate to think what it will do to a low end student computer when the kids activate Street View. There is no question, it is amazingly cool and really will bring the world to life for the kids, but I can just hear the IT department now complaining about the massive new load that Google Earth will put on the school’s network, and I can hear the kids wondering why the computers have stopped moving.

Overall though the folks at Google Earth have done a remarkable job that will provide teachers an even more powerful tool for teaching a wide range of topics, and for students to share their knowledge in immersive, creative ways!

Happy Earth Wanders!


Fantastic Math Resource!

Filed under: General — GELessons Blog Admin at 4:00 pm on Thursday, April 10, 2008

I can’t believe I missed this one, but thanks to Stefan Geens over at Ogle Earth for reporting about a fantastic new Google Earth in Education site, by Thomas J. Petra!

This beautifully designed site offers some inspiring, and inspirational lessons focused on four major areas of mathematics:

  • Concept
  • Project Based Learning
  • Measurement Lessons
  • Exploratory

Within each of the broad categories there are several lessons with Standards, Grade level and content area covered as well as very well designed KML/KMZ support files (placemarks, overlays, geometry, etc.).

I could easily wax on and on about how Mr. Petra’s site sets a new standard for Google Earth related educational innovation, but will let the site and the remarkable content speak for itself!

So, if you teach math K-12 and want your students more actively involved, need ideas or ready built lessons, MUST be your first stop!!

 More soon as Mr. Petra’s site has me all fired up with some new ideas!


P.S. Thanks to Ed-Tech whiz Karen Seddon for letting me know that my humble little website was honored as the “Site of the Week” April 2nd by! (I did the little shoo-wah dance when I found out:-)) Thanks Karen and eSchool News!


Filed under: General — GELessons Blog Admin at 12:30 pm on Saturday, January 26, 2008

Yesterday I had the opportunity to attend a day at the Florida Educational Technology Conference (FETC), a huge Ed-Tech showcase and conference in Orlando. There was, of course, a great Google Earth workshop!

The workshop, conducted by an energized and entertaining Cindy Lane of Ohio St. Louis, Missouri, was packed!!

There were a few things I got out of the workshop, first and foremost is that there are a lot of teachers out there who love Google Earth and who are dying to learn how to use it across the curriculum. Another was some fun ideas for lessons. Ms. Lane (you can find her wiki here) showed how she used to engage students for a vocabulary lesson among several other ideas. The cross curricular aspect of the far too short (45 minute) workshop was great and the attendees seemed to really gobble it up, several working along on their laptops while Lane demonstrated strategies on the big screen. Not only that, but I learned something! When you use the measuring tool in Google Earth, one of the possible units of measure is a ’smoot’, which I had always just assumed was an inside joke by Google. It turns out that a smoot is actually 5′ 7″!

One disappointment from the conference was the lack of GE representation in the Exhibition hall. Lots of vendors were displaying their ’smart board-esque’ hardware but none were using GE to demonstrate their products. On the bright side, I did find a good book, “Google Earth & GPS Classroom Activities Intermediate Science:Grades 5-8” by Jim Holland and Susan Anderson ($34.95 at although you can probably get a better price on it elsewhere) that is stuffed with some excellent lessons. The book comes with a CD that has the placemark kmz files as well as printables and answer keys. The lessons are well thought out, well annotated and some are just plain clever. For copyright reasons, obviously, the lessons won’t be posted here :-)

Some other fun or useful links I got from the conference include: - The end of the slideshow. Upload pix and it generates a free 30 second, cool video for you or your students.

Ed Uses of Digital Storytelling - A wonderful resource to introduce you and your students to digital storytelling (as opposed to PowerPoint reports). Of course, you can convert the digital stories to flash and have the kids embed them in placemarks too (there’s always a GE angle, call me obsessive :-)

DigiTales - A SUPURB site about digital storytelling with examples and templates and a whole lot more! - Another great digital storytelling site, look at the cookbook especially!

Also, this weekend I am going to try to get around to finally posting a ‘World Wonders’ lesson I have been using with the kids as well as the resource pages from the six hour Advanced Google Earth Workshop I conducted recently.

More later,


Enhanced Placemarks with HTML tutorial

Filed under: General — GELessons Blog Admin at 4:12 pm on Saturday, January 5, 2008

Just an FYI about a new tutorial I uploaded this morning: How to create Enhanced Placemarks with HTML. It runs just under 17 minutes and covers a number of ways to fancy up your placemarks with pictures, tables and custom icons using a freeware HTML editor (FreshHTML for Windows). Streaming is here (30Mb) while the .zip is here (30Mb) if you need a file for your LAN or CD distribution.

The World of Learning…

Filed under: General — GELessons Blog Admin at 1:48 am on Friday, January 4, 2008

It is amazing to me how much knowledge is available, for free, thanks to this little thing we call the internet. As I was surfing today I stumbled across the National Repository of On-Line Courses (NROC) which contains High School, AP and College Courses for a wide range of topics, including some where students could show proficiency by creating Google Earth enabled content. Along with the neat National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s (NOAA) Ocean Explorer site with great multimedia lessons, it boggles the mind how much the world of education has grown beyond the four walls of the classroom.

Toss in the Open Education Resources (OER) Commons,  The Open University, and Universities like MIT providing Open Courseware and it makes me almost wonder if the days of the classroom teacher are numbered. Almost.

What I think it does more is show how when we have students use programs like Google Earth where they can see the world as one big amazing place, all connected by complex webs of communications, transportation and natural systems they might gain a tickle of an understanding of their place in it. As a teacher, my place in it is by guiding them to make the best use of those incredible on-line resources.

It will be interesting to see what amazing new changes 2008 brings.


GooglePages, On-line file storage for free!

Filed under: General — GELessons Blog Admin at 10:47 pm on Monday, December 31, 2007

One challenge in providing students with your cool educational Google Earth collections is actually distributing the collections to student workstations. If you are in a 1-3 computer classroom you can use disks or USB flash drives, but even so it can be troublesome. If you want your students to learn from the files at home it is even more challenging, especially if you don’t have access to your school’s website. Even with access to school servers, if the server isn’t configured to recognize KML or KMZ files you are in for a headache.

One option is to have your own web-space. That is where Google Pages can come in (assuming that the pages aren’t blocked by your firewall or internet filter)!

The free web space is available with a free Google Email account and is really easy to use. Just go to the My Account page and select the page creator option. You probably need to register for it first at

From there you can do all sorts of stuff, from changing the look and layout of your little ‘off-site web site’ to uploading your Google Earth files and images you may wish to use in your placemarks. The interface even offers some rudimentary image manipulation options.

If you don’t see the screenshots above, you probably won’t be able to use the site though since the images are hosted at my little ‘messin around’ Google Page.

When it comes to student access to the files you can just add your site link to the Favorites of your student computers and away you go!

Happy New Year, 2008!!


Geo-Photo Essay Tutorial Available

Filed under: General — GELessons Blog Admin at 10:48 pm on Saturday, December 29, 2007

Just a quick note…

Took some time today to crank out a video tutorial on how to easily construct a Geo-Photo Essay collection of placemarks. Designed for novice users and utilizing JetPhoto Studio although the principles are the same if you choose to use GeoSetter.

Click Here for the video tutorial. 18 minutes, 90Mb for the full thing, but it should stream OK. Click here to download the whole thing as an 85Mb .zip file for use over your LAN or on a stand-alone workstation.

Part of the reason I put it together is because I will be conducting a 6 hour workshop in mid-January covering a lot of aspects of a wide range of virtual Earth products and thought some video tutorials on CD might be nice for the participants. If you are in the Orlando area January 18th you are more than welcome to attend :-)



JetPhoto Studio Kudos!

Filed under: General — GELessons Blog Admin at 3:14 am on Tuesday, December 18, 2007

I am all excited! This is so cool! (starting to get the little dancing around jitters with a ‘look what I can do!’ buzz going on)

I wrote last time about a new program I found called JetPhoto Studio, which is free, runs on Mac or Windows, but has a Pro version for a very economical $25. Well, I plunked down the $25 and got the Pro version and I couldn’t be happier! It is so cool!

Thumbnail view

After I started playing with it more, I found that it has to be, hands down, the best, easiest way to geo-reference pictures ever! Not only that, but it outputs Flash, KML, KMZ, reads from GPS units, integrates with Google Maps and GoogleEarth and even has its own web server software! It is so cool!

Output Options

If you have FTP access to a web server with PHP running on it, you can crank out cool web galleries with Google Maps/Earth content like this one ( in minutes!

One caveat about that though, I tried it on this site and it was fussy, not showing the thumbnails and stuff, but it might be an issue with either my web host or with the version of PHP that is on it, the Google integration still works though. The developer is looking into it, so hopefully that problem will be fixed soon, but on a sister site it worked first thing and worked great! (12/25/07 Update: It was how I uploaded the files. They work now and the support people were great in solving the issue! can now host your educational albums if you don’t have your won web space!)

If you don’t have FTP access, just drop me a line. The site has been sitting empty for a year or more and still has a ton of space on it, so I would be happy to host the photos for your lessons if you don’t have other alternatives.

One thing that really impressed me about the software was how easy JetPhoto is to use. Having worked with many teachers over the years, many of them in the novice category tech-wise, I can see them actually using this and getting a quick grasp of the tools available. In fact I will use it as a part of a workshop I am running in January.

From an educational standpoint I don’t know that I would put it on student computers, but as a teacher it is a real productivity booster due to its ease of use.

Used in conjunction with everything from personal photos to curricular based images drawn from sites like United Streaming and I can see how JetPhoto Studio will really be able to open up a lot of avenues for anyone teaching with GoogleEarth or Maps by substantially cutting down prep time for interactive lesson development. Try it! It is so easy!

Locating photos with ease!

Definitely the best $25 I spent this year! It is so cool!

Quick notes…

Filed under: General — GELessons Blog Admin at 1:43 am on Thursday, December 13, 2007

The number of applications that allow photos to be geo-tagged (have their longitude and latitude location encoded right into the secret code area that most people have no idea is there) is really becoming mainstream. The nice thing is that not only are they encoding the location, but the programs output GoogleEarth and Google Maps compatible files in a smooth, easy work flow. A couple of nice free ones that are really easy to use include GeoSetter and JetPhoto Studio.

GeoSetter is a work in progress, but what progress! Not only does it geotag photos, but it will read your USB GPS devise and merge the tracks, waypoints, etc. with the  image locations. Windows only, multi-language, 100% free, can be downloaded as a .zip so you don’t need administrative rights on your school computer to install it.

JetPhoto Studio is a sweet little program too, running under both Windows and Mac OSX. It is more tease-ware than freeware though as it will only allow you a limited number of GoogleEarth exports (15 collections can be tagged and exported before you have to pay the $25 Pro price). It has a really nice interface that the kids would have no trouble with.

Thanks to Frank Taylor over at the GoogleEarth Blog for keeping up a great site, today he had a blog entry about time animated Earthquakes and earlier had a great link to a Google Education in the UK which has put together a pile of wonderful lessons that can be used with GoogleEarth. Time permitting I will try to link them all in on the lessons page.

My latest fun thing to work with the kids on is not GoogleEarth related though, it is Scratch. Even the 7 year olds are starting to create neat content during their explorations. Sooner or later I will see if I can fuse GoogleEarth and Scratch. Might be a tough one since Scratch is Java and GoogleEarth is Flash, but there is a seed of an idea there that is waiting to bloom.


Another great freebie, TechSmith’s SnagIt!

Filed under: General — GELessons Blog Admin at 3:00 am on Monday, November 26, 2007

For those Windows users out there who want to create tutorials for your students using screen captures (for use in documents, web pages or even placemarks), TechSmith is also giving away their older version of SnagIt! Great screen capture software that I have used for years, but always had to pay for or get by attending workshops (thanks to our County folks who were excellent at writing grants). All of the screen shots on this site were created with SnagIt.

Download SnagIt 7.25
Register SnagIt 7.25 for free



Ask and Ye Shall Receive!

Filed under: General — GELessons Blog Admin at 3:08 am on Saturday, November 24, 2007

WOW! Talk about timing!

Just the other day I was lamenting the fact that I couldn’t figure out how to do free audio ‘geoCast’ placemarks that had playback controllers without having to shell out $$ when what should happen? Along comes the wonderful company TechSmith! As some of you may know, TechSmith is the software company that is responsible for the industry standard SnagIt and Camtasia Studio screen recording software.


I just found out that TechSmith has released their old Camtasia Studio version 3.1.3 for free! They are currently up to version 5 which has some remarkable features, but retails for about $300 (educational discounts are significant though).

1. Go to and your download will automatically start.
2. Go to, enter your name and email address and some other basic stuff and in seconds you will have your registration number via email.
3. Install the software you downloaded and register it with the number in the email and Voila, you have a fully functional flash video/authoring studio for doing screencasts!

When I tested it out on my old PC I discovered some things, and some ways to work around the problems. Camtasia Studio is for recording your screen (along with a webcam if you have one) so when I only did audio it wouldn’t output the needed files, the publishing option was greyed out. I created a small blank jpg image and put that in the timeline with the audio which brought the publish button to life, but then it would crash when it was publishing the results. The final solution that worked was I recorded a small strip of the desktop’s background, just enough to fit above some playback controls in a placemark balloon and then everything worked great. Upon further reflection, I think it might actually be good to include some still photos of the topic to keep student’s interest focused. It would mean more work, but a better end product.

If you do use images, be aware of copyright restrictions. For royalty free photos, you can visit which has a lot of teacher created imagery, or for basic clip art there is

Not only can you do the audio ‘geocasts’ but that particular version also has the ability to create Flash based quizzes which you can incorporate into your placemark collections!

So, if you and your students are on Windows computers and you have a microphone handy you or your students can do some really cool stuff!

In the next day or two I will try to put together a tutorial on how to implement the suggestions above and incorporate it with Richard Treves concept of sequential audio tour placemarks, but if you want to start playing in the meantime, have a great, fun, creative time!



Filed under: General — GELessons Blog Admin at 4:04 pm on Wednesday, November 21, 2007

Sorry about being so MIA lately!

Some of the things I have been working on but haven’t figured out or written up include:

• A synthesis of an idea I found over at the ISTE site where students chat ‘directions’ to another class on how to construct a shape. This builds math vocabulary, critical thinking, keyboarding and collaboration skills all at once. This one is pretty cool! What you do is either set up a chat server or install a LAN chat client (Tonic is currently my Windows Only Fave, but it doesn’t allow chat tracking from a central administration point, thereby bringing up cyber-bully type issues), so what you do is have students either use Google Earth or Google SketchUp and chat the directions to other kids. In my lab what we are going to do is the kids will use Google Earth, find a location and then give directions to a place somewhere else, for instance from the Courthouse to the Science Museum, by giving directions (go North 3 blocks, turn west, go 250 feet, ….) to a kid on the other side of the lab. Should be neat when I get the bugs worked out. With SketchUp what they would do is construct a shape and then chat the directions on how to build a duplicate with proper measurements to the other kids. The cool thing about Tonic is that you can attach files, so the kids can check each other’s work!
• Something that I have been puzzling over for months! How to use all the abilities of Google Earth, with time stamps, flash, etc. to create a ‘Where in the World is Carmen SanDiego’ placemark game to teach world geography (with Google Sky it could even be a ‘Where in the Universe’ game too!). I know that starting with a flowchart is the way to go, but there has to be a relatively easy, low-tech way of building the game. It would be perfect for high-tech network links and PHP (way complicated for the average person) type stuff, but my goal is to make a lesson template that any teacher can construct in an hour or less, allowing quick, easy curricular customization. It’s not going so well…
• Richard Treves had a neat idea for linked PodCasting Placemarks to create a tour, but the site he uses to create the flash based audio is commercial (15 minutes free space) so I was thinking there has to be a way a teacher can just record themselves and then toss the audio files wherever they need them, like a hard drive, USB drive, whatever, but I keep getting stuck on how to change an Audacity MP3 into a playback controlled flash file. When I figure it out to the point where the steps are super simple I will crank out a tutorial.
• Another thing that has been bugging me lately is why I am only yakking about Google Earth? Google Maps can do a lot of the same stuff and it runs pretty much on any computer without having to install special software or get the IT people fussy with you. Therefore I have made a command decision to start tossing Google Maps lessons I stumble across on here too. How’s this one for starters (courtesy of GoogleLatLong )? GoogleLitTrips, except with maps instead of earth… Tom Woodward’s neat lesson or Dale Basler’s physics lesson (that guy deserves an award! He has a great Blog!)
• I swear my to-do list is getting too darn long! There are such neat educational opportunities using Google SketchUp, Google Sky, the time slider, the new Weather layers, it is practically endless, and here I am running four clubs at the school on top of teaching 900+ kids and trying to keep my wife from feeling too neglected.. Oh well, I guess sometimes negligence is bliss :-)

Happy Thanksgiving to those of you in the ol’ US of A!


Playing Catch up…

Filed under: General — GELessons Blog Admin at 12:37 pm on Saturday, November 3, 2007

What a busy couple of weeks!

First of all, my apologies to M. D. Harrison who uploaded a great lesson plan called ‘Boom Town’ this past week. The lesson is now available to all! Sorry for the delay. I really like this one for several reasons. First is the catchy title, a good title makes for a great anticipatory set up for our ‘too much TV’ kids. Secondly, is the lesson’s focus. 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.” All as they study geography, natural resources and history! The third thing I like about it is that it uses Google Earth in a way that I think most teachers are likely to use it, as a supplement and display/presentation tool. Curricular demands are so stringent today that taking content/class time to teach advanced concepts on how to use software tools such as Google Earth is not feasible for most classrooms. So, a BIG thanks to Ms. Harrison for the great lesson!

In other news, I spent way too much time on creating a far too complicated Nifty Tricks tutorial about the new PhotoOverlay Creator software which was released a couple weeks ago, only to find out that a critical aspect of the tutorial didn’t work. I managed to solve the problem, but with limitations. The software itself is great, free, runs on all platforms and is VERY easy to use ! It is when I went to create .kmz files to contain the PhotoOverlays that things got messed up. You can read the tutorial if you want, but you are probably better off just playing with it yourself.

If you don’t know what a PhotoOverlay is, in the latest version of Google Earth you can insert pictures that are ‘zoomable’. It is really cool and kids eat it up! If you look under Layers for the Gigapan and GigaPixl you can get an idea of how far you can go with the technology. From a lesson standpoint, there are a hundred ways to integrate the new capability into lessons. Some ideas include:

  • Compare and Contrast – What is different about the people, architecture, landscape in the picture compared to here, another picture of a different place.
  • Prediction – What do you think is about to happen to the man in the red hat? Where is the lady with the bags going?
  • Identify – Find three signs of past glaciation. Where would you most likely see a frog? Identify two places where the city has worked to control traffic flow. How many habitats can you find?
  • Story Starters – Imagine you are a cat sitting in the window of the white house. What could you tell about the people passing by? What changes might you have seen if the picture was taken 10 years ago?
  • Analysis – How might the rocks have gotten positioned in that manner? Why are the saplings under the tree instead of in the field?
  • Student Created Content – Place the overlay in the appropriate geographic location. Place the landforms in an area where you would most likely find them.
  • Use GIMP/PhotoShop/Graphics program to annotate an image for student use with arrows and captions, and such.

The thing is, if you just have nice pictures, you don’t need to use special software, you can just go under the ‘Add’ menu in Google Earth to ‘Photo’ and boom you have a great PhotoOverlay. The part I messed up in recognizing is that most teachers would need instructions on creating immersive panoramas, not on how to use them. Duh! To that end I can suggest a program called AutoPano Pro which, unfortunately, runs about $100, but is amazing in its capabilities.

Want to see something cool I thought of this morning (Windows Only, unfortunately!)? How about putting documents in balloon windows? Here is a placemark sample. Pretty neat, eh? This was accomplished thanks to ‘Flash Paper’ ($79) from Adobe. It used to be that the Flash Paper software was included with Camtasia Studio which is how I got it. Anyway, just an idea.

More as time permits!


Quia goes Google!

Filed under: General — GELessons Blog Admin at 2:43 am on Wednesday, October 24, 2007

I got a great email yesterday! It was from the nice folks at

If you have never heard of Quia, it is a neat site that, if you pay some $$ you can create any one of about a dozen different kinds of on-line activities, quizzes or surveys to share with your students.

The thing is that they have thousands of free pre-made activities, nicely categorized, that you can access without having to get a subscription in a ‘try before you buy’ marketing strategy. It just so happens that four of the activities are Flash based, and therefore are suitable for embedding within Google Earth placemark balloons (Windows Only, Current Version of Google Earth Required)!

On a whim I tried a little mash-up (or hack) to see if I could get one of the flash activities to load in a GE balloon and lo and behold, it worked! It is ultra cool!

Rags to Riches, adding even more value to Google Earth!Rags to Riches, adding even more value to Google Earth!

Well, I wanted to share it through this site but thought it might be prudent to find out if it was legal first. After reading every word of Quia’s Terms and Conditions of Use I still wasn’t sure so I shot them off an email telling them how their content could be used, that I wanted to train others how to do it and quick as a wink I got a note back from them saying that it was OK and thanks for sharing it on the gelessons site!

The four activities are some of their best ones. There is a Jeopardy style game called ‘Challenge Board’ which would be excellent for a whole class 20-30 minute game, a Hangman game that is great for reinforcing vocabulary, a game called Rags to Riches which is based on the TV show ‘Who wants to be a Millionaire’ (one Quia teacher I spoke with said that when her kids win that one, the younger ones expect money to come out of the floppy drive on the computer :-) and finally a game called Battleship where when you hit the opponents ship you have to correctly answer a question in order for the hit to count.

The best part is that the trick is soooo easy to do! There is now a new ‘Two Minute Tutorial’ in the Nifty Tricks section with the amazingly easy details.

No, I am not getting anything from Quia to plug their site or service (wish I was!), I just thought it was cool. Ever since I got my own Quia account by going to a District sponsored workshop a month ago I have been impressed with what it can do. The on-line quizzes and surveys are especially useful as a paid subscriber, unfortunately for Google Earth they are not Flash based.

Now all we need is for Quia, or someone, to come up with Flash based quizzes that are scored by the system and we would really be able to teach and assess in one foul swoop!


P.S. If you comment on any of the posts here, your comments will most likely never show up. It is nothing personal. It is just that this blog gets, on average, 800-1200 spams a week, mostly for bogus pharmaceuticals, and while I scan through them, the real comments are nearly impossible to spot. If anyone has experience with this older version of WordPress who can offer suggestions on how to get rid of the massive amounts of spam I would love to know!

Lots of great new lesson ideas!

Filed under: General — GELessons Blog Admin at 2:08 am on Monday, October 22, 2007

A great big thank you to all the teachers who have submitted new lessons!

Tanya Zamora created a wonderful, intergenerational lesson that is fantastic for meeting a wide range of standards, not only in Social Studies, but Language Arts as well as students interview parents and grandparents then translate the times, places and memories into Google Earth files as a class. I would love to hear the discussions generated by the lesson as the students in her class see the web of travels that brought them together!

Meanwhile, Ms. Mainwaring shares an innovative idea about how Google Earth can be used by students as they examine the history and spread of business. From inventions to business practices, students discover the global nature of our economy. These abstract historical and economic concepts can get real traction with students thanks to the interactive nature of Google Earth.

Anne Marie Verlaan uses real life experience as the basis for her lesson about time zones as she travelled from London, Ontario Canada, halfway around the world to Australia! You have got to see her lesson plan! Not only is it filled with a ton of great information, but it is one of the most comprehensive lessons I have seen written up in a long time, almost like it was professionally produced! Wish I was that talented! (Did you know that the world was first split into the 24 time zones in 1884? I didn’t until I read her lesson. Fascinating!)

And last but not least, Sheila Hansen gets to the root of Google Earth in the classroom by sharing her 1 Hour Professional Development Lesson plan to be shared with her staff. I know that there are a lot of teachers out there who would love to use Google Earth in the classroom, but just don’t have the training. Ms. Hansen provides a solid framework for presenting the topic and spurring further collaboration through follow-up activities. One thing that really struck me about the plan was its close alignment with ISTE NETS standards.

As for me, I have been walking my 900+ kids through a U.S States and Capitals lesson with Google Earth where the kids create a placemark for each state capital. The lesson isn’t particularly innovative, but the kids are having a blast with it and I get to shout out ‘What is the capital of…’ and they actually know the answer, where ten minutes before they didn’t! I am using the Sheppard Software States Games site with the lesson which works great if you live in the U.S.

Speaking of Geography, I stumbled on a great site if you are studying world countries Not only does it provide a wealth of information, but when students investigate the different nations they will find Google Earth and Google Maps links throughout! Definitely worth a visit.


GPS Tangents…

Filed under: General — GELessons Blog Admin at 11:10 pm on Sunday, October 14, 2007

Google Earth is a great geography tool, and by spending some $$, or €€ (Euros) as the case may be, you can do even more awesome things with it. The problem though is that funding for education is usually far behind what is needed and to outfit a lab, much less a school, with Google Earth Pro or even Plus licenses can be prohibitively expensive. That is why I got so excited earlier this week when I discovered some great, free tools that provide super integration capabilities with Google Earth.

Let me back up…

Last year I was fortunate enough to get a $2,500 Best Buy Teach Award based on our work with Google Earth. We call it the iGEO Project (integrated Geophysical Education Odyssey) and is based on using Google Earth to address topics across the curriculum. As part of the award we were able to purchase 16 Garmin eTrex Legend hand held GPS units. We got the Award late in the year and with things being so busy this year I didn’t have a chance to play with them until last week when I had my computer club kids get them all unpackaged, programmed and tested. We did a Treasure Hunt of sorts.

The lesson was only marginally successful. I lost a quarter of the treasure (stickers inside little plastic plant stakes) and the students seemed to not quite get it, even though they had a wonderful time walking around outdoors fixated on their Garmins.

So, I put in some serious surfing time to try to get a handle on how best to use the devices with 8-10 year old students who have had ZERO Geography and Social Studies thanks to the high stakes tests here in Florida that focus solely on Math and Reading (important topics, yes, but I would rather have a well rounded citizenry making voting decisions in the years to come). In the process I stumbled across a great site by a Ms. Trimpe from Illinois who put together some great GPS lessons, activities and resources. One thing I noticed in her lessons though was that she talked about having waypoints on each of her Garmins for the activities. Now, I’m not lazy, but the thought of wandering around the school yard loaded down with 16 GPS units and adding the same set of waypoints to each and every one sounded like WAY too much work! So, off I went again on the internet and stumbled across all sorts of cool stuff!

The coolest is a Windows program produced by the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources called DNR Garmin. The program is awesome! It moves data to and from the Garmin units, it produces csv (Excel compatible) output of waypoints and tracks, but the most exciting was that it did KML directly to Google Earth! I plugged the unit for one of the lost treasures into a computer, ran the DNR Garmin software and Boom! I had the track of the kids wandering around the school yard! It is so cool!

But that was just the start! Then I found GPS Track Maker where you can not only plug in the GPS and have it track you (supposedly, I haven’t actually tried it out with a laptop yet, only a desktop) but you can draw your own maps while you wander!! It looks great, it’s free and it fits right in with our iGEO Project, but as I mentioned it is untested at this point.

Anyway, I was really starting to get into all the GPS and free software thing and the Track Maker software made me think about serious mapping applications like ArcGIS which is so far out of our price range at the school that I might as well wish for a global field trip, and not the virtual kind. That is when I found that the ArcGIS people actually had us teachers in mind! They have a limited, but still fantastic, free mapping application called ArcExplorer Java Edition for Education (a hefty 100+M download). While it doesn’t have anything to do with Google Earth since it can’t output in a Google Earth format, at least as far as I explored, it does make a great tool and has some good lesson files you can download.

Then, just this morning I stumbled across USA PhotoMaps which has the neat ability to query the Microsoft TerraServer for not only satellite photos, but topographic maps of the US. The best part is that it will output in jpg format, thereby making topographic image overlays for Google Earth easier!

Sorry to ramble on with all the links and things, but it is neat to find so many free resources that tie in with GPS and Google Earth!

We have two new lessons submitted that I will be moving on to the lessons page VERY soon, so stay tuned for them, one from a teacher named Verlaan in Ontario, Canada is a wonderful 6th rade exploration of Time Zones, while the other contributed by merimain integrates business concepts through the exploration of several inventions. Hopefully I can get to them before calling it a night since I would love for you to have them to start the week off with!


A new lesson - with a twist…

Filed under: General — GELessons Blog Admin at 2:28 am on Monday, October 8, 2007

Many thanks to Sheila Samuel from South Carolina for submitting a new lesson! You can find her lesson here. The exciting part for me is that what Sheila did was take an existing, well written, lesson about the migration of song birds and successfully modified it to take full advantage of changing technologies. What was once a paper and pencil investigation has now become a highly interactive, student focused lesson that incorporates technologies that are becoming more pervasive in school settings.

In her heavily annotated lesson plan you can see the thought processes of this new breed of teacher who is not afraid of technology, but embraces it and involves the students in ways which just a couple years ago would have been closer to something you would see in a Science Fiction movie.

Students are becoming more technologically sophisticated and as professionals working to meet the needs of those students, we too must be moving forward. Today’s students are plugged in and interactive and thanks to the efforts of teachers like Ms. Samuel and you, students don’t need to leave the digital world they know so well at the school-house door!


Nice while it lasted…

Filed under: General — GELessons Blog Admin at 2:15 pm on Saturday, September 22, 2007

Things are really busy at the school lately so I didn’t have time to look at the changes in the latest version of Google Earth (4.2.0198) but they apparently wrote out the ability to call the Windows Media Player from within balloons. This means we are stuck with only displaying Flash content which severely limits the multimedia abilities that Google Earth had for a short while. Why did they write it out? Maybe to stick it to Microsoft, maybe because it was unstable, who knows.

I personally am very disappointed and hope that the Google Earth development team finds some other way for users to create multimedia enabled balloons for the wide range of content available on the internet that is not in Flash swf or flv format.

In the meantime, it means that you have to have full control over your content so that you can convert it to the Flash formats. As a teacher with too much to do already, I think most teachers won’t go to the trouble of finding a free, or buying a bunch of converters. Those that do deserve commendation for going above and beyond!

Again, let’s hope Google sees the value of incorporating a divergent range of multimedia formats within balloons and gives us back the ability to take Google Earth forward.

Thanks to Lars in Denmark for making me aware of the sad change.


Convergent Technologies…

Filed under: General — GELessons Blog Admin at 1:31 am on Tuesday, September 11, 2007

In the last post I shared about the amazing new ability of GoogleEarth on Windows to display or play embedded multimedia. One aspect of which is the ability to play MP3 Audio files from within GoogleEarth itself and I coined the term ‘GeoCast’ to refer to a Podcast with an embedded geospatial reference.

Since then I decided that maybe a better term would be ‘Glog’ :-)

To be honest I don’t quite know where to go with this, or where it will ultimately lead us. By combining emerging technologies it is possible to do some previously unbelievable things. For instance, the path I took on the internet tonight has me excited about the fusion of literacy, Web 2.0 technology and the new GoogleEarth capabilities. Let me explain…

I found a new eBooks site, where you can download over 17,000 titles, from Mark Twain to The Bobbsey Twins. Then I found which allows you to subscribe to a blog, but with the bonus feature of converting the text of the blog to speech with a pretty good computer generated voice (it sounded like NeoSpeech’s Kate) thereby turning the blog into a podcast which you can take with you on your mp3 player. And it is all free.

In thinking about it further, it was a simple matter of combining the text from through to create an mp3 that was then embedded into a GoogleEarth placemark. I am not certain about the legality of the entire process because of licensing and copyrights, so will not post the result here, but it highlights how alone each of the technologies is impressive, but together it has the ability to change entire educational delivery systems.

For instance, you can download the audio placemark for the previous post here to see what it sounds like. I hope it works. You are supposed to register at, but I think that might be so that you can customize your blog list.

The potential to convert text to speech and then embed that speech into a georeferenced object via a GoogleEarth placemark provides for new ways to attach meaning to texts.

From Huck Finn floating down the Mississippi River to going Around the World in 80 Days to other literature where the place is a critical part of the story, attaching the audio to the place can bring a unique focus to the text. Listeners of National Public Radio might be familiar with the StoryCorps project. The mp3 files, telling stories of place and time are readily available and free to the public. Placemarks of the stories, along with photos and textual background information could instantly immerse students in a different place and time.

It is not just literature, of course, but current events, history and science that can be tacked onto a world place. To me it is a bit mind boggling, but I am certain that others will see just a bit of what can be done by merging convergent technologies.

I can’t help but wonder where it will all take us…

New Version of Google Earth Expands Multimedia Capabilities!

Filed under: General — GELessons Blog Admin at 12:33 am on Sunday, September 2, 2007

The latest release of Google Earth is an exciting advancement in the technology! If you haven’t downloaded it yet, go grab the new version. It is well worth it! From the incredible clarity of GigaPixl Photoviewer technology to Google Sky allowing for exploration of the night sky and even a flight simulator mode, there is something for everyone.

One of the most exciting educational advancements, however, is the ability to incorporate Flash and other multimedia content within placemarks.

After learning of the ability to incorporate flash video I got pretty excited, yet the only examples shown were of YouTube videos. YouTube is a nice resource for personal entertainment, but due to it’s open, relatively unfiltered nature, it is not suitable for young eyes and is therefore blocked from many schools. Our entire District network has YouTube and other video sharing sites blocked. What is not blocked though are quality video sites such as UnitedStreaming, the Library of Congress and many other on-line video resources. Therefore I decided to test other multimedia formats and met with good success.

Unfortunately the video ability of Google Earth is limited to computers running the Microsoft Windows operating system, not Apple or Linux computers. At least not yet.

After extensive experimenting I was able to get the following multimedia formats to work in Google Earth placemarks: avi, mpg, wmv, mp3, asf and of course, swf. You can download the sample placemark collection here. A tutorial on how to embed the files into placemarks is here.

By using commercially available Flash authoring software like Camtasia Studio, it is now possible to create and display SCORM compliant flash quizzes inside placemarks without sending the student out of the application, allowing for smoother student workflow.

I believe that this new version of Google Earth is truly a turning point in that it allows for even fuller interaction with our amazing planet and the amazing people who live, or have lived on it’s surface.

Next up, I am going off to play with Google SketchUp and Sketchy Physics, a cool new plu-in that allows for objects in SketchUp to move and react to their environment. I’ll keep you posted as time allows…

New lessons!

Filed under: General — GELessons Blog Admin at 11:07 am on Monday, March 19, 2007

Many thanks to Roy Denton and Echo Ukrainetz for submitting new lessons!

Roy has some neat ideas on how Google Earth can be incorporated into an investigation of the U.S Civil War by 5th grade students, although it could easily be adapted to other grade levels. You can find his lesson here.

Echo has put together a neat Web Quest style lesson where students explore (research) Spain and share their new knowledge via Google Earth. Echo’s lesson is here.

Once again I would like to offer my apologies for not maintaining the site over the last several months. The school year has been daunting for a number of reasons, but things are finally starting to settle down (now that the Yearbook is off to the printer!) and I promise to soon integrate new lessons I have developed as well as linking through a wealth of other lessons that have been collecting around the web.

Stay tuned, there are some neat things coming! With Google Earth now supporting the 4th Dimension - Time, along with new tools like KML editors that make creation of sophisticated placemark collections even easier, not to mention some of the amazing new content included in Google Earth Layers, the power of this free tool has literally exploded!

Some of the lessons I personally have worked on with the kids and will soon write up in ‘Official’ GELessons format include a science lesson on landforms, a K-2 lesson about ‘My World, Small to Big’ and another lesson I am developing entitled ‘Mysteries of the Atacama’.

In addition you can expect to see lessons that incorporate Google SketchUp for Math and Geometry too!

Part of the problem too is that I keep finding really neat, free stuff that energizes the kids that are not Google Earth related. The latest is a wonderfully fun little program called the SoupToys Toy Box which has turned into the latest fad at our school thanks to the little simple machines related critical thinking lesson I created (the .doc Challenges worksheet is here). Stuff like that, along with others like Stellarium (an awesome free planetarium program) and Celestia (an amazing space investigation tool, a bit complex for Elementary though due to interface issues) and others just divert my attention from Google Earth! Sometimes it’s tough being a scatterbrain :-)

Anyway, thanks for visiting!

Coming of age…

Filed under: General — GELessons Blog Admin at 2:20 am on Sunday, September 17, 2006

My apologies for being a bit negligent in keeping the site up to date. Life sometimes takes over and time becomes a commodity in short supply. Things are still very busy, but I hope to be able to dedicate more time to the work here. Part of the problem is that the IT heads in our school district have cut off all access to the Google Earth servers because of bandwidth concerns although I am in the process of lobbying for a change in the policy due to the phenomenal potential of Google Earth as an instructional tool. A tool that in the last few days has increased in value.

If you haven’t heard yet, Google Earth has a new updated Beta version which moves the application into a whole new realm of potential. There are two HUGE new features from an educational standpoint. Time and WMS…

The newest version of Google Earth has the ability to display placemarks which are time stamped, thereby adding the fourth dimension to its instructional capabilities. Imagine being able to show the voyages of Magellan, the growth of the Roman Empire, the spread of Bird Flu or any number of other content topics on a sliding, animated time line! The potential for teachers to be able to allow students to visualize, create or experience time related subjects anywhere on earth is amazing! I haven’t had much of an opportunity to tinker with it, but the potential is there waiting to be exploited by creative, clever educators. (To see a time-enabled placemark collection, click here)

At this point, from what I have been able to deduce, the only way to incorporate time is by editing the KML file directly which puts it outside the bounds of the non-techno teachers. Perhaps we will see a graphic way to include the time aspect with the next release.

The second biggie is the incorporation of WMS. If you don’t know what WMS is, WMS stands for Web Mapping Service. In the new version you can zoom in to your area of interest and create an overlay using a wide range of data quickly and easily. Essentially what the new version does is it goes out and queries a WMS and pulls in the appropirate map. Included are a couple dozen WMS’s to choose from. The one I tested the process with added a colorful area map with roads and other information. With time and experience I am certain that we will find that massive amounts of data sets are available quickly and easily, but it will take some extensive cataloging of the services available before the average classroom teacher can do a quick lesson development.

The new release just reinforces my view that Google Earth is perhaps the most significant educational software tool to come along since the Word Processer.

Be patient, stay tuned, and go play with the new version of Google Earth. You won’t be disappointed!


Jeepers, I leave for a month and…

Filed under: General — GELessons Blog Admin at 8:58 pm on Thursday, June 22, 2006

What a wonderful vacation!!!

Europe (Germany & Austria) was spectacular! Whenever I travel there I always come back appreciating the depth of the culture and history that is so well preserved, and this trip I got a wonderful sense of how well the Europeans have managed their environment along with their cultural history. With a human history that stretches back tens of thousands of years, the place is remarkably well kept! Densly populated, but with wonderful natural areas, the Germans have incorporated a love of natural places with a governmental system that espouses environmentally sensitive development. The major metropolitan areas are not like in the US with vast expanses of concrete, but discrete urban areas surrounded by garden like rural areas. It was so refreshing!!

But now I am back and am a bit listless. While I was away, the US Techno world rolled on at its frantic pace, replacing Google Earth, SketchUp and even Picassa with new versions. The changes are subtle, yet profound. With the new releases the uses of Google Earth have grown tenfold! Not only does GE allow textures in models (there is sooo much your students can learn from this alone!!!) but there are new layer options and Mac and Linux versions as well, which opens up this fantastic tool to even more students! The Picassa Beta also allows for Geotagging of photos, meaning that you can attach a GE location to pictures (for those of you doing ‘How I spent My Summer Vacation’ activities at the beginning of the next school year, HEADS UP!!).

So, more lessons are possible, more possibilities are lessons and there is even mooore work to do around here!!! The never ending world of Instructional Technology rolls on, even on vacation…


On Holiday!

Filed under: General — GELessons Blog Admin at 9:29 pm on Monday, May 29, 2006

Summer is officially here, and I am freezing! We are in Bavaria, at the foot of the Alps and the forcast is calling for snow tomorrow! Otherwise it is beautiful here!

For those of you interested, I am keeping a little website about the trip which includes Google Earth placemarks and GPS tracks.


Instinct or Standards?

Filed under: General — GELessons Blog Admin at 2:52 am on Friday, May 26, 2006

Well, the summer is here. School ended yesterday for us and that means a couple of months for doing other stuff. Saturday my wife and I head off to Europe for a couple weeks and I will tote along the laptop and the new GPS unit, so hopefully I can get some work done and have fun at the same time!

The big thing I will be doing on the rainy days is working on the site and trying to develop some good lessons to use with the kids for next year, which brings me to the quandary that has been troubling me for the last couple of weeks.

As I develop the site I think of more and more things to do, but I want to create lessons too, not just manage and update the site or crank out tutorials about how to create course content using Google Earth. In the process of looking into content that could be addressed with Google Earth I was looking over the ‘Assignment Builder’ section of the United Streaming website (a great resource, but not free) and noticed that the site allowed you to select by State Standards for the different subject areas.

Meanwhile, Mr. Barrett over in the UK published another placemark collection that addresses the standards and curriculum in his home country.

And it all started me wondering…

What is it that students need to know? Why should it make a difference if the kid is growing up in Orlando, Montreal, Singapore or London? Yes, there will be cultural differences based on the history, politics and geographic elements that the child grows up in, but aren’t there universals? And if so, what are they and why hasn’t anyone put them down on paper (at least so I can find them through a Google search :-)

Is teaching simply a process of taking a Standard, presenting it to the student and hoping it sticks? Or is it more than that? Teaching can’t simply be following a recipe or instruction booklet. There are too many variables. The child’s IQ, home life, place in the family, age, developmental level, a zillion things. I had a kid this past year whose mother died. He was angry and obviously lost focus on school. Is there something that says a kid like that has to master M5.33.7.21 above all else? I had another kid, an 11 year old girl who had to be the mother to her three other siblings who attended the school. She didn’t have a dress to wear to the end of the year celebration and had to borrow one from one of the teachers because her family was so poor. How important was SS6.24.12.3 to her existence? If you teach you have your own stories, possibly hundreds or thousands of them.

What is it that they ALL need to know and understand?

As teachers, yes, Standards are important, but there is something even more important. Something that anyone who stays in the field had to have (at least in my opinion) and that is Instinct. An Instinct to know where your kids are, what they need and how to reach them.

Maybe that is why I haven’t developed too many new lessons other than technical stuff these past couple of months. Maybe when I start looking at the world, the whole world, like I see it with Google Earth, I lose the instinct because the stories, the Standards, the needs are so disparate that they just don’t fit in my head.

Maybe we need Global Standards, maybe we need Global Instincts.

Maybe we need summer vacation.


How Cool!!!

Filed under: General — GELessons Blog Admin at 9:28 pm on Sunday, May 7, 2006

After years of thinking about getting a GPS device, I finally broke down and got one yesterday so that I could learn about how to incorporate it with Google Earth. It is sooo cool! I picked up the Garmin eTrex Legend for about $150 at Best Buy and it works great! I had anticipated a higher learning curve and technical issues with Google Earth integration, but it was seamless!

Expect some lessons using this technology before the summer is out!



Filed under: General — GELessons Blog Admin at 11:50 am on Saturday, May 6, 2006

For some reason it seems like it has been a long time (10 days) since I added anything new to the site. School has been overly hectic as we begin our end-of-the-year sprint at our school and it hasn’t allowed me the development time needed to really work on the site. But I actually have been working on it in the spare minutes I can grab.

The big thing coming is a new Nifty Trick which I have entitled ‘MultiNeatia’ where it tells all sorts of tricks and tips for including Multimedia in your Google Earth Lessons. That is the problem too. The topic is very dense with so many variables that it is taking forever to work all the bugs out and figuring out how to present the material in a way that will make sense to non-techno teachers.

To give you an idea of what it involves:

Using audio clips for ambient background sounds (I have one that has the sounds of chainsaws as you zoom in on the Amazon rainforest), topic narration, etc.

Using video clips for Virtual Field Trips (many thanks to Karen Seddon of the Discovery Education Network for some great ideas!)

Virtual Reality environments inside Google Earth. Interactive Flash Lessons, etc.

And the one that has gobbled up the most time, getting Microsoft Office integrated into Google Earth so that you or your students can run a PowerPoint presentation with videos, placemark links, internet links, etc. all within the main Google Earth window, or have a Word document load in Google Earth so the students can fill in digital worksheets or quizes all while they navigate the globe.

There are so many variables, so many options, so many potential problems and so little time that it seems like I’m not getting anywhere with this one. But, stay tuned, it will get done :-)


Things change…

Filed under: General — GELessons Blog Admin at 12:32 pm on Saturday, April 29, 2006

In the old days (4 years ago) I was the Tech Contact for a Middle School but ended up transfering to an Elementary classroom. The biggest reason was because it was becoming frustrating trying to keep up with all the changes in technology. We started out with Apple IIe’s and by the time I left six years later we had labs full of Windows XP computers running off a Novell network and there were moves on to go wireless with 801g and on an on it went.

That is the thing about technology. It changes so rapidly. Here we are, just a little over a month into the launch of this site and already I am having to re-evaluate a lot of things. The biggest, of course, has to be the release by Google of two things, first is the upgrade where by clicking on a placename you get a nifty selection of search choices, the second, bigger one is the release this past week of a free version of SketchUp. If you haven’t tried it yet, it is FANTASTIC! A Geometry teacher’s dream!

I have always been a big believer in free stuff. Being a teacher I suppose it comes with the territory. One of the first professional development books I ever bought when I started in the classroom was the ‘Free Stuff for Teachers’ series. At the beginning of this school year (August ‘05) I was given a brand new computer lab to teach in, but the only software that came with it was Microsoft Office and I had to teach K-5 in the lab on a daily basis. It wasn’t a problem, thanks to free and Open Source software. Things like G-Compris for the little kids to teach mouse skills to Gimp for the older kids to teach about bitmap graphics along with the wonderful world of the internet ( comes to mind) made teaching technology a breeze.

That is partly why I was so taken with Google Earth, and now SketchUp. It allows students to learn the tools of technology hand in hand with the core curriculum of a regular classroom all without spending a dime on software!

But it is still tough keeping up with the technology, even when you are focusing on a single application. Who knows what they will come up with next month! No wonder most of the classroom teachers I work with shrug their shoulders when we discuss increasing their use of technology in their classrooms. If I am overwhelmed as a techno-junkie, it must seem truly befuddling to the ‘email & word processing’ crowd.

The amazing thing with technology in the classroom is that it is not ‘the more things change, the more things stay the same’ it is the more things change, the more things keep changing.

I’ll try to keep up…


Neat ideas, but so little time…

Filed under: General — GELessons Blog Admin at 11:54 pm on Sunday, April 16, 2006

Over the past week or so it is becoming increasingly difficult to remain focused on the site. Part of the reason is because I keep discovering neat things you can do with Google Earth and get all excited about them and forget about the teaching end of things.

For instance, I discovered ‘Screen Overlays’ the other night and it got me thinking about the neat things you could do. A screen overlay lies on top of Google Earth’s main window and doesn’t move. If the image is a gif, then you can have transparency. So, think about it. You could (and I did) make a screen overlay that makes it look like you are looking through a telescope at a particular place on earth. You can make pretty frames for earth, have a cartoon of aliens looking at a place in a TV screen while saying something funny, ‘Earth-Toons’ is the name I coined for that one. You could have flames coming from the bottom of the screen as the placemark takes you to where wild fires are, and on and on. Not being much of a graphic artist kind of limits me on this one, but I will make a Nifty Tricks tutorial about it sooner or later.

Another concept I was playing with was an ‘In Google Earth’ quiz for math (or whatever) where the student makes a placemark at the mathematically derived point in Google Earth, then the teacher can just activate the ‘Answer Key’ placemark and in seconds have a visual representation of how far off the kid’s calculations were.

I also want to build up some libraries for folks to use in building placemarks, things like a ‘Google Earth Screenshots’ library, a colored balloons library, a placemark library by content area, etc. So much that could be done if there was only time…

Yet another one is the concept of ‘Cascading Placemarks’ which I was going to keep to myself since there could be money in it, but it is beyond my time constraints right now to work on, so I will throw it out to the world. It turns out you can link placemarks. For instance you could have in your placemark a hyperlink to another placemark file on a server somewhere. Now if you think about it, the possibilities for Google Logic Games is immense! Imagine a Carmen Sandiego type series of placemarks where the user makes a decision and clicks the link (all within a cool placemark graphics-wise) and goes to another placemark. Ex: Carmen said she needed to get to the highest mountain in the world. You go to the airport. Do you take the flight to Nepal or Alaska? The student follows the trail until time runs out and the last placemark has a screen overlay that say “BOOM!” and covers the whole screen. Stuff like that. The possibilities are endless with this one! That’s why I was losing focus :-)

Not only that, but Summer Vacation is just six week away for us and my wife and I are Europe-bound the day after school lets out, so that plays into it too.

Hopefully you are enjoying the site. Contributions to the effort in the form of lessons, links, ideas, etc are always welcome! I tried to build the site so that as many people as possible could participate, but so far all I hear are crickets, so maybe that is why the focus and motivation thing are starting to kick in too. I am taking the day off tomorrow to head to the beach. It is time for a break.



Filed under: General — GELessons Blog Admin at 5:04 am on Thursday, April 6, 2006

With each passing day I am learning more and more about Google Earth and its capabilities. I am also finding more and more resources, getting more ideas and the to-do list for the site is becoming overwhelming. To give you an idea of upcoming (as time permits) projects associated with the site, here are some things on the drawing board…

*More Mini-Lessons to act as ’starters’ for lessons. I hope to create an archive with non-site branded web pages for you to use to get the kids thinking about the amazing world we live in, the forces that shape it, how it has changed over time and how humans have altered it. If there are any places you would like covered for the end of the school year, just drop me a line! Otherwise, we will want to start thinking about next year.

*A Google Earth ‘Nifty Tricks’ section showing how you can use Google Earth Placemarks with embedded live webcams, use placemarks to launch other curriculum related material from powerpoints to videos, how to go the other way, using PowerPoint or Word documents to launch Google Earth and a concept that for now I will call ‘cascading placemarks’.

*Create a section of the site to address the differing methodologies and strategies that can be used in the many situations teachers find themselves in around the world. At the school where I teach, every classroom has at least two brand new Gateway computers (that number will go up to four next year when we move into our permanent building, long story, don’t ask :-), yet for the most part the computers sit idle and I know that our school is not unique in this regard. Teachers struggle to meet the mountain of expectations placed on them and using technology gets shunted off to the side because the strategies and methodologies for inclusion and utilization of technology haven’t been internalized by the average teacher. I hope to be able to provide some simple methods and ideas that will help them get the most out of the tools available to them.

*Create more and more lessons that push the envelope of constricted curriculum. Mixing Math with Language Arts, Social Studies with Science, etc. It has been two weeks that I have been trying to get the time to finish the ‘Where We Are From’ (Math/Geography/Social Science) lesson finished up. The lesson is there, it is recording the videos that has been the problem as the last version was over 100M!!

*Work on the neat stuff, like the Java random coordinates script so that it creates placemarks and is a lot less likely to land in the middle of the ocean :-) Another project is an on-line system where students working at individual workstations can upload the placemark files they create using the lessons to a central, password protected, account driven section of the site, then the teacher can download them all as a batch rather than having to fuss with floppy disks, USB drives, network folders, etc. Ideally the system will write the XML that encapsulates all the student files into a single KMZ folder for the teacher.

*Create a series of tutorials for the ‘How-to’ section but have them in three formats, PDF with screenshots, Flash Video and HTML. In the meantime, check out Mr. DSouza’s lessons at Since he did that, it frees me up on this one a little bit :-)

Anyway, there are lots of other things in the works here at! Now if only the school year would get over with so I could have some time to work on them. It can be overwhelming…



Filed under: General — GELessons Blog Admin at 11:46 pm on Sunday, March 26, 2006

I received a nice note the other day from Richard Treves, author and producer of a wonderful series of videos about how to use Google Earth which you can find linked from the lessons page. As we emailed back and forth, he said something that got me thinking. He said ‘depending on what your goal for the site is..’

What are the goals for the site and for the lessons? Well, in responding to his question it forced me to think about what it was that I wanted to accomplish with the site and with the lessons in particular.

How I answered him is this way:

My goals are -
1. Reduce teacher workload by providing complete lessons which can be used at a moments notice. K-12 Teachers here in the US, and elsewhere I am sure, are under intense time pressures and if I can provide them with a bit of respite without them having to worry about finding funding, then I am glad to help, and if others wish to help, all the better!

2. Use Google Earth as a platform for encouraging K-12 (ages 5 - 18) teachers to ‘think outside the box’. Here in the US there is a distressing trend, spurred in large part by NCLB (the No Child Left Behind Act of Congress) and neo-conservative, non-educational community factions to formulize education in what many, myself included, see as an advance move to privitize public education, essentially turning education into an industrial production line commercial enterprise focused on profit, a way to siphon off the billions of public monies spent on education. K-12 Teachers are spending an increasing amount of time here ‘teaching to the test’, an annual, standarized, high stakes exam, rather than sharing with students the wealth and diversity of knowledge, the beauty of art, the wonder of science, the tools for innovative thinking. Google Earth can offer teachers a way to address the National or State Standards mandated by the law while at the same time addressing the richness of the human experience.

3. Engage K-12 students in the learning process through the use of creative applications of technology while at the same time exposing them to the interconnectedness of the artificially seperated subject areas. Being an expert in Geography I am sure you see how your field is intimately tied to everything from MicroBiology to Anthropology to Sculpture to Literature to Music to Calculus, etc. Students (in general) love: a. Working on computers, b. Expressing themselves creatively, c. Feeling like they are the center of the universe. Google Earth, used creatively, allows them to do all three.

I will not apologize for being a bit political in this blog, but this blog is where I intend to isolate the politics of education. As I wrote to Richard it made me realize that not all teachers around the world are facing the same challenges as the teachers here in the US. Yes, many are the same challenges we all face which is why, I suppose, we chose to become teachers, but NCLB poses some special challenges.

It was an hour after I sent the email that I checked the news headlines at The New York Times website, and there, as the main headline was the story entitled: Schools Cut Back Subjects to Push Reading and Math

That is what GELessons is about. It is about broadening, not inhibiting, the curriculum. It is about tying as much together as possible so that the adults of tomorrow aren’t short changed by a narrow focus today.

So, for the teachers who are joining me from around the world, I hope you enjoy the lessons and those of you who teach in the US, I hope you join me in working to broaden the minds of our children beyond the narrow focus of the high stakes tests.


Welcome to the GELessons Blog!

Filed under: General — GELessons Blog Admin at 3:24 am on Friday, February 24, 2006

Having been dealing with technology most of my life, from my first Apple IIe to the current pile of PC’s and Macs that sit cluttered throughout my day I have been excited about the potential that home computers offer and especially of the potential they offer in the classroom. Having been a ‘computer’ teacher for ages 5-14 over the last dozen years I have seen how students are fully engaged when they are presented a good lesson on the computer, much more so than they are in a ‘traditional’ classroom.

That is why when I was visiting my son, a Computer Science Professor at the University of Central Florida, and he pulled up Google Earth on his home PC I was stunned! For the past 4 years or so I had used a wonderful program called EarthBrowser which offered much the same ‘wow’ factor as Google Earth as well as some of the data link capabilities, but Google Earth blew it away with the marvelous ‘to the street’ level of detail.

As I became empassioned about Google Earth I learned more and more about what it could do. From simple presentation capabilities to full fledged programming of placemarks and overlays, and it was FREE! Of course I had to install it immediately throughout my lab at school and within a week the kids were going bananas, first by finding their house, then by looking further and further afield, exploring the ancient pyramids of Egypt, the Great Wall of China, the footprint of the World Trade Center, and on and on.

To make a long story short, I decided that the wonders and potential of this tool had to be shared with teachers, so I created this site. Over the coming months and possibly years as time permits I will create lessons that can be used by other teachers and it is my hope that other teachers will join in to contribute their own ideas, expertise, suggestions and editorializations.

You are invited to join in! Visit the Bulletin Board, upload lesson files, or contribute to the image gallery. This site is free to use as long as I can afford it :-)




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