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Google Earth Lessons Blog An Educational Resource for Teachers Thu, 30 Apr 2009 23:22:38 +0000 en hourly 1 Wow! This is messed up! Thu, 30 Apr 2009 23:22:38 +0000 GELessons Blog Admin Can’t figure out what is going on…

Sunshine Tool Tricks - Solstice, Equinox made simple… Sun, 01 Mar 2009 16:14:08 +0000 GELessons Blog Admin 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 Sat, 28 Feb 2009 23:57:34 +0000 GELessons Blog Admin 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! Fri, 08 Aug 2008 13:38:59 +0000 GELessons Blog Admin 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… Fri, 01 Aug 2008 15:51:48 +0000 GELessons Blog Admin 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! Sat, 10 May 2008 10:47:50 +0000 GELessons Blog Admin 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… Mon, 05 May 2008 02:03:50 +0000 GELessons Blog Admin 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… Mon, 21 Apr 2008 02:09:29 +0000 GELessons Blog Admin 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! Wed, 16 Apr 2008 00:56:57 +0000 GELessons Blog Admin 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! Thu, 10 Apr 2008 16:00:21 +0000 GELessons Blog Admin 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!