Google Earth Lessons Blog

An Educational Resource for Teachers

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…



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