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Google Earth Lessons Blog » GPS Tangents…

Google Earth Lessons Blog

An Educational Resource for Teachers

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!

David

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