A Google Earth Heresy

In #worldgeochat I’m more or less known as the guy who LOVES @GoogleEarth (It’s true… I really do love it… in fact I’m not sure there’s a word invented yet to describe how I feel about it…. But I digress).

I’ve used Google Earth as a foundation for my instruction since it was introduced in 2006. Now that I work as an educational consultant I coach teachers on how to use it to augment and complement their teaching. You could say I’ve learned a thing or two about how to create captivating visualizations with it to help students grasp a concept by flying down into the map and seeing things spatially. From mapping Anglo-Saxon migration to England from northern Europe ( a neat compliment to a Beowulf unit) or The Battle for Little Round Top on the second day of fighting during the Battle of Gettysburg.

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Google Earth is an addiction of mine… I love building cool illustrations for students.

When teaching my students the process of creating map in Google Earth, I’ve realized there are many problems and issues with it. Even though my students loved being in charge of creating their own content, I’ve experienced that the amount of time needed to build practical knowledge so students can navigate and organize their work, is immense. I’ve spent more than two weeks of instructional time devoted to learning the fundamentals of navigating, creating, saving, and organizing student work. That’s a LOT of instructional time. Most teachers can’t afford to use that much time away from curriculum spent learning how to use a computer program. It would also crash often and students would lose work when trying to save files. To me it was worth it at the time…. but as a reflective teacher, I MUST remember one very important concept and apply it to myself:

Never let your personal attachment or love for a technology get in the way of what’s best for student learning. Ever.

Google Earth is good for teachers to show students maps but it’s just too much for kids to get their heads around and build their own content. In fact, I now believe that teachers shouldn’t teach their students how to use it. They should use Google MyMaps instead (GASP!!!). It is far more convenient, intuitive, and easy for students to create their own content.

About a year ago Google came out with a newer version of Google MyMaps, a simplified content creation platform for mapping that was completely based online with no stand alone program to download. This made issues around Google Earth crashing, go away. Since it was based in Google Drive, information was also automatically saved, also a boon for students who couldn’t remember to hit the save button… Some of the basic skills and nuts & bolts of building a maps, such as placemarks, paths, and polygons are the same as Google Earth. This makes for a nice easy transition from one to the other when students progress to a level of proficiency and want some advanced challenge work.

If you’re thinking about having students create their own mapping adventures, I highly recommend you spend an evening by yourself getting acquainted with the power and simplicity of Google MyMaps. You will end up loving many great features such as:

  1. The maps you create are sharable in your Google Drive. (Yay for Google Edu)
  2. They can be easily exported to Google Earth as a KML file for presentations.
  3. Students can collaborate on the same map at the same time, something that Google Earth was never able to do.
  4. It doesn’t crash since it isn’t a separate program that chews up all the CPU like the Nothing from The Neverending Story (am I dating myself with that reference?)
  5. It is a simple interface with almost no distractions. Students can’t get lost in all the extra buttons to push (don’t get me started on trying to get students off the Google Earth flight simulator…)
  6. All your information is saved, automatically.

What is best for my students is not always what is best for me.

It’s not about me.

What about you? Have you tried using Google MyMaps in class? Care to share an activity or lesson you’ve used in the comments below?

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3 thoughts on “A Google Earth Heresy

  1. Huge fan of Google My Maps! Check out @MrpiercEy- he does alot with My Maps. Some ways I’ve used it are to show dream vacations, where students are from, and where the top 100 inventions were created (100 Day of School tie in). It IS important to remember that’s it’s not always about us 😎

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  2. I’ve combined Google MyMaps and ThingLinks to help students locate current events around the world. What’s wonderful about Google MyMaps is that I’ve created class collaboration maps that can be used over and over, just add different layers. The students sometimes get lost with adding to a specific layer, but practice practice practice! It’s a good way to have students examine work from their peers AND helps with spatial awareness. WIN WIN!

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    • The collaborative aspect of MyMaps was the clincher for me. Being able to watch student work unfold and provide actionable feedback takes mapping to a different level. Talk about student engagement

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