Full disclosure from the start… I’m not a Google Earth wonk. I’ve done what most people do on Google Earth, search for their home, and look for my car. I’ve looked at places I’ve been, and places I want to go to. I’ve had students look at overpopulation by observing what Naperville (the community I teach in), Chicago, Tokyo, Singapore, Jakarta, and Mumbai look like from above. (If you want that activity, here you go!) But I’ve never done any of the super amazing things @geospiegs has done.

On Friday my students were finishing up a district assessment, and I knew that there would be some students who finished in the first 10 minutes of class, and others that would take the full 40 minutes. We all know that students who are done early need something to do, and rarely is “read quietly,” enough to sustain them.

I had a few articles about good news in Africa that I wanted them to read (I’m still trying to follow my first worldgeochat blog post –  Teaching Africa…without all the sadness) but I knew that wouldn’t be enough either. So I punted. The white board read, “Once your done with the articles, go to earth.google.com and play around.”

The questions started…

  • What do you want us to look at? – I don’t care.
  • Can I look at my house? – Sure.
  • Can we use street view? – Why not?
  • How long do I have to play for? – If you’re asking that question, you don’t know how to play.

But then something happened. As the first kids started to “play” there were those sounds – a muted gasp, a whispered “wow,” and the less loud, “Cooool.”

As I wandered the room, there were students looking at our community – their house, their school, the downtown area, but there was more going on. Others were looking at cities they had been to before and revisiting their vacations (I had done the same thing minutes earlier revisiting Pereira, Colombia.)

Another one had found “Girl Muppets Around the World” which shows Sesame Street’s impact around the world. (Something that I’ve loved about Sesame Workshop for years.)

A far younger, less gray, Chris Heffernan at Sesame Place in Langhorne, Pennsylvania.

Then the real exploration began. Students were looking everywhere. One was looking at ski runs in Colorado. Another was literally taking a tour of the White House. One was looking at Robben Island, where, as we had discussed earlier in the week, Nelson Mandela had spent 27 years in prison. I had students looking at cities in Europe, Africa, South America, and Asia. They commented (the silent work environment wasn’t working anymore) about what people wore and what the cars looked like. Students were surprised to see satellite photos of North Korea, and shocked when they realized there are parts of Pyongyang that actually worked in street view.

For twenty minutes, my students explored. They wouldn’t use the term themselves, but they used inquiry. They formulated a question in their head, and then went to find the answer. They shared what they found with others, even when they were supposed to be silent. All this happened because they were given time to play – time to play with a resource that works for them on their level.

Google Earth might not have all the bells and whistles that we could want as teachers, but for students trying to explore the world and see things in other places, it works great!

Has this happened to you? A time when something meant to be a time filler turned into something better? Let me know in the comments, and join us for more geography fun every Tuesday night in #worldgeochat!


8 thoughts on “Turns out Google Earth is perfect for students

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