On the recommendation of one of the other moderators in #worldgeochat, today I’ll be giving you a few tips on getting started with using Google Earth as part of your instruction. I’m going to focus on the new online version on Google Earth since this seems to be the wave of the future. If you’d like information about getting started with the platform edition of Google Earth, check out my post on it from petespiegel.com.

Disclaimer! If you are looking to create maps yourself or have your students create content, the new online Google Earth WILL NOT LET YOU DO THAT. You will have to download the desktop version or use Google MyMaps. There is no option to create content in the new online version of Google Earth (yet… fingers crossed).

Ok now that I got that off my chest… here we go.

What it’s best for

The new Google Earth is perfect for letting students explore new places around the world. It’s imagery is unsurpassed and kids will get hooked from the first moment they ‘dig in’. If I were instructing a class to use it, I would give students about 10-15 minutes of zero direction playtime to figure things out and then come back with a five minute debrief session to share discoveries. Some of the things they would discuss should include:


Google has simplified the navigation and made it easy to look around. To zoom in or out, just use the trackpad or zoom icon in the bottom right corner of the display.

Screen Shot 2017-05-24 at 8.40.42 AM

The zooming is very fluid and intuitive for students to grasp. After a few minutes they should be pros at in. Just remember when using a trackpad:

  • Two finger swipe down to zoom in.
  • Two finger swipe up to zoom out.

“But Mr. Spiegel! My screen is turned all weird and upside down and I can’t face it with north at the top of my screeeeeeeen.” This is an easy fix. There are two ways for students to re-orient their displays:

  • Click the “R” key on your keyboard.
  • Click the “compass rose” in the bottom right corner of the display

Screen Shot 2017-05-24 at 8.47.13 AM.png

After you have zoomed into a location you may want to tilt your perspective. One of the best features of the desktop Google Earth is the ability to tilt perspective and see things in a three dimensionally. Thankfully Google has kept this feature on the online version but has changed the keystrokes. All you have to do now is hold down the “shift” key while you click and drag on your trackpad (or mouse). This will shift your perspective downward like shown below:

Screen Shot 2017-05-24 at 8.55.02 AM.png
The rendering of the imagery is phenomenal! I feel like I’m actually in Rome!

As long as you are holding down the shift key, your perspective will rotate around wherever you clicked on the map. If you need to return to a top-down perspective, just hit the “R” key and you view resets. Easy!


The search feature is still top-notch and is essential for students to learn how to properly use keywords to help them find locations of interest or specific current events that pertain to class instruction. Located in the menu bar at the top left of the display, the search icon is a universally understood image.

Screen Shot 2017-05-24 at 9.03.06 AM.png

When you click on it, a search bar will appear and you can type in your keywords. Your options will appear and off we go!

Screen Shot 2017-05-24 at 9.05.05 AM.png

What I like about the resulting process is that not only are you flown to your location but an information icon will also appear with a link to a wikipedia page for some introductory information (I actually like using Wikipedia as a first step before researching more deeply with students).

Screen Shot 2017-05-24 at 9.07.47 AM.png

This should be enough to get you started. If you have questions about using Google Earth, please ask in the comments and we will try to help you out!


5 thoughts on “New Google Earth basics

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s