by MaryFran Lynch
The nice thing about Google Earth is that if you have played with Google Maps at all, Google Earth is kinda like the next step. One of the big differences, however, is that you will have to download Google Earth to take advantage of its many features. As with many Google tools, you can download a version of Google Earth for free.
When you first open Google Earth, you’ll see a globe. You can “Fly to” anywhere by typing the location into the search bar. Once at that location, you’ll be able to move around much like you did in Google Maps. By mousing over the top right hand side of the image, you’ll activate the controls. With the zoom slider, you can zoom in or out. As you do, “Eye alt” in the lower right hand corner will tell you the elevation of your vantage point. As you get closer to the ground, the earth tilts to give you a different perspective.
There are two joystick controls, the look joystick, with the eye in the middle, use this to look in any direction and the move joystick, to navigate around.
Once you’ve had a chance to play with the controls, it’s time to explore the many features of Google Earth that make it different from Google Maps. Many of these are found in the “Layers” at the bottom of the left-hand column. Layers displays different information on top of the globe and can be turned on or off. My favorite layers are the “Terrain” and “3-D Building” layers. These layers make the world pop out. It is especially fun to explore volcanoes or canyons. Try looking at Mt. St. Helens with your students and ask them to tell you the direction of the lava flow. You can spend hours learning about the world by exploring the layers.
I’ve used Google Earth in my classroom to make the places we are reading about come to life. At the beginning of the year, we read The Talking Cloth by Rhonda Mitchell, and learned about the tradition of the adinkra cloth made in Ghana. At the same time, we were learning about the Ohlone Indians who were the original inhabitants of our area. Students were amazed at the similarities of their villages, and how different our neighborhood looked to the one in Ghana on Google Earth. In contrast, we recently read Night of the Pufflings, set in Iceland, by Bruce McMillian. When I asked students how they thought their lives differed from those of Icelandic children, one student offered that they played video games, while the students of Iceland probably didn’t know about video games. A quick “flight” to Reykjavik convinced them otherwise.
Next week we’ll look at some of the newer features of Google Earth. In the meantime, you might like to check out the Google Earth User’s Guide, or if you are a bit more adventurous, try taking a virtual flight to your next vacation destination and don’t forget to turn on the Panoramio layer.