Colette Cassinelli's visionary use of information literacy and educational technology

Introduction to Google Earth

What is Google Earth?

Google Earth is a free, downloadable program that combines satellite images, maps, and terrain to create a 3D virtual model of the world.

You can search for specific locations in Google Earth and create your own virtual tours.  Other options to explore are content developed by NASA, Discovery Education, National Geographic Magazine and more!To get started you need to download and install the latest version of Google Earth from http://earth.google.com/download-earth.html.  Google Earth is available for PC, Mac or Linux computers.


Navigating Around Google Earth

When you first open Google Earth you will see a large globe of the world. You can “fly to” any place by typing the name of the location into the search bar and then press enter.  Google Earth will rotate the globe to the location and zoom in.

Move your cursor over right corner of your screen to use the navigation controls.  Here you can tilt the view, move around, or zoom closer to view your location or better view the geography. There are also many keyboard controls for navigating Google Earth (for example Ctrl+Up=tilt up or try holding down Shift and use scroll wheel on mouse).  Another option to better see variations in geography is to go to Tools > Options and the 3D View Tab – change the “Elevation Exaggeration” to 2.

Saving Locations

Use the Places panel to save and organize places that you visit, addresses, or natural features by zooming in on your location and clicking the Placemark icon on the toolbar menu.  You can then name the placemark, write a description and choose a position and altitude for the placemarker icon.  To permanently save this point of interest to the My Places folder, right-click on the placemark in the viewer and select Save to My Places. You can also share placemarkers with others on the Google Earth Community BBS website at http://bbs.keyhole.com/.

You can tour items in your Places listing by selecting the check box next to items you want to tour and clicking on the Play Tour button at the bottom of the Places panel. The tour begins playing in the 3D viewer, which flies to each location and stops for a period of time before flying to the next place in the list.

Exploring Content

The Layers feature in Google Earth provides a variety of points of interest that you can select to display over the map.  Layers content is created by Google (or its partners) and can be turned on or off by checking or unchecking various layers in the Layers Panel.  You can spend hours learning about the world by exploring this information.

  • Turn on the Borders and Labels layer to see outlines of countries and names of locations.
  • Turn on the Terrain layer to show 3D elevation of your current view. Elevation is limited to natural geographic features, like mountains and canyons, and does not apply to buildings.
  • In the Ancient Rome 3D layer, you can fly into Rome as it looked in 320 A.D. and tour famous buildings. You can visit sites such as the Roman Forum, Colosseum and the Forum of Julius Caesar.
  • In the Rumsey Historical Maps layer, you can view overlays of maps from historic period that represent the cartographic art of that time period.  Some of the maps fit perfectly in Google earth while others reveal interesting geographical misconceptions of their time period.
  • Turn on Panoramio images in the Geographic Web layer to see photos from all around the world.  Panoramio community members share their photos of travel locations and Google Earth selects images to embed in this layer.
  • Interacting with the various layers in Google Earth is fun and educational.  Check out 360 Cities, 3D Buildings, and National Geographic Magazine.  Remember to zoom in on a region to see if an icon appears.

KML and KMZ files

KML (Keyhole Markup Language) and KMZ (Keyhole Markup Zipped) is a file format used for modeling and storing geographic features in Google Earth.  You can use these files to share places and information with other users.  You can find interesting features and places on the Google Earth Community website or search for KML/KMZ files by “file type” in Google’s Advanced Search.

*Google Earth 5.0 required to view KML and KMZ files

Google Earth Resources


Google Earth User Guide
: A listing of
topics to learn Google Earth basics – navigating the globe, searching, printing, and more.  (http://earth.google.com/userguide/v4/ug_toc.html)

Google Earth Community BBS website is a forum to find KML & KMZ files, ask questions, read about Google Earth features and more.  –  http://bbs.keyhole.com/.

The Google 3D Warehouse –  A free, online repository where you can find, and share 3D models that can be viewed in Google Earth. http://sketchup.google.com/3dwarehouse/

  • Saint Peter’s Basilica and Square in Vatican City
  • Herold’s Temple
  • Egypt’s Wonders and Monuments

Google Lat Long Blog – Official Google blog with news and notes about Google Earth and Maps teamhttp://google-latlong.blogspot.com/

The Google Earth Blog
– Stay up to date on new features of Google Earth – http://www.gearthblog.com/

Google Earth curriculum ideas

Even More

There is so much to Google Earth that can’t fit into one blog post.  Check out Google Sky, Moon and Mars.  Take a ride on the flight simulator.  Play the fabulous tours and travel the globe.  Open your custom Google Maps in Google Earth … and so much more.



4 thoughts on “Introduction to Google Earth”

  • I have heard about this “Google Earth” several times from friends and family members, but I have not actually played around with it myself. I didn’t even know that much about it. After reading this post, I found myself getting more and more interested in it and actually went to it on my computer and found my house. I was mesmerized by what it could do! I think this is a really cool idea and invention.

  • I think as many do that GoogleEarth and GoogleMaps have revolutionized travel technologies. We may look at it and simply say that this is how things are a be satisified, but we should really be astounded by the progress that these programs have made. If you wanted to look up your travel destination, or get a map to an unfamiliar grocery store, how would you do it before these programs? The answer is either ask a local or travel agent, or read a map. Now although we may still keep maps in our cars just-in-case, when was the last time you used one? Before I go anywhere I don’t know how to get to I simply Google it, write down the information and bring it with me. This is the norm for many people today. As a future educator I am very excited to see the educational features that Google Earth now has to offer. To me, this should really be considered a library of content for travel and studies in exploration. These new dynamics to the program can do so much as well as positivily supplementing learning.

  • This would be a great program to use to teach students all about the earth, cities, history, and geography. This is such an amazing program to use, and I think students would enjoy to use it. The best part about it is that it is free, because so many useful sources are so expensive.

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