Google’s Geo Tools for Learning

This past July, I had the privilege to attend the Google Geo Institute at the Mountain View headquarters. 75 educators from all over the US spent three days learning about Google’s Geo Tools and how to implement them in the classroom.  I had attended the Geo Institute back in 2013 but the tools have changed so much that I wanted an update.

It was great to really dive into the newly updated  Google Earth ( Students can travel the world and explore new places using a web browser – no download required! They can see places like exotic cities, landmarks in 3D and buildings from close up using Street View. Photospheres are 360-degree photos that provide real views of our world – even the International Space Station!

A great way to pique student’s interest in exotic places is using a feature called Voyager. Voyager is a collection of map-based tours written by Google Earth partners that provide guided stories on topics like travel, culture, nature, and history.

There is power in students creating their own maps to help them visualize information or tell a story.  Students can use Google Tour Builder ( to write place-based stories that follow a journey on a map.  The addition of multiple images and videos can make the journey come to life.

I have used Google My Maps ( because it allows multiple students to collaborate on an interactive map together. Here is a simple example showing famous landmarks in Oregon.

 How about taking students on virtual field trips to engage their curiosity? Google Expeditions allows students to swim with the sharks, visit outer space, or walk through a museum without leaving the classroom. Each participant will need a mobile device that fits into a virtual-reality (VR) viewer. Teachers then can choose from over 500 Google Expeditions ( to share with their students. Get some lesson ideas on using Expeditions (and others) at

Here are some additional geography resources that I learned about at the 2017 CA Geo Institute or were shared by attendees:

Augmented Reality Apps (shows a view of the real world in front of you, then put a layer of information, including text and/or images, on top of that view)

Virtual Reality Apps (viewing a completely different reality than the one in front of you; may be artificial, such as an animated scene or an actual place that has been photographed)

Here are some additional 2017 CA Geo Institute resources to explore or our shared notes! If you ever have the chance to attend — I highly recommend it!

Look for my next post where I discuss my biggest takeaway from the Geo Institute:

  1. Learning about the Theta 360 camera
  2. Embedding Photospheres into Google Maps
  3. A Pokemon style game you can create with Wikitude

Consensus Building & Polling Tools

Consensus Building

Consensus-building tools help participants narrow and refine proposed solutions of a project.  They are also useful in facilitating the two key requirements for reaching agreements in a work group setting by identifying and understanding issues and resolving conflicts. Teachers and students can facilitate consensus building through group discussions and polling.

Many of the ideation tools also can be used to build consensus.  Once the initial ideas are presented then through a process of discussion and elimination, ideas can be narrowed down and agreed upon.  Oftentimes students need time and opportunity to leave their comments so everyone can be  heard before a decision can be made.  Ideation and consensus often happen at the same time but separating them gives introverts time to process the ideas and comment.

Diagrams: Many of the collaborative technology tools have the ability to create graphic organizers to scaffold decision-making – like a Venn Diagram or flowchart.  Google Docs or Google Drawings has built in templates of some common diagrams or you can create your own. Students can edit drawings online or invite others to view edits in real time.  Students can chat with others who are editing a drawing right within the drawings editor to build consensus.  The drawings can then be published online or embedded in other Google programs so all can see the results.

PadletPadlet (formally known as Wallwisher) is another brainstorming tool that can be used for ideation but also for consensus making.  The ability to leave notes with messages and then move and organize them is very easy for younger students to understand and use and perfect for quick brainstorming & decision making in the classroom.  You do not need a Wallwisher account to create or post on a wall but if you create a wall without logging in or signing up, you may be unable to edit the wall after 24 hours but it will still be available to view.  Wallwisher does have some other interesting features like the ability to use RSS to follow the posts being made, add Multimedia within the notes, moderate the comments being made, or share by an unique QR code created just for your page.

Another interesting tool for older students is Debategraph.  DebateGraph is a cloud-based service that offers individuals and communities a powerful way to learn about and deliberate and decide on complex issues. These graphs allow users to visualize, question, and evaluate all of the considerations that any member thinks may be relevant to the topic at hand – and facilitate intelligent, constructive dialogue within the community around those issues.

Google Moderator allows you to create a series about anything that you are interested in discussing with your class or school and open it up for people to submit questions, ideas, or suggestions.



Polling:  Using technology tools to poll audiences is easy and efficient and polling can be used to facilitate consensus or gather information.  You don’t need specialized audience response hardware to get feedback.  Poll Everywhere conducts surveys using the web, texting, or Twitter and can be used with a cellphone (SMS), smartphone, laptop, desktop, or tablet.  These polls can be made by teachers or students.  Poll Everywhere is free for audiences of 40 people or less and they offer paid plans for larger audiences and K-12 semester-long plans.  Survey Monkey is a popular online survey tool because it’s easy to send free surveys, polls or questionnaires.

Socrative is another student response system that empowers teachers to engage their classrooms through a series of educational exercises and games via smartphones, laptops, and tablets.  Socrative is better for teacher-directed consensus building.  Teachers login through their device and select an activity which controls the flow of questions and games. Students simply login with their device or online, and interact real time with the content.

For schools using iPads, Nearpod allows teachers to create enriched multimedia presentations with interactive features using their cloud-based content tool and then share the content with the students and control the activity with the Nearpod app.  Students submit responses on their mobile devices while the teacher monitors classroom activity and measure student results on an individual and aggregate basis.

Celly is a mobile social network that works with any mobile phone or device. Members can join instantly with one text and exchange group messages, polls, reminders, and web alerts.  Celly can enhances school communication such as:  study groups, announcement for clubs, field trips, clickers & polling, reminders and alerts, notes, and interactive walls.  Learn more at and Celly for School Start Up Guide.

Another simple solution for polling is by using Google Forms and Sheets.  Students or teachers can create a customized form to gather feedback, vote on a result, or brainstorm solutions and then the responses are collected in a spreadsheet.  Form creators can choose whether to require users to login with their Google accounts or be anonymous.  Creators can use a variety of questions types like checkboxes, grid, drop-down lists with options, multiple choice, paragraph text (which allow for long answers) or scale.  You can add section headers to divide your form in sections to make it easier to read and complete and/or you can split the questions into multiple pages

Here are six examples of different ways to collect data using a Google Form:

  1. Have students conduct experiment in classroom and one member goes to teacher’s computer to enter data for that group
  2. Have students create surveys using Google forms and display on own computer; students travel from machine to machine to fill out the survey
  3. Email the form to participants to collect data (can embed the form in the email); must know all members email addresses
  4. Email the form by using a distribution list from your contacts  (very easy if using Google Apps since all domain names are the same)
  5. Share the URL of the published form; consider using a URL shortener for easy access like: or
  6. Embed the form in a Google Site, Google+, wiki, blog or Moodle.

Finally, a favorite tool of mine is Doodle for deciding on meeting times when there are multiple options and several attendees.  Doodle will also automatically sync appointments to your calendar.

NCCE 2011 is in Portland, yeah baby!

I’m so thrilled when NCCE 2011 comes to Portland because that means I get to sleep in my own bed and show my PLN buddies the beautiful city.  Early bird registration ends January 31st so get your registration in ASAP.

Here are my plans:

Wednesday 3/2/11 Attend the Teacher Librarian Summit II with Mike Eisenberg.

Thursday I will be giving a workshop in the afternoon:  Integrating Google Tools 4 Teachers.

Friday:  I will attend the concurrent sessions.

Tech Tip Tuesday: Favorite Google Tools

For our last Tuesday Tech Tip of the year, MaryFran and I decided that we should share our Five Favorite Google Tools.

Mary Fran’s Favs

Five…how could we possibly narrow the number of favorite Google Tools to 5? It has been more challenging than I would have guessed In the end, I decided to chose the five tools I use most.

Most people have their first encounter with Google through Search. They expect to be able to ask a question and get their answer in return. I am continually amazed at the quality of the results and the number of Search Features Google offers. Recently, the Google Search team put together a series of 15 Second Search Tips. The topics range from Unit Conversion to finding local Movie Times. It’s always good to go back and refresh your memory on all Search has to offer.

Search Options, added to the Search page in May, lets you filter your results by type, time, and even offers suggestions for related searches. If you haven’t yet looked at Wonder Wheel you ought to give it a try.

Custom Search
A feature of Search that I like that we haven’t covered is Google’s Custom Search Engine. Being a third grade teacher, setting my students loose in the World Wide Web can sometimes be a bit scary. When I assign third graders to do a research presentation on spiders in the Media Center, I don’t want to have to worry about what results they are going to get for [black widow] and since I want to incorporate teaching skimming and scanning skills, I want to make sure my primary students can read the results they get. So, I set up a Google Custom Search to limit the sites they have access to by simply dropping the URLs for the websites I’ve pre-screened into a form.

My favorite characteristic of Docs is its collaborative feature. It has helped Colette and me coordinate our schedule, my third grade team and I work together on the Educational Action Plan while I spent two weeks in Buffalo in September, my grade level team share grades for our rotation students, and my students to put together two presentations while working on it at the same time in the Media Center (thank you, Kelli Glass for putting up with the noise and confusion). And because it is all stored in “the Cloud,” I have access to my Docs wherever and whenever I have a device that can access the internet. This came in super handy when I went to give a presentation with my laptop and forgot to bring along the connector to hook my Mac up to the projector…I was able to turn on their Dell and access my slides!

Another favorite feature of Docs is Forms. I used it to collect phone numbers and e-mail addresses at back-to-school night, thus avoiding having to decipher a parent’s handwriting :-), to collect information from students on science observations, reactions to our field trips, to “vote” in the November elections, to gather “book report” information, and so much more. It is so easy to set up and the summary information provides instant graphs, and the kids love working online in the classroom or from home.

While it took a bit getting used to, I love, love, love, Gmail’s threaded conversations. It is so nice to have all of the communication on a subject right there, in chronological order to refer to. But when that doesn’t work in finding that e-mail I want to refer back to, Search Mail always seems to come through for me.

It is very easy to filter messages to have them go to separate folders, and Google has done an amazing job at keeping SPAM out of my inbox. I also like getting a view of my Calendar and Tasks from the one screen I use most.
I am very excited to see how Google Wave will transform the “email” experience.

Colette’s Fab Five

My favorite Google tools are similar to MaryFran’s choices – but I guess that shows how valuable these products are.

I’ve been using Gmail since it first was in Beta and love it.  It keeps getting better and better.  I first loved how the conversations were linked together and have learned how to “search” for mail instead of wasting time organizing my mail into folders.  The integrated tasksand calendar features are really nice.

Docs / Forms
Using Google Docs& Spreadsheets this year with my HS Computer students has been transformational.  Students are much more willing to collaborate on projects instead of relying on one student to do more of the writing.  We have found so many uses for Forms, like surveys, data collection, and quizzes.  I am even moving all my lesson planning documents online to keep them updated and accessible from anywhere.

Personally I use maps all the time.  How did I ever find any location before Google Maps?  But now I find that I first go to maps to choose restaurants, accommodations and parks by using the “search nearby” feature.

My students also enjoyed mashing up Google Maps with photos, text and video this year.  Having the ability to go between Google Maps and Google Earth is also pretty cool!

I’ve convinced my whole family to start using Google Calendarthis year and now its easy to remind them of important dates and upcoming events.  I color-code different categories (family, school, PD, etc) to make it easier to glance at my calendar and see what’s happening or sort by category.

Last but not least is Google Search.  I love the new Search Options that I wrote about last week.  I use search for everything — recipes, questions, health information, current events – you name it.  I don’t think a day goes by that I don’t use Google search for something.  I find the results relevant and accurate but always have the option to narrow down or broaden my search with advanced search or the new options.

MaryFran and I met nearly a year ago at the Google Teacher Academy. At the end of a jam-packed 12 hour day, we were challenged to stretch ourselves to learn more about all that Google has to offer and to make a plan to share what we learned with other teachers. As one of our three projects we were asked to commit to, we decided to take on the task of putting out a weekly tech tip for our staffs. It’s been great for the two of us and hopefully you learned something too.

We will not be doing Google Tech Tips Tuesday again next year but I am planning on continuing weekly Tech Tips but branch out to other technology resources.

Once again, thank you for all support and encouragement you’ve given us over the year.
~MaryFran Lynch and Colette Cassinelli

Tech Tip Tuesday: new Google search options

This past month Google unveiled some very helpful Search Options.  Search Options are a collection of tools that allow you to view your results in new ways.  After you search, click on the “show options” link in the upper left hand side of your screen.  This reveals ways you can redefine your results.

The options are grouped together by their type and you can combine options for more precise searches.  The explanation for these features is taken from the Google Search help:

Video: You can sort videos based on their attributes, such as length or date.

Forums: For each result, you can see, among other details, how many people have contributed to the discussion and when the last reply was posted.

Reviews: See results from sites that specialize in posting reviews.

Recent Results: Google automatically optimizes the time period used for your filter to make sure that the most relevant and recent results are included. (This option is only available when All results is selected in the first group of options.)
Past 24 hours / Past week / Past year Use these options if you want to find web pages from a specific period of time.

Images: See image thumbnails from the page alongside the snippet for each result.

More Text: Snippets give you a preview of how words from your search term are used within each result. Click this option to get longer snippets, which will let you see more examples of your search term for each result. Longer snippets can also be useful if you have a lengthier search phrase

Related Searches / Wonderwheel: If you’re ever unsure about the precise terms you should use for your search, start out with a broader search term (e.g. [ principles of physics ]), then use the Related searches and Wonder wheel options to discover alternative search terms.

  • The Related searches option puts related searches at the top of the results page.
  • The Wonder wheel visually presents connections between related searches and your search term as an interactive diagram. Click the different nodes in the diagram to see how searches can branch out.

Timeline: See results along a timeline, which is a handy view if you’re researching information about a historical person or event. You can click any section in the timeline to zoom in on that time period.

Don’t want to see the search options on the sidebar?  Just click on hide options and your search results turn back to normal.  Also don’t forget to clik on the Reset Options to stop filtering if you choose to narrow your search by time or category.

Ideas for classroom use:

  • Use Wonder Wheel to teach students how to narrow down their search results by clicking on one of the related terms on the wheel.
  • Use the Timeline view to see when certain terms (like: swine flu) show up throughout history.
  • the Past 24 hours option is great to help you find information about current events.
  • Use Reviews to assist is making purchases for the classroom.

Watch a video overview of search result options

Tech Tip Tuesday: Picasa 3.0

By MaryFran Lynch
Cross-posted at

Look out iPhoto, Picasa 3.0 is about to give you a run for your money.

Picasa is a free, downloadable, photo editor now available for Windows XP, Vista, Linux and Mac platforms. It is easy to download and not only keeps track of your photos no matter where they are on your computer, it also has some photo editing features I haven’t found for free anywhere else. It super easy to use and fun to play with. There are a lot of great features, but before you can get started, you’ll have to download a free version.

Getting your Free Software

Here are the links to download the version you need. One word of caution, you’ll need to have an Intel Mac to take advantage of Picasa 3.0. If you have an older Mac, you’ll still be able to use Picasa Web Albums. You’ll want to check back next week, when we talk about those.

Once you download the program, you’ll have to install it like you would any software program. Decide where you want to have it reside, and open.

If you think you’ll need more help installing Picasa, here is a website that’ll help:  MyPicasaDownloads

Picasa will scan your computer and find your pictures and movies wherever they are on your computer, including ones you even forgot you had. Picasa won’t move them, it’ll just keeps track of where they all are. On a Mac, it will even integrate your iPhoto library. The program works with JPEG, GIF, BMP, PSD, and movie files and is compatible with most digital cameras. Just think of the time you’ll save trying to locate that photo you knew you took on vacation in 2004.

When Picasa is done, it’ll open the Library page. You’ll notice that your media will be organized in Folders or in Albums.

Folders in Picasa contain your media and will appear in chronological order. They represent actual folders on your computer’s hard drive that contain photos. Be careful because changes you make to folders in Picasa will affect the corresponding folders on your computer’s hard drive. For example, if you delete a photo from a folder in Picasa, it will delete the photo from your hard drive. There are different views of your Folders available, you’ll Albums, however, exist only in Picasa. You can create an album that contains combinations of photos from multiple folders. For instance, you might want to have an Album of your favorite photos. While they can be found inthe album, you’ll also be able to find them in their folder. Unlike Picasa folders, your albums don’t correspond to real folders on your hard drive. When you delete or move photos from an album, the original files remain in their original locations on your hard drive.

The main part of the window is called “The Light Box.” Beneath it, you’ll find a status bar giving you information about the Folder you are viewing. Beneath that, you’ll see the Photo Tray. Here is where you drag your photos when you want to create an album or edit them.

As you are adding a number of photos to your tray, you might have some you know you want to hold onto. The green lightening icon “Holds” the selected picture in the tray until you “Clear” it by selecting the red circle. The bottom icon in that row, adds the pictures in the tray to an Album.

Basic Editing

Picasa never changes the original image of your photo. It just keeps track of the changes you made and you’ll be able to see them in a copy. Select a photo you’d like to edit. It will appear in your Photo Tray and the Editing menu will appear on the right. You can select Basic Fixes which includes things like red-eye reduction and cropping, but also lets you straighten a photo, add text, or retouch the photo. I’m Feeling Lucky lets the computer figure out auto contrast and auto color changes to your photo.

Tuning lets you add light to a dark photo by using the slider, or add warmth to a bright photo. It’s also where you can touch up a photo. The wands on the side are the “I’m Feeling Lucky” changes you can ask the computer to automatically suggest. Notice the “Undo Tuning” tab in the left bottom corner. It will return your photo to the version you last had.

Effects gives you thumbnail views of the different effects.

There are four choices (the ones with the “1” in the corner) that simply give you one version of that effect. The rest all have sliders that let you adjust the amount of filtering,focus, or color saturation you’d like.

It is really fun to play around with these, and when you have the photo exactly the way you want it, the new version will be saved. Remember, Picasa never changes your original. It will always be saved in an “Orginals” sub-folder.

The best way to really learn about Picasa is to get in and play with it. Here are a few resources you might want to check out:

This is a video from Google introducing Picasa 3 to PC users. While some of the features are not yet available on Mac and Linux versions, there is still a lot of good information on Picasa.
Introducing Picasa 3 on YouTube

Here is a link to a HelpMeRick YouTube video, it is geared toward PC users but there are tips here for any Picasa User
Using Picasa – Part 1 on YouTube

This is the Google Help site for Picasa
Picasa Getting Started Guide

GeeksOnTour has a combination of free and paid subscription

Next week, we’ll talk about how to share your photos and Picasa Web Albums. In the meantime, enjoy learning about and playing with the photo editing features on Picasa.

Tech Tip Tuesday: Google Blogger

Blogger is Google’s blogging platform. A blog (short for Web log) is a Web page that serves as a publicly accessible journal for an individual or group. Typically updated daily, blogs often reflect the personality of the author or are based around a hobby or theme. The postings are organized chronologically. A blog post can be “commented” on by others, allowing for a dialogue on a the topic of the post.

blogger2Educators have embraced blogging as an authentic way to encourage reading and writing throughout the curriculum. It’s also a great way to share resources with other educators. More uses for blogging in education.

To get started with Blogger, go to and enter your Google username and password. Click the Create a Blog link to get started. Choose a name and address (URL) for your blog and one of the pre-designed templates. You can customize your blog’s design and add gadgets such as slideshows, user polls, or photos. If you want more precise control over your blog’s layout, you can also use the Edit HTML feature. Finally you can add information to your personal profile and customize how your blog looks.

bloggerAdding your first post is simple. Choose a title and add your information in the post area. You can choose basic formatting features such as fonts, colors, alignment, and bullets/numbering. You can insert images along with your text as well as hyperlinks and videos. Blogger accepts AVI, MPEG, QuickTime, Real and Windows Media files but they must be less than 100MB in size.

When you’re writing a post, you’ll have a space at the bottom of the form marked “Labels for this post. This allows you to create keywords for your blog posts.

By default, your blog is completely public, and can be read by anyone on the Internet. However, if you want to keep it private, you can do that, too. Your blog can have up to 100 authors and you can limit your blog to only be view by authors – which is great for private groups and organizations.

Check your school’s policy about using Blogger with your students.

Here are some examples of classroom or educator blogs that use Blogger:

Sarah, Plain and Tall Book Blog –

Student Reflections on Night –

Tech 4 ESL –

Web 2.0 Book study –

Math 306-04 –

Link to directory of educational blogs

Tech Tip Tuesday – Google SketchUp

SketchUp is a free downloadable software from Google that you can use to create 3D models of anything you can imagine.  People use SketchUp to create architectural, landscape, and woodworking models or just for fun!

You can build models from scratch, or you can download what you need from the Google 3D Warehouse . This is a huge, searchable directory of models – and just like most things from Google – it’s free.

How does SketchUp work?

First you must download the software and install the program on your computer.  It’s compatible with both Macs and PCs.  The latest version is Sketchup7 .  Schools can download Sketchup7 Pro for FREE.

To build models in SketchUp, you draw edges and faces using a few simple tools.  For example, you draw a rectangle and then use Sketch Up’s push/pull tool to make it 3D.  The models you made can be completely accurate to precise measurements.  You can use SketchUp’s Paint Bucket tool to paint your model with materials like colors and textures. There are many advanced techniques to make your models look realistic.

Younger students can “play” with the software to create models or diagram while at the same time practice important geometry concepts.   The 3D Warehouse contains puzzles and geometric mosaics that would be great for introducing math concepts.

Google Earth Integration

Creating models for Google Earth presents a unique challenge compared to everyday SketchUp modeling. You can place the models you make in SketchUp into Google Earth but you might want to watch these video tutorials first . Click HERE to view basic instructions of how to place your model in Google Earth.

Another thing you can do is include real world context for your models, such as aerial photos and terrain from Google Earth.

Case Studies

Check out the following case studies that have been submitted by the SketchUp K-12 Education community.  Apartment model (right) made by elementary student.

You might spark an interest in engineering or architecture by giving a student access to SketchUp.

Here are some ideas of how you might want to use it in your classroom:

  • Build a 3D model of your school.
  • Use SketchUp to visualize the geometry concepts you are teaching.
  • Create a 3D model of the California Missions and then incorporate those models into Google Earth.
  • Have students build a model of their houses.
  • When studying architecture of the past, create a 3D model of an ancient pyramid.
  • More ideas at Google SketchUp Teacher Guide


Tech Tip Tuesday: Even more … Google Earth

Guest post by MaryFran Lynch—even-more

Once you’ve downloaded Google Earth, you’ll be able to take advantage of some of Google Earth’s features you won’t find in Google Maps. Here are three features worth exploring.

As we all know, more than 70% of the Earth is covered by water. Google recently unveiled Google Ocean.

With Google Ocean, you can explore the deepest part of the ocean with marine experts, or learn about climate change and how it is affecting the ecology of the ocean and its inhabitants. To access this feature, click on Ocean in Layers in the left sidebar, and begin to explore the ocean depths by choosing the different features. Travel beneath the surface with Jacques Cousteau, watch BBC videos on the ocean, or search for shipwrecks. In the State of the Ocean layer, you can find out about the work the Monterey Bay Aquarium has been doing in their Seafood Watch program.

Prefer to explore the skies? Google Earth has a feature to help you explore stars, planets, and constellations.

Switch to Google Sky in the tool bar along the top of the screen. You navigate around the Sky, much as you do in Earth. Mouse over the upper right-hand part of the screen and your navigation controls will appear. Here you can zoom in or out. Chose a specific location to explore by using the search box as you would in Google Maps or Earth.

You’ll find lots of information in the Layers, once again found in the left-hand sidebar. You’ll find lots of great information by exploring the layers. Learn which constellations you can expect to see tonight from your backyard, and how to identify them by clicking on the Backyard Astronomy drop down features. The date and time slider in the upper left-hand corner lets you see how your view will change through a specific time frame, or you can watch the orbit of planets.

The Mars option features awesome images of our closest neighbor planet taken by NASA, along with detailed information we’ve learned from the Mars Rover.

Another recently added feature is Historical Imagery. Find this feature under the clock in the tool bar.

Use the slider to see how a location has changed over time.

Google Earth has so many educational applications! Google has teamed with Discovery Education to help teachers integrate Earth, Sky, Oceans, and Historical Imagery into your lessons. Here is a list of websites to help you get started:

Take a tour and discover what Google Earth has to offer. Now you can truly have the world at your fingertips.

Tech Tip Tuesday – Google Earth

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.

Tech Tip Tuesday – Intro to Google Maps

Most folks today rely on Google Maps to look up locations and print out directions to where they are going but there is so much more to Google Maps and new features are constantly being added.  You don’t need to have a Google account to use Maps unless you are going to create your own custom maps (more about that next week).

The Google Maps HELP page has a great diagram that describes some of the features available in Google Maps and you can even  watch easy-to-follow video tutorials.   Some features include:

  • Search, get directions, add destinations, save, share & print maps
  • Various views:  street, traffic, satellite, terrain
  • Layers:  photos, videos, Wikipedia
  • Left panel, Info window, navigational controls, my profile

A few of the features of Google Maps that I use often are the user reviews, more info and search nearby.

The “More info” link can contain great information such as photos of businesses, descriptions, restaurant reviews, links to driving directions and much more. Need to access the map again?  Save it to My Maps (need a Google account).

Let’s say you are thinking of checking out a new restaurant.  Search for the name of the restaurant on Google Maps.  Once you have located the placemarker on the map, open up the Info window.  Look for a link for “user reviews”.  Most of these reviews are from websites like,, and more (source).  Of course the reviews on the maps are not as detailed as the ones on the websites, but it can probably give you the information you need.

You can search maps in a variety of ways if you do NOT know the name of a particular business:

Just last term I wanted to order pizza for the Computer club but since I do not live close to school I did not know what businesses were nearby.  So, I first search for the name of our school and clicked on the placemarker to open the “More Info” window.  Then I selected “search nearby” and searched for pizza.  The next map that appeared show the location of our school and all of the pizza locations nearby.  How easy it that??

Of course, my students love to play around with Street view, turn on the photos, or zoom in on specific locations.  Next week I will give you ideas on how to use custom maps in your classroom and how you can open them in Google Earth.

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Tech Tip Tuesday – Google Alerts

By MaryFran Lynch

Do you have a special interest that you would like to follow but just can’t always find the time to search for the latest information? Google Alerts can help. Google Alerts are e-mails that are automatically sent to your inbox whenever new information becomes available on your search terms. Depending on your search preferences, Google will monitor News, Web, Blogs, Video and Groups (or all of them) for new information, and send it to you on the schedule you’ve set up.

For example, suppose you are interested in following a news story, advances for a specific medical condition, or have a particular professional interest, set up a Google Alert. When new information is available, an e-mail and snippet will be sent to your inbox.

Or, if you prefer, you can arrange to have your Alerts send to Google Reader. This alert was delivered to my Google Reader only 9 minutes ago, keeping me on top of breaking news.

To get started, you’ll need to sign into your Google account. You can find Alerts here or under more > even more…    Enter as many alerts you like. Google allows you to have up to 1000 alerts in a number of different languages.
Once again, Google gives you the tools to stay totally informed!

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Google Earth 5.0

 Google announced the newest version of Google Earth 5.0 today.  Google Earth now has an ocean.  You can view “much more detailed bathymetric map (the ocean floor), so you can actually drop below the surface and explore the nooks and crannies of the seafloor in 3D. While you’re there you can explore thousands of data points including videos and images of ocean life, details on the best surf spots, logs of real ocean expeditions, and much more.”

Other new features:

  • Historical Imagery: Until today, Google Earth displayed only one image of a given place at a given time. With this new feature, you can now move back and forth in time to reveal imagery from years and even decades past, revealing changes over time. Try flying south of San Francisco in Google Earth and turning on the new time slider (click the “clock” icon in the toolbar) to witness the transformation of Silicon Valley from a farming community to the tech capital of the world over the past 50 years or so.
  • Touring: One of the key challenges we have faced in developing Google Earth has been making it easier for people to tell stories. People have created wonderful layers to share with the world, but they have often asked for a way to guide others through them. The Touring feature makes it simple to create an easily sharable, narrated, fly-through tour just by clicking the record button and navigating through your tour destinations.
  • 3D Mars: This is the latest stop in our virtual tour of the galaxies, made possible by a collaboration with NASA. By selecting “Mars” from the toolbar in Google Earth, you can access a 3D map of the Red Planet featuring the latest high-resolution imagery, 3D terrain, and annotations showing landing sites and lots of other interesting features.

Google Earth 5.0

Guess I know what I will be doing with my free time the next few days!!!

Tech Tip Tuesday – Top Ten Reasons you should use Gmail

Inspired by David Letterman, here are the top ten reasons you should consider using Gmail for your web-based email program:

gmail110.  You shouldn’t be using your school email account for personal business.  Consider having all personal email forwarded to a Gmail account.  Remember, if  you signed up for your Google account with a different email address – you don’t have a Gmail account – but if you have a Gmail account – then you already have a Google account.

9.  With Gmail you aren’t tied to one computer to retrieve your email.  You can access your Gmail account from any computer that has Internet access – and even your mobile phone!  Just go to

8.  Take advantage of Keyboard Shortcuts in Gmail to get through your email even faster.  To turn these case-sensitive shortcuts on or off, click Settings, and then pick an option next to Keyboard shortcuts.

7.  Themes allow you to customize the look and feel of your Gmail account.  Get creative and choose one of the colored or artistic THEMES for your Gmail page. In the upper right hand side of your Gmail page choose Settings / Themes and pick the one that suits you.

6.  Gmail uses labels to help you organize with more flexibility. A conversation can have several labels, so you’re not forced to choose one particular folder for messages. You can also create filters to automatically manage incoming mail. Starring messages is another way you can organize your inbox.

5. You can use Google SEARCH within Gmail to find the exact message you want – no matter when it was sent or received.  Don’t sort your mail – SEARCH!

4. You get TONS of space with Gmail.  Instead of wasting time deleting old messages – you can ARCHIVE email – which frees up space but is still searchable if you need it sometime.

3.  You don’t waste time with junk mail and unwanted messages.  If an unwanted message slips through to your inbox, just click on the SPAM button and the spam filters will catch any further incoming mail from the sender BEFORE it ever reaches your inbox.

2.  You can organize your replies into conversations.  Within Gmail, each message you SEND is grouped with all the responses you RECEIVE.  As you receive more responses, the threaded conversation grows and keeps track of it all in chronological order.

… and the #1 reason why you should use Gmail …

1. Its FREE!!! Learn more …

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