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  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

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.  (

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

The Google 3D Warehouse –  A free, online repository where you can find, and share 3D models that can be viewed in Google Earth.

  • 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 team

The Google Earth Blog
– Stay up to date on new features of Google Earth –

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.

Tech Tip Tuesday: Google Earth curriculum ideas

by MaryFran Lynch

Google Earth can be wonderful to use to introduce your students to the places in their text books. You may want to create your own lessons or use some that have been made available to compliment your lessons. Here are a few you may be interested in:

Language Arts

Whether your class is reading,  Possum Magic by Mem Fox, By the Great Horn Spoon by Sid Fleishman, or The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck, Google Lit Trips can take your students to the setting of the book and make the story come more alive with the pictures and resources available in the placemarkers.

Older students will enjoy seeing the places in Shakespeare’s Plays,   Jane Austen’s Life and Work, or John’s Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley. These sites are found in the Google Earth Community along with numerous other resources.

Social Studies

Also found in the Google Earth Community is a map showing the westward explorations of Lewis and Clark.  The placemarkers take you to the website for more information.

See the California Missions Alta California and in  Baja California by exploring these sites.

Find out about the Crisis in Darfur or track the US Unemployment Rates at the Google Earth Outreach website. Look here for other Google Earth files from community and environmental action groups.

See what Ancient Rome looked like in 3-D. Walk down the streets of Rome in 320 AD and explore the insides of ancient buildings, all recreated in Google SketchUp.


Here are some places to check out for using Google Earth in math


Can you think of a better tool to teach geological map interpretation? Here is great lesson from On the Cutting Edge to help you get started.

Study the effect of Global Warming with this lesson from David R. Wetzel.

Just for Fun

  • Send a GeoGreeting . Have your message spelled out with buildings found in GoogleEarth.

There is so much available for Google Earth, and more resources being posted all the time. All it takes to implement these ideas is a free downloaded version of Google Earth 5.0 , and your lessons can take you (and your students) places.

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: Custom Google Maps

Custom Google Maps are a fun and interesting way to get students involved in map reading, measuring distances, learning about historic places or connecting places and literature.  There are so many ways you could incorporate Google Maps into your subject area – either by using existing maps made by users or creating original ones.  Consider using the Distance Measurement Tool to calculate the distance from one location to another in a custom map or check out some of these Google maps (need a Google account to view custom maps):

  1. Earthquakes in the Last week
  2. Famous places in USA – made by VCS 8th Graders
  3. California Missions(This is actually a Google Earth file but can be opened in Google Maps too),-119.817402&spn=8.488761,11.733398&z=6
  4. Horatio Alger’s New York – These are the places referenced in Ragged Dick, or Street Life in New York with the Boot Blacks – 11th graders,-73.988854&spn=0.123562,0.183334&z=12
  5. Presidential Historic Sites
  6. Map your Clean Up the World Activity- A cool Google Map project
  7. Google Lit Trips
  8. GMdir:  an unofficial Google Maps Directory
  9. 100 Things to do with Google Maps Mashups Thanks to Angela Maiers for sharing this one!

There are also some cool gadgets you can add to your Google Maps to view clouds, contours, virtual tourism videos, crop circles, Wonders of the World and more at

Creating a custom Google map is easy. Here are the basic steps (you need to be logged into your Google account).  These are selected directions from My Maps User Guide :
Creating a Map

Creating a map is easy. Here are the basic steps:

  1. Go to Google Maps.
  2. Click My Maps > Create new map.
  3. Add a title and description for your map. You can make your map public or unlisted. Learn more.
  4. Use the icons in the the top right corner of the map. These include:
  5. Select button Selection tool. Use this to drag the map and select placemarks, lines, and shapes.
    Placemark button Placemark tool. Use this to add placemarks. Learn more.
    Polygon button Line tool. Use this to draw lines. Learn more.
    Shape button Shape tool. Use this to draw shapes. Learn more.

You can return to your map at any time. Just go to Google Maps and click My Maps. Sign into your Google Account and select the map from your list of maps.

Adding and Editing Placemarks

To add a placemark to your map:

  1. Create or open a map.
  2. Click Placemark button. Your cursor changes into a placemark icon with an “X” crosshairs. The crosshairs indicate where the placemark will fall.Placemark icon
  3. Move the cursor to the appropriate location. If you want to dismiss this placemark, press the Escape key.
  4. Click your mouse button to place your placemark. It should bounce into place.
  5. Add a title and description.
  6. You can also change the icon for your placemark by clicking the icon in the top right corner of the info window.
  7. Click OK to save your placemark.

To move or edit a placemark:

  1. To move any placemark on your map, drag and drop it to the new location. Note that you can only edit or move placemarks on your maps, not others.
  2. To edit a placemark’s title or description, click on it to open the info window. Edit the title and description and click OK.

Adding Rich Text or HTML Descriptions

By default the descriptions of your map items are in plain text. However, you can use rich text or HTML. To do this:

  1. Create or open a map.
  2. Click the appropriate placemark, line, shape. The info window appears.
  3. Click Edit.
  4. Choose Plain Text, Rich Text or Edit HTML.
  5. To edit rich text descriptions, select the text and use the icons above the description field:Rich text icons
  6. To use HTML descriptions, add HTML in the description field. Some HTML may be stripped from the description if it is considered unsafe or malicious.
  7. Click OK to save your changes.

Adding Photos

You can add photos to your map, as long as they are hosted online. Please use a service such as Google PicasaWeb or Flickr to put your photos online.

To add photos:

  1. Create or open a map.
  2. Click the appropriate placemark, line, shape. The info window appears.
  3. Click Edit.
  4. Choose Edit HTML.
  5. In Edit HTML mode, use the <img> tag to add photos. For example, <img src="" width=150 height=55> adds the Google Maps logo to your map with a width of 150 pixels and a height of 55 pixels.
  6. Click OK to save your changes.

Sharing Maps

Once you have created a map, you can share it with others. To do this:

  1. Open the map you want to share.
  2. Click Link to this page in the top right corner of the orange title bar. This will put the map’s URL in your browser navigation bar.
  3. You can share this URL with your friends by sending it in an email or posting it on your blog or website.
  4. You can also click the Email link in the top right corner of the orange title bar to open your default email client with the map URL in the email body.

Public and Unlisted Maps

  • You can choose to make your maps public or unlisted.
  • Public maps are maps that you want to publish and share with everyone. Public maps will be included in the search results on Google Maps and Earth.
  • Unlisted maps are maps that you only want to share with a few select people. Unlisted maps will not be included in the search results, so they are accessible much like an unlisted phone number — anyone who knows the specific URL of the map can view it, but there’s no directory or search for finding unlisted maps.

Viewing Your Maps in Google Earth

If you have Google Earth installed on your computer, you can view your maps in Google Earth. To do this:

  1. Create or open a custom map.
  2. Click the KML link or icon in the orange title bar. Google Maps uploads a KML file to your computer that you can open in Google Earth. How cool is that???

More information at My Maps User Guide.

An archive of all tips from Tech Tip Tuesday is located at

More ILC Reflections

Now that I am home from the Innovative Learning Conference 2008 and have had some time to process all that happened, I can truly say that overall it was good experience for me.

On Wednesday morning I attended a session by Josh Burker (fellow Pepperdine Cadre member) who shared Scratch – the kids programming language from MIT.  The program comes with different “projects” organized by category:

  • Animations
  • Games
  • Greetings
  • Interactive art
  • Lists
  • Music and dance
  • Names
  • Simulations
  • Speak up
  • Stories

Younger students can just play with games on the galleries – they don’t need to understand how the games are made – but older elementary kids will want to design their own.  This program is a great way to introduce logical thinking and cause/effect.  Projects can then be save to the Scratch galleries or embedded in a website or blog.  You can also purchase a Picoboard to connect to your computer and then your programs can interact with real objects.

The next session was by Steven McGriff, a professor at San Jose State University titled:  Anyone Can Be Visually Literate:  Graphic Design Tips for Educators. He shared with us how 3 design principals form a framework for working with graphic design:
1.   Perceptions (figure/ground, hierarchy (organizing) , Gestalt- the whole is greater than the sum of its parts)
2.   Tools (type, shape, color, depth, space)
3.   Actions (proximity, alignment, repetition, contrast)

The best advice he gave was “know your audience and design your presentation to match the audience”.

I gave my VoiceThread presentation at 1pm.  Handouts are located at and the samples are at  During the presentation, Brian VanDyke moderated the chat at the online PowerPoint at Overall the presentation went well even though I couldn’t get some of the VoiceThreads to load (grrr – no dedicated Internet line for presenters!!!) and folks asked good questions.  Thanks all for coming!!!

Another excellent session I attended was on Google Earth by Joe Wood.  I’ve used Google Maps extensively but I learned some new tips from Joe that I hadn’t ever done before – like changing the view of how you “fly” into a location in Google Earth, using historical maps, overlays for earthquake and new stories, and more.  Check out his excellent wiki for all kinds of ideas.  Thanks Joe!

Favorite t-shirt of the day from Diane Main:

On Friday I went to a great session from Leslie Fisher on Taking Digital Pictures Effectively.  Leslie’s sessions are always packed with great advice – even though I got schooled for having a Dell in a sea of Macs.

Common mistakes and advice for taking better pictures
  • not close enough –> “move in, take it again”
  • look around the edges to see if you want the things that are around
  • not focused –> use green boxes (when you press shutter halfway) Every camera has focus point
  • camera shake (nothing in focus) –> “lighting is too low in the photo so the camera needs expose the picture longer to take the image”; the shaking of your hand results in a blurry picture –> Fix: use a tripod and set the timer, use artificial lighting or change camera setting
  • composition –> wander around to try to figure out what is the best angle, composition, shoot high and shoot low. What do you want your picture to show? to say? – use law of thirds (get the focus in one of the central intersections- use cropping (but be careful that you not lose resolution) look for lines, spaces makes you think, shoot high/shoot low
  • lighting and speed are equal out of the box –>use action mode for action shot to make speed faster than lighting
  • too much flash –> use natural light in the photo
  • too little flash –> camera shake so stabilize the camera or introduce light
  • digital zoom –> turn it off (it zooms up on the pic and crops it)
  • Photoshop Resolution:  72 for web or PPT and at least 180 for print – uncheck resample image
Another great session on Friday was Screencasting by Ray Barbur.  He uses screencasts in his Chemistry classes for a variety of reasons:
  • To show rather than to explain (training, setting up email, attendance reports)
  • Addresses different learning styles
  • Can review material
  • When you’re out of the classroom
  • Students who miss class
  • Student’s who don’t get it
  • Aid in completing homework assignments
  • Distribution options – check out flash drives, burn to DVD
Some screencasting software he recommends:
1.  SnapzPro – mac only – original industry-standard
2.  Camtasia Studio – windows $179 academic – simultaneous video camera capture
3.  iShow U – mac – presets – video rendered immediately
4.  ProfCast – mac  drag and drop PPT
5.  Jing – both mac/pc -video saved as Flash only, limited to 5 minutes, uploads to, Jing ad, 2G space
6.  ScreenFlow
7.  Snapkast
ILC 2008 was a great conference.  I met a lot of virtual friends and was inspired to try some new things in my classroom to better meet the learning needs of my students.  Check out the ILC Flickr photo group at: