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.

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 weekhttp://earthquakes.tafoni.net/
  2. Famous places in USA – made by VCS 8th Graders http://maps.google.com/maps/ms?ie=UTF8&hl=en&oe=UTF8&msa=0&msid=116913314984386073493.000462cf23f60eab59474&z=3
  3. California Missions(This is actually a Google Earth file but can be opened in Google Maps too) http://maps.google.com/maps/mm?q=http:%2F%2Fbbs.keyhole.com%2Fubb%2Fdownload.php%3FNumber%3D558454&t=k&om=1&ie=UTF8&hl=en&ll=35.539141,-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  http://maps.google.com/maps/ms?ie=UTF8&hl=en&oe=UTF8&msa=0&msid=110969292957721029398.00045feb2928c290c0549&ll=40.739308,-73.988854&spn=0.123562,0.183334&z=12
  5. Presidential Historic Siteshttp://maps.google.com/maps/ms?t=k&om=1&ie=UTF8&hl=en&msa=0&msid=114324176081653840016.000456b393b9408843d40&z=3
  6. Map your Clean Up the World Activity- A cool Google Map project http://maps.google.com/help/maps/cleanup/
  7. Google Lit Tripshttp://www.googlelittrips.org/
  8. GMdir:  an unofficial Google Maps Directoryhttp://www.gmdir.com/
  9. 100 Things to do with Google Maps Mashupshttp://gmapsmania.googlepages.com/100thingstodowithgooglemapsmashups 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 http://www.google.com/gadgets/directory?synd=mpl&pid=mpl


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="http://www.google.com/intl/en_us/images/maps_results_logo.gif" 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 http://sites.google.com/site/techtipstuesday/

Voicethread & Google Maps Postcard Exchange

I love Classroom 2.0 and the excitement that the teachers there bring to my network. I always read the posts about VoiceThread since I will be presenting a workshop on VoiceThread at the Innovative Learning Conference this Fall. I came across this Postcard exchange idea from Jennifer Albers.

In the past I have been a part of several postcard exchanges and my students loved receiving the cards and information about each state. This year I wanted to try something new. I created a type of state information exchange using VoiceThread. VoiceThread is a free program at www.voicethread.com. It is a way to have conversations around media…the link is: http://voicethread.com/#q+50+States+.b155765.i832841I am sending this email out during summer in hopes that you will get familiar with VoiceThread and want to use it during the school year… If you have any questions or comments my email is jalbers@lindberghschools.ws. Enjoy!

I think this is great way to introduce your class to VoiceThread. I am planning on having my students look up some facts about Oregon and comment on the VoiceThread.

Here is another extension that I am thinking of incorporating:

Great a customized Google Map and have classes create postcards about their states and embed the images and additional text into the Map and then share that map with other classrooms for them to do the same.

I made a sample … want to give it a try? Got to this map and add a landmark. Let’s use this map as a sandbox to practice adding locations, images and text:
target=”_blank”>http://maps.google.com/maps/ms?f=q&hl=en&geocode=&ie=UTF8&msa=0&msid=116913314984386073493.000451608fab0754193a9&ll=45.838368,-121.819153&spn=29.81521,76.992188&z=4


View Larger Map

Last year I participated in Postcard Geography (http://pcg.cyberbee.com/) but either one of these ideas could work along with that program.