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.

Tech Tip Tuesday is archived at

Tech Tip Tuesday – Google Specialized Search

Specialized Search – Part 3

This next set of tips is great to integrate into social studies curriculum. It’ll help your students find primary sources when doing research, and have a better appreciation for just where the events took place.

When you use view:timeline, your results are broken down into chronologically listed dates. You can filter your search to narrow the time period from which you would like to view results.

For example, here is the top of the results page for the query [view:timeline battle of the bulge]:

Notice the filter on the right of the page. Narrowing the search to 1940-1944 will give you these results:

You can add maps to the search results. [view:map battle of the bulge] will give you a Google Map, with markers that refer to the places listed in the articles in the results. Switch between map, satellite, and hybrid view to give students a better appreciation of the terrain.

Good Luck!
~ MaryFran and Colette