New and Improved Google Earth

posted Jan 14, 2019, 6:21 PM by Kevin Roughton   [ updated Jan 14, 2019, 7:13 PM ]
Last Summer I attended the Courageous Creativity Conference at Disneyland. It is designed for art teachers but I didn't care - it was at Disneyland. As I said at the time, it was incredible.  One of the (many) highlights of the trip was a backstage tour of Soarin' Over the World at California Adventure. The whole experience was incredible but the history teacher (nerd) in me was especially jazzed by the little handout we were given at the end. It was a simple printed sheet with the 13 destinations the ride goes to along with their latitude and longitude. Forget art, now you're speaking my language! That night in the hotel I started putting together a map hunt activity using the coordinates with the intent that I'd use it early in the year. 

Well, it took a little longer than expected but it is done!


It is quite simple as far as lessons go. I broke my students into 6 groups and assigned each a pair of coordinates. I made 6 versions of the instruction sheet above - one for each group - and posted them to our class LMS. As a group they put the coordinates into Google Earth and answered the very short analysis questions. I really just wanted to give them questions that encouraged them to play around with Earth. These ended up working perfectly for that. After analyzing both they answered one more comparison question. The groups had really good discussions about terms that I usually just gloss over like terrain and site. They debated how best to describe the landscapes and which nearby attractions were important enough to list. Mostly though they were just very engaged in playing with Earth and exploring their destinations.

When they were finished I had each group briefly share their findings while I showed their destinations on the big screen.  If you plan to do the same here's a .kml file that you can important into Google Earth with all 13 destinations already tagged. The file will look like techno-gibberish when you click on it. Just click the download button and save it to your Google Drive. Google Earth has an option to import .kmls directly from your Drive. After they saw them all we discussed ideas for how they were connected. Nobody got it exactly right but there were plenty of good ideas and some recognized that they were all connected to Disney somehow. I think next time I might give some more hints like playing the Soarin' theme song at some point during the class. I also might close with a ride video as it turned out many of my kids (way more than I expected) had never ridden Soarin'! Still, many enjoyed the reveal of the connection.

One thing I found by putting this together is that Google Earth is way, way cooler than the last time I used it. Nearly everything is 3D mapped now and the most well-known sites, like the Eiffel Tower, are incredibly detailed. It also has automatic animations now when you fly to a destination. It defaults to orbiting around the search but you can change it to a slow zoom or a "cinematic view" which sort of combines the two. It's so much more visually interesting than the older version that just showed a flat, motionless satellite view. The desktop version is still better for building tours and such but the browser version is now more than sufficient for most class activities.

I'm really happy with how the lesson turned out and I'm excited to use it early next year to help introduce continents and mapping but even here later in the year it worked well. We can do pretty amazing things with technology these days - especially if we spice it up with Disney magic!
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