Author Biography: Thomas Petra, M.Ed., is a Technology Integration Specialist with over 20 years experience as an educator.

Residing on the island of Guam, he has taught mathematics to students from the elementary to the undergraduate level. As part of his Masters program, he created the - a free web resource for math educators with lessons and activities for Google Earth. Now in its 4th year, the site has received worldwide recognition and has been presented in online webinars, as well as the 2011 ISTE and Global Education Collaborative conferences. Thomas is a Google Certified Teacher, Google Apps for Education Certified Trainer, and an entrepreneur. Activity Summary
Google Earth is the perfect platform for educators to construct progressive learning experiences. It is a rich 21st Century resource for any subject area, full of materials and functionality. More than a mapping tool, Google Earth is a vast collection of information where users can view layers of content or add their own. Using its simple tool set, teachers can transform traditional instruction by designing lessons that allow an active investigation of ideas. Students of different learning styles will be able to explore concepts in-depth and develop high-level thinking skills such as analysis, synthesis, and creativity. Real life activities portrayed in a virtual globe add purpose and context to their learning. Google Earth is the perfect application for project-based learning, cross-curricular units, or exploring global themes. Class or subject area: All Grade level(s): All Specific learning objectives: • Develop higher-level thinking skills: analysis, evaluation, creativity, and synthesis • Utilize Google Earth to create, represent, and share ideas • Employ Google Earth to investigate real world issues • Design a presentation or collection of thematic content using Google Earth • Utilize Google Earth’s tools to search, view, measure, map, and annotate • Use Google Earth to assemble information or data, and make judgments based on it • Collaborate on a project using Google Earth and other multimedia applications

Anniversary Book Project


Learning With Google Earth
By: Thomas Petra Creative Commons License: CC BY-SA Author contact:

Since 2005, Google Earth has been providing us with startlingly clear satellite views of the globe in an interactive 3D environment. Google Earth is not only a mapping application but also a learning tool that is capable of connecting students with ideas that promote higher-level thinking skills. It is a remarkable learning platform made all the more so in that it is available for free. Whether you are viewing a hemisphere or a neighborhood street, this virtual atlas provides a rich environment of interactive knowledge. Its user-friendly interface is filled with an abundance of resources that are suitable for any subject area or grade level. Furthermore, educators can design their own learning experiences for Google Earth using its straightforward tool set. Going beyond the ordinary, a progressive pedagogy can be embraced - one that meets the needs of distinctive learning styles while challenging students to examine deeper meaning. Students can investigate themes through project-based learning or immerse themselves in an assortment of active learning lessons. Most importantly it encourages a global conscience as children explore the different cultures and landscapes of the world. I first became aware of Google Earth in 2007 as I was contemplating my Masters project. The product of this is my website, - a free resource site for math teachers with lessons and activities based in Google Earth. I was drawn to the application when I realized it was capable of much more than visual representations. Users can add placemarks, annotations, photos, 3D models, as well as measure distances and draw on its surface. This was essential to what I wanted to produce with my lessons. At the time, my main criticism of instructional math websites was that the majority of sites promoted themselves as “online tutoring” in which the concepts are presented no differently than they would be in a typical classroom. The instructor is merely using an electronic piece of chalk. Although some programs adjust to the learner’s ability level, the learner remains a passive participant except for the typed responses. With Google Earth, I felt I could go beyond basic conceptual knowledge with stimulating lessons that would engage the students with active and constructive learning. This progressive approach is possible not only for Mathematics, but English, Science, or any other subject area. Features Google Earth has a number of features arranged in a user-friendly interface. The toolbar at the top of the main window provides the interactive functionality to the application. Whether it’s measuring distances with the Ruler tool, viewing the Moon, Mars, or the celestial Sky, or exploring Historical Imagery to see what your community looked like 20 years ago, the tool set provides an independent experience of Google Earth. The components in the left sidebar permit a more detailed exploration of the planet and offer a place where your materials can be gathered. The Search function, located at the top of the sidebar, is perhaps the most used function in Google Earth. Enter a place, coordinates, or address and you will promptly arrive at the location in the main window. The Layers menu, located at the bottom of the sidebar, is perhaps the most under-utilized function of Google Earth. Within Layers, you can select what content is visible in the main window, such as place names, 3D buildings, or borders. What most people overlook is the additional content provided in the Gallery and Global Awareness folders. This is where you’ll find high-quality materials produced by 3rd party contributors such as National Geographic, UNICEF, and NASA, to name a few. Even more media can be found with a search in the Earth Gallery.

Google Earth is an interactive tool by design. A student can control and navigate her view of the Earth to any scale, mark locations in placemarks, as well as draw paths and polygons on the Earth’s surface. The My Places portion of the sidebar is where you can assemble your personal collection of these things in folders. The folders and their contents can be annotated with text, hyperlinks, images, and video, and also sequenced in tours. This is of particular interest to educators in that it provides the means to design learning experiences for Google Earth that can be saved, shared, and emailed easily. Additionally, Google Earth contains a built-in browser, so any hyperlinked information can be followed without leaving the application. Learning Design “There can be nothing more destructive of true education than to spend long hours in the acquirement of ideas and methods which lead nowhere... Now the effect which we want to produce in our pupils is to generate a capacity to apply ideas to the concrete universe...” ~ Philosopher Alfred North Whitehead, 1912 The central approach I took when designing Real World Math was to provide an environment in which students could use their math skills. The lessons were intended to build upon the prior knowledge and abilities of students by providing activities that would nurture and add depth to their aptitudes and skills. For many of the lessons’ content, the students are asked to create their own meaning to the exercises. Therefore, the goal is to provide opportunities that construct learning and not necessarily to instruct lessons. This constructivist method supports the modern notion that teachers can use technology to facilitate knowledge rather than dispense it. This fits in well with the idea of Active Learning also. More substantial than the colloquial “hands-on learning”, students who are actively engaged in problem-solving exercises gain knowledge that is deeper and more personalized. Google Earth provides a wealth of material that allows you to do this in ways that are beneficial to all learners. The Model of Domain Learning is another theory of learning that I consider when devising material for Google Earth. The Model of Domain Learning tries to consider the major aspects of student learning: subject-matter knowledge, interest, and strategic processing. I assume that students enter an activity with a certain amount of subject matter knowledge and thus, I provide additional content when necessary. The Google Earth application itself is usually enough as a source of motivation, and so the main component left for me to devise is an activity that involves strategic processing. This is where I turn to Bloom and attempt to connect students with activities where they are applying, analyzing, evaluating, and creating. Instead of completing a worksheet of elapsed-time problems, why not put the student in a virtual Iditarod? After racing their sled dogs from checkpoint to checkpoint, they’ll have learned much more about time and Alaska than they would have with an ordinary assignment. Last, but not least, learning with Google Earth addresses the equity pedagogy in a number of ways, including visual learning and the multiple-intelligence theory. Each student learns differently and so by using a variety of instructional techniques you can reach more learners. Google Earth offers a visual alternative to the typical lecture and text approach of instruction. A greater amount of information can be communicated visually in an instant, oftentimes in a manner more easily understood. As Howard Gardner states, “Anything worth teaching usually can be taught in a number of ways; by using multiple forms of representation and presentation you reach far more students.” The viewable nature of exercises in Google Earth not only accommodates the differences between learners, but

also can increase their comprehension of concepts. In the real world, math problems don’t normally appear in text and symbols. Lesson Design The easiest way to start designing lessons for Google Earth, is to take a concept that you have taught before and transform it to the digital environment. The genesis of the Real World Math was a question I had posed to myself, “How important is it for students to learn how to construct graphs by hand when a number of computer programs can do it for them?” Both techniques have merit, but when I decided on using Google Earth as a graphing tool to plot a typhoon’s path. I found the technology contributed to numerous aspects of the assignment. Chief among these was that Google Earth enabled greater interaction between the students and the graph’s content. A much greater amount of information could be conveyed with text, photo images, and design than would be possible on a sheet of paper, and it all could be edited instantaneously. On the virtual globe, the typhoon’s path could be played as a movie in sequence or viewed from any angle. Email not only provided the means to submit the digital product, but also allowed me to assist students as they worked on their projects at home. The final product was a graph that was lifted off the page and displayed in a three-dimensional multimedia presentation. The end result though, was that in addition to meeting the content goals, additional skills were learned, a superior product was produced, motivation increased, and it all connected to a historic real world event. For most activities, students will probably need some guidance or content to use within Google Earth. Let’s use volcanoes for Science class as an example. Use the Google Earth Search window and locate the Mt. Vesuvius volcano. Mark the location using the Add Placemark tool and give it a name. The yellow pushpin icon is not the only placemark icon available. There is a gallery of icons to choose from, including a volcano. Give the placemark a title and format it with the information you want to include. Remember, we want to aim high, so avoid bubble-test types of questions. Here’s what I came up with... -This is Mt. Vesuvius, a volcano that is over 25,000 years old. -How would you classify this volcano? What features of the volcano and surrounding geography lead you to this conclusion? -Pull your view back and select Earthquakes from the Layers’ Gallery. What does this data suggest about the volcano today? -Mt. Vesuvius is a famous volcano. You can learn more about its history here: Exploring the Environment: Volcanoes You can see that I started with the assumption that the students already possess some knowledge about the different types of volcanoes and how they are formed. What Google Earth allows is a 3-dimensional exploration of those ideas. The students can pan their view around or pull back and examine the surrounding area. The questions lead the students to make an evaluation of the volcano and apply what they know. The next task includes some of the data that is featured in Google Earth’s Layers. The Gallery portion has a selection for Earthquake data and you can also display the Earth’s tectonic plates. By combining this information the students can then make inferences about how the two relate. Finally, I end with a reference link to historical information about Mt. Vesuvius. This is a working hyperlink that, upon selection, will open a browser window in Google Earth to that website. All this in one simple placemark.

Going further you can accomplish much more. A folder collection of similar placemarks could be assembled in My Places. Now the students would have multiple volcanoes to compare in 3-D and begin synthesizing their observations. They are much more active in their investigations than they would have been if they were doing this with text. With Google Earth, you can also apply some simple HTML formatting to your placemarks. You can add polish to your work by adding images, borders, and colors. The placemark folder is saved automatically and can be shared with students in several ways. It uses a specific .kmz file type that you can save to your desktop, flashdrive, or email

Once you have created an activity for Google Earth, you should consider having students create their own compilations for Google Earth. It could make an attractive backdrop for presentations or serve as the perfect tool for project-based learning activities. In project-based learning, students work on their creations or investigations for a period of time with social interaction being a critical component. One goal in PBL is that learners gain content-area expertise by utilizing high-level thinking skills such as analysis, synthesis, and application. Other benefits come from the design of PBL. Students are expected to face difficulties and encouraged to find their own solutions to overcome them. Additionally, students are learning authentic real world lessons like time management, relying on the work of others, and seeing a project to its end. Working in Google Earth adds the technology pedagogy; students will be learning an application, editing, making revisions, and formatting their work. The teacher’s role, once again, is that of a facilitator. Finally, Google Earth offers many opportunities for cross-curricular units you can design with your colleagues. Jerome Burg’s Google Lit Trips (, is a prime example of how different people can design content for Google Earth. The Lit Trips are tours in Google Earth that match locations from famous novels to the 3D world. Annotated placemarks provide background information and other source material so that the reader is completely immersed in the story. He can follow the voyage of Odysseus or escape the Dust Bowl with the Joad family. Jerome’s site provides a large collection of Lit Trips created not only by him, but other educators and students as well.

Global Experience Global themes are one area I like to explore in Google Earth. It seems like an obvious choice when you have the whole world in your digital hand, but I don’t think educators do it enough with the traditional curriculum. For instance, I have a Google Earth math activity where the students use the distance formula to examine the characteristics of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami. Another explores water shortages and data analysis by bringing them to the slopes of the Himalayas to gather drinking water. You can take any CORE standard and place it in an activity that promotes global awareness. Why not address the real world problems of oil spills and endangered mammals in your lessons? Better still, collaborate with classrooms from other countries and connect faces with places. With Google Earth and other Google applications, teachers have the ability to create resource-based learning experiences that are learner-centered, constructivist, and project-oriented. Students can be presented with high-level challenges that allow them to access, evaluate, organize, and synthesize information effectively. And their learning can stretch beyond the classroom’s walls in terms of social interactions and experiences. Final thoughts Without a doubt, technology is changing the dynamics of learning. It is my belief that Google Earth excels as a learning platform when it is used to construct a learning experience rather than present information. The challenge is to design activities that engage the students and encourages them to explore ideas. As Annette Lamb states, “...the key to effective teaching and learning is motivation and meaningfulness. Learning is about conducting inquiries, making connections, and communicating understandings, not just listening to lectures and completing assignments”(2005). Core standards can be preserved but in a richer context such as with project-based learning or global awareness. The lessons’ content and method of delivery allow for an equitable opportunity to learn, with the realization that children have different styles of learning. In my opinion, Google Earth is the ultimate platform for 21st Century learning.
References Alexander, P.A. & Murphy, P.K. (2000). Learning profiles: Valuing individual differences within classroom communities. In Ackerman, P.L., Kyllonen, P.C., & Roberts, R.D. (Eds.). Learning and individual differences: Process, trait, and content determinants (pp 413-436). Washington, D.C.: American Psychological Association. Gardner, Howard (1993). Multiple intelligences: The theory in practice. New York: Basic Books. Kline, M (1973). Why johnny can’t read: The failure of new math. New York: St. Martin’s Press. Lamb, A. (2005). From potential to prosperity: Twenty years of online learning environments. In Kearsley, G. (Ed.). Online learning: Personal reflections on the transformation of education (pp194-209). Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Publications Inc.