Preparing students for a future with unimagined technologies can be a daunting task. As educators, we need to assess the tools that we use in our classrooms and consider if technology can make learning more meaningful for students.
Think about the last map you used. Was it a huge, folded paper pulled from your glove box, or displayed on the screen of your personal device? Most likely, it was on a device, and our students will use maps on their devices, too. How can we best meet the needs of our students?
Google Earth is an example of a tool that allows us to engage students in new ways while developing 21st-century skills. My interactive whiteboard combined with Google Earth has eliminated the need for, what my students call, those old-school pull-down maps.
When I was a student in fifth and sixth grade, I remember we would always look at Germany on world maps to see if Germany was in one piece or two. Does our map say U.S.S.R or all of the separate countries across eastern Europe? Google Earth is dynamic and always updated. This use of technology eliminates the problem of outdated maps.
Google Earth also allows our students to immerse themselves in other states and counties. I first discovered how well this hooked my students when I was showing them the location of the Grand Canyon using Google Earth. Without thinking, I said, “here, we can look at it a little closer,” and clicked the icon for street view. My entire class froze and stared – a reaction I was not expecting! A few students had experience using Google Earth to look at their own homes but hadn’t explored more than that. I clicked on the map briefly to show them how to navigate, then let them explore the Grand Canyon with their own devices.
The Grand Canyon activity hooked my students on Google Earth, and I took advantage of their excitement through the rest of our map unit. Most activities completed in the past using paper maps work just as well with Google Earth, but with many enhancements. Changing from satellite view to street view helps my students to gain a better understanding of the countries and locations we explore, helping them to develop a global perspective.
I encourage you to give Google Earth a try in your classroom. Current, interactive, and allowing students to view the world in new ways makes Google Earth an exciting classroom tool.
Bonnie Razler is a fourth-grade teacher in Maryland. She has a masters degree in Technology Integration and loves using tech in creative ways to allow students to demonstrate their learning. You can follow Bonnie at @BonnieRaz .
Want to learn more about going GLOBAL with your students? Check out Bring the World to You Classroom: Using Geo Tools by Kelly Kermode and Kim Randall
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