Three Ways Google Mapping Can Help You in the Classroom

I’ve been a huge advocate for the use of online digital mapping the classroom ever since Google Earth was released as a desktop version back in 2006. Since then, Google has made sincere efforts to improve the quality and ease of their mapping, so that now I can say with confidence that you do not need to be a Google Earth Guru to use it in the classroom with students.

There are three ways that you can build your confidence and expertise that progress…

The New Google Earth Online version

Launched earlier this year, the new online version of Google Earth is the perfect place to start exploring our world. Students will be immediately drawn in by the beauty and ease of interacting with the platform. Teachers will feel at ease because there has already been substantial work put into developing lessons and explorations that align with standards and lines of inquiry.

Try out the link below after watching the video:

If you are ready to start using Google Earth but are nervous about having to learn all the bells and whistles that come with creating content on the full desktop version, then you might want to start here.

There is one disadvantage, however. You will not be able to create original content in the online version. At least, not yet. When I went to NCGE in Albuquerque, New Mexico, at the end of July this year, I was fortunate enough to speak with the Google Earth Outreach team. One thing they mentioned is that they are working on rolling out content creation capabilities over time.

This isn’t really an issue if you are using it to explore the world and learn from any of the amazing explorations that Google has packaged into it already. I have to admit that after reading through the teacher “Idea Sets” That National Geographic has put together, I was impressed with the thoughtful content they have constructed. My favorite activity that I’ve found so far is the map projection activity. You can check it out here:

Google MyMaps

Once you feel like you have a handle on exploring, comparing, contrasting, and showing relationships around the world, you might want to stick a toe into the water of content creation. This is where using Google MyMaps might come in handy for you.

So many classrooms are currently using the Google Education platform these days that you may not realize that you already have access to Google MyMaps. To create a MyMap just go to your Google Drive and open “New→ More→Google MyMaps.

Don’t worry, everything you create in My Maps will be saved to your Google Drive just like you were working on a Google Doc.

Google has put together a nice intro on it, you can check it out here:

A great feature about MyMaps is that student can collaborate on the same map at the same time. If your lesson plan calls for content creation, and you’re a little scared off by diving head-first into the abyss of content and layers that the platform version of Google Earth offers, then you may want to start here.

While it’s still not ‘perfect’ (you will have to refresh the map to see other collaboration additions), Google MyMaps is a great place for geography teachers who want to give students a voice in building maps.

The functionality is simple. Students are capable of creating lines, placemarks, and polygons in addition to adding geo-tagged photos for presentations. If you want students to map out their local neighborhood and the invasive plants found there, not a problem.

Here is a sample version of a map I created for the city of Hallowell, Maine, and their downtown infestation of Japanese knotweed (a particularly insidious invasive plant in North America).

When we allow students to have control over the direction and scope of their instructions, you build trust, engagement, and greater interest in the inquiry process.

Google Earth Desktop platform

Once you have mastered creating content in Google MyMaps, you may be ready to take on the most robust Google Earth mapping platform, the desktop version of Google Earth.

Launched in 2006, Google Earth has steadily improved its rendering and functionality over the years. There is hope that Google might incorporate the content-creation capabilities into the Google Earth Voyager content they’ve already rolled out.

If you have ever taught with the desktop version of Google Earth you know how powerful it is to give students direct control over building content as well as the ability to change perspective of your field of view. These two things combined are part of what makes Google Earth so amazing for teachers (Check out this post about why Google Earth is so awesome for teachers).

As a geography educator, I’ve made it a point of pedagogy to incorporate Google Earth, Google My Maps, and Google Earth Voyager into as many classroom lessons as possible. The connections to other subjects create an atmosphere where students can literally SEE the interconnectivity of our planet in action. They are able to take subjects such as math, English, science, art, music, history, government, civics … the list goes on … and synthesize them to try and answer fundamental questions about the world around us.

Questions like:

  1. What are maps and WHY do we use them?
  2. How does where people live shape HOW people live?
  3. Why do people choose to live where they do?
  4. How do people get what they need to live?
  5. How do you live as a global citizen? How do your decisions affect others around you? How does considering another person’s point of view change or expand your view of the world?
  6. How are people connected around the world?
  7. Who decides or, what determines, who gets to use the world’s resources?

By using Google Earth, students are provided with a unique window to the world that is second only to traveling to the locations themselves. It is a great equalizer for students who want to see the world but face obstacles to travel.

I’m a huge fan.

Pete is one of our #worldgeochat bloggers. #worldgeochat is a professional learning network at its finest—a community of learners who work with each other and for each other. Join us each Tuesday night at 9 Eastern/8 Central—click here for a list of upcoming topics!

3 thoughts on “Three Ways Google Mapping Can Help You in the Classroom

  1. Reblogged this on worldgeochat and commented:

    I was fortunate to write about a mapping platform that I love. Here is my NatGeoEdu blog post on Google Earth, Google MyMaps, and Google Earth Voyager (online edition)

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