Ten Ways to Use Google Earth in Your Classroom

Google Earth is available to use in your web browser, as desktop software, as an iOS app, and as an Android app. All versions can be found at google.com/earth. The web version will work in your web browser on a Chromebook, Windows, or Mac laptop. The desktop version has more features than the web and mobile versions, but those versions are starting to catch-up. The desktop version is only available on Windows, Mac, and Linux computers. Here are ten ways for students to use Google Earth in your classroom. 

1. Take a tour of new and interesting places.

This is the most basic activity that you can do in Google Earth. The web and mobile versions of Google Earth have pre-made tours called “Voyages” that your students can view. Stops on the voyages include notes about the notable landmarks in the tour. The desktop version of Google Earth also has pre-made tours. You can also find tours made by others and use them in Google Earth. Watch this video to learn how to do that.

2. Global scavenger hunts.

Create a scavenger hunt for students to complete by using clues and finding the answers “hidden” throughout the globe. This can be a fun way for students to test their knowledge of physical and human geography. Around the World With Google Earth is a fun activity and a great model of using scavenger hunts in Google Earth.

3. Play Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego?

March of 2019 Google added a version of the classic computer game, Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? to Google Earth. The game can be played in the web version of Google Earth as well as the iOS and Android versions. Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? isn’t the only game or quiz you’ll find in Google Earth. You can find them all by opening the Voyages tab in Google Earth. A video of how to find the games and quizzes is available here

4. Take and or Create Literature Tours

Google Lit Trips is dedicated to helping teachers use Google Earth tours in literature lessons. In a literature trip students explore the places that are significant in a story and or the places that are significant in an author’s life. The desktop version of Google Earth has built-in tools for creating tours of landmarks around the world (watch this video to learn how). The web version of Google Earth doesn’t have the same tour recording tools, but you can use this option for creating placemarks and this option for creating a tour.

5. View a Timelapse of Coastline Changes. 

Thanks to historical imagery available through the Google Earth Engine you can view historical satellite imagery in Google Earth.This allows viewers to see how things like coastlines have changed over time. You can piggyback on that visual to prompt students to investigate what makes a coastline change. Here’s a video on how to find timelapse imagery in Google Earth. 

6. Map and Compare Datasets.

Mapping datasets can be a good way for students to create visualizations of species diversity and distribution or to see economic data as it relates to geography. It is possible to take a dataset that is in a CSV or Google Sheet and have that data appear in Google Earth. To do this you will first make a map in Google’s My Maps tool (a tutorial is available here) and then export a KML from My Maps to import into Google Earth. A tutorial for completing that process in the desktop version of Google Earth is available here. A tutorial for completing that process in the web version of Google Earth is available here.  

7. Layer Images Over Maps. 

The desktop version of Google Earth lets you layer images over a view of the world. Adjust your zoom level to cover more or less of the map with your image. Adjust the image’s opacity to let the map faintly show through the image. This is a great way to show students a comparison of a historical map with a contemporary map. Try using this method to show how coastlines and waterways have changed over time.

8. Measure Distances for Math Lessons.

Google Earth includes tools for measuring distances in a variety of units. Students can use the measuring tool to complete activities designed to help them understand distance, scale, and units of measurement. Tom Barrett’s Maths Maps page is a good place to find lessons that incorporate measurement. A tutorial on measuring in Google Earth is available here

9. Explore the Moon or Mars. 

The desktop version of Google Earth includes a moon view and a Mars view. Select the moon view or the Mars view then click on some of the placemarks in the NASA layer. Your students could even create a narrated tour of the moon or Mars by following these directions

10. Use Google Earth as an Alternative to PowerPoint. 

The next time you’re thinking about having students give a presentation on a place that they’ve studied in your geography lesson, have them create a Google Earth tour instead. They can use their custom placemarkers shown in full size as an alternative to using slides.