A Bit About Me

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Google Earth: World Mountain tours

One of my favorite subjects to teach is geography. This is most likely due to the fact that I've lived in over a dozen cities throughout my entire life (military family). Also, in my other life as a marketing pro, I seized every single opportunity that I could to travel for work in cities all over the country. In my many travels, I've chronicled a great number of pictures and experiences that won't soon fade. And, though I haven't yet used the passport that I got nearly 10 years ago (which expires in July 2013), I still feel comfortable in knowing that my life is all the more better and diversified from the many traveling expeditions that I've had.

Teaching-wise, I've taught in inner-city schools in Philadelphia where students knew virtually nothing of the world that existed outside of their immediate community. I then taught at a suburban school just outside of Charlotte, where the students were taking family vacations to Spain and the Bahamas. At this particular school, Disney World was more than an idea, it was the location where a lot of the students would spend their Winter Break every year. Now, I'm teaching in Washington, DC, in an inner-city, all-girls school. Every day, I'm humbled by the opportunity to show the girls more than they could have ever thought existed. I'm even more grateful to show them the world right from their seats, through the use of Google Earth.

World Mountains
Part of the Core Knowledge content for 4th Grade has been to learn about World Mountains. Teaching small groups of 9-12 fourth grade students at a time, has been great for this particular lesson. The beauty of learning about the World Mountains is that they are located ALL over the WORLD!

To teach this lesson, we first reviewed the cardinal directions (North, East, South and West). We even learned the saying "Never Eat Soggy Waffles" to help the students remember the acronym. Next, I showed the students how to use Google Earth in the most basic way (spinning the Earth, zooming in, zooming out, searching for locations).

Once the students had a few minutes to practice using the basic functions of Google Earth, I provided them with a list of the World Mountains. We practiced saying the mountain names as a class in order to build fluency.

The World Mountain list included:
1.   Andes
2.   Rockies
3.   Appalachians
4.   Himalayas
5.   Urals
6.   Atlas
7.   Alps
8.   Everest
9.   McKinley
10. Aconcagua
11. Mont Blanc
12. Kilimanjaro

Now, there's one thing that I neglected to check prior to the lesson. Google Earth doesn't seem to have a search function control option. Thus, when you're searching for places like the Rocky Mountains, it's very likely that Rocky Mount, NC will appear, which has nothing to do with mountains at all, trust me, I've been through there several times.

Another thing that I neglected to do in the lesson was to tell the students where the mountains were located. This was a purposeful omission as I've learned that students learn more when you give them less.

If you want to do this activity in your class, I suggest that you label the mountains in the following ways for an optimal class success rate:

1.   Andes Mountains
2.   Rocky Mountains
3.   Appalachian Mountains
4.   Himalaya Mountains
5.   Ural Mountains
6.   Atlas Mountains
7.   Alps
8.   Mount Everest
9.   Mountain McKinley
10. Aconcagua
11. Mont Blanc
12. Kilimanjaro

In the area where the students search for the mountain, the location (country and city) of the mountain appear beneath the search menu, so if you really wanted to, you could quiz them on the locations of each mountain. In my particular lesson, I had the students find and add placemarks to each mountain. We would then use those placemarks to create a video tour of some of the world mountains...but I'll describe that a little later on.

To make a placemark, you have to click on the yellow thumbtack at the top of the Google Earth toolbar. There are two qualms that I have about this process. One is that students are smart and investigative. They want to know what the different buttons do, so they end up spending more time looking through and choosing an alternative placemark than they do searching for the mountains in general. Time-permitting, I would suggest allowing them to express their creativity in this area. However, if they can't make a choice within 15 seconds, then prod them to move on.

The second issue that I have is that when students click on the placemark icon on their netbooks, the placemark screen doesn't fit on the screen, so it has to be moved in order for the students to click "Okay". Google Earth does a great job with notifying netbook users of the diminished size of Google Earth when they launch the program, it's just one of those situations where you have to incorporate the teaching of an additional skill into the lesson. But, that's what facilitating learning is all about, right?

The main thing that I love about making placemarks on Google Earth is the fact that once you've made the placemark, it is automatically saved in your "places". No additional steps need to be taken, and so long as you use that same computer the next time you're on Google Earth, all of your previously saved placemarks will still be there.

Since Google Earth was so new to my students, I opted to break the lesson into two separate sessions. In the first class period, students added their placemarks and were allowed to explore the pictures. During the second class period, the students used their previously made placemarks to create a tour of at least 4 of the World Mountains.

When using Google Earth, I've found that less is more. Under the "Layers" option, I had students select only three options. When too many options are selected, Google Earth tends to look like a convoluted congestion of colors and icons galore. Far too many distractions for the focused student.

3 Layers to Select:
1.   Borders and Labels
2.   Photos
3.   3D Buildings

Making the Tour

Once the placemarks are labeled, the tour can be made. To do this, you have to click on the video camera icon at the top of the Google Earth toolbar. Pay attention to the bottom of the screen when you do this, as you'll see a small, rectangular box appear. The red dot enables you to record and to stop the recording. The blue microphone enables you to speak; it's great for narrating a tour.

After clicking on the red, record button, the time may not change initially. And, when the time does change, it often goes up in 3 to 8 second intervals. Once the time starts changing, you can feel safe in knowing that your tour is being recorded. To "fly" to one of the placemarked mountains, you've got to double-click on the placemark. Single-clicking will merely select the placemark, it won't enable you to fly anywhere.

When you fly to a mountain, you can click on a blue and brown picture icon to see a real picture of the area. If you click on a picture while recording your tour, then the picture will actually appear in the tour. This is a pretty cool feature, because if I'm not mistaken, back when I tried to record a clicked on picture in one of my grad school classes, it didn't work.

To move from one location to another, you just double-click on the different placemarks.

When you're all done flying, click on the white button with the red background in order to stop the recording. Doing this will prompt an automatic playback of your tour, so don't be alarmed. I encourage all of my students to watch their tour before saving to ensure that they have actually fulfilled the requirements of the lesson.

Once the tour playback concludes, you can click on the disk icon () to name and save the tour. With this particular lesson, I had the students save the tour as their name - teacher's name - World Mountains.

E.g.  Tara - Jones - World Mountains

This has made it easy for me to go back and align the right student with the right class, in order to give them the grade that they've earned.

In the future, I plan on using Google Earth with some of the younger grades to help support the worldly views that they are gaining from their classroom content.

I hope that this post has helped any of you who may be looking for ways to incorporate the awesome (and free) Google Earth software into your lessons.

More to come...Stay tuned...

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