By Dustin Woo
Everybody wants classes to be fun, right? Learning rules and memorizing facts can get old fast. History class, especially, can benefit greatly from different medias of learning to complement the copious amount of names and dates. History classes involve a lot of memorization, which can be difficult without ways to apply the knowledge. It is the study of what has happened and thus, is restricted somewhat to traditional methods of teaching. History instructors everywhere are looking for the best way to make their students more interested in the past, and technology has finally answered their call. With Google Earth’s interactive three-dimensional globe, history class can finally break free from the traditional “sponge-method” instruction of students absorbing facts.
Google Earth 5.0 (snapshot)
GOOGLE EARTH IN THE CLASSROOM
Google Earth (downloadable here) is a popular free application that brings a virtual version of the planet earth right onto your computer. With this, giant maps tacked to the walls of the classroom are now a thing of the past. There is no doubt that geography plays a huge role in history. With Google’s Border layer, instructors can show, not just tell, their students how the Americas were first colonized and geographically order the creation of states into the United States. The Borders layer divides up the United States into all 50 states and even extends to other continents like South America, where the borders separate countries. Detailed satellite images, now available in the classroom, can revolutionize the way history is taught.
THE GREAT APPALACHIAN
How about a specific example? The Appalachian Trail is an approximately 2,175 mile long hiking trail first conceived by Benton MacKaye in the earth 1920s. It exists as a series of shelters trailing down the east coast of the United States and it is one of the most famous scenic trails in the country. How can we make a lecture on the Appalachian Trail more interesting? An image of the Appalachian Trail on Google Earth circumvents the need for a lengthy lecture and gives students first-hand knowledge of where the trail goes and its sheer length.
Although Google Earth does not have a built in “Scenic Trail” layer, what it does have is even more valuable: user-generated content. Created in KML (Keyhole Markup Language) format, these files show user created images overlaid on top of Google Earth.
- Allow user-generated content to be added to Google Earth
- Usually overlay the Google Earth globe with special placemarks placed by the creator
- Are one of the main ways that Google Earth is customizable and interactive
This particular KML shows the entire Appalachian Trial with individual markers showing the shelters and checkpoints along the way. These KML’s are much more than just screenshots posted by other Google Earth users. They are interactive tools that can be used by someone, say a student, to learn more about the trail and its various components.
Aside from the near limitless possibilities that user-generated KML’s provide, Google Earth also boasts another interesting, classroom-friendly feature. With the “My Places” function, specific locations on Google Earth can be saved and then viewed in a sort of three-dimensional slideshow. Teachers can quickly and easily put these “tours” together and give their students the experience of zooming across the globe and visiting places such as Gettysburg and Yorktown where historic battles were fought.
Creating a tour in Google Earth is a snap!
[kml_flashembed movie="http://www.youtube.com/v/nuJwarqTLQA" width="425" height="350" wmode="transparent" /]
Google Earth’s usefulness in education, history and geography especially, are clearly evident. This application is so much more than just a fancy 3-d map on a screen. Its ability to integrate visual data in an interactive environment can help even the most tedious of subjects. Visualization in the classroom is key to any successful learning experience. According to Castek and Mangelson (2008), Google Earth’s imagery “encourages higher-order thinking skills, such as interpreting, analyzing, comparing, and explaining” (p. 40). But visualization aside, the greatest asset that Google Earth provides in the classroom is flexibility.
LESSON PLANS OF THE FUTURE
As mentioned earlier, Google lets users create their own KML’s to customize Google Earth. This means instructors can not only download these KML’s as educational tools, but they can also create their own mini-layers to fir the subject of their class. The possibilities are endless. A unit on the Civil War would certainly benefit from a Google Earth KML that marks the border states between the North and the South, as well as key battlefields. Likewise, significant routes such as the Underground Railroad are a part of history that can definitely be understood better when seen rather than read. Google Earth prides itself on being easy to use so any teacher, even one without technical or computer expertise can build their own Google Earth history lesson. Below are two useful links that can help you create and plan history and geography lessons!
Google Earth holds the key to making history an active, rather than passive subject. With this free application, the harmony between futuristic virtual technology and the past can finally be achieved.
Borders and Layers (2009). Borders and Layers [layer in Google Earth 5.0 software]. Available from earth.google.com/
Castek, J., & Mangelson, J.. (2008, May). Reading the World with Google Earth. Book Links, 17(5), 40-41.