June 16, 2011

Getting Started on Google Earth

**This is a repost of something I wrote for a NING group that is no longer as easily accessible as it used to be.**

Google Earth is a program that has a plethora of uses in the classroom. As Google Earth has been around for over five years, many people, educators included, have written about the many applications Google Earth has. If you are curious about the different things you can see and do with Google Earth, you could easily spend the rest of your summer surfing the 'net discovering cool things. This post mentions just a few to get you started.

What are some reasons to use Google Earth in the classroom?

  • To help students visualize information--both current and historical
  • To engage and excite students
  • To use up-to-date real-world data
  • To provide cross-curricular learning opportunities
  • To help connect students to global ideas and cultures
  • To enable students communicate research, data, and stories in meaningful ways
Google Earth is a rich program that can be used where students each have their own computers as well as in one-computer classrooms. It can be used to stimulate ideas and conversation in teacher-led discussions, but it is also easy enough for students to use collaboratively or individually to explore or create their own projects.

Getting Started

It's FREE to download Google Earth, and it only takes a few minutes. Once you open the program, a window pops up to offer tips on how to use Google Earth. Those pop-up tips can be handy, and they can also be disabled if you find them irritating.

Don't forget to return to the main site from which you downloaded Google Earth. On the left bar are several links that can provide assistance for users of all experience levels. The Product Tour is actually a series of mini tours about different aspects of the program. These tours are short--no more than 2 minutes, but some as short as 30 seconds. If you need more help than that, the Community link takes you directly to a discussion forum that will likely have answers. If you don't have the patience for a forum, try the user's guide.

From the user's guide site, on the left side bar you can find a link to "Build Earth Skills." Although this sounds like a link specially designed for extraterrestrials, it's actually Google Earth: Learn, self-guided, in-depth tutorial on how to use the program's various tools. You can't just click around on the subjects: you have to start from the beginning. There are tasks to complete and quizzes to take before moving on to next levels. Too bad we can't earn some PD credits from it!

Google Earth in the Classroom

Once you dig around in Google Earth for a little while, you will probably start to think of ways you can you it in your classroom. How can it enhance an old tried-and-true unit? Does it build a bridge between your class and a colleagues for cross curricular lessons? Does it spark an idea for an inquiry-based project?

Here are a few websites that can help get your creative juices flowing with Google Earth. (Or you can just "borrow" ideas from others--that's why they post them!)

  • Twenty-Five Interesting Ways to Use Google Earth in the Classroom is a slide show by Mark Warner that can get you started with some ideas. (Check out Warner's other "Interesting Ways" slide shows.)
  • Google Earth Lessons is a great go-to guide for everything Google Earth for teachers, as it has links to current developments, lessons, and how-to guides. The lessons organized by type, such as teacher-ed and student-led rather than grade level.
  • Google Earth Across the Curriculum does not have a wide array of lessons, but it is a good, basic starting point for teachers wanting to explore how Google Earth can be used outside social studies classrooms.
  • Apple Learning Interchange's goals is to give students leverage with Google Earth in such a way they they call it "A Joystick to Learning." Navigate from the right menu to find enough ideas and links to keep you busy for a few days.
  • Free Technology for Teachers is a resource blog on many uses of technology in the classroom, including Google Earth. This may not be as robust as some of the previous sources, but it is casual site to poke around in.
  • Google Lit Trips is an especially interesting site for language arts teachers. How often do we try to bring a bit of a book's culture into the classroom so students can connect better? This site has some of those resources created already for books ranging from k-12+ levels. It also offers help on how to create some of those resources in your own classroom.
  • And just for my SNWP friends, check out Tom Barrett's journey in using Google Earth as a storytelling tool in his classroom. Scroll to the bottom of the post to link to and read the other entries in the series.
Each of these links can certainly provide hours and hours of study on using Google Earth in your own classroom, but these few resources are just the tip of what's available. Once you start digging around, you'll find there's a lot to learn about our world through Google.

Now go take on the world!

(And when you're finished you can start on Mars, too!)

June 10, 2011

Summers are for Reading

I'm such a nerd. One of the things I am looking forward to this summer is having the time to read. It doesn't take much to bliss me out!

Throughout the house, I have quite a few book I have purchased over the years, but for one reason or another have not gotten around to reading them. Some of the books take a little more concentration than I can spare, so I often read quick, brain candy.

I don't have as much time as I did last summer, when I read 30 books, but I bet I can do half that!

Over at Shelfari, I have my to-read list. Chime in on any you think I should read right away. I might be adding to the list in the next few days because there's a donated box of reads kickin' around her somewhere, too.

June 8, 2011

I'm Sorry I Asked

The final question on the 8th grade final exam is actually an essay where students brainstorm the units or activities they liked and disliked. Afterward, they select one thing that should be changed or aborted next year. It is up to them to persuade me to change or modify the activity or unit. It can be so powerful to get feedback from students, but this is the second year in a row where I wish I hadn't even asked.

I'll think I'll post some of them here in a few days, but I'd say 85% of the reflections were simply whiny. It's too hard. It was boring. Everyone did a bad job on it. It was stupid. It's really too bad that some of my students couldn't be more articulate because my colleagues and I do take the feedback into consideration when we plan for next year. Instead, at this point, I have a poor opinion of my students' poor opinion of me and my class.

Next year, I definitely need to help my students develop their persuasive skills so they don't sound like lazy, bratty teenagers when somebody asked for their critical opinions.

June 5, 2011

The Final Act

Glancing up at the clock, I see that it is exactly 12 hours until my class starts in the morning. In the morning, it will be the last week of school. Finally. My mood is better just thinking about it.

At my school, the last week is rather anti-climatic. We have one full day of classes, and then the next three days are minimum days where students come in and take exams for two classes each day. I still have to show up the day after that to...do whatever until I can take my keys and check out papers to the office.

It is not a week full of field days and fun. Students may not bring backpacks to school, and they are searched at the gates each morning. No stink bombs, Sharpies, and shaving cream for the kiddos! They may bring pencil and paper. Please bring a pencil; you are taking a test today.

After the last class, we escort our students to the quad and herd them outside the gates. Yes the message is very much, "Get the hell outta here!" I mean, uhm, "Go home and enjoy your afternoon while your teachers spend the afternoon grading your exams."

It's always amused me because I hear of other schools who have a week of fun, and my school is all about academics. Plus, we take every measure to avoid shenanigans that will result in the school being trashed the last week of school.

I've often felt sad for my 8th graders. Although in the week prior, we do have an awards ceremony (not everyone is invited, though) and the fancy 8th grade dance, their final moments in middle school are almost hostile.

Last year, the administration decided to hold a short promotion exercise after school on the last day. I think such ceremonies have been frowned upon a bit because there are people who think that 8th grade is as much education as one needs; however, it's a pretty big deal to be leaving middle school and moving onto high school, so why not celebrate?

Representatives from all of our classes formed the promotion committee where students decided on songs, colors, and guest speakers from the student body and faculty. The students walk in front of the stage where their names are called along with their future high schools. I love that part. It's not the end for them; it's the beginning!

That's more like it! A celebration for the students, by the students. That leaves much more lasting memories.