Google Earth: Still in crazy, after all these years

Note: I started writing this post about a month ago and have just now gotten around to publishing it. Since that first month, a lot has changed with the project I did with my 5th-6th graders. I'll explain more about that at the end of the post.

I still appreciate Google Earth! I can't help but use it as my "Go-To" tool when Social Studies teachers talk about embedding technology into their curriculum. I especially love Google Earth for beginning of the year activities, as basic geography skills get dusted off again in the new year (Continents, Lat./Long, features, etc). With so many tools at an educator's disposal these days, it's easy to overlook Google Earth; it happens to be my tool of choice for helping students connect everything geography. Why the rest of my staff hasn't caught "Google Earth Fever" at this point is beyond me.

We've been spending these past weeks with both 5th and 6th grades completing a geography assignment in which each student is creating a thematic tour of placemarks (five to be exact).
Then we get to use those placemarks to identify major geographic concepts (most immediately understanding latitude and longitude). We may even through some math concepts too.

If you haven't worked with Google Earth in the resent past, give it another shot! It may surprise you. There was just a recent version upgrade ( I haven't seen any significant changes for teachers, only some minor bug fixes. According to the Google Earth Blog, "This version is largely dedicated to supporting outdoor athletes and their GPS devices (hikers, bikers, runners, etc), but comes with a few other Goodies as well." Haven't quite figured out what the "other Goodies" are yet, but I'm sure they'll be made apparent over time.
One month after beginning of projects:
So after having worked with my students on this project for the past month, I've determined that saving placemarks in a folder, is by far one of the most tricky endeavors known to man! You would think that putting a man on the moon was more difficult, but that is not the case. Oh, the tears and agony of lowly 5th graders who did not first select the folder they had created and then press, "File" and then "Save Places As!" I even tried to teach them to single-right click on the folder to save instead of using the above mentioned process...but was not to be! They only accomplished to well up in themselves feelings of inadequacy and sheer horror as they opened perfectly normal looking KMZ files, only to notice that it is missing the other three placemarks that were there just moments before. How sad! Our social studies teacher, Mr. Schroeder, has been a saint and a good sport about the whole thing. Rumor has it he sent an email to every parent in the 5th grade apologizing for the misery it was causing at home and vowed, and I quote: "I don't know what we were thinking, I promise to never do this assignment again!"

But in all seriousness, the thing that made this thematic placemarks project so difficult was that it was a multi-step assignment. As there teacher, I did not provide the best resources for reinforcing learning of the skills needed to complete the assignment. Obviously, creating resources for them to follow up with (Like this entire wiki page dedicated to Google Earth) wasn't helpful either.

The beginning of this school year I've chalked up to a major learning experience! I'll need to be sure that I don't do this project first thing in the year next year with these young of students. A little computer maturity can go along way when diving into a four or five step process!

We live and we learn....but it's not Google Earth's fault! It's still the best darn tool out there!

Image by:
Pedro Ferreira Used under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 2.5 Portugal License.