Storybook Settings: Google Earth in Language Arts

from Educators' eZine

I am often surprised how little geography my middle school students know, especially when we are reading stories together. Stories take place in many locales, and when students don't know the geography of a story it hinders the meaning. The setting of a story is very important to reading context and ultimately reading comprehension. Before Google Earth I would have to pull out the handy dandy globe or pull down the maps rolled up over my board and we'd map out our stories together. Now with the help of Google Earth I just click and fly.

Google Earth lets my students and me explore various settings in a fun, engaging way like no two-dimensional map or plastic globe can. With that, here are the basics when using Google Earth in language arts and reading classes:

Getting Google Earth Started at School: First take the virtual product tour at "See Google Earth in Action", an introductory site that shows how to perform all of the amazing features of Google Earth, including the ability to: 'fly' to an address, zoom, tilt, and rotate the image, create driving maps, email images, produce 3D buildings and terrain, and measure distances. Along the way you can click on the right and it will take you to The Top 10 sites, from the Grand Canyon to the wonderfully magic-but-slowly-sinking city of Venice, Italy. After you've jetted around the globe for a while, click on the upper right-hand corner of the page where it says "Get Google Earth Free Version". Note: the images are not in real time, but date back within a 3 year time frame, with city satellite images being updated more readily than rural areas.

The page offers the PC, Mac, and Linux configurations. However, please note that school desktop computers older than 4 years old may not be able to run it and notebook computers older than 2 years old may not be able to run it.

Next, before you hit the download button, click and check the 'send me The Sightseer' - Google Earth's Monthly Highlights, Tips, and Update News. Next click download and go sightseeing. Note: some school computers may say "access denied" when you try to install it. If so, you will have to see the tech person at your school to get the administrative code, or install the program on your behalf. If your school district won't allow teachers to install it at all on school computers, you may have to bring in your own laptop if you have one. If you've got a projector at school then you can project Google Earth so that the whole class can see the images.

Lesson Plan: Take your students on a virtual tour of the setting of their book. First, like any field trip start with your school. Type in your school's address and watch your students' eyes light up as they see their school via satellite. Now you are ready to go around the world with each of the characters. Additionally, you can see where the settings of various authors' plays are located. For example, Google Earth already has 89 place-marks showing almost all the places quoted in Shakespearean plays.

I had my middle school students travel to each storybook setting and asked them to find things at each setting as described by each author, similar to a scavenger hunt. Next, I asked them to compare and contrast (eg Venn Diagram) the satellite images with that of the storybook setting. Comparing and contrasting historical fiction is especially interesting.

3D Sketching the Storybook Setting: Using Sketch-up, extend the lesson by having students sketch up the Google Earth images to make them similar to the story settings. Students will click from window to window as they model their storybook setting.

Google Earth Snapshots & Storytelling: Moreover, you can further extend your students' projects by taking Google Earth Snapshots. These can be imported into a PowerPoint presentation or into digital stories. I must admit I've become a little bored with PowerPoint as a medium and much prefer digital storytelling in the classroom. On the other hand, not all students may know how to use PowerPoint. Therefore, having your students do a PowerPoint book report can help students learn the medium, which will be an important skill to have, especially prior to high school. Furthermore, you can turn your travels of storybook settings into a digital storytelling book report. This is a really fun activity.

Both Snag It and Camtasia are tools that can help you screen capture edit and share images. I really like Camtasia because you can easily record your screen movements, which is great for presentations. Both programs are available for a free 30-day trial at the Download Center. Once you've video captured the images you can import them into iPhoto or iMovie, if you have a Mac at school. You can even have your students use GarageBand to add sound effects and music to their story travels.

Google Earth Community: For additional resources check out the Google Earth Community, which contains loads of information. One caveat: it is not well organized for busy students and teachers. It offers Google search, which may help you narrow your search if you type in the correct keyword. However, a hint to Google; it would be wonderfully helpful if you categorized various post by subject areas such as science, mathematics, language arts and reading etc.

Overall, Google Earth can help your students to learn geography and add new perspectives to storybook settings. Who would have thought that satellites can help stories come alive?

First published in The Educational Technology: ICT in Education website

Email:Mechelle De Craene