Review by Jenny Bristol, Common Sense Education | Updated August 2018
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Google Earth

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Cool geographical exploration tool has endless classroom applications

Subjects & skills
  • Science
  • Social Studies

  • Creativity
  • Critical Thinking
Grades This grade range is based on learning appropriateness and doesn't take into account privacy. It's determined by Common Sense Education, not the product's publisher.
Common Sense says (See details)
Teachers say (58 Reviews)

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Pros: You get amazing detail, current satellite data, pre-built tours, and the ability to upload maps and take screenshots.

Cons: The ability to see multiple layers at once has been removed, and enthusiastic users may run out of Voyager options to explore.

Bottom Line: Google Earth is an engaging and completely open-ended app perfect for use across the educational spectrum.

Teachers can use Google Earth as a supplement to all kinds of lessons, bringing the geography and topography of different locations to life. Students can perform searches, zoom around the Earth, study layers of weather, and study eye-level photos. It's a highly engaging and interactive way to juice up lessons, and the Google Earth Community online (accessible via one's browser) has a plethora of user groups, teaching ideas, and classroom learning resources. Some specific classroom ideas:

  • Use the Voyager option, which is built into the app, to access high-quality educational material tied to locations around the globe and across time. This material covers travel, nature, culture, sports, history, education, science, and more.
  • Use the Feeling Lucky option to visit a random destination, and create a lesson plan around that location.
  • Use the measuring capabilities to have your students plan trips, compare distances, and calculate the height of mountains.
  • Use Street View to walk down the street in a foreign city, retracing the footsteps of a historical figure.
  • Search for the location that your class is covering in a lesson, and view photos from that area.
  • Upload your own map files to customize a lesson of your own.
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The Google Earth app is a must-see for any citizen of the modern age. Students can search for specific locations, or quickly manually maneuver across the globe, zooming in to show detail to the level of parked cars and even pedestrians. Many areas of the world are available to view in 3D, allowing students to see cities, the countryside, and famous landmarks in three dimensions. Street View allows students to get a view as if they're standing on the street, and turning on the Photos option allows access to user-contributed photos of those locations. Knowledge Cards give plenty of background information for locations as well as additional photos. The high-quality Voyager option has plenty of pre-built tours of historic locations, cultures around the world, geographic wonders, ecosystems, and even topics such as Myths and Legends. These tours can be starting points for classroom units or shorter lessons on their own.

Google Earth has up-to-date satellite imagery showing global temperatures, wind speed, precipitation, and more. The app also has a convenient option for taking a quick "postcard" snapshot, allowing students to save the image or send it to a friend. Distances between locations can be measured with the built-in distance tool. Users can save locations to their own My Places list, as well as import their own map files.

Searches and Feeling Lucky selections fly students across the globe using time-delayed satellite images of Earth and overlaid icons that provide facts and services. Students also can take screenshots of Google Earth views that show data sources at the bottom, which they can then share with the class. The initial tutorial orients students on how to use the app, but more in-depth help is accessible in the menu. Regular users of the Google Earth PC version will recognize the same content and similar functionality. Image quality is occasionally poor, but only when looking at areas without detailed satellite data.

Casual users will enjoy browsing the globe and reading through the Knowledge Cards, as well as running through all of the Voyager stories and tours. More serious users, as well as students who have in-depth assignments, can study any location on Earth in a great amount of depth. They can learn about current global weather patterns, physical and political geography, geology, ecosystems, cultures, architecture, and transportation networks. They can follow along in the steps of Marco Polo's journey to Asia, see where the early Vikings explored, learn about Oktoberfest, see the art of Frida Kahlo, or see all of the volcanic eruptions for the past 10,000 years. And since teachers can create their own maps and add them to the app, Google Earth can be worked in to lessons for virtually any topic. Students can also learn how to make their own maps.

Overall Rating

Engagement Is the product stimulating, entertaining, and engrossing? Will kids want to return?

Visuals are stunning, controls are simple, and the easy access to raw data is unprecedented. Students can dive right in to explore their neighborhood, where they took their last vacation, or that place they studied in history class.

Pedagogy Is learning content seamlessly baked-in, and do kids build conceptual understanding? Is the product adaptable and empowering? Will skills transfer?

Google Earth provides pre-built tours around the world and through history, and students can explore literally anywhere on the planet as easily as they can explore their city. Teachers can also add their own lesson-based maps.

Support Does the product take into account learners of varying abilities, skill levels, and learning styles? Does it address both struggling and advanced students?

A quick tutorial gets students oriented, but deeper help is available through the menu. The app includes plenty of pre-made content through the Voyager option.

Teacher Reviews

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Featured review by
Elma S. , Classroom teacher
Classroom teacher
BRIARWOOD, United States
Two-pronged use: location and research
As a teaching tool, it allows the student to visualize locations, gather data, and see possible correlations among the data gathered. Hence, it caters to students with various learning styles and is useful for student-centered research projects. There is plenty of help that can be accessed through the Net (there is an official Maps Help center), and what one needs to do is go to the link:
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