Review by Leslie Crenna, Common Sense Education | Updated January 2013
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Google Maps

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Cool extras bolster top navigation app

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Teachers say (15 Reviews)
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5-12 This grade range is a recommendation by Common Sense Education and not the developer/publisher.
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Pros: Fully developed maps have navigation capabilities and a few nice extras.

Cons: Wouldn't it be amazing if Google Maps were integrated with Google Earth?

Bottom Line: Google Maps is an essential navigation tool that can empower students to explore their world.

In the classroom, you can get creative in your use of Google Maps. It can enliven basic math problems -- for example, "If a car going 40 miles per hour starts here, at Main Street ..." The local business information could inspire a locally based social studies project, and, of course, field trip expeditions or geography-based scavenger hunts, using links to Wikipedia entries, can be fun. In any case, Google provides a guide for teachers using Google Maps.

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Google Maps is essentially a navigation tool based on Google Earth with some very cool bells and whistles. Along with map layers like traffic, transit lines, Wikipedia, nearby services, and friend location, there's solid navigation for driving, walking, riding the bus, or bicycling. You also get well-highlighted alternate routes, optional text-based directions with voice guidance, street-level views with rotation, a peg man to drag around, and easy zoom controls.

An expandable side menu includes maps, navigation, nearby services, and more. The top menu includes a search box where you can type or say a location. The double-diamond compass rose returns orientation to north; tap My Location in the header to return to your current location. You can also view screenshots offline, and there's extensive Web-based help.

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Certain features may interest high school students at the same time they raise privacy concerns. Check-in allows them to publish their locations, even at intersections -- "westbound," for example. The app mines Google+ info, including profile photos and contacts so they can select groups to check in with, and the default is public. With the Latitude layer selected, they can see all nearby, checked-in contacts.

In Settings, under Labs, they can find a list of experimental new features being tested, including one for blind and low-vision users, one that measures distances and elevation changes, and one that makes text larger.

Like most navigation tools, it sucks power, and you have to exit the app when you exit navigation. The main menu button is not always available, so moving around can get tricky. Still, this is an engaging way for kids to explore their communities.

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Overall Rating

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

Visuals are crisp, detailed, and colorful. Menus and icons are mostly well worded and placed. Helps users easily combine everyday navigation tasks with geography, Wikipedia info, and exploration.

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

Through map searches, destination goals, and free exploration, kids can learn how to navigate their world with confidence and forethought.

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

The Web-linked help is extensive, and the Google in Education website provides additional resources.

Teacher Reviews

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Featured review by
Malati R. , Media specialist/librarian
Media specialist/librarian
Beckley-Stratton Middle School
Beckley, WV
Virtual Road Trip

I think that the current version allows for some catchy classroom integration. This app allows for applications at all levels of the SAMR model. As described above, it would probably be Augmentation. To achieve redefinition, I would modify the current lesson to have students create a shared map and include relevant locations.

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