Google Earth

Dazzling globe-trotting tool has endless classroom applications

Learning rating

Community rating

Based on 65 reviews

Privacy rating

Expert evaluation by Common Sense

Grades

K–12

Subjects & Skills

Creativity, Critical Thinking, Social Studies

Price: Free
Platforms: Android, iPad, iPhone, iPod Touch, Mac, Windows, Web

Pros: Amazing detail including satellite data and pre-built tours. Upload maps and take screenshots.

Cons: Could use more audio features to increase accessibility.

Bottom Line: This tool defines engagement and offers a completely open-ended experience perfect for use across the educational spectrum.

One of the great things about the Google Earth platform is that it can be used by a variety of content area teachers, including history, math, science, ELA, PE, and beyond. Teachers can use the built-in learning resources to explore human origins, migration, historical landmarks, distance and measurement, weather and climate patterns, ecology, sports, and more. There's also no end to creative applications teachers could invent, like having students explore areas covered in class novels, addressed in current events, or mentioned in textbooks or other learning materials. Google Earth is so fast and easy to use, it can be used to give students an instant illustration of a particular place.

The website comes with many built-in options like the Voyager mode, classroom activities, and links to other credible resources. Some even include student worksheets, saving teachers lots of time. There are dozens of Google Earth groups on social media if teachers are interested in using the platform but are unsure of how or where to start. 

Some ideas for classroom implementation:

  • Use the Voyager option to access high-quality tours 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 tool 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.

The Google Earth app is a must-see app for any learner. It doesn't require any training to start and has tools built in to help users gain new perspectives on the world. Students can search for specific locations or quickly zip manually across the globe. Students can see cities, the countryside, and famous landmarks in three dimensions. Street View allows students to explore areas from the ground. Turning on the Photos option surfaces user-contributed photos of those locations. Knowledge Cards give plenty of background info 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.

Google Earth supports a range of grade levels and abilities. For instance, elementary students might enjoy the ABCs from Space experience, while secondary students can explore 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.

Perhaps no other geographical tool offers quite as great of a combination of usability, engagement, and rich information as Google Earth does. And for free! Students of all ages can learn across content areas with this app. 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 do in-depth study of any location on Earth. If students seek background information and detail, they can use the search feature or Knowledge Cards. Through these and other features, they'll 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. At the end of their research, students can easily screenshot vivid images for a presentation.

Students and teachers can also go to the top of Bloom's taxonomy and create their own content. Both can upload new images onto the site, and/or make their own maps. To help, there are three online courses, available to everyone, that teach geocoding and mapping technologies as well as geography of the world and our cosmos.

One big caveat, however, is that this app doesn't provide teachers will data on student usage or a dashboard. However, if teachers are willing to create their own assessments, Google Earth provides all of the other necessary tools for students to be successful.

Learning Rating

Overall Rating
Engagement

Stunning visuals, instantly interesting, and layered with tons of data. Students can explore their neighborhood, a favorite vacation spot, or a place they studied in history class.

Pedagogy

Pre-built tours offer a window into history. Opens up the planet to exploration and discovery. Teachers can add their own lesson-based maps.

Support

A quick tutorial gets students oriented. Deeper help is available through the menu. Plenty of premade content through the Voyager option.

Common Sense reviewer

Community Rating

Relevant digital map exploration

Google Earth provides a number of learning ("exploration") units that provide context and relevance to different map features. This is an amazing feature. It also allows for interdisciplinary lesson planning. For example, there is a great feature that takes students on a visual tour of medieval castles which is accompanied by an explanation of how math factors into defense planning. Finally, and perhaps of most interest to teachers, there is a project tool that allows students to mark and label the map. Teachers could find many useful applications for this to facilitate student collaboration, communication, creativity, and critical thinking. For example, you could have students identify locations on the map where civilizations first emerged and then compare and contrast their geological features in preparation for a group presentation or classroom discussion.

There is a written tutorial, which is helpful. However, to Google Earth's credit, it is also an incredibly intuitive tool as well. It would be very easy for a teacher to explain how it works and then turn their class loose on an activity.

As far as relevance, this is great. Although I have a love for physical, foldout maps, they are archaic. As somebody who used maps extensively in my previous work prior to becoming a teacher, the feature of Google Earth are very similar to the features a student would likely use in the real world if geography factored into their work.

All of that said, this tool isn't going to do the heavy lifting in regard to pedagogy. Geographical content and technology is here in abundance, but a teacher is going to have to generate a plan for how to integrate this into their lesson (barring the "exploration" activities mentioned above, which are more fleshed out). So, if you want this to facilitate critical thinking, you're going to have to come up with the questions (or previously taught the students how to generate relevant questions on their own).

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Privacy Rating

Data Safety How safe is this product?

  • Users can interact with trusted users.
  • Users can interact with untrusted users, including strangers and/or adults.
  • Profile information must be shared for social interactions.

Data Rights What rights do I have to the data?

  • Users can create or upload content.
  • Users retain ownership of their data.
  • Processes to access or review user data are available.

Ads & Tracking Are there advertisements or tracking?

  • Personal information is shared for third-party marketing.
  • Traditional or contextual advertisements are displayed.
  • Personalised advertising is displayed.

Continue reading about this tool's privacy practices, including data collection, sharing, and security.

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