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

Google Earth

Virtual globe shines with breathtaking features, endless possibility

Subjects & skills
Subjects
  • Science
  • Social Studies

Skills
  • Creativity
  • Critical Thinking
Grades This grade range is a recommendation by Common Sense Education and not the developer/publisher.
K–12
Common Sense says (See details)
Teachers say (36 Reviews)

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Pros: The possibilities really are endless, with pre-built content and easy integration into learning activities across the curriculum.

Cons: Differences in photo details and quality by location limit users to what's available for viewing, which is still stellar in most cases.

Bottom Line: Outstanding features, interactivity, and astonishing versatility -- the virtual total package for classroom teachers and student explorers.

Google Earth is versatile enough to apply across the curriculum. What better way to connect learning to the real world than to integrate the actual real world into learning? The built-in tours and lessons in the Voyager section include tours related to travel, nature, culture, sports, history, and more, such as taking a trip to a wildlife reserve in Kenya, investigating indigenous cultural heritage in Canada, or hiking through the national parks of North America. Students can also relive the Votes for Women movement or travel along on the Underground Railroad. Younger students can focus on the alphabet by finding ABCs in satellite imagery. Voyager includes guided tours from scientists, nonprofits, and others, such as BBC Earth and National Geographic. Your class can travel back in time and view places to see how they've changed, see how states have voted in past elections, view historical maps, explore world biomes, dive deep into the ocean, or learn how the physical landscape has dictated urban sprawl.

If those ideas aren't enough, here are a few more: Compare the appearance (in 3D!) of volcanoes or use tools to measure their diameter and altitude. Analyze the architecture of European castles, or just look at where famous monarchs lived. View how Las Vegas has changed since 1950. With Street View, travel the narrowest of waterways in Venice, walk the streets of Disneyland Paris, or hike canyons in the United States. For more advanced lessons, build your own tours around the world with the Tour Builder, create a Timelapse to show the change of Earth features over time, or build your own KML files (tutorials are available on the Google website) for even more customization options. 

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Google Earth is an interactive map of the entire planet and beyond, available on the web when using the Google Chrome browser. Its panoramic views of everything from personal homes to potential military installations are compiled from satellite images, aerial photography, and 3D graphical information systems. Students can tilt and rotate the map, and zoom in wherever they like. They can also see latitude and longitude coordinates and elevation, and can measure distances.

The site's absolutely packed with interactive tools to examine our planet. Kids can view it, measure it, or create and share original content about it. 2D and 3D views switch back and forth between a map feel and an immersive experience. Street View shows ground-level images around towns, and different options show weather, catalog volcanoes, reveal shipwrecks, and more. The Voyager feature highlights points of interest in places around the world and throughout history with gorgeous pre-built tours made by scientists, nonprofits, and other sources. There are also Timelapses that show how the Earth has changed over time. Everywhere you look, cool features exist to explore the planet Earth: Search for specific locations and learn facts from the included Knowledge Cards, explore random destinations, or make maps and tours related to any topic across the curriculum with narration, video, and photos.

For advanced users, KML (Keyhole Markup Language) files -- a special file format used to display geographical data -- can be used to map scientific data, plan field trips, and more. A large number of tutorials are available along with additional help, such as the Google Earth Community forum, but you do have to go digging for it all.

A good virtual tool permits realistic investigation of things you'll probably never see in person, like atoms or your brain. With a mega-palette of features to probe land and sea, Google Earth is, without a doubt, a fantastic virtual tool. It's a fun and educational activity for students to explore on their own, or teachers can create their own maps and assignments for students. Once students and teachers get the hang of how it works, the possibilities are endless.

Students can learn about any place on Earth: the ocean floor, the North Pole, the Sahara desert, and more. They can observe places up close and explore any of the built-in Voyages, including exploring the world's volcanoes, examining current weather radar, going on a deep sea dive, or touring UNESCO World Heritage sites. It's incredible. Students can also bookmark their favorite sites to return to them later. Younger students can just explore -- zooming, rotating, and clicking -- or they can follow lessons already available or built by their teacher. Older students can develop their own tours or a Timelapse with built-in functionality and share their presentations with the class. Given enough time with this tool and some basic direction, students will learn much about our planet's geography, history, and living culture. 

Overall Rating

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

Easy-to-use tools and no restrictions let students really "get their hands on" the planet. Students are free to create and explore endlessly, bound only by curiosity and imagination, and the built-in Voyager tours are quite compelling.

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

There's some built-in content but the experience is open-ended: Kids can boost academic skills in all subject areas. Students gain an appreciation for the environment and cultures, helping them grow into well-rounded adults.

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

For students and teachers to get the most out of Google Earth, they'll need to master its tools, but there's help in the form of tutorials, an online community, and plenty of pre-built content. 


Teacher Reviews

(See all 36 reviews) (36 reviews) Write a review
Featured review by
Brian M. , Classroom teacher
Classroom teacher
Hilton High School
Hilton, United States
Great for maps, lots of possibilities depending on your input time
Depending on the time you are willing to invest, this can make a huge impact on your students' learning. On the surface, this looks like google maps- you can see the map view, satellite view, etc...- upon closer inspection (and data driven work) you can really make maps come alive be overlaying layers to the maps.
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