Common Sense Review
Updated May 2013

Google Earth

Virtual globe shines with breathtaking features, endless possibility
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Common Sense Rating 4
  • Turn on layers to investigate earth’s oceans, weather, track and learn about wildlife, locate shipwrecks, and more.
  • Use Street View and 3D Buildings to explore cities like Shanghai, China.
  • Create original tours and share them with other users in interest-based Google Groups
  • An animated tour of the canals of Venice, Italy.
  • Blast off to Mars or the Moon with a few clicks; layers on the Mars maps show landing sites, maps, and photos of the planet.
The possibilities really are endless; it's easily integrated into learning activities across the curriculum.
Differences in photo details and quality by location limits 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 kid explorers.
Michelle Kitt
Common Sense Reviewer
Common Sense Rating 4
Engagement Is the product stimulating, entertaining, and engrossing? Will kids want to return? 5

Easy-to-use tools and no restrictions let kids really “get their hands on” the planet (and beyond). Kids are free to create and explore endlessly, bound only by the limits of curiosity and imagination.

Pedagogy Is learning content seamlessly baked-in, and do kids build conceptual understanding? Is the product adaptable and empowering? Will skills transfer? 4

The experience is completely open-ended. There's opportunity to boost academic skills in all subject areas, and an appreciation for the environment and different cultures helps kids 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? 4

Kids' involvement with Google Earth depends on their mastery of its different tools. Luckily, there are short, step-by-step tutorial videos to support them. There's also an online community for help, discussion, and sharing.

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How Can Teachers Use It?

Google Earth is versatile enough to apply across the curriculum. In fact, an entire series of books about how to do that was recognized by the Association of Educational Publishers. What better way to connect learning to the real world than to integrate the actual real world into learning?

Some ideas: Compare the appearance (in 3D!) of volcanoes, or use tools to measure their diameters and altitudes. Analyze architecture of European castles, or just look at where famous monarchs lived. Turn on the Shipwrecks layer and chart a timeline of shipwrecks in the Bermuda Triangle, or use the Explore the Oceans layer to study marine life in the area. View how Las Vegas has changed since 1950. At Street View, travel the narrowest of waterways in Venice, Italy, walk the streets of Disneyland Paris, or hike canyons in the United States. Create a multimedia timeline of manned missions to the Moon. Starting to see the versatility? Yeah.

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What's It Like?

Google Earth is an interactive map of the entire planet and beyond, packaged inside a program that’s downloaded to your computer. Its panoramic views of everything from personal homes to potential military installations are compiled from satellite images, aerial photography, and 3D graphical information systems.

The program is absolutely packed with interactive tools to examine Earth. Kids can view it, measure it, or create and share original content about it. Street View shows ground-level images around towns, and layers show weather, track animals, reveal shipwrecks, and more. The Tour Guide feature highlights points of interest in places around the world. Many of the same features are available for the moon and Mars, like layers that show place names, terrain, and where Apollo crafts and Mars rovers have landed. They have guided multimedia tours, too. Everywhere you look, cool features exist to explore Earth, the moon, and Mars:

  • If a location has images from previous years available, a simple historical imagery slider lets you see how an area has changed over time.

  • Check out 3D models of buildings, the moon’s surface, and more than 50 species of trees in parks, neighborhoods, and forests all over the world.

  • With tools to create original content, kids can make tours related to any topic across the curriculum with narration, video, and photos.

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Is It Good For Learning?

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, sea, and space, Google Earth is, without a doubt, a fantastic virtual tool. The short tutorial videos are a must-see, and once kids get the hang of how it works, the possibilities are endless.

Kids can learn about any place on Earth: the ocean floor, the North Pole, Paris, France, the Sahara desert, and more. They can observe places up close and turn on dozens of layers to reveal interesting things happening on the planet, like locations of volcanoes, weather patterns, animal tracking, sites for SCUBA diving, or areas where UNICEF is working to improve water quality. Beyond Earth, kids can learn about the surfaces and exploration of the moon and Mars. It's incredible.

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See how teachers are using Google Earth

Lesson Plans