How I Use It
I have used Google Earth to introduce geography skills and to solidify social studies content with whole class groups. Certain grade levels look forward to "virtual field trips" as an important introductory phase in geography themed units. I have also used it in small group and individual explorations with groups with special needs and with enrichment groups. Students who are unfamiliar with Google Earth becoming familiar with their world presented in this format, being allowed to explore places that are familiar before are able to focus on learning about other places. Students (and teachers) also need explicit instruction on how to operate the layers and useful map features such as the "grid," aka latitude and longitude.
Understanding how to understand and operate Google Earth has become a life-skill. Working with satellite images has probably permanently changed the way people see the world. I feel that time spent discussing what it is and how it works is time well spent although it is time consuming and may be disorienting or confusing for some students. Even elementary students who are already familiar with these images can have striking misapprehensions.