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Review by Kristina Duncan, Common Sense Education | Updated July 2014

Google Treks

Cool tool uses maps to create fun projects, could use some updating

Subjects & skills
  • Science
  • Social Studies

  • Creativity
  • Critical Thinking
Grades This grade range is based on learning appropriateness and doesn't take into account privacy. It's determined by Common Sense Education, not the product's publisher.
Great for:
Common Sense says (See details)
Teachers say (1 Review)

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Pros: Gives teachers and kids a free and easy-to-use way to collect multimedia Web resources for a project or an entire unit.

Cons: Treks are of varying quality and lack a consistent set of features; the tutorial seems out of date.

Bottom Line: The site offers a good variety of subjects and grade levels, but project quality across the site could use more consistency.

Teachers can use one of the Treks already published on the site, or create their own on any topic and tailor it to their curriculum. The format is flexible, so you can include as much information, or as many supporting Web resources, as you wish. Really, the possibilities are nearly limitless, but it will take effort to mold the Trek into something more meaningful than just a list of data and websites. 

A better use of the site may be to have kids create their own Google Treks. A student-created Trek would be a great jigsaw or end-of-unit project. Kids would be more engaged in creating their own Treks than in merely completing one designed by their teacher. The site provides a rubric teachers or students can use as a guide to creating a Trek, but teachers might also want to specify what they want kids to include; some parts of the rubric aren't very specific. Teachers might also want to review with kids how to identify quality resources on the Web.

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Editor's Note: Google Treks is no longer available.

Google Treks isn't affiliated with Google; it's a strategy that makes use of Google Maps' ability to incorporate different resources in one place: text, pictures, videos, and Web links. Using the My Custom Maps tool in Google Maps, teachers (or kids) can plot points on the map, type in descriptions, and add pictures, videos, or links to enrich the map. The typical Google Trek may include a variety of features: topic intro and background, content standards, objectives, teacher info, lesson plan, embedded Web tools and links, article links, essential vocabulary, pictures/videos, and question prompts/assessments. Anyone can make a Trek and submit it to to be reviewed and published -- all that’s required is a Gmail account.

As a teaching tool, Google Treks is an interesting way to use a common Web tool. Many features are great for learning, like the ability to embed pictures and video in the text, which is great for visual learners and ELL kids. Many Treks link to interactive websites to help kids learn content, or to other sites like online writing apps and bubble maps to help kids organize their thoughts and answer questions. While there’s a lot of potential for this tool in inquiry- or project-based curricula, many of the currently published Treks seem fairly old-school in design. Most list a few info points for kids to go through, offer videos or websites to check out, and some questions to answer.

In short, many of the posted Treks are teacher-driven, leaving less room for kids to individualize their experiences. Also, the quality of the published Treks is inconsistent, with some offering more resources than others. From the details, lesson plans, and links to standards to the essential questions that drive instruction, not every Trek is structured the same. It would improve the experience if all projects had a basic format, so users could better know what to expect.

Overall Rating

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

Most Treks consist of a list of info, images, and links gathered on the map. Kids may like the format more than a textbook and -- depending on the resources used -- may engage more with the content.

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

Treks can be created on any topic in any detail desired, with potential for linking to any Web resources. But unless kids create their own Treks, there's little opportunity to explore topics independently.

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

A rubric for teachers/kids is provided, but it could be more specific. There's also a tutorial on how to make a Trek, but it's not up to date, and users may spend a lot of time searching Google Maps Help to complete their Treks.

Common Sense Reviewer
Kristina Duncan Classroom teacher

Teacher Reviews

Featured review by
Kim R. , Other
Arizona State University, E+I
Scottsdale, United States
Great teaching tool, but even better project for students! (PBL)
I believe this is a great tool. As with any pre-made material you find online, the existing treks will vary in quality and usability. ...
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