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Zoom in on it

Last year we looked at TeacherTube and some other teacher tools available on the web. Before we leave this topic, however, I want to introduce you to my favourite “waste of time” … Google Earth.

Google Earth (http://earth.google.com) is a virtual globe program that maps the earth by superimposing satellite imagery and aerial photographs on a 3D globe via the internet. You can visit anywhere on the planet and zoom right down to the level of individual houses.

Suddenly those futuristic scenes in movies where CIA authorities in Washington can track action on the ground in Syria are not so difficult to believe. Google Earth delivers a “non-live” version of this to your personal computer.

I’m a geography and history teacher and I fell in love with this programme as soon as it was released in 2006. I have spent hours revisiting every place I have trod on the planet.

You think you know your school well, every nook and cranny? Well, you will be surprised at what you school looks like from the air. You will discover a whole new perspective.

After wasting hours poring over aerial photos, it dawned on me that this might be a great tool for teaching.

It’s an obvious blessing for geography teachers. If you are teaching scale, land-use zones, area and so on, this is an ideal way to ensure your class is actively engaged in the process. Google Earth can provide a view of the actual community rather than a topographical map of some place the learners have never heard of. There are tools built into the program to map coordinates and direction.

History teachers can incorporate Google Earth into lessons to show where events in the past happened. Take a tour of Cape Town’s Castle or visit Red Square in Moscow.

Versailles near Paris in France is spectacular and looks great from above. Sadly, the Great Zimbabwe ruins are available only as a low resolution photograph.

Do you teach maths literacy and want the learners to work out distance and area? Use the measuring tool in the programme. For example, ask learners to plot a new cross-country course around the school that has to be at least 2km long.

Visual arts? What is interesting is that the Google Earth community has been encouraged to illustrate the aerial images with “ground” photographs.

Start a photographic competition that accurately documents the lives of those living in the community. Learners can use their cellphone cameras and upload the best pictures.

There is a toggle switch that provides Google Earth users access to these ground perspective pictures. If your class is advanced, get them to create 3D models that can be superimposed over the aerial pictures to illustrate distinctive buildings or landmarks.

Andrew Moore is a former teacher. He has an MEd degree in computer-assisted education. He works for Neil Butcher and Associates, an ­education technology consulting company.

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