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FMS students let their minds wander with a purpose

Empowering geo-literacy with Google Earth and National Geographic

Oct. 23, 2017In early 2017, Farnsworth Middle School applied for, and was chosen as one of four schools in the world to pilot new technology created collaboratively between Google Earth and The National Geographic Society (Nat Geo). Students work on computers

The Google Earth Education Program empowers students to think about the world beyond their classrooms through resources designed to supplement the new web-based version of Google Earth. By using a range of geographical concepts such as geospatial thinking and storytelling, students are challenged to become more geographically informed using factual knowledge, mental maps and tools, and innovative ways of thinking.

In March 2017, the Google Earth Outreach Team and Nat Geo Team visited FMS to video teachers Keir Aspin, Lisa McClure and Jamie Mullins working with the new programs with students. As “trusted testers,” this team of teachers and their students received early access to the platforms and were among the first to try the programs in-class, in real time.

As of June 2017, the Google Earth Education Program has officially launched and this year, FMS students have been exploring the new technology, in every sense of the word.

Kier Aspin’s eighth-grade social studies classroom has a striking mix of old and new – his classroom houses the building’s oldest globe, estimated to be around 50 years old, and this latest Google Earth technology.

The oldest globe in FMS“Think of this assignment as the new, virtual ‘spin the globe!’” said Aspin, while instructing students to use the “I’m Feeling Lucky” feature. Remember spinning a globe to see where it would land? This is Google’s 21st century version. Represented by a dice icon on the computer screen, students flick their mice to make the virtual globes spin and land on an unknown destination.

The “I’m Feeling Lucky” feature allows students to randomly land on any given location around the world. Once they “land,” students can explore each place using Google Earth’s data and maps, including the street view feature.

In this particular exercise, Aspin asked students to decide on the three most important pieces of information from their landing place. From there, students develop detailed geographic descriptions that can include anything from the topography of the landscape, to other cultural attributes like political boundaries or points of interest.

Other features within the Google Earth Education Program allow students to compare map projections to identify what makes a great location for a school or farm, for example. They can then discuss what criteria are most important for each. Students can also use Google’s geographic information system (GIS) tools to observe and discuss geographic patterns, like earthquake occurrences of a specific location.

Another key feature in the program includes the integration of storytelling with the “Voyager” stories. Voyager is a collection of map-based stories written by Google Earth partners like Nat Geo and The BBC. Voyager leads students on guided, interactive tours of explorations happening around the world. Students have checked out "Helping People and Animals Coexist” – a behind the scenes look at the conservation work Nat Geo Explorer Dr. Krithi Karanth is doing to help the Indian population coexist with neighboring wildlife. Stories are added weekly, so there’s also timely explorations, like the latest, in the spirit of Halloween, which explores the places connected to Bram Stoker’s Dracula in Transylvania.

“These programs put the world into the hands of our students, and give them the ability to explore the Earth and interact with it on a scale
we’ve never been able to before,” said Aspin.


(Below): Check out the short video on how Nat Geo and Google Earth's new resources are inspiring students and educators in the classroom. Watch closely, you may see some familiar faces: