Geo Tools Connect Students with the World

Visit Santa’s workshop in Rovaniemi, Finland by viewing
this 360-degree image from
If you could go anywhere in the world, where would it be? A trip to the pristine beaches of Hawaii sounds nice. The view of Machu Picchu from the top of Huayna Picchu mountain is breathtaking. Perhaps you long to revisit the place where you grew up. As a child, I wanted to visit the North Pole. I yearned to watch Santa’s elves build toys and reindeer pull sleighs around the workshop. You may think these places are unrealistic destinations for you and your students. Think again. With online geography (geo) tools, students can explore the most extreme points of Earth and everything in between, including Santa’s workshop.

The American Association of School Librarians (AASL) Standards Framework for Learners encourages students to display curiosity and initiative by formulating questions about a personal interest or a curricular topic. Geographic awareness gives students the opportunity to explore subject matter at a deeper level. Luckily, there are open-sourced programs for enhancing geography education. Take Google for instance. The technology company offers a plethora of free geo-tools for engaging students in the process of asking questions that derive from curiosities and observations.

Google Earth Makes the World Your Oyster

Google Earth enables users to explore the globe with a swipe of a finger. Fly through cities like London, Tokyo, and Rome. Google Earth is a free mobile application and web program for all sorts of information on Earth. It uses satellite imagery to grab, spin, pan, tilt and zoom down to any place on Earth. These features spark students’ curiosities about the world—its geographic features and inhabitants. Students can use Google Earth to develop an understanding and appreciation for geography, history, and current events. By understanding Earth’s terrain, cities, monuments, and landmarks, students will make connections between our planet and its citizens.

Go Beyond Longitude and Latitude Coordinates

With Google Earth students can easily search and view specific locations in two and three dimensions. But there's so much more. For instance, randomly fly to over 20,000 different locations using Google Earth’s I’m Feeling Lucky tool. Once at the location, students can conduct research by reading the informational card or performing keyword searches using online databases.

Students may find themselves at Buckingham Palace in London. While there, students can use Google Earth’s Measurement tool to measure the distance in feet between the palace and Westminster Cathedral. Next, students can calculate the perimeter of Buckingham Palace’s grandiose walls by dragging the cursor to each corner. Google Earth’s Pegman lets students enter a panoramic view of the palace’s gate. There are countless possibilities when students explore the world using Google Earth. This revolutionary geo tool takes students’ learning beyond the traditional 2D map.

Google Earth Menu Bar and and Navigation Controls 
Take a Walk in Someone Else’s Shoes with Google Street View

The 360-degree panoramic images in Google Earth are made possible by Google’s Street View feature. Google Street View is a mobile app and website where you can view panoramic images from a multitude of locations on Earth. With Google Street View, students can explore world landmarks, discover natural wonders, and step inside museums, arenas, and parks.

It is not only the Google Car anymore that is going around the world taking 360-degree images. Ordinary citizens are publishing panoramas to Street View as well. You can take 360-degree images from your phone’s camera inside the Street View app or with a 360 spherical camera like the Ricoh Theta. Google Treks fastens street view cameras onto the backpacks of hiking enthusiasts. The Treks initiative lets students go “off road” by viewing panoramas from mountain tops, plunging cliffs, tropical coastlines, and exotic wildernesses.

Embark on a Google Voyage

Google Voyager is another wonderful tool for connecting students with the world. Voyager brings visualization and geospatial storytelling to the forefront in Google Earth. Voyages range from the migration of red crabs to global sports venues where extraordinary individuals achieved incredible feats. Each “stop” on a voyage gives students a 3D or 360-degree street view of the location, informational text, and an image or video. By the end of the voyage, students will have traveled hundreds or thousands of miles and viewed the world from a totally new perspective.

Create Your Own World Tour

With geo-tools, students do not solely consume content; they can create it. Google Tour Builder is a web-based storytelling tool which enables users to create stories about places around the world. According to the AASL Framework for Learners, students are expected to make meaning for oneself and others by collecting, organizing, and sharing resources of personal relevance. Tour Builder lets students share resources by uploading personal or public domain images or videos alongside each destination of the tour. Easily share students’ tours by copying the URL to social media and the library’s website.

With geo-tools students can experience new destinations without ever boarding a plane or sitting on a bus. The journey is what will resonates the most with students. During the journey students ask question, record observations, measure distances, conduct research, and experience Earth for what may seem, first-hand. American author Henry Miller once said, “One's destination is never a place but rather a new way of looking at things.” Through the use of geo-tools, students will develop an appreciation for the environment and all its inhabitants who make Earth a planet rich in diversity.

Try these geo games!
  • GeoGuessr: guess your location using visible clues from 360-degree images.
  • Smarty Pins: a Google Maps based geography and trivia game.
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