Providing Opportunities and Inspiration Through Google Earth
I was very surprised with Fulbright accepted me for Teachers for Global Classrooms Fellowship. I was surprised because I have limited international travel experience and my brain does not seem hardwired to acquire a second language. International travel was not part of my financial reality growing up. I didn't ask to go to the high school trip to Spain, France or Germany because paying for college was my priority. As most first generation college students, I did not inquire about international study opportunities because I just assumed it would be out of my price range. Acquiring an undergraduate degree was the golden ticket to new employment opportunities and new places. I had wonderful teachers growing up but my goals and comfort zone might have shifted if they had exposed me to global competencies and I had access to the wealth of digital learning tools we have today. Digital Learning Tools such as Google Earth can close the distance between a 2-bedroom apartment in New York City and cultures outside of the Eastern Standard Time Zone.
Google Earth is a mapping tool with a variety of uses within the classroom. Google Earth can be used to take virtual trips, tell stories and explore math, geography and science concepts. My students have described the 3-Dimensional effects as if they were sitting on a transporter or a really fast airplane. Google Earth has many features and initially it can be an overwhelming tool to use. Prior to the pandemic, I had mainly used Google Earth to show relationships between places on the globe. However, the cancelation of the our senior trip inspired some creativity from our 5th Grade Team.
One of my colleagues found a Google Earth Story called "Discover Hawaii'" It had preset map pins on specific tourist sites within the Hawaiian Islands and included 360' photographs. We decided to use this story to host a virtual trip to Hawaii for each individual class. As I was exploring Google Earth, I noticed a feature called, "Voyager." This was a collection of explorations supported with videos and outside links. There wasn't a voyage for Hawaii but I wanted our class trip to Hawaii to feel just as immersive as a Google Voyage so I decided to use "Discover Hawaii'" to create my own voyage. I created the above set of slides using the map pins from "Discover Hawaii'". I incorporated music and sound effects simulating the entire experience of taking a trip to Hawaii from the eastern seaboard of the United States. For each pin on the Google Earth Map, I incorporated photographs and youtube videos. The students really used their imaginations. They took me seriously when I asked them to dress for our trip and some of them even took out towels and pillows for when we were "sitting" on Waikiki beach. They pretended to get too close to the edge of a volcano at Hawai'i Volcanoes National Park! They danced between our stops on our tour bus and talked about how cool the waters of Waimea Valley felt. Later on, one of the girls in my class told me, "Ms Mesk, I've never been on an airplane but the pictures and sounds made me feel like I was." Another student asked, "Can we do more in Hawaii? Can we go back another day?" I couldn't say no to this and added a second day onto the slide show.
I have since learned that Google Earth has a beta app called Tour Builder that helps teachers build their own Google Earth Voyages. I have not had the opportunity to explore this app yet. However, the benefit of building our trip to Hawaii on Google Slides meant that I could share the slides on our Google Classroom and the students could go back on their own to revisit Hawaii with their parents and siblings. The slides are very easy for students to manipulate. Most of my students do not have backyards and the playgrounds in NYC were closed for almost 3 months. This virtual trip was an opportunity for my students to learn more about a place they had never been but also to escape the pandemic for just a little while.
In the future, I would like to explore Tour Builder. I would also like to pair this experience with the virtual exchanges we participate in with Reach the World. I also think that it would be great to flip this and have students create virtual tours of New York City to share with other students in places around the world. I have also been brainstorming ways to use Google Earth when learning about historical events. I think that this digital learning tool has a lot of potential for globally minded teachers and students.