Linda, over at the 7MSN Ranch (stands for seven miles south of nowhere), has a great post today about the wonders of Google Earth. She talks about the amazing way Google Earth lets you fly all around the world and swoop down for close up images of almost any place. I've noticed that more and more people are downloading their photos there so that you can feel as though you are driving or walking right through the neighborhood you are exploring.
All of this reminded me of the first time I introduced Google Earth to the kids in my school library. For once, I was ahead of them in technology, thanks to our visionary Technology Director! I was lucky enough to have a big touch screen (an interactive whiteboard called a Smart Board) that was hooked up to the computer so that I could control the computer applications with a finger's touch on the board. No matter what I did with that Smart Board, they were my audience, always watching to see what magic would happen next. Everything I ever taught them using that equipment was hardwired into their brains and they could discuss it all with me months later. It was a great teaching tool.
One week I was beginning a new read-aloud with the fourth grade classes. The book was called Hachiko Waits by Leslea Newman. It is about a loyal Japanese dog who waited daily at the train station for his dead master to return. How we loved that book! We branched out to talk about loyalty, friendship, World War II, Japan's history and its language and alphabet... there was no end of discussion and learning once we got into that book.
You've probably heard that American students are notoriously weak in their knowledge of geography and maps. Before I introduced Hachiko, I decided to "fly" the class to Shibuya, Japan, where the events in the story take place. When they arrived at the library, they all sat down in their regular seats to write in their reading logs. I announced that we were going on a big field trip without leaving the library, which intrigued them, of course. Then, turning out the lights and telling them to fasten their seat belts, I started manipulating the board and the Google Earth application.
They leaned forward in their seats as a bird's eye view of the main street of our own little Fremont, New Hampshire appeared on the screen. There was our school! Suddenly, our "plane" took off and up with breathtaking speed, flew over the ocean and around the world, then plummeted down to Japan, quickly zeroing in on Shibuya. They were stunned, they were excited, they were turned on by learning, and they never forgot the geography lesson. This was one class that would always be able to locate Japan on a map!