First New Google Earth Learning Experience

So here they are…the first students in the world to explore the new Google Earth in the classroom.

Earlier this year several Round Rock ISD Westwood High School’s 9th grade geography classes had the opportunity to be the first students  to explore the world using a new technology.  Below are some thoughts on this early journey integrating the new Google Earth in the classroom.

If I could sum up my initial thoughts on the new Google Earth it would be something like Cool, but limited! If you have that feeling now hold on this story gets better. The cool factors that most impressed me were features like the “I’m feeling lucky” icon, where students can go and learn about random places on the Earth, don’t forget to click on the info card; the voyager stories which are about awesome!!!! , especially the Austin/Central Texas bat stories (However, my favorite is “This is home” under culture tab ); and the fact that it could all work on a Chromebook.  The limited part mostly stems from the lack of creation tools and, oddly enough, that it can all work on a Chromebook (being browser based is a net gain, but has some cost…explained later).

Through weeks of exploration I oscillated from Cool, but limited!.. to Cool with potential!.. to potentially  Cool!..  and, after creating my first lesson and observing student engagement, ended up somewhere between awsome and awesome.

Yes, there are definitely areas of growth that hopefully Google will work through, but the foundational technology is here. First, the New Google Earth uses kml; a simple markup language that is easy to read/ write and the language Google Earth desktop uses in its creation tools (see previous post). Many current kml files created in Google Earth desktop will import into the new Google Earth.  However, being browser based, creators should be mindful of file size and the internet’s same origin policy issues (Read more here). There are safe ways around both of these barriers, but that will be for future posts. Those issues aside, another cool foundational feature is the new Google Earth’s integration with Google Drive. To me, this means that sharing Google Earth files (spatial data) is baked into the technology.  Imagine a world where you can share Google Earth creations as easily as Google docs, sheets, slides, etc. Hence the net gain for being browser based.

This foundation that Google created gives students the opportunity to go and learn about places in the world, create meaningful stories and data sets, and share their knowledge/creations with others.  And that is what these first explorers did in their first lessons.  Students created kml files via My Maps and exported/imported them into the new Google Earth. Their teacher created a couple of Google Earth (kml) files that added to their exploration. Then the students applied their spatial observations with high quality content.  (More lesson details in future post)

In other words, the “spirit of the old Earth” is in the new Google Earth. Students, and adults, now have a web based platform to go,learn,create, and share. The new Google Earth is an easy tool to navigate, but with a seemingly endless amount of data; from satellite images, to information cards, to every student’s favorite…Street View, to incredible story tours in the voyager collects.  These data sets alone can hold a student’s attention for hours, all a teacher has to do is provide a little direction, or not, learning is going to happen no matter what. While not seamless, students can create knowledge with kml files via My Maps, Google’s Tour Builder, or good old Google Earth. Lastly, students can share their kml files using Google Drive or even share their view of the Earth using the share icon built into the New Google Earth. If version one of the new Google Earth can accomplish this much, imagine what is to come in versions 2,3,4,5….

Happy exploring!

Special thanks to Westwood High School, Round Rock ISD, the parents of these students, and especially the students for making this unforgettable moment possible. You all bring the world class to this community!

Addition thanks to @earthoutreach for your ongoing support of students and educators.


If you are looking to experiment, feel free to use this tour site created for my students. Be warned…this was slapped together in a short time, so what could go wrong:)?

How to video


Some of my favorite features of are the simple controls users have for each map’s canvas. These simple controls are located in a drop down menu accessed by clicking the Map Canvas carrot. Toggles switches in this menu allow users to take greater control of each canvas. The images below explore each of the options in this menu set.

How to access Map Canvas Options Video


 Map Controls – Hides Google Maps Buttons (Map Canvas 1 off / Map Canvas 2 on)

 Synchronize Maps – Maps are independent in movement North, South, East West (Zoom is still synced until turned off)


 Synchronize Zoom – Map canvas zoom is independent for users to look at the same place a different scales


 Boundary Layer – Turns off administrative boundaries (Map Canvas 1 off / Map Canvas 2 on)


 Labels/Icons – Turns off all labels and icons (Two images at different scale showing use cases)



Map Canvas 1 – Boundary Off | Map Canvas 2 – Labels/Icons Off

Map Canvas 1 – Labels/Icons Off | Map Canvas 2 – Labels/Icons On

 Road Layer – Toggles On/Off roads Layer (Map Canvas 1 off / Map Canvas 2 on)


 Legend – Toggles Legend when map is chosen (Important for smaller screens)


 Drawing Tools – Hides drawing tools located on the bottom right of each canvas (Often used in conjunction with Map Controls to hide all maps tool except “Search”)


Use the “Refresh Icon” to the right of “Drawing Tools” to clear all points, lines, and polygons

 Elevation Tools – Turn on “Elevation Tools” and click two points on map to get elevation chart



On Wednesday, January 11, 2017 Google is finally shutting down the Google Earth API. (please note – This is the web version of Google Earth; Google Earth on a PC will still work) The shutdown is over two years in the making (Google’s 2014 Deprecation Announcement).’s first several versions where based off this API. (History of here) As stated many times before, Google Maps API has been a net gain for; mainly because Google has engineers working on the service. However, there are a couple of features I will miss from the Earth API. Video Tutorial (Last Google Earth API version) – Published January 14, 2014

What I will first miss most with the plugin is historic imagery. This is where could show the same place at two different times. This was great for looking at natural disasters. (See Videos Below)

Moore, OK Tornado – Published June 11, 2013

Historical Imagery-Warsaw – Published August 4, 2012

Second, and similar to the first, most missed feature will be the historic time slider that allowed students and I to create interesting change over time kml files. (See Videos Below)

Comparing Volcanic Ash with Air Traffic – Published March 31, 2013

Hurricane Sandy with Population Density – Published January 8, 2017

There were other ways I used to time slider. For example, the video below shows sea level rise. Every decade equals +/- 10 meters. (See Videos Below)

Sea level rise with Earth at Night – Published January 8, 2017

However, what I will miss the most about the plugin was in its ability to load and share .kml files. Part of the reason why I created was to have a platform where I could have a base set of .kml files showing physical and human spatial characteristics. (see previous blog post) A lesser known feature to is that students can import their own .kml files and compare their student created maps with each others or one of the base sets of maps.

Climate Regions Layer with student’s quick draw ecosystem layer

This feature is still available in the new “Google Maps” version of However, the Google Earth plugin did a much better job rendering .kml files created in the Google Earth client. This is especially true with image overlays and other raster files; something not easily done with the Maps API and nearly impossible to teach younger students. I am sadden to shut down my first website. Hopefully Google has something up its sleeve for 2017.


In last week’s post “” readers learned how to select and load hundreds of maps curated for Since that post, and in the spirit of the holidays, I have been posting my own Twelve Map Comparisons of Christmas. (#12MapComparisonsOfChristmas) Below is the list and media for these 12 out of thousands of spatial comparisons that can be made with

1. 1492 – Behaim with 2016 Google Maps

2. Connectivity with Human Development Index

3. Seafloor Age with Tsunami events since 2000 B.C.

4. Sea Surface Salinity with Sea Surface Density

5. Lowest with Highest points on Earth’s land (not exact, but close enough)

6. Sea Surface Temperatures January with July (Check out Caspian Sea)

7. Precipitable Water January with August (Check out the monsoons of South Asia)

8. Seasonal Change: Blue Marble with Land Temperature

9. Oil Exports with Petroleum Consumption

10. Cropland Density with Pastureland Density

11. Labor Percent Agriculture with Gross Domestic Product (per capita)

12. Population Density and Earth at Night

Bonus Holiday (Easter) Eggs – layers

In a previous post I wrote about a project that got away from me… the creation of In this post I inferred that I wanted a Google Earth layer package where my students could easily explore and create understandings/connections between physical and human systems. Over the past several months, at many professional development events, I have heard teachers tell me it would be cool if Google Maps/Earth had a layer that visualized this or that spatial distribution. While does not have every layer these professionals requested, it does have a foundational set of maps/layers that are easily comparable for k-12 students. These map layers were chosen because thy are either in my own curriculum or discussed often in k – 12 classrooms. There are over 140 maps/layers across 21 categories in and I have spent countless hours trying to find a menu system and organization that makes it easier for teachers and students to find what they are looking for. Unfortunately, I feel this is one of the weaknesses of In order to maximize the visual space of two maps, selecting map data sets takes 3 to 5 clicks. Most of this is due to my limited knowledge in design and JavaScript, but hey…I am a high school teacher and not a professional web designer. At any rate, below is a how to select maps and layers in along with a list and short (5 – 30 second) video of each map data set. So, in less than 10 minutes you can discover what free data is already out in’s cosmos.

**Caution…potential rabbit hole of spatial distributions and comparisons below**

How to select maps and get map information in (3 minute video)

Physical Geography Layers

Blue Marble: No clouds/ice, January – December

Physical Maps: Natural Earth, NOAA Physical Map, NOAA DEM, Topographic NASA, World Topo-Bathy

Plate Tectonics: Seafloor Age, NOAA DEM, Tsunami Events from 2000BC, World Topo-Bathy, Volcanoes

Climate: Climate Regions, NOAA DEM, Wind Currents, Ocean Currents, El Nino Sea Temperature Anomaly, La Nina Temperature Anomaly, Summer Impacts El Nino, Winter Impacts El Nino, Summer Impacts La Nina, Winter Impacts La Nina

Precipitable Water: January – December

Land Temperature: January – December

Sea Surface Temperature: January – December

Land Cover: Land Cover

Vegetation Index: January – December

Carbon Dioxide: January – December

Oceans: Average Sea Surface Temp., Sea Surface Salinity, Sea Surface Density, Ocean Currents

Forest Change: Forest Extent, Forest Loss, Forest Gain, Forest Gain/Loss

Human Geography Layers

CIA Factbook (January 2016): CIA Factbook – Quick reference of many indicators

Historic Maps: 1492 – Behaim , 1544 – Agnese, 1570 – Ortelius, 1589 – Jode, 1595 – Hondius, 1630 – Hondius, 1670 – de Wit, 1691 – Sanson, 1720 – de l’Isle, 1744 – Bowen, 1786 – Faden, 1794 – Dunn

Geography-Land: Area, Arable Land, Cropland, Pastureland, Food vs. Feed

Demographics: Total Population, Growth Rate, Total Fertility Rate, Birth Rate, Death Rate, Net Migration, Infant Mortality Rate, Life Expectancy, % Urban, Total Literacy, Predominant Religion by country

Economy: GDP (Per Capita), % Agricultural Labor, Exports, Imports, Oil Exports, Oil Imports, Petroleum Consumption

Earth at Night: Earth at Night 2002, Earth at Night 2012

Anthropocene (Hold “Ctrl” + click to select two layers): Anthropocene (ALL), City Lights Base Maps, Air Traffic, Shipping Traffic, Roads, Transmission lines

Human Development: 2013 HDI, 2000 HDI, 1990 HDI, 1980 HDI