Inner Earth Processes with Google Earth and


One of the geography courses I am fortunate to teach uses a blended physical and human geography framework. The first several weeks of the year, the course entails why geography is important along with physical Earth observations and understandings. The first physical Earth lessons deal with landforms and the inner Earth/ outer Earth processes that form them. This June I converted many of the files from to kml/Google Earth. Below are the maps sets used in class to visualize these Earth processes…+ a bonus Google Earth/kml file to help teach and/or review plate tectonics.

The pedagogical formula follows the working definition of geography taught to me from Brock Brown PhD.

“Geography is a perspective…the geographical perspective provides a broadly applicable interdisciplinary method of observing and analyzing anything distributed across Earth’s space.”

  1. Starting questions: what, when, where?
  2. Followed with: how and why?
  3. Lastly: what if, what next, what about me, what about others, what should we do?


Google Earth File (Add to your drive):

Start with an observation: Physical Map Set (Natural Earth, NOAA Physical, NOAA Digital Elevation Model, Topographic NASA, World Topo-Bathy NASA) Video

Google Earth Video

Follow up with understanding the process(es) that are responsible for the spatial observation. (Bonus Google Earth file: ) Website overview Plate Tectonics Google Earth file:  

Google Earth Video

Lastly, how as this impacted people in the past? How about the impact on people today…tomorrow ? (prediction) Video (Ctrl+click to enable two layers)

Google Earth Video


End of Tour Creator – August 2018

This summer, probably August, I will be turning off my tour creator for Google Earth web page. There are several reasons, but mainly Google’s Tour Builder can do almost everything I want, and its creations can be opened directly into Google Earth for Chrome. The only thing left for the Google Earth team to do is put these creation tools in Google Earth. A teacher can dream.

How to open Google Tour Builder file in Google Earth for Chrome

Extended Explanation
The image at the top of this post was my brainstorm for the tour creator. It was sketched out at the Macaroni Grill in Chicago’s O’Hare airport. It came about because some colleagues saw I was able to create voyager like stories and they told me they wanted an easy way to create these stories for this “new” Google Earth. I also thought students would enjoy creating these stories and understood that Google Earth for Chrome/Mobile would not launch with creation tools. I initially helped a friend develop a Google Sheets creator; where students could input latitude, longitudes, elevations, tilts, and heading. Then students could input images and descriptions. As that project was coming to an end I spent a week developing the Maps API version that thousands of students (I assume they were students; don’t keep track of that stuff) have accessed. Basically, creating the big paper above. I felt it would be easier for students to have spatial context when selecting their location and didn’t want them going from one site to another to put in location data. Anyways, I had intentions to continue this project, but in September 2017(?) Google launched their Open in Google Earth link from their Tour Builder. From Tour Builder students can insert images, YouTubes, numerous icons, save, etc. It would have taken a month for me to get all this done, and that would be without my day job. I didn’t, and still don’t, have a magic crystal ball, but it was not too difficult to read this future. I feel it would be better for teachers and students to use Google’s Tour Builder for classroom instruction. Students can just do more.

All that stated, it was a fun little project and I have many more. I still maintain my site,, and have been developing numerous Google Earth for Chrome/Mobile (kml) files for a variety of classrooms. Thanks to everyone who continues to use and support anything created from from this little house in Austin.

Classroom Google Earth Examples
I’m Australian Too (Grades 1 – 3) – Click here for Google Earth file

Plate Tectonics (Grades 5 – 9) – Click here for Google Earth file

Added Benefits to learning code

As mentioned in several previous posts, leaning to code kml was my gateway into programming. While I admit my code often looks like a three-year old’s coloring book, the amount of growth and learning over the past five years has been such an enjoyable and relaxing experience. Initially was designed and created to allow students to more efficiently explore one, or two, spatial distributions (perspectives) of their world. There were many other factors that went through my mind before creating from wanting a hobby that helped me relax and think, to the annoyance of “education/technology” companies charging so much money for something two people and several pots of coffee could create.  I am so pleased that educators around the world can use, along with other projects, in their classroom.

The one thought that never crossed my mind when creating these geo-tools was the amount of teacher cred I receive from students. My first experience with this teacher cred was five years ago while teaching summer school. During this summer session, I came across many reluctant learners, but one student, in particular, was classic John Bender from Breakfast Club.  About four days into summer school I was demonstrating and “John” blurted out, “you created this?” John was, in business management terms, a first follower. From that point on this room of reluctant learners pivoted into “just enough” learners.

Every year since the creation of I have had these moments in the classroom.  I never know when this moment is going to happen, but each time I get the same half proud half embarrassed feeling. This year I did not tell the students I am the creator of  In one class, a student clicked the YouTube icon on the page and figured out I was the creator. Then followed an awesome teachable moment of contagious diffusion from that student’s group in the back-right corner sharing the information until it reached the front left group. Another class figured out it was me when they looked at the page source of the page and found my name somewhere in the code. That group also found one of the easter eggs in the JavaScript which x10’d my teacher cred. (Hint… think Konomi’s Contra)

For the past week and half, I might have been viewed by many as an absent-minded teacher who can’t take roll, loved to talk about geography as a perspective that transfers across disciplines, and an idealist of lifelong learning.  Once students figure out I learned to code from spatial thinking these qualities, minus the taking roll part, are no longer just words, but true beliefs and core to my teaching and learning philosophy. Learning to code and developing the language of technology though a spatial lens has given me a window of teacher cred to build those needed relationships to last at least the next 180 days, but hopefully beyond.

Blue Marble: Changing Seasons – New Google Earth

Happy summer solstice northern hemisphere 2017!

Blue Marble: Changing Seasons – Google Earth for Chrome (How to best use Google Earth video file, kml file, and post below)

Instructions on how to turn off cloud layer and import kml included in video

**Note: Clicking on left panel then clicking “Esc” key will hide the left panel. Click My Places icon to show left panel.**

Here is the file: Blue Marble – Google Earth for Chrome

Over the past several months I’ve been busy brushing up on a little kml (Google Earth files). It is funny how is coming full circle. Many years ago I started my programming hobby with learning kml (See previous blog post). Six years later  a new Google Earth has led me to unlearn, learn, and relearn kml. While I am more than happy to share everything I know and don’t know about kml, it would make for a very unwieldy blog post. Maybe some day I’ll write an online course. The issue is not kml per se. It is a pretty well documented language (documentation link); though not all kml tags work on Google Earth for Chrome (supported tags). What makes creating kml files challenging for the new Google Earth is the mashing together of kml, html, javascript, and css in a way that does not run into internet security safeguards; namely same origin domain policies. In other words, learning kml is not enough, and has never really been enough, for how I would like to integrate Google Earth in the classroom. As mentioned before, kml was simply my gateway language into html, javascript, and css. This is why I am such a proponent of kml and try to get teachers and students interested in coding using kml. It is a simple language that allows students and teachers to see patterns, understand processes, and make predictions. That and it makes for some awesome visuals for the classroom!



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