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


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.