Developing Spatial Literacy using Google Earth

I really enjoyed exploring GIS platforms this week and exploring ways they could be integrated into the classroom.

If I were to develop something to use in my grade 3 classroom I think that I would utilize Google Earth. My reasons for doing so would be that this is a mainstream platform that is user-friendly and easy to access from home as well. While I do see the importance and relevance of using platforms developed specifically for educational practices, I also see the necessity to show students mainstream tools that they can easily use on their own time and access from home (Bodzin, Anastasio, & Kulo, 2014).

Curriculum connections using maps are endless. With the push towards integrating more place-based learning and environmental education, the ability to easily access all different kinds of maps of our local areas is exciting. In grade 3 in particular, these maps could be utilized to investigate biodiversity and the local habitats of our plants and animals; how wind, water, and ice change the shape of the land; as well as measurement and construction of 3D objects, to name a few specific outcomes.

If I were to choose one activity to develop I might focus on using these maps for measurement and geometry. I liked the Google Earth activity of adding paths and polygons and how it could relate to our “Frolicking Friday” adventures. Every Friday we take our learning outside to our local area. Often this is in the form of treks down in the gully beside our school, and walks to our neighbourhood gardens and parks for various activities connecting to the science, socials studies, language arts, arts education, physical and health education, and math curriculum, thus beginning to foster spatial thinking by guiding these outings to be cross-curricular (Perkins, Hazelton, Erickson, & Allan, 2010). When I searched maps of our local area (Kimberley, BC) there were not many landmarks noted on our small town. It would be a worthwhile activity, then, for students to use these maps and add landmarks important to them and then measure distances using the measurement tools to begin to form an understanding of how long these distances take when we are walking them during our Frolicking Friday time. This activity would meet the four principles of the LfU model of construction and modification of knowledge structures (actual distance between local landmarks such as school and community garden), conscious and unconscious understanding of goals (calculating how long it would take to go to a local landmark and if we would have time to walk there during Frolicking Friday), the circumstances of knowledge construction (using the local environment that students experience daily is relevant to their construction of knowledge), and constructing knowledge in a support form (using maps found in Google Earth of the local area and then applying it during our outings) (Edelson, 2001). It would follow the foundation of the LfU principles that “understanding must be developed incrementally through the stepwise elaboration of knowledge structures” (p. 357) as well as the motivation understanding that “the motivation to acquire specific skills or knowledge within a setting in which the student is already reasonably engaged” (p. 358). Using “well-defined, guided investigation activities” and “interweaving…investigations and discussions” (p. 362) through our class blog and student digital portfolios, this activity could also lead to the creation of new motivation for learning.


Bodzin, A. M., Anastasio, D., & Kulo, V. (2014). Designing Google Earth activities for learning Earth and environmental science. In Teaching science and investigating environmental issues with geospatial technology (pp. 213-232).

Edelson, D.C. (2001). Learning-for-use: A framework for the design of technology-supported inquiry activities. Journal of Research in Science Teaching,38(3), 355-385.

Perkins, N., Hazelton, E., Erickson, J., & Allan, W. (2010). Place-based education and geographic information systems: Enhancing the spatial awareness of middle school students in Maine. Journal of Geography, 109(5), 213-218.


  1. I love the idea of using a main stream platform such as Google Earth to look at and compare places that are familiar to the students. I have found that they are much more engaged and motivated when they can see the direct relationship to themselves, especially at a younger age. It would be interesting for them to take out the ipads and use the mapping system to show them where they are walking in relationship to the maps so they can see how they connect. Hopefully then they would be able to apply this to later tasks using Google Earth or other types of maps.


  2. Hi Allison,
    I agree with your idea of introducing google earth to students as it is a platform they can access from home or on their own devices when they are out in the community. Allowing the students to take ownership of their own learning in this way lets them make meaningful connections to their own lives. I could see your “frolicking Friday” (love the name!) activity being extended to students who go away on vacation, to document what they did on school breaks, etc. Sharing with their classmates where they have been and what they did would, in my opinion, generate a lot of discussion in the classroom and be a motivating assignment students enjoy.

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