Get Started with Geo Tools

During the time I was organizing my thoughts for this blog post, I listened to an episode of The Cult of Pedagogy’s podcast (#108) that really resonated with me.  The episode was titled, “To Learn, Students Need to Do Something.”

So often, we get overwhelmed by the number of expectations that we need to cover.  And while the more recent message is, “Focus on the overall expectations and select appropriate specific expectations”, we still often find ourselves delivering content to students through direct instruction and recall. Sometimes this is because resources are scarce, other subjects are taking priority in our planning or sometimes it is because we don’t know where to begin. Students often receive content by reading or listening and are then expected to memorize it and share it when asked.  

How can we help students to have meaningful experiences that help them become interested in, to process, and apply the content we want them to learn?   We know that students require engagement with the curriculum to make it stick. So how can we do that in curriculum/content heavy subjects like Social Studies and Science? How can we turn on the switch to make our passive learners, active learners?  How can we help our students to “get it”?

Using Google’s Geo Tools could be the way.  

Last year, when I began to teach the People and Environments strand of the Social Studies curriculum, I knew it was going to be difficult. My grade threes knew very little about the province and country we live in.  I had just been DDSB’s CONNECT Conference and attended Sarah Key’s workshop on Geo Tools. So, I dove right in. We started our unit by using Google My Maps, and dropped pins on places students had visited. Very quickly, students noticed that most of the pins were scattered across the bottom of Ontario.  The map was shared with the class through Google Classroom and students played with the different views, and zoomed in and out around Ontario and tried to figure out why.

“All these places are close to the highway!”

“They are near the lakes!”

“I can see the United States.”

The students in my class began to ask questions about the rest of the province.  To encourage further exploration, I created a list of places and landmarks for them to find in Google Maps, scavenger hunt style.   In partners, students collaborated using My Maps to label these places throughout the province. A few days later, after completing the scavenger hunt, students revisited the places with a list of guiding questions to record what they noticed and wondered.  Questions included: How is the land used? What are the homes like? What are the roads like? How do people get around? Are there a lot of services? Are there a lot of open spaces?

This simple activity set the tone for the rest of our learning about Living and Working in Ontario.  Students became very comfortable using Earth and Maps. During our learning journey, we connected with a class in Terrace Bay, Ontario using Flipgrid.  Students asked and responded to each other’s questions about what it was like where they live. Our students were able to explore Terrace Bay through Google Street View using Google Cardboard VR goggles to see what their new friends had described to them.

Were my lessons perfect? No.  Did we cover all of the specific expectations?  Not even close. But I know that what my students learned, they will remember, and if they ever want to learn about other places, they know the tools to use.

There are so many Geo Tools; Google Earth, My Maps, Tour Builder, Street View, Google Earth Engine, and Google Geo VR.  The possibilities for implementation in the K-12 classrooms are endless.

For some ideas to get you started, click here.

For more ideas and activities you can do to engage your students, click here to listen to Jennifer Gonzalez’s Cult of Pedagogy podcast.

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