Exploring The World From Home

Screen Shot 2020 03 25 at 2 20 25 PM

With many schools closed due to the pandemic, many K12 educators are working hard to understand the basics of running an online classroom. Everyone is trying to help each other, with social media and discussion threads filled with stories, advice, and lists of resources. Lots and lots of lists.

A good chunk of the advice is, of course, centered around using Google tools, like Classroom,1 with the primary focus seemingly on how to continue teacher-directed instruction in an online environment. I wish there was more effort to turn that around and find ways for students to create projects based, at least in part, on their interests and concerns, rather than continuing the fixed curriculum.

With that in mind, I hope some teachers will take another look (or a first one) at some of my favorite, often-ignored Google resources for exploring the world. Specifically, their tools that allow students (and you) to actually build their own projects using Google’s vast database of geographic information.

You can start with the simplest of the group, My Maps. Using basic Google maps as a foundation, students can add their own layers with markers, paths, and areas. Each element can contain information in the form of text, images, links, and video.

It’s easy to get started (you need is a Google account for all of these) and maps can be shared for viewing or collaboration on just about any device.2

Missing from My Maps is Google’s huge bank of Street View images that offer immersive, 360° views of locations all over the world. But Street View is at the core of Google’s Tour Creator.3

For a project in Tour Creator, students find Street View locations they want to include and add their own text, images, and audio to each stop. The result is similar to the tours found in Google Expeditions. Completed projects can be viewed in a web browser on any device or in the Expeditions app, with or without the VR goggles.

Again, getting started is easy but, unfortunately, projects in Tour Creator can only be shared for viewing and not collaboration. Google also has a large collection of tours created by others who choose to make them public in their Poly tour gallery.

Finally, there is Google’s most recent addition to their geo tool kit, Google Earth Projects. This is part of their browser-based Google Earth, which currently runs best only in their Chrome browser for Windows and Mac. They also have Google Earth apps for iOS and Android, in which projects can be viewed but not built.

The best way to see what is possible with Google Earth projects is to open some of the examples in the Voyager section. Although those featured tours are created by Google and their partners, they do offer some great inspiration for what’s possible.

Students can collaborate with others on their project and the finished version can be opened and viewed in the smartphone and tablet versions of Earth.

Hopefully, this has peaked your interest in these Google tools for building geo-related projects. Introduce them to your students and watch what they can create with them.

If you want explore further, I have a page with a more detailed comparison of these three tools. Look around the other side my site for more ideas and tutorials.

Now, go help your kids explore the world.


The image is a screenshot of a tour of ancient sites in Rome created in Google Tour Creator. Click it to view the original.

1. Although Zoom seems to be very popular as well, despite the potential student privacy issues of using a business product.

2. I don’t recommend trying to do projects with any of these tools on a smartphone. However, that’s an adult talking. I’ve watched students do some interesting work on those small devices.

3. Not to be confused with Tour Builder, which is an old Google geo-resource for creating projects that’s still around in beta, but never lived up to it’s potential.

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