Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Google Earth - Let's Bring the Universe Inside the Walls of Our Classroom

     When creating lessons that teach 21st Century skills (Problem Solving, Creativity, Collaboration, Communication, Critical Thinking, and Ethics and Social Responsibility), one must make sure that the lesson content is presented in a way that is relevant to his or her students.  Personalizing the lesson with the students' interest in mind is a great way to create a connection between the students and the lesson content.  After all, why would one want to sit through a boring lesson that is completely irrelevant to him or her?  I recently prepared a lesson for my students using Google Earth as a way to extend the lesson content, trying to forge a connection between them and the ancient text that I was teaching them.  Google Earth is a great Web 2.0 tool that is so much more than just a universe that you can rotate.  With Google Earth, I am able to take my students anywhere - across the planet Earth and even into the Solar System.
      My original intention with using Google Earth was to show my students the area of the world that we were learning about in class, which was Urfa, located in the southern part of Turkey.  However, there are much simpler tools that I could have used in order to do this.  Not only was I able to show my students the specific area relevant to our lesson, but Google Earth enables my students to collaborate with each other while using critical thinking skills.  Our actual lesson focused on our forefather Abraham's journey from Haran (known nowadays to be Urfa, Turkey)  to Shechem (Nablus), which is the first place he stopped after entering the Land of C'naan.  My students are able to drop pins and measure the distance from one place to the next using the Google Earth ruler.
     This was great and my students thoroughly enjoyed it.  However, Urfa, Turkey has no relevance to my students' lives whatsoever.  And neither did the distance of 375 miles.  What does that mean to a bunch of second graders?  Absolutely nothing.  So, in order to make the lesson content relevant to my students, we decided to rotate the Universe to the Mid-Atlantic area of the USA.  My students then had to collaborate using the Google Earth tools in order to discover what city or cities are 375 miles away from their hometown of Baltimore, MD.  It was not so easy.  Before participating in the activity, they guessed which cities would fall in that range of distance.  Unfortunately, through participating in the activity themselves, they found that they had a lot to learn about US geography and where certain US cities are located.  But the fact of the matter is that they enjoyed the activity, and lesson content was presented to them in a relevant way.  Now, how long did it take Abraham to travel 375 miles with camels?  That would be an entirely separate discussion.    

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