October 28, 2015

Why Teach Google Earth: what are 2nd graders learning?

Second graders study communities, with one focus being our school garden and observing plants and animals. To help with learning about butterflies the technology connections include using the Journey North materials on the migration of monarch butterflies.

The teacher uses a classroom projector to show students the maps that show the path of the butterflies as they migrate to Mexico. After students have seen the maps they can use Google Earth to visit the states that they have seen pictured on the maps. As a literacy skill they learn that there are two letter post office abbreviations that they can enter in the search box to "fly to" a new state (e.g. MA, NH, MN, TX) and then zoom in and out to view the overall colors and features of the landscapes that give them visual cues as to the topography. What can they see when they travel? (Questions: Does the state of Minnesota look like the state of Texas? What do you see? What do you think the land looks like there?) What is going on in their minds as they change the view to go closer and then zoom back out to view the state boundaries and country borders? Is there a mathematical-spatial learning process going on?

Recently I've been reading about "partner learning" and the power of having students talk out loud about their explorations and questions. For this session using Google Earth we paired the students and had a "navigator" enter the search text and a "pilot" who pressed Return or clicked on Search to "fly" to a new destination.

What are students learning as they "fly", "zoom" and explore a virtual earth? The engagement in the room is full of, "What ifs?" and wondering as they talk about going N, S, E, W, look at the geographic features like lakes, mountain ranges and deserts. They are talking about countries, continents, oceans and more as they move around and explore. They are asking basic questions about typing on the laptops, finding letters, the space bar, delete key, etc.

A classroom teacher wrote a blog post about the session and the inclusion of a follow up activity where students went to see their own homes and explored the town. Part of the power of this lesson was the collaboration between the classroom teacher and my role as instructional integrator.