Using Google Earth and its flight simulator to motivate students to study Geography and History

Install Google Earth on the students' computers, and then show the students how to use the flight simulator ... even young children can master this because it's fun ... to "fly over" [and around] specific sites to look at the geographic detail and how the particular cities/towns and villages are configured amongst the natural environs. They can begin at pretty good altitude, then swoop down, and bank for a little bit of excitement in between mountains, following rivers, banking 360 degrees around lakes, etc. Have them find important landmarks mentioned in the textbook by flying and actually trying to pinpoint them from the cockpit ... again, exciting. Google Earth and the flight simulator can be structured around adventure and exploration that would relate to social studies, history, and geography lesson plans ... and again, the flying aspects would be fun and exciting for the students. Two of an infinite number of examples: 1) The Nile River It is considered to be the longest river in the world, and it's associated with irrigation by the Egyptians as far back as 4000BC. The source of the Nile and its life-giving floods was a mystery for centuries. Ptolemy held that the source was the "Mountains of the Moon," and the search for these and for the origin of the Nile attracted much attention in the 18th and 19th centuries. And of course, Cleopatra and her people were associated with the river. Take the above facts/situations, and build a lesson plan around them by having the students explore the Nile River via Google Earth and the flight simulator to get a sense of how long the river is. Actually have them fly at a low altitude to follow the bends and twists of the river. As they fly, they can hit the space bar to pause the flight to take notes, perhaps, on what else they see. 2) The Lewis and Clark Expedition Lewis and Clark traveled the entire North American continent ... East to West ... starting on the Eastern seaboard, stopping in Philadelphia, Washington D.C., Monticello. Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, St. Louis and through what now is known as Nebraska, South Dakota, North Dakota, Montana, Idaho and Oregon [Portland]. The above route can be planned and "flown" in Google Earth. The students can fly in and around the mentioned cities and along the documented trail ... pausing with the space bar to take a look at the terrain, and take notes. Following the trail via flight simulation will give the students an idea as to how lengthy and painstaking the process was for these two men [and others]. They will have a better appreciation for exploration and courage, not to mention a greater awareness [and understanding] of the "lay of the land' [natural environs] and its obstacles. Google Earth’s amazing "real-world simulation" of flying over and around locales on Earth is an amazing one to motivate students to want to learn. The students are totally engaged, on a mission, and having to be very exact with their flying skills to accomplish the task. As they fly along ... from point to point ... they can take their notes in journal form just like a real pilot might. At the end of the journey, they can compile their notes as they relate to the lesson plan. If you do use the flight simulator, you'll need to practice so you can teach them in a confident manner how to "fly". I think you'll find that the students will really enjoy the flight simulation aspects of Google Earth to explore locales based on creative lesson planning. What's cool about the flight simulator is the fact that it is similar to controls in video games, but no "game". As the students fly along, and pause their flight via space bar, they can take notes and capture photographs to bring into Photoshop for enhancement, web slide shows, etc. Materials: Hardware, Photoshop and the Internet [Google Earth and flight simulation] .

tom chambers
Last Updated April 27, 2021
Lesson plan



Student Time

6-10 hours estimated class time

Education Level

6th - 8th Grade
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