Choose Your Own Adventure with Google Earth

The virtual reality cure for wanderlust

ways students can create VR contentDespite this gorgeous fall weather here in central Vermont, I’m suffering from a bad case of wanderlust. One antidote I’ve found to satisfy the daily craving to hit the high road is the 360Cities Tab Extension. Now that I’ve added it to my Chrome browser, every time I open a tab, it displays a new full screen photo of somewhere fabulous, curious, or surreal.

Another avenue for virtual adventure is to explore Google Earth, Choose Your Own Adventure-style. 6th grade students at Stowe Middle School, in Stowe VT, did just that, learning about latitude and longitude by creating their own Choose Your Own Adventure activities.

And your students can too.

Choose Your Own Adventure with Google Earth

It’s as easy as 1,2,3

Step 1: Model how it works

First, invite students to discover interesting places as they learn how Google Earth works with this practice exercise in using coordinates to find locations.

Once only available in a desktop version, Google Earth can now be launched in a Chrome browser and on a Chromebook. You don’t need an extension or app; instead, the app launches right from the web. As an fyi, it takes a few seconds to load in your browser (few defined loosely by your wifi bandwidth) so you may want to prep machines beforehand.

But who wouldn’t want to plug in the coordinates 39 37 25 N, 107 38 07 W to visit a giant spider web maze in Colorado?

(Editor’s note: some editorial staff got dizzy watching the animation, so maybe have students sit down before checking out the giant spiders.)

Step 2: Offer some guided practice

After your students get comfortable with the tool, invite everyone to take a quick trip to Alaska.

Google Earth Alaskan Tour (a model)


Step 3: Students fly solo! (with a co-pilot standing by)

The meat and potatoes of the activity: invite your students to create tours for their classmates. Challenge them to discover interesting places, and give them plenty of choice as to where they think their classmates should explore. Grab a copy of the template below for your own use. Copy the Doc to your Drive and modify it for your own activities. 

Create Your Own Google Earth Tour


What makes this activity work?

Collaborative exploration

This exercise in longitude and latitude became an opportunity for students to collaborate: they created their tours in partner pairs. And by linking this assignment to Stowe Middle School’s “social skills scholarly habits”, educator Dave Smith expected his students to think critically about their ability to collaborate. Upon completion of the tour, each student had to identify where they thought they landed on the rubric and share a short written reflection explaining why.

Check out Lucy, Sofia, and Kaila’s Google Tour of Switzerland!

Great digital resources support curiosity about the world — and provide answers

If students want their tours to be launchable in Google Earth, introduce them to Tour Maker. That way students can create a tour, map it out in Tour Maker, and have a link to share. 


For students who want to push further, think about introducing them to the wonderful world (ha!) of ArcGIS. ArcGIS lets you embed meaningful data in a map. Their site features a number of lessons for students, all focused on creating maps that address real-world problems, such as predicting floods, finding snowplows, and documenting wildlife. Challenge them to think about why cartography is still relevant in the digital age, despite how extensively the world’s been mapped. Connect interested students with cartographers online to find out more about mapmaking as a career.

You can search for relevant ArcGIS lessons by filtering for duration and level.



Personalize your adventure

Smith also created a folder in Schoology filled with links to other ways students could explore the concept. When students finished in class before others, Smith encouraged them to select other resources to extend and/or deepen their understanding.

How do you provide choice to your student explorers?

Susan Hennessey

Susan Hennessey is a reformed librarian and current professional development coordinator with a particular interest in digital credentials and scavenger hunts. She's addicted to flavored almonds, salty, crunchy snacks, and Google Hangouts.

What do you think?