Southeastern Section - 60th Annual Meeting (23–25 March 2011)

Paper No. 5
Presentation Time: 3:10 PM


WITHERSPOON, William, Fernbank Science Center, DeKalb County School System, 156 Heaton Park Drive, Atlanta, GA 30307,

Standards that require middle school students to learn about plate tectonics and the origins of volcanoes and earthquakes present several challenges to instruction. These include limitations in abstract thinking, geographic ignorance, and difficulty visualizing scale of, and distances between, earth features.

Google Earth, a free download and often already loaded in school computer labs, provides seemingly limitless opportunities to connect young students to the face of their planet and to geology. An exercise comprising a placemarks (.kmz) file and accompanying activities sheet was developed for 6th-grade students, to take advantage of the following capabilities:

  • The “snapshot view” command that saves a starting view of a feature, such as the students’ school from a selected elevation, or a volcano from an oblique angle.
  • The software’s continuous panning across the globe (from school to volcano, for example) when one double-clicks a placemark symbol.
  • The elevation display that allows measuring, for example, water depths on a traverse across the Mid-Atlantic Ridge.
  • The ruler feature that allows distances, for example, from volcanoes to trench, to be measured.
  • The photo icons clustered around features such as volcanoes that students click on to see close-up images.
  • The ability to add local map overlays, such as screen captures from Alan Jones’ Seismic Eruption program that reveal color-coded depths of earthquake foci across a subduction zone.
  • The ability to navigate underwater, giving views from within features such as the Marianas Trench.
  • The ability to embed web links and images in placemarks, linking, for example, to video of a particular volcano’s eruption.
  • The ability to share .kmz files, so students can take the exercise home with them or develop their own placemarks as a project.
  • GoogleEarthGSA2011.ppt (27.0 MB)