Eye in the sky

29th June 2007 at 01:00
Today's pupils can be very well travelled. They've often been on safari or to the Caribbean. Textbooks don't impress them anymore. If you want to switch them on, you need to give them an experience that seems real and immediate.

At its simplest level, Google Earth allows you to see places that you talk about in class. If we're doing a module on shanty towns in Rio, we can zoom in and take a look at one. We can bring it right into the classroom. It's so much better than a photo in a book which was probably taken 20 years ago. And Google Earth is becoming more sophisticated all the time.

Buildings in New York are portrayed in 3D, allowing you to tilt the angle and get a sense of the size of things. You can also get real-time images representing the city's shuttle buses. San Francisco is even better. There are web cams at pavement level which give you the sensation of exploring the city on foot.

On a more local level, the course showed us how to develop virtual fieldwork projects. If you go out gathering data, you can use a GPS unit, similar to the satellite navigation system in a car. It logs the longitude and latitude of points of interest. When you get back to the classroom, you can use Google Earth, combined with the data you've gathered, to recreate your trip as a virtual experience. It can be shared with other classes.

In 10 years' time, I think geography will be a laptop-oriented, technology-based subject. Google Earth is brilliant, and I also use YouTube from time to time, because it's a great way of looking at people's first-hand experience of life in other countries.

Geography teachers have to move their classroom into the digital age.

Technology has made the world more accessible, and that in turn has made geography more exciting David Fowles is a geography teacher at Oxted School in Surrey

The details

Google Earth Training for Teachers and Educators is a one-day course run by the Royal Geographical Society.

The next course is on Monday July 2, at the society's headquarters in London. Cost pound;95+VAT.


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