Global creativity for control freaks

21st October 2005 at 01:00
Peter Greaves shows how teachers can let go without losing it. This week: Around the world in seconds

I wonder if, like me, you are constantly on the hunt for "wow" moments - that point in a lesson that draws kids in from the periphery and grabs them in such a way that you know you have them for the duration.

When it comes to the world, "wow" moments can come from maps, globes, pictures, and objects and, most of all, from visitors and personal stories.

Recently, though, I emitted a "wow" to rival the most excited of eight-year-olds as I toured the planet on a world imaging program, available free on the internet.

There are several - I've tried Google's Earth program (www.earth.google.com) and NASA's World Wind (www.worldwind.arc.nasa.gov).

They both operate on the same principle - you download a program, which works in conjunction with an internet connection. Broadband is a must or the response slows down to the point where frustration outweighs inspiration.

Once downloaded and connected, the potential is breathtaking. The program opens with a shot of the Earth and a space for you to type in a destination. Google's program accepts UK postcodes, so we type in Jack's. I hit "enter" and the Earth starts spinning as we travel across the Atlantic Ocean and down through the clouds covering Britain to hover over Jack's house.

Different parts of the world are imaged in varying degrees of detail; if we pull back a little the fuzzy image clears to reveal Jack's road, the park and the school roof. With a roll of the scroll wheel on the mouse, I can zoom out to see an outline of the UK and then down again into our school's catchment area. An overlay map can even identify which road is which for those who are struggling with this bird's-eye view.

Since we are in a history lesson, I ask Ben if he can remember where the pyramids are. He tells me and I type in Giza, Egypt. We beam up in Star Trek-style from our town, travel across Europe until the scar of the Nile on north-east Africa becomes visible. Down we go until we see the town of Giza. World famous sites are imaged in such detail that we can easily identify different pyramids and even see the coaches parked in the car park. We move to Cairo, with its busy streets and football stadiums, looking so much like our own town. Even with my most imaginative role-play, I have never achieved such a sense of "travel" without leaving the classroom.

This is simply the beginning of the contribution this tool could make to my classroom. When a pupil came back from holiday, we visited the resort she stayed in while she told us what she had been up to. Download it, set aside some preparation and assessment time, and don't forget your toothbrush.

Peter Greaves teaches at Dovelands Primary School, Leicester Email: primary@tes.co.uk

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