How To Use the Tools and Programs Google Earth Offers

Google Earth is a tool that was created in 2005 which is downloadable to any personal computer which runs Microsoft Windows 2000 and XP, Mac OS X 10.3.9 and above, Linux, and FreeBSD. The program is a 3D globe compiled of images taken from sattelite imagery and aerial photography. With the program you can zoom and rotate any location on Earth. To download the free version of Google Earth, go to There are several tools and capabilities this version of Google Earth has to offer, including: navigating, directions and places, layers, measuring, and sight seeing. All of these tools are fairly simple to use, and can be effectively used in a lesson for almost any subject.


Before a new user can effectively use all the tools and programs that Google Earth has to offer, they must first understand how to navigate through theexternal image tilted.jpg image that is on the screen. The initial view of the earth is from a 3D, top-down perspective. There are a variety of ways in which you can change your line of sight. These include dragging the view, zooming in or out, and tilting the terrain. When navigating around the Earth or area you are looking at, you can use either your mouse or the navigation controls.

The first piece of the navigation controls is the vertical bar with a plus sign on one end and a minus sign on the other. This controls the zoom function, and with it you can change the distance from which you are viewing the location or place you have selected. The second piece is horizontal bar which tilts the view from which you are looking at the location, either from a straight over the top, looking down view or one from any number of angles from the side. The final component of the navigation controls acts as a compass. The N on the circle stands for the direction that is North, and anytime you desire to reset the image to North being at the "top" of the screen you simply click on the N and it will automatically reset. By clicking on the circle which the N lies on, you can drag it either clockwise or counter-clockwise, rotating the view of the image in that direction. To move in any direction to a point not seen on the scree, simply click on the arrow which represents the direction which you wish to travel.

Sight Seeing

Sight seeing is a unique feature of Google Earth which allows you to tour several well-known locations across the globe. By going into the My Places folder in the left hand column, you can open this folder. There is a list of several cities, parks, and landmarks, and you can check off those which you wish to tour. By simply hitting the play button, you will begin the tour where you “fly” to the various locations and are able to look at them for a short period of time before you jump to the next location. Often times students are curious and want to explore a new program that you have introduced. Therefore, allowing them to use the sightseeing tool is a good way for them to see the capabilites of Google Earth as well as see a lot of well-known places throughout the Earth.


If you desire to fly to a specific location, then you first must go to the Search menu, and then with the "Fly To" tab selected you must type in your request. This place request can take one of the following forms which are identified and accepted by the program:
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  • City, State
  • City Country
  • Number Street, City, State
  • Zipcode or Postal Code
  • Cross Street, City, State
  • Latitude and Longitude (decimal format)
  • Latitude and Longitude (DMS format)

This feature is a great tool for social studies teachers because they can have their students fly to various locations across the world which were sites of major battles or events in history.
The second tab in the Search box is titled "Find Businesses." When this tab is chosen, two option boxes appear, "what" and "where." This search is different from the previous one because with this you can locate a business, restaurant, landmark, college, or other place which may not have been identified by your original search or for which you may not know the address of. This feature can be used in the same ways as the "Fly To" tool for students in the classroom.

The third tab is listed as "Directions." After selecting this tab you are given two dialogue boxes, one for the starting location and one for the ending location. Once you enter the two points and choose search, a route will develop and you will be able to see a visual line that tracks your path. Not only is a visual provided on the image, but the actual step by step instructions are provided in the original search box under where you had entered the starting and ending points. With this tool, students could track an example route of what soldier might have taken form one battle site or location to another by following the path that appears when the two points are entered. This will help them to get a visual of the distances which individuals have traveled on foot in past historical events and occurrences.


Within the task column on the lef there is a bar titled Layers. Here, the students and users can locate any points of interest, roads and borders, terrain, view 3D buildings, and locate other landmarks or specifics in an area.

This feature can be used in a variety of ways in the classroom. For example, students may be doing a project where they need to plan a family vacation to a location with a set budget. In this situation, students could use Google Earth and the Layers features to find specific points of interest in the city they are planning to visit for their vacation. To help them locate lodging or dining within the city, they can simply click the box beside those options in the layers window and the names and locations of all the places or areas which fall into the checked category within the window you are looking at will appear. This can be helpful for students to get a visuexternal image earth-beta.jpgal of where the hotels or other places they are choosing are located. Students can also locate state parks and travel and tourism locations. This could be helpful in a project about economics and summer tourism or finding out the number of state parks or recreational places in a specific area. For options in the layers menu which have a plus beside them, students can click on this to have more in-depth options within that category to search for.

The second category of options in the layers menu includes roads, borders, and terrain. By turning on the roads option, the names of all the routes, highways, streets, etc. within your viewing window will appear. If one that you are looking for does not appear, simply zoom in further and wait for the image to finish streaming. When the borders option is selected, borders will appear around countries, states, counties, cities, etc depending upon the size of the area in which you are viewing. Finally, by selecting the terrain option, natural landmarks such as mountains and canyons will become more clear in 3D and their elevation levels will be given at various points. These tools can be used by students when making maps, exploring the differences in the land throughout the United States, or in finding different elevation levels to work with in a math or science class.

The final piece of the Layers tool bar is that of displaying 3D buildings. If students check this box and then go to a major city such as Boston, when they move their view to a new angle from the top-down view the buildings will become more detailed and proportioned to their actual sizes. This tool could be used to teach students in a geometry class, finding area or volume, etc.


With the basic, free version of Google Earth, you also have the ability to measure with a line or path. To use this function, go to Tools in the task bar and select Ruler. From here you can either choose to measure a line or a path. When measuring a line, once the box has appeared as your cursor, you click on the point which you wish to be one end of the line. Then, as you move to what you want to be the end point of the line, a line extends from your original point. Once you have clicked on the second point, the ruler box will give you a number value for the length of the line. The possible units that can be used are centimeters, meters, kilometers, inches, feet, yards, miles, and nautical miles.

The other option is to form a path and measure the length of that. The process is the same as with the line, only instead of only choosing two points you can choose to include as many as you desire or need in your path and the total distance simply accumulates as you add points. These would be great tools to use in a math classroom. Students could use it to gather data to later work with and use in the context of the topics they are learning, or history students could use the path tool to track the paths of soldiers and discover how many miles they walked.


Now that you have had a chance to download the free version of Google and understand how to work some of the basic programs that it has to offer, you can begin to integrate Google Earth into your classroom. However basic some of the uses may seem, integrating this form of technology into your classroom can be extremely powerful. Even something as simple as having students gather their data on this site rather than giving it to them on a paper can help improve learning. To see some ways which individuals are using Google Earth in their classroom or in their research, check out Activities You Can Do Using Google Earth. For Webquest ideas that use Google Earth, go to Google Earth and Math if your interest is in math, or A History Webquest Using Google Earth if your passion is history.


The following two sites had essentially the same information and was used in the explanations of each of the tools that the free version of Google Earth has to offer along with my own, personal general knowledge of the program through my own experiences with using it. Both sites are owned by Google and provide viewers with information on how to run all the different programs and versions of Google Earth, not just the free versions.
This site, the Google Earth page in Wikipedia, gave a lot of the technical information mentioned in the introduction as well as provided some background reading on the program and how it has evolved. link goes to the hompage for the Google Earth website and from here you can get to many resources, including Google for Educators and the downloadable version of the program.

All pictures are linked to the web page they were taken from.

This page was created by Brittany Davis