A teacher would like to move his annual seventh grade trip planning project from paper to Google Earth. The basic idea is that each student plans all of the details of a trip to an international destination of his or her choice. The report includes maps, itinerary, a description of each stop, a detailed trip budget, and general overview of the destination.
Google Earth promises to add value to this project at several levels. Earth’s core functionality is mapping — it provides an unlimited number of maps, at a variety of zoom levels, of every stop on the trip. Unlike paper maps, you can even display a view of a couple of blocks in a city and produce maps for remote locations that would otherwise be hard to find. The flyover tool provides a sense of scale difficult to communicate by any other means, as the viewer zooms from one location to another. Believe it or not, about a quarter of the families actually take the trip that the student has designed (there’s an authentic project for you!). It’s a lot easier to share this project with others in digital form. It’s even possible that the family would be able to take the student’s work with them on a smart phone!
We found that .kmz files can store nearly all of the information the teacher wants students to include. The placemark Info window apparently accepts HTML, because we found ourselves inserting links, paragraph tags, and even images embedded from other locations on the web. Earth’s print function automatically compiles the placemarks in a folder and produces step-by-step output suitable for sharing with others on paper if desired. Students could even store their bibliographies in the KMZ file, perhaps in the last placemark on the tour. Itinerary can be included by naming each placemark with the trip day. In this manner, all of the information the teacher wants students to research is embedded right in the most relevant place in the tour.
For kicks, we tested the concept that a KMZ file would be useful on a smartphone. We emailed a sample KMZ file to my Blackberry, but it didn’t open from Mail. Then, I uploaded it to a web site instead and accessed it from the Blackberry browser — then it worked great! Google Maps for Blackberry opened the KMZ file and displayed all of the placemarks in Rome right there. We didnt’ test whether the placemark details were retained but were sufficiently impressed that Maps could display the Earth file in a useful way. This feature could be useful for a lot of other applications for when you want to take with you a number of locations that you have looked up ahead of time.