Jan 18 2008

GeoTweets – Inviting your network into the classroom

Published by under Google Earth,PLN,Twitter

Last week I had a fantastic afternoon which saw, for the first time I can recall, my learning network impacting in real time on my lesson and the children’s learning.

I had planned to do 2 sessions with our two Year 5 (9/10 yr olds) classes on the usual introduction to Google Earth type content but it all changed. Sometimes things just happen and I love those sort of sessions – the unknown, the edgy, the challenging sessions that we all learn more from than sticking to the usual, grey sessions we could do with our eyes closed. Pushing the boundaries a little.

Needless to say Twitter and Google Earth were involved, and the latter is not a particularly new tool – but the combination of both created very powerful real time discovery. A few moments before the children came in from lunch, I asked my network to challenge the children to find them in Google Earth, to search and discover their location from a few scraps of info via Twitter. Well the challenges rolled in and in a couple of hours we had 25 different people to track down.

Of course we got stuck in straight away and I sent the first class off trying to find the locations of our helpful teacher GeoTweets! Then it occurred to me that we had to reply in some way and prove that we had found them, so once we had identified where they were we Tweeted them a message with the proof. Here is an example:

Not much there but we did a quick look at technolibrary’s Twitter profile and soon found her location on her blog. Off the kids went trying to track down her school. The imagery was excellent and we could even read the words on their football pitch! Of course hidden under all of this excitement is children using the search and layers tools to refine what they are looking at – some of them using GE for the first time.

Here is the Tweet I sent to prove we were there…


The children’s efforts were driven by a real purpose and I always think that such a context around any edtech helps to push it to one side and we focus on the learning going on – not just the tool. Of course we had some trouble finding Clay Burell :-0

As you can imagine we had lots of fun exploring the world and the real time challenges from real people – that is the power of bringing Twitter into the classroom. I repeated the session with another class and just refreshed the request for challenges in the break. It worked out to be a wonderful intro to Google Earth which would also work really well with adult learners or during a professional development course.

Towards the end of the sessions we found Chris Lehmann and the Science Leadership Academy. The kids found it fascinating as we looked at the 3D buildings layer and what more GE had to offer.

Here is a quick summary of how you could use this concept in your classroom:

  • Ask your Twitter network for challenges, GeoTweets if you will. Do this in advance of the session to give people time to respond.
  • Guide the children quietly – you want them to be explorers not tourists!
  • Encourage the children to found out about the area of the GeoTweet – find proof – we found the name of the local garage for one!
  • Tweet back the proof to the sender to say you have found them. Maybe ask a further question about the area.
  • We used my own Twitter network as I wanted the children to focus on using and exploring Google Earth.
  • If you think your network isn’t quite at that tipping point where it will give live results, then you can prep it before hand and ask for specific responses a couple of days before. Ask others to pass on the request to their network – spread the word a bit.
  • Some children will not find some of the locations because of the inaccuracy of their search. Encourage them to check and retype.
  • Display the GeoTweets on a separate board or in a different application because Twitter’s timeline shifts everything down. You could use the screen capture tool in SMART Notebook (or other IWB app) to pin up current searches.
  • Get different groups of children searching for different people – to spread the work.
  • Be flexible and relax – this is a live session and is in the hands of your network, go with the flow of it. You have invited your network to contribute something so be prepared for the change of pace. You may have to wait, be patient – also you may have to juggle lots of GeoTweets.
  • Remember to explain what Twitter is to your kids! Explain about the connections it cultivates, you may be surprised by their reaction.
  • Have fun!

A big thankyou to the 25 odd people who jumped in with their challenges for my classes we had a great afternoon of GeoTweeting fun!

Just a postscript really about a problem that occurred with Google Earth running on our wireless laptops. I had the latest GE running on the 16 or so machines as the kids came in and many of the machines went to sleep during the short intro, and of course this disconnects from the wireless network. When the children donned their explorers hats and rushed to the machines to find the Twitter participants, GE didn’t seem to like waking up. The imagery was all wonky even after the connection was re-established. We all had to do a restart on GE to solve it. Just wanted to warn you about that one. I will let you know if I hear of a solution, or why it happens. (You could of course do a server logout (from file menu)and then login again – which would mean you wouldn’t have to shut the app down.)

8 responses so far

8 Responses to “GeoTweets – Inviting your network into the classroom”

  1.   Kevin Jarretton 18 Jan 2008 at 1:42 pm

    Tom, what a terrific idea! I *JUST* did a GE lesson with my Second Graders but this would be perfect for my 4th graders, whom I see at 1:30pm EDT – ‘prime time’ for much of the twitterverse (here in the USA, at least). Thanks for the inspiration!

  2.   Adam Sutcliffeon 18 Jan 2008 at 4:35 pm

    Hi Tom
    This sounds like a really fun lesson. the sort where your kids never even realised they were learning and on how many different levels. Couldn’t do anything like this at our place though.

  3.   Ann Oroon 19 Jan 2008 at 4:00 am

    I just used Google Earth for the first time with the students who are emailing your teachers and students. This brings it to a whole new level. I think my older 12-14 year olds would have fun with this idea. Thanks for sharing!

  4.   John Maklaryon 20 Jan 2008 at 3:37 am

    Thanks for a great mashup tip. Never thought about Twitter and GE. What a neat way to introduce the “network” with a geo-slant. I’ll be looking to do something similar with my 6th graders.

  5.   Reginaon 21 Jan 2008 at 6:58 am

    Thanks for the great idea. I look forward to trying this in the coming year.

  6.   Tony Hirston 17 Mar 2008 at 10:41 am

    What a wonderful activity :-)

    Not wanting to spoil the fun, there is a possible link in here to talking about how technology might go about extracting and plotting the location automatically – e.g. http://blogs.open.ac.uk/Maths/ajh59/012696.html
    and as soon as I get it working properly (hopefully later today)

    I know the level of this is all wrong, but here’s how Google are thinking about how to find complete addresses from partial ones to improve their local search/Google maps search engine:


  7.   tbarretton 18 Mar 2008 at 12:53 pm

    Thanks Tony for your feedback. The links you provide are very interesting.

  8.   Kev Hickeyon 29 Aug 2009 at 2:17 pm


    I found this post while reserching different ways of useing Twitter for education and I just wanted to say I was really impressed and your students are lucky to have such a creative teacher