Google Earth is Our Paper – Part 5: A Week in Review

Our week of storytelling in Google Earth has finished however I wanted to wrap up my reflections on working in this way. In this post I look back over the process and review the benefits you will reap and any challenges that you may face in implementing a similar unit.

A piece of Google Earth storytelling is definitely manageable within a week (5-6 hours) and in that sense is very flexible. The completed outcome from each child was a set of 6 placemarks that included:

  • An embedded Vocaroo audio snippet of a rehearsed and planned piece of the story from James’ point of view.
  • A written sentence that was a second draft of that first audio clip. An improved version that built in the language work we had done as a class to support the story.

You can see these two story elements in this screenshot of a child’s work.

If you would like to hear the audio, see the other 5 placemarks and the work as a whole then you can download the KMZ file here. During the week I worked with a supported literacy group and here is the audio work we completed together.

Challenges of digital storytelling in Google Earth

  • Saving – this has been the biggest issue for us as the children will encounter temporary files saved locally in Google Earth. This is especially true when working on different laptops over a period of days. As the placemarks were the same, it led to confusion. If I was to do another unit of work with GE I would ensure that the children save work with their name included and I would also purge the local files at the end of every session. Another option is to explore the use of Google Maps.
  • Uncertainty – as with most applications the more confident you are as a user the more you will get from it. Google Earth has a lot going on with various menus, folders and windows. The children often ran into a sticky spot if they could not find the item they were looking for or generally felt unfamiliar with the layout. If I was to repeat this unit again I would probably ensure there has been equivalent hours put in before hand that doesn’t just orientate them to the basics but allows them time to work with files, saving and the various layers of information. This would raise their level of confidence, consequently the layout of Google Earth would not be a hurdle to better storytelling.

Benefits of digital storytelling in Google Earth

  • Visual – beginning with such a rich visual stimulus as Google Earth imagery gives the children such a different experience of storytelling then what they are used to. In this unit we benefited as a class not being straight-jacketed to a written, paper based plan. We were free to roam and explore the imagery we had, there were constraints that we agreed, but the plot was there in that imagery waiting for us to tease it out. 
  • Control – the children had control over the way they explored their story. They moved, tilted and zoomed, they controlled how their journey looked to them. I walked around the room during the week and they were all exerting this control over how the narrative space looked to them. I suppose in a small way this personalises the journey for them. 
  • Discovery – we began with a single location, a place I believed would be good to tell our escape story. It needed that decision, but from there we decided as a group what would happen. The snakey line you see in the example files or images could have easily taken us in another direction. The children discovered the elements of the story we included. In the first sessions we explored the local area in pairs and the children noted and discussed possible places of refuge. One child shared with us, by zooming in on the SMARTBoard, the building yard that we eventually chose to hide in as James. At that point int he lesson we had not even decided which way to turn from outside his house – but it was clear that the yard would provide us with lots of opportunities so we included it our escape. Let the children find their path, their journey – let them discover what is out there and allow the plot to be formed as you go.
  • Embedding Media – Google Earth placemarks allow a whole host of media to be embedded in support of your story. We have added a simple audio player but you could easily have some drama work filmed and uploaded to a video hosting site, then embedded. That would be a great extension to what we have done and not too difficult either.
  • Geotagged Narrative – beyond the huge variety of imagery children have as a starting point the sense of making your narrative happen in situ really appeals to me. You have to consider the tense that you work in, however the combination of narrative types in one place is a huge benefit to working in Google Earth. You could have written, spoken, filmed and drawn media all in the very location it is occurring.
Where do we go from here?
In my opinion I think that this week has challenged me to think of storytelling in a new way. I think I have a good understanding of digital narrative, but working in Google Earth and defining the plot in response to the environment turns it all on it’s head. My class were not trying to conjure up some bright idea, they were inspired by the images in front of them, by the landscape and make up of the location. Just think of all of those locations…just waiting to be a location for a story. (You could even do one on Mars or The Moon!)
Somewhere local to the school to begin would also be a great starting point – perhaps a trip to somewhere near the school and the children do a recount of the day. I would also like to explore the potential of social stories, children generating small snippets of narrative roughly under the same plotlines, in different placemarks but again in roughly the same location. These could then be shared and the individual child chooses a path for their character to take adding their peers narrative parts to form a whole.
Tear up the paper, be a location scout, let the landscape guide you, tip storytelling upside down and give it a shake – most of all let the children discover their own journey, their own path. You never know where it might lead.

5 thoughts on “Google Earth is Our Paper – Part 5: A Week in Review

  1. Fantastic idea Tom, and one that I shall be discussing with staff at the next staff meeting I lead, to further embed ICT into all areas of our curriculum.

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  3. Hi Tom – this is fantastic stuff. My colleague Alan alerted me to your blog yesterday. We have a magazine called Primary Geographer – it would be great to be able to have an article on this project. Would this be something you would be willing to do?

  4. I was really inspired by this idea, so this week I have been doing something similar using the street view feature of Google Maps with my mixed yr2/3 class. The quality of writing has been great, particularly from my least able writers. It helps that like you, I’ve tied it in with a brilliant book. In my case we’ve been working on “The Lost Thing” by Shaun Tan, which has given us lots of scope for using ICT.
    Thanks for the great idea!

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