Dec 08 2008

Using Google Earth, Google Docs and Twitter in this Afternoon’s Science Lesson

In my science lesson this afternoon we used Google Earth, Google Docs and Twitter to help us get a better understanding about how day length varies across the UK, and an insight into the differences around the world.

As part of our introduction to the concept of day length I used Google Earth and the sun/shadow layer to illustrate the movement of the Earth’s shadow. We played the animation for the day and talked about what we could see in the way it moved.

What did Google Earth do to enhance the lesson?

  • This tool allows you to control the Earth’s shadow – that is a powerful simulation in the context of this lesson.
  • The timeline at the top of the screen shows accurate timing of where the sunrise/sunset is during a given 24 hours.
  • You can play through 24 hours of sunlight and darkness in a matter of seconds.
  • It offers children a global perspective on day and night – and yet in the same moment you could be focused in on your school and explore it on a more local level.
  • If I was to continue this unit further I would consider a more prolonged and individual use of Google Earth and simple data sets of sunrise/set times. This would provide the children the link between the times and a visual representation of the Earth’s shadow.

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In pairs the children worked in Google Docs on a set of sunrise and sunset times for UK cities. They used a simple formula to help them calculate the differences and so work out the day length in hours and minutes. They then looked at ordering the cities according to day length.

What did Google Docs do to enhance the lesson?

  • The children were able to share document ownership of the day length calculations.
  • Docs remembers to save the progress regularly – data loss is very rare.
  • Children’s completed spreadsheets were “handed in” to me to review by sharing with me as a contact. The docs will then appear in my own list and I will get an email message too.
  • I was able to model on a shared copy of the document displayed on everyone’s laptop screen. The changes that were made were updated in real time on their copy. When they went to make their own copy the modelled examples were part of their own.

As a longer extension to this task I asked on my Twitter network to provide some real locations for my children to research and find sunrise and sunset information for. 

I have used Twitter in a similar way in the past and once again I was thrilled to get so many responses that challenged my class. The locations were from right around the globe – India to Australia, from Thailand to Scotland. As an extension my class chose one or more of these locations as they appeared in my replies window on TweetDeck, and found out the day length.

What did Twitter do to enhance the lesson?

  • Real data, from real people in real locations. I would just explain a little about the person Tweeting if I knew them. Real connections.
  • Purposeful challenges from real people.
  • It may only be a short 140 characters from those who contributed but it provided a hugely engaging task that made us think beyond our shores.
  • I cannot think of any other tool that would allow me to connect to so many teachers so easily.
  • The contributions were from so many different parts of the world that it provided us with day lengths that we could compare and contrast with our own. 
  • The teachers that connected with us naturally asked other questions and challenges that allowed us to explore other things. 
  • It provided the whole class an opportunity to think, if only for a few minutes, as global citizens.

It was an great hour or so and I believe the tools we chose to use to support our learning were the correct ones. I was of course pleased to see the children engaging with Google Docs so effortlessly, it is just part of what we do now.

Curiously Google have altered the process of creating a copy of a document, removing the “Copy Collaborators” step. This caused us no end of headaches when sharing a doc with many students, as they in turn copied the document and also the 60 collaborators. You can imagine the burgeoning number of copies! I hope our efforts to share what we did contributed in a small way to that development. 

Every teacher should use Twitter, not only as a networking tool to help them learn – but in regards to connecting to the wider world to support learning. It is easy, it is fast and in my opinion peerless. Thankyou to all of you who contributed to the lesson with your messages – I hope that this post provides a context for your contribution.

5 responses so far




5 Responses to “Using Google Earth, Google Docs and Twitter in this Afternoon’s Science Lesson”

  1.   Jonas Hällebrandon 09 Dec 2008 at 8:11 am

    Lovely idea
    I want to try this but how do I control the shadow?

  2.   marthuron 10 Dec 2008 at 5:10 pm

    What other ways have you used Twitter in the classroom? I am interested in using it with my 3rd graders, but not sure how it can enhance my students learning just yet.

  3.   Joeon 11 Dec 2008 at 1:48 am

    I love the way you seamlessly incorporated technology into this lesson so that it was a simple tool to enhance the learning taking place. I’ve been using Twitter from time to time to solve riddles and puzzles with my students, however your lesson has me thinking of new ideas.

  4.   tbarretton 12 Dec 2008 at 1:58 pm

    @Jonas – to control the shadow – use the sun/cloud icon on the top toolbar to switch it on and then use the slider timeline to track through the current day.

    @marthur – I have added four links in this post to previous blog posts on the use of Twitter in my class see the paragraph beginning with “I have used Twitter in a similar way…”

    Hope this helps.

  5.   Sandra Carswellon 07 Mar 2009 at 7:04 pm

    Does your school subscribe to Google Apps Education?
    Just wondering about Docs accounts for students.

    Sandra