The Google Earth Blog put out a list of the Top 10 New Google Earth Features (they also have a link for the new updates of 2006 and the Top 25 stories of Google Earth in 2007). Of the 10 features they listed, I think there are three that are most beneficial for education:
1. Google Sky Mode: I am far from an astronomer, but when sky mode came out in August, I had the opportunity to ask some astronomers about the accuracy of sky mode. They said that while it is accurate, it is far from complete. They did acknowledge that it would extremely difficult for a free program to offer a complete listing of the universe. Understandable. What a great way to enhance what you are already doing in your astronomy unit?
2. YouTube layer: Google introduced many layers this year that include the ability to see pictures, learn more about the history of areas, etc. But by far my favorite has been the YouTube layer. We've used it to make documentaries about some of our schools. So when prospective parents are moving to the district, they could use Google Earth to learn more about our schools. While I worry about random people putting random videos on our buildings (Ever looked at the South Pole? Try it and you'll see what I mean.) and if there will ever be a cleaning of this layer (go look at the White House), I think this layer is great.
3. Weather layer: In November the real time weather layer was introduced. In education, Google Earth can be used very easily in social studies and to get a fairly accurate visual of a non-fiction setting for books (among many other things, of course). Last year we did a video chat with a school in California, and they always thought it was funny that it was 10 degrees with three inches of snow on the ground. But they always had to ask us what the weather was like. We used Google Earth to see what their school looked like, and how cool would it have been to look at the building and the weather at the same time. The weather layer gives you more information about the places you are interested in around the world. Studying the Iraq war? You could use the weather layer to compare and contrast weather conditions from where you are to what it's like on that side of the world.
With all of the updates to Google Earth just this past year, it will be very interesting to see where they take this outstanding application.
From all of us here at the Tech Fridge, we wish you the happiest of holidays and hope that you have a wonderful New Year's Eve. See you next year!