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Mapping with Google Tools

In this session we will investigate three of Google's geo tools; Maps, Maps Engine Lite, and Google Earth. After a look at Maps, we'll check out Maps Engine Lite, find or create data sets and import them onto the map, then look at that geo data in different ways. We will create a user-generated map. We'll then dive into Google Earth and discover its many features for exploring the world, looking at the overlay layers, adding custom pins and areas, balloon information, flyover tours, etc. 

Google Maps

Note: If you're using the new Maps you can always revert to the old one if you need to. But really, try to stick with the new one.

Using Maps
  • Find a place - type its name in the search bar, eg [google ca]
  • Find a business - type what you're looking for into the search, eg pizza or accounting
  • Save a place - click the Star icon
  • Find directions - click the Directions arrow and enter the start and end points
  • Get live traffic  - click the Show Traffic link
  • Get transit information - click the Transit link
    • Transit lines (busses, trains, ferries) will appear
    • Click on a station or bus stop to see timetable information where available)
  • Get directions - click the Step by Step link 
    • Switch between car, transit, walking, cycling or flying
    • Choose Best route, or Avoid Tolls and Highways
    • Click each step to zoom in at that point
    • Print the directions with the Printer button
    • Click Full Map View to return to the main map
    • Click and drag the blue nav line to re-route via specific places
  • Click anywhere on a map to see the closest address to that point
  • Click the Streetview image to see Streetview at that point
    • Hint: Once in Streetview try navigating with your keyboard arrow keys
  • The Explore bar at the bottom of the screen shows photos contained within the current map view
  • You can hide or show the Explore bar - click the arrows on the right side of it
  • To share a map, just get the view you want, and use the current URL
  • Click Earth to switch to the 3D Google Earth view
    • Use the Tilt button to tilt the Earth view (3 positions)
    • Press Shift while dragging to rotate the view
    • Scroll (or us the +/- buttons) to zoom in and out
  • Views - Traffic, Cycling, Satellite, Public transit
  • Waze integration coming (crowdsourced map data)
  • Being signed in to Maps on mobile links to previous desktop searches  (All your stars!)
  • Google Views -
Adding Photosphere images to maps
Photosphere is a camera feature built into the standard Android camera. It's also now available as an iOS app as well.  Use the Photosphere camera to create your own views and add them to the Views map. (You can even make your own Constellations!)


MyMaps is a free mapping tool that anyone can use to create personalised maps and data mashups. It is based on Maps Enginea business class mapping tool operated as a paid service.

Activity: Mapping Datasets

Here are some datasets for you. Just open one that sounds interesting, and use the File > Make a Copy command to take a copy to your own Google Drive. Open a Maps Engine page and import the data in. Then go play with it!
Hint: include the word "dataset" eg [san francisco dataset] when searching for datasets. Also, include the [filetype:csv] operator to go directly to CSV files (a useful file type for datasets)

Google Earth

Google Earth is a realistic virtual model of the Earth made up of millions of individual satellite images. Unlike most Google tools, Earth must be installed on your computer and does not just run in the browser.

Activity: Create a tour of some places of interest.
  1. Create a folder in the Places list
  2. Add Placemarks, Polygons or Paths to your folder (POIs)
  3. Rightclick the POI and choose Get Info (Mac) or Properties (Windows)
  4. If you want to change the perspective of a POI, use the Snapshot View command
  5. Rename it with an appropriate name
  6. Add a text description about the POI
  7. Add a link to more information
  8. Add an image (use an absolute URL to the image file)
  9. You can structure the description any way you like, but it has to be done using HTML
  10. Add a few more POIs to your folder
  11. Do a flyover tour of the POIs by clicking the Folder Play button
  12. Do an even better tour of the POIS by clicking the Record a Tour button. You can even add narration if you wish.
  13. Save the recorded Tour to your Places list
  14. Email it to someone else.
How else could you use this?

Play back your trip with a GPS Track file

Take a look at the My Tracks app or the GPS Essentials in the Android Play Store. It records a track from waypoint data as you move around and then exports it as a KML file.  There are probably similar apps in the Apple Apps Store too if you search for them.

You can import the KML files created by these apps directly to Google Earth to relive the journey!  Here's an example

Tour Builder

Its new. It's cool. Just try it.

The Maps Interface

Contribute to Maps.  Add places, correct errors.

Also, you can see what's being updated with Pulse -

Measuring Distance
Need to know how far something is on a map? Just right click and choose Measure Distance. Click points on the map to show the distance. You can even drag points around to change them, or click in the middle of a line to add a new point. When you're done, right click again and choose Clear Measurement

Let's do a Mapping Exercise...
Adding your email using the form above lets me share a MyMaps map with you. Check your email in a moment to get the link to the map we'll be working on.

Did you know?  Google's Maps are updated constantly, with new additions made every week. However, not every area is updated equally often... densely populated areas are updated more often than remote and rural areas.

Classroom Suggestion: Make a Map!
Next time your students are learning about a topic that involves any sort of geographical information, get them to work together to produce a collaborative map of key locations.  

This idea can be used in ALL subject areas, not just obvious ones like geography! 
  • Science - where data is collected. 
  • English - places mentioned in a novel. 
  • Art - where different art movements started. 
  • History - locations of famous battles...  
  • Use your imagination!

Did you know: Google Earth is not just about Earth. It also has model of the Moon, Mars and the Night Sky.  Check out the View > Explore menu.

Did you know: There is a flight simulator in Google Earth. It was originally a hidden "easter egg", but was made visible in version 4.3. Find it by clicking Tools > Enter Flight Simulator

Classroom Suggestion: Create a GeoScavenger Hunt! 
Next time your class is learning about a country, why not get them to do a scavenger hunt for clues to help them familiarise themselves with it.

Here's an example I used with my Year 3 classes when they were learning about Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam...

Vietnam Treasure Hunt

Turn mapping into a Game

GeoGuessr is a geo-based game that uses Google Maps. It shows you a (more or less) random place in Streetview mode and you have to work out where in the world you are. It's a great game to play with your students to improve their observation, reasoning, logic, and of course mapping skills.

SmartyPins also uses Google Maps to create a geo-based trivia game. It asks a question and you have to drop a pin on the map where you think the answer is. See how close you get! You have a limited number of attempts based on how close you get to the correct location... the closer you get, the more turns you get.