Nov 21 2010

Art along the Santa Fe Trail (Google Earth Activity)

Art Along the Santa Fe Trail (Google Earth .kmz file)

In my opinion, one of the aspects of Google Earth that is most powerful is its ability to put things into perspective (literally as well as figuratively). Giving students the ability to measure distances on the map quickly and easily is incredibly empowering and puts the students in charge of their own discovery. Aside from its most obvious use of finding topically relevant locales on a map, you can use Google Earth in almost every subject including math, history, science, the arts, and even physical education. Want to know the area of a football field? Just find one in Google Earth and measure it with the area tool. Want to know the circumference of your town’s water tower? Just outline it with the path tool. Want to see historic European buildings (churches, castles, etc.) from a modern citizen’s perspective? Just zoom into Street View.

I developed a Google Earth “tour” encompassing twelve stops along the Santa Fe Trail as it crosses through Kansas. The title of the tour is “Art Along the Santa Fe Trail.” At each stop–from Leavenworth to Elkhart–you’ll find many different examples of types of art, including sculptures, statues, architecture, and more. Each stop has a photo of some kind of art work of which you can see not only a photo, but where it is in relation to the trail and sometimes even see it in Google’s Street View. There are many directions that a teacher could take this lesson, but my original idea was to send students (in twelve different groups) into the Google Earth file and take the tours of the towns (minus the pre-selected artwork). Each group would be responsible for finding examples of art in the town, locating it on the map, learning what they can about the art and the artist (might require even some phone calls or e-mails), and adding their own relevant placemarks on the map. The students would then share their findings with the class, both digitally and orally.

Below is a table that outlines just a few of the sample standards that this lesson could address.

Geography U.S. History Visual Arts
NSS-G.K-12.1 NSS-USH.5-12.4 NA-VA.5-8.4
NSS-G.K-12.2 NA-VA.5-8.5
NSS-G.K-12.4 NA-VA.5-8.6


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  1. […] If you haven’t already seen it, also take a look at my downloadable Google Earth “tour” of the Santa Fe Trail. […]

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