Forget atlases and maps - they are old school! Google Earth is the new, improved and digital version to boot. Plus, I cannot believe how many features there are and all the things you can do. With Street View you can see the world without leaving your chair! It is really cool. I got a kick out of not only seeing my house, but also my own car in the driveway, so I'm sure that learners will get pretty excited too.
Google Earth makes geography so much more real and tangible. I am doing my prac in a year 4 classroom this year, and even at that age maps, countries, continents, distance, places... they are all very tricky concepts for children to grasp. Having the technology to ba able to zoom in and out and see actual photographs of the places as they zoom in, and even as if they are standing on the street, somehow makes me think it make make it 'click' for students alot easier.
This, of course is the most obvious use of this technology in the classroom, however it is certainly not limited to it. If we go with Maths, for example, Google Earth could well be a nominated Learning Resource when creating a maths Measurement and Space Investigation using the ICT Learning Design Framework (Oliver, 1999). The Learning Task, being problem-based, would require learners to plan a trip, including the route to take and the timetable or itinerary. It is possible for this to be a solely ICT driven Investigation, with Google Earth as the main tool used by children. Google Earth could even allow learners to give directions to an unfamiliar destination, including the use of street names and land marks thanks to the technology. The Task could be as broad (worldwide even!) or as specific and local as needed to suit the learner.
Pretty cool technology. I just hope they keep it more up to date than the GPS in my car!
(The car it showed out front of my house - I sold it in February!)
Oliver, R. (1999). Exploring strategies for online teaching and learning. Distance Education, 20(2), 240-254.