Ten ways to Google-up your GCSE project!

Consider improving your GCSE coursework with Google Earth and Maps

This article was written for the benefit of my own students; maybe others will find it useful? Some of the ideas require a Google account. It's free, and allows you to access dozens of free Google applications. (Look out for the log in link at the top right-hand of the page.) You'll also need to install the latest (4.3) version of Google Earth.

1) Locate your study area

Consider using a series of Google Maps at different scales to locate your study area. Don't forget that you can enter a postcode to look up places.

weymouthGoogle Maps at different scales

You can open Google Maps from within Google Earth using this icon.
gmap icon

It's possible to compare a Google Map side by side with an OS Map at the excellent Where's The Path website

2) Calculate distances

Use the Ruler within Google Earth to calculate distances.
ruler ruler icon

Measure straight distances using the Line tool and irregular lines with the Path tool.

distanceUsing the Ruler

3) Create a path

Does your project follow a river or other linear feature? Use the drawing tools in Google Earth to identify it.

path The path icon

paths A path in Google Earth

Click to create a node and drag to create a line. Right clicking a node will delete it. The thickness and transparency of the path can be altered afterwards. Simply locate the new path in the Places panel, right click and choose Properties

The path can be elevated above the ground and edited in a number of ways. Experiment by selecting the path in the Places panel, right clicking and selecting Properties > Style, Color and Altitude. Paths can also be drawn to represent desire lines (where people have come from) or isolines (lines joining places of equal value for example contours or isochrones)

path2Elevated path paths3Desire lines

4) Make Placemarks

These are easily created in Google Earth. Just click the pushpin icon to identify a feature in Google Earth.

placemarkA placemark in Google Earth

If you want to create placemarks in a Google Map instead, log into your Google account and choose Maps > My Maps. In My Maps click Create new map and give the new map a title. Use the tools to create placemarks paths and polygons. When you have finished click "Done" and the map will be saved in your Google account.
mymapCreating a Google My Map
You can see your finished map in Google Earth and even create and share a map with other people by using the collaborate function. The examiner would be impressed with students who create original My Maps for their coursework! There's a good video tutorial on My Maps here.

5) Draw polygons to represent buildings or data

Draw polygons to identify features in Google Maps or Earth. Simply use the Polygon tool

polygonDraw a polygon in Google Earth

polygonDraw a polygon in Google Maps

With a little cunning it is possible to estimate the area of a polygon using the Ruler tool. Like paths, polygons can be extended above the ground, for example to create a vertical bar graph that represents data as height in metres, or a building outline. A program called GE Path can be used to calculate the area of a polygon more accurately.

polygon A building represented as a polygon

6) Estimate land use using a grid

The satellite imagery from Google Earth can be used to identify land use. Overlay a grid pattern onto Google Earth to estimate area coverage. A set of grid lines corresponding to the Ordnance Survey are available here. (clicking the link will open them in Google Earth if you have it installed - check the Places panel.) Zoom in until the grid pattern is composed of 1km squares. Another hint- turn off Terrain from the Layers panel.

grid OS grid in Google Earth

7) Contours in Google Maps

Google Maps now display contours. Click the Terrain button and zoom in until you can see them!

contour Contour map view in Google Maps

8) 3D land forms in evening light

Screenshots from Google Earth can be used in your coursework. The 3D view is really useful for this. (turn on Terrain from the Layers panel) In low-lying areas the terrain can be raised if necessary by clicking Tools > Options > 3D view and adjusting the Elevation Exaggeration.

Highlight features such as v-shaped valleys by using the sun icon to throw sunlight over the landscape.

sun Late evening sunlight

9) Geotagged photos

Photos can easily be linked to a Google Map or Google Earth. Upload your photo to Flickr, Picasa or Panoramio first. In Google Earth create a placemark and in the properties paste a little piece of code called an image tag:
<img src=" replace this text with the link to the photo ">

For example try copying and pasting the following tag into a placemark description.<img src="http://farm4.static.flickr.com/3283/2473580931_dec3d81e62.jpg"> It should like this:


It is simple to add pictures to a placemark in Google My Maps. Follow the instructions here

10) Graphs within Google Earth

Simple graphs can be created inside a placemark using Rich Chart Live. Currently this free website lets you import data from a spreadsheet, create a chart and save as a Flash file. The code to embed the chart is available once it's been created, and this can simply be pasted into a placemark description, so the chart will appear in Google Earth:

Rich Chart LiveSimple graphs in Google Earth

Alternatively, more advanced graphs can be created using GE Graph This is a free program that can be used to create graphs from placemarks. To use this program successfully would be very impressive. Having downloaded GE Graph, create Google Earth placemarks that will represent the locations of the graphs. Move the placemarks into a new folder, and save this folder as a .kml file, (NOT a kmz) Now open the kml folder in GE Graph and add data in the spreadsheet window. View the finished graph by clicking "run" It can take some practice to get GE graph to produce satisfactory results, however the results could make a project really special. Use the help file within the program for more info.

gegraphGE Graph