On Friday my students finished creating their Google Earth placemarks for the Kinderchat Play Project. I hope this isn't the end of their work in this project, because my goal was not only for them to create their own placemarks, but to explore those created by children around the world. I thought this would be a good point to reflect on how the project work for my students, and to share tips for other teachers as they consider adding to the project.

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The first thing teachers will want to consider is whether their class's contribution will be created by individual students or groups. Each student in my class made individual placemarks, but I can see this project working for a whole class (perhaps creating placemarks for field trips) or small groups, depending on how much time the class can dedicate to the project.

To personalize the project and connect with the children's families, I asked that each student work with his or her caregivers to choose the site to be pinned and provide a photo at the location (either of or taken by the child). I didn't ask for specific photo resolutions, figuring that might complicate the issue for parents, and knowing that I could easily reduce the file sizes in Skitch. I also asked the each student provide a few sentences describing why the landmark is important to him or her. Link to parent letter: Letter to parents.

Once I received the photos and descriptions, we began the project with the students. The children ended up heavily using two applications (Skitch and Google Earth). They also had to navigating two others (I used Evernote as a repository for all of the data I received from the parents, including the photos, addresses and descriptions, and the skitch.com website in Chrome to host the annotated photos).

Each child captured and annotated two images using Skitch. The first was to be used as the custom icon, and students were instructed to select a small, distinct portion of their photo and keep any decorations simple. Many opted to frame their icons to make them stand out.
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The students also captured their full-sized photos and annotated them (these became the images that open in the pop-up window in Google Earth). The Skitch interface was very easy for the students to navigate (once they got the hang of clicking and dragging to capture the image), and they thoroughly enjoyed personalizing their photos. Posting the "skitched" photos was as easy as clicking on the share button in the bottom right hand corner of the Skitch window (all of the desktops that the children used are linked to my Skitch account).

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Once their images were saved the students were ready to create their place marks in Google Earth. They loaded the address into the Google Earth search bar and then zoomed in to the exact place that they wanted to pin. A detailed screencast for creating place marks can be seen here. Teachers should be sure to create a folder for the placemarks in the "My Places" section of the Places sidebar (temporary items will not be saved).

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In order to complete the project, the students had to be comfortable with the following skills:
  • copy/paste (we used command c/command v)
  • select all/undo (command a/command z)
  • application switching
  • right clicking to edit place mark (this was the hardest as we used a number of machines/input devices, so we used option-click)
Technology concepts addressed:
  • satellite imagery (we compared how pictures are taken for traditional Google Earth and street view, with the emphasis that neither is live)
  • photo hosting (that they weren't adding the picture to the project, but a link to where the picture is stored)
  • KML as a language (they didn't learn any coding, but it was fun to show the language and the parts that we could change — for example making the font size bigger with <p style="font-size: 150%;">TEXT</p>)

I wanted the students to do as much of the work as possible on this project, but there were a few things I did to ensure that the project would run smoothly for them. I organized each child's information as a note in Evernote, so that they would be able to copy and paste the information they needed. I also tested their addresses in Google Earth before they entered the information, to ensure that the location could be found. When the children captured their photos in Skitch, I resized them (although Skitch makes it fairly easy, and I could have talked them through it if I had more time). I resized the font for them, and for those adding links to websites, added the code that allowed them to display clickable text rather than the specific web address.

Each Evernote note looked like this:

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My final step for this part of the project is to export the place marks in KML and place them on a Google Map to share with other schools. Other schools that contribute to the project can follow my steps or create place marks directly in the Google Map, but please be sure to save them once created (using the KML export button), because multiple people will have editing privileges and there is the possibility of place marks being changed or deleted.

Because I find the Google Earth interface to be so much nicer, I will download any added placemarks and add them to my local Google Earth places folder and share them with the students that way. I'll be curious to see whether other contributors decide to work in Google Earth, Maps, or use a hybrid of the two. I can't wait to see what other people add, and my students will be thrilled to see places that are special to children around the world.