Sunday, November 7, 2010

Are we home yet? A preamble about recursive learning

Life is such a recursive thing...we start projects, set them aside as others come up, come back to them later.  In the early eighties I remember starting a macrame project, a blanket, setting it aside, and coming back to it years later -- even the colors coming back into style -- but realizing it wasn't worth trying to relearn how to make those little squares...they smelt a little mildewy and didn't really fit "me" anymore.  Perhaps they never did -- perhaps they were just one of those indicators of how we as adolescents try on various roles until we find out who we really are and then run with that...until again, things are placed on the backburner, to crop up again years later.  Such is the journey of life.

So, I presented at NECC a couple of years ago on the topic of Timely Tools for Meaningful, Memorable Projects, desperately hoping I'd have the chance to continue working in this area, but as way leads onto way, that was just not the course for me...yet today, beginning to explore today's emergent little tools, to see how well they can slip into the whats and hows of our teaching, it struck me that it might be nice to revisit the gist of that presentation from today's perspective of what are the ground-level takeaways -- not of the tools, themselves -- they have all evolved even over two and a half short years -- but of the mindset behind the use of the tools (beyond the obvious curricular connection statement).

Here are some of my thoughts gleaned from that initial presentation. These are my starting points for today's departure - I figure this is my first important lesson - "note to self" - that in an age of quick-fix knee-jerk learning, what appears to be lost in the loss of sequence might not actually be lost at all -- but instead, be planted into a kind of overall cerebral incubator, to revisit us when next we tackle the topic, be it next class, or in two years' time.

Ha -- unless it has turned into mildewy macrame, in which case it may be better to leave it in the bag -- and then dispose of the bag. Not that I am meaning to write in metaphors!  But I digress...

I've ripped some key thoughts from the 2008 presentation to help inform today's inquiry. The one that resonates most strongly with me today is the comment regarding "free" - especially "no energy/learning curve investment in terms of content or process". This is the kicker, the one that will make or break buyin from colleagues at school when we suggest they use these new tools:

You can see the image below enlarged to full size by clicking here (not on the picture).

Back to Learn All Ways - "Timely Tools..." menu     Next...Presentations - Moving Beyond PowerPoint

Presentations - Moving Beyond PowerPoint

PowerPoint's reputation has been decreasing over the past few years, especially among English teacher-types, and perhaps justifiably so.  As is often the case in the integration of educational technologies, maybe the issue isn't PowerPoint, per se, but more a question of pedagogically sound integration of it into instructional practise.  In the mid-nineties’ PowerPoint revolution, presenters, swayed by the whiz-up bang-splash of PowerPoint, seized their podiums and joined the PowerPoint revolution, creating generally poorly-designed presentations, template after Microsoft template, complete with content that ranged from the excellent to the mediocre.  Audiences, from thousands attending conferences to a handful in interior workplace conference room, either were lulled into pleasant observation or were challenged to copy down notes really fast.

Dr. Cathy Adams, at the University of Alberta, astutely brings home this point, along with the poignant realization that we are what we watch, despite the dogged continuance of people to present in this way. Wikipedia records Adams’ comment, "’to a lecturer with PowerPoint, everything looks like a bullet.’ PowerPoint, she says, modifies subtly the thinking processes of student and teacher alike.”  And, clearly, this is NOT a good thing.

Despite the reaction of some who use PowerPoint in creative ways (see Cliff Atkinson oft-quoted book, Beyond Bullet Points: Using Microsoft PowerPoint to Create Presentations That Inform, Motivate, and Inspire), for most, and partly because of the template approach, it remains linear. Not necessarily bad if you are presenting a predetermined information spiel, but not necessarily good if you are trying to construct knowledge through a technology-enriched socially-mediated process with students. 

Proponents of programs such as Notebook and Keynote leverage this PowerPoint conundrum to further their own agendas, but, really, many Notebook users box themselves into linearity as well.  We "see new things in old ways" and so often end up using Notebook as another linear presentation tool rather than as a repository for various objects that can assist the teacher and student in the job of constructing learning. Keynote users pride themselves on their ability to integrate superb Flash-type effects into their presentations to help the "media" reinforce the "message", but how often when you see a Keynote presentation do you really see this artistry at work?  When the artistic control in the lesson shifts from the teacher - and students - at that moment - in media res - sculpting the interactions that create the aha learning moments, drawing from technology resources and processes as much as from other experiences and other serendipitous moments - to the predetermined presentation itself - keeping things so on track that possibilities for serendipity and social construction of learning are now minimized - the potential for excellent teaching and learning to occur again can be lost.  As always, the teacher is the key.

Have I ever fallen for this trap as a presenter?  Most likely.  On purpose?  Absolutely not - more as a result of rarely having the time to create the presentations I’d like to create.  I have sat in so many PowerPoint presentations over the years that have disengaged me rather than engaged me through the visuals, and I hope never to do the same to others.  To me, a final image of the death-by-PowerPoint dagger is when people in the audience start to take photos of the slides as the presenter presents.  The message here?  You could have just posted the PowerPoint online and stayed home?  
In this poorly composed, tinted photo of me presenting from a podium in what at first appears to be a traditional delivery scenario, I seem at first to be personifying all the the things I don't like about PowerPoint.  The PowerPoint on the screen (excerpted below) was not visually that good (definitely made in a hurry), but the content and even overall presentation format is a little different from what you might expect - the presentation was a BYOL (Bring Your Own Laptop) presentation, so users were encouraged not just to click along but, more importantly, to explore the various sites we visited right alongside the presentation, thus the liminal textuality of the presentation contextually provoked within participants their own internal discourse as they reviewed and consolidated new knowledge - i.e. the larger context of learning that integrates the online with the heard lets participants piece together learning through their own online explorations of presented ideas AS the ideas are being presented.  Arguably, in large audience, this might be even more effective than trying to engage every member through a back-and-forth verbal learning dialogue.  It was what went on invisibly as participants engaged in the exploration that counted the most.  I was presenting on the theme “Timely Tools for Meaningful, Memorable Projects”, and when reviewing the presentation this week a couple of screens that resonate from it now are:

You can see the image below enlarged to full size here.

My presentation style is really usually more like this (much more relaxed), appearing too tied up in telling a story to have moved past the Notebook Welcome screen, perhaps.  I expect there's more going on, given the time on the clock.  Some people find this style good - we dig in and learn together; other people find it awkward - because we don't defer to the linearity of the presentation slides beyond actually using them more as an organizational tool, as a kind of public checklist to make sure all the content has been covered over the day.  The focus is on "learning about SMARTBoards in teaching and learning", not on a completely predetermined information set.


It is just so important in this inquiry into online presentation and presentation enhancement tools that we remain focused on good teaching and learning and not be taken in by glitz!

In our Web CT online discussions, Jennifer Branch introduced us to George Siemens’ November 2, 2010 posting on his Elearnspace blog here, wherein he writes:

I’m firmly convinced of the following:
1. Learners should be in control of their own learning. Autonomy is key. Educators can initiate, curate, and guide. But meaningful learning requires learner-driven activity
2. Learners need to experience confusion and chaos in the learning process. Clarifying this chaos is the heart of learning.
3. Openness of content and interaction increases the prospect of the random connections that drive innovation
4. Learning requires time, depth of focus, critical thinking, and reflection. Ingesting new information requires time for digestion. Too many people digitally gorge without digestion time.
5. Learning is network formation. Knowledge is distributed.
6. Creation is vital. Learners have to create artifacts to share with others and to aid in re-centering exploration beyond the artifacts the educator has provided.
7. Making sense of complexity requires social and technological systems. We do the former better than the latter.

In our responses to his posting within our own discussion forum, we are predictably in agreement with him, knowing that to actualize the vision he purports demands some serious shift on our part as educators.

Considering the structure of traditional PowerPoint presentations, I cannot imagine a learning milieu LESS conducive to learning, if learning is defined through Siemens’ process identified above.  Mining the web further into the pedagogy of PowerPoint, I ran across Cathy Adams’ article, “PowerPoint’s Pedagogy”, in Phenomenology & Practice, Volume 2 (2008), No. 1, pp. 63 – 79, retrieved from .  Again, she reinforces this notion.  In her article, told much through anecdote and analysis, she warns against the lure of the lit screen to capture attention, the trapped progression through a predetermined course of ideas that disallows for the serendipity of real teaching through conversation.  In her conclusion, she even goes so far as to suggest that PowerPoint use can “impose on the ambience of the class a certain dispositional style that may determine in a favourable or unfavourable manner how knowledge is internalized, understood, and how it is constitutive of the formative growth of the student.”  This is scary stuff, but when you consider the best kind of learning experiences that we remember, and Siemens’ list above, one can certainly see her point.  How limiting a world we would live in if PowerPoint linearity imposed predetermined lines of discourse into all of our educational dialogue!  Perhaps the same holds true for SMART Notebook, when it is used as a teacher-driven top-down "lesson delivery" presentation tool? Perhaps the very technologies thousands of dollars are being spent on to create more engaging learning experiences for our students are somehow having the opposite effect by their very nature of separating teacher and learner.  I know I have found it hard to have to stand by my SMART Board when I would rather be moving around the room, yet until SMART Boards come with SMART Slates (used to be Airliners), those of us with SMART Boards have chained ourselves to our boards and projectors, rather than by our students, whether or not we were didactic stand-at-the-front teachers in the first place.  (By the way, I actually LOVE having access to SMART Boards, but for other reasons.)

Let’s take this one step further - let’s, for a moment, consider EVERY popular kind of linear presentation format, no matter how pretty it appears, that exists as an online tool.  My hunch is that you can have equally bad presentations in all of these formats, as they are inherently limited by their linearity.  Here goes...
  • Notebook Express and Google Presentation - see next posting.
  • Animoto and Vuvox - references appear throughout the blog to Animoto and Vuvox, although specific pages are not devoted to their exploration. I do make some specific reference to them on the Summary and Conclusions page.  I see these tools, like more traditional presentation tools, as being best utilized when put in the hands of the students or when used for very specific purposes - creating interest at the start of the lesson, for example. 
      In drawing conclusions regarding the educational use of online presentation tools, let’s keep in mind Siemens’ vision and Adams’ cautions, and keep the bar high when determining how we and our colleagues might maximize effective use of these tools with our colleagues and students.

      Back to Learn All Ways - "Timely Tools..." menu 

      Next...Notebook Express and Google Presentation - time to leave the linear behind?

      Notebook Express and Google Presentation - time to leave the linear behind?

      Around in beta for at least a year now, SMART Notebook Express seems to be doing the sensible thing by providing an online tool wherein students can open and view Notebook files posted online by their teachers.  No longer will students need to download Notebook software onto their computers to access these files.  So far, this is really the only useful thing about this new manifestation of Notebook...BUT even this has a glitch, which when experimenting in there tonight, surprised me:  Notebook Express will only open URLs that are specific addresses of Notebook files.  This means that if a teacher has uploaded a Notebook file to Google Docs, or to a Ning site, a student will  NOT be able to view it in Notebook Express, because the URL will end with the Google Docs (or Ning) id# of the document, rather than the .notebook suffix.  How disappointing.  A student can still open a posted Notebook file, though, if the teacher has uploaded it to an online space that doesn't wrap the file within another URL.

      To test this, I uploaded a cut-down version of a presentation I made almost two years ago in Calgary, on the subject of SMART Boards and Student Empowerment, to my iDisk.  You can view the presentation using Notebook Express by doing the following:
      1. Open - it takes a couple of moments for the application to load
      2. When given the choice to Open an Existing Notebook File or Create a new Notebook file, choose to Create a new Notebook File.  (I know, not too intuitive here...)
      3. Once the new file has opened, to to the File menu inside the application and scroll to Open URL...
      4. In the box that appears, paste the following address:

      Once the Notebook file loads, it works just as if it were opened in Notebook; you can move objects, click animations, and even use the eraser to erase pens (e.g. on the page with the magnifying glass, you can move the magnifying glass, and the "erase" the blue space behind it to reveal the text hidden beneath). This file is over 2MB in size, and works well; I earlier tried loading a more complete versions of the same document and it stalled loading the 24 MB file.  My sense is for a quick lesson review, this will work fine, as long as you have accessible webspace where you can keep the file without it losing the .notebook suffix.

      You can create new pages on Notebook Express, but at this time, these pages are very, very basic.  None of the advanced tools and customizable options (pen properties, object properties, etc.) are available.  All you can do is write on the whiteboard and reveal things bit by bit with the screen shade...or erase them with the eraser.  Oh, and you can add and delete pages.  I think that is it.  I decided not to provide a demo on  my blog once I discovered that you can't even insert a piece of clipart or a photo from your hard drive.

      In fairness to SMART, this online tool is still in beta.  I hope that once it's complete it will allow you to create more interactive presentations online; I also would give my right arm to have it enable collaboration.  That would transform the interface entirely, if more than one person could use the whiteboard at any one time - it would beat even the downloaded version then!  Imagine a series of questions on the board and you asking your students to complete them as quickly as possible.  "You have 5 minutes to complete these questions together - GO!" - and within minutes the whole board fills up with the responses students add in from their respective laptops and other devices...that would be nice. :)  Or...maybe even better, imagine using the little Flash interactive tools from the Lesson Activity Toolkit...

      The next step...mashing it up:
      Since we are also exploring the concept of mashups, I'd like to share again this presentation (previously shared on the Learn All Ways blog's The Beauty of Photosharing blog post) - starting in Notebook, the slides were exported and saved as jpegs, then uploaded to Animoto, mashed up with a soundtrack and presented as follows - the result is a dynamic slideshow promoting the use of SMART Boards at our school, created for an Open House held before they had finished building the school:

      Create your own video slideshow at

      Contrast the kind of hands-on engagement in manipulating the objects in the actual Notebook file through Notebook Express (reminds me of the whimsical way we approach "lift the flap" books) to the in-your-face energetic presentation of the montage of images in the Animoto-recreated version of a Notebook presentation.  Now think further - imagine taking that Animoto montage and remixing it in other ways... below is posted a screenshot of the new interface on Animoto for remixing - lots of options to wonder about:

      Google Presentation
      Under continual revision, Google Presentation is slowly catching up to where it can compete as an online presentation tool.  It is no PowerPoint and no Notebook yet, however.  The interface looks better than it used to, and it does hold some superb features, such as a comprehensive toolbar (and menu bar), customizable sharing options, including viewing and editing capabilities, and chat functionality, so students and you can collaboratively create the document.

      The drawback is the "look" and "ease of use" are just not there yet. Whereas Blogger gives you lots of options to customize the look and feel of a blog, and Google Forms gives you a range of template options for your form, the templates in Google Presentation are no better than the very first templates that came with PowerPoint in Office '95.  I bet this will change soon.

      I actually find Google Presentation is a very good presentation tool for students to use because if they are working with a partner on a presentation at school, they can both continue on it at home in the evening, conversing through the chat as they write, if they are online at the same time.  This functionality is super. (In contrast, in Notebook Express, there is nowhere to save a document online, so all material is stored on your hard drive, not "in the cloud" or accessible by othere at all.)

      The glitch?  We are right back to the comments I made in my introductory blog posting - without experimenting with the elements of design and exploring how sometimes "less is more" students, like teachers, can inadvertently create presentations that are not particularly engaging at all.  Not only that, but they seem unaware that they haven't completed things properly.

      I see one role of the teacher-librarian to be the one who brings to light and celebrates excellence in student work.   The wall of the library is the wall of the whole school's "classroom" - with models of excellence in learning around them, students can gain a better sense of what they should be trying to do.

      Setting the stage for mashups...
      The following (previously shared on the Learn All Ways blog's The Beauty of Photosharing blog post) Google presentation contains inspirational slides created by students at Lillian Osborne last Fall (2009).  It exemplifies the power of asynchronous collaboration under the umbrella of a single idea. I have also exported these images, saved them to disk and uploaded them to the 'Net in a Picasa album, so they can be repurposed when exploring other tools in our presentations and multimedia assignment.

      To conclude, then,
      • if you are looking for a quiet, hands-on manipulation of objects to focus user attention on the content, then students working with files created by each other or by you, Notebook Express may be the online tool for you.
      • If you are looking for a traditional (aka "like PowerPoint") linear presentation - but with the bonus of students being able to collaborate on building the same file simultaneously, then give Google Presentation a try.
      • If you want to "spice things up" create your presentation in Google Presentation OR a traditional presentation software, such as PowerPoint, Keynote, or Notebook, simply export slides as jpgs, and have fun representing - or should I say, re-presenting - them in less linear and/or less teacher-pace-controlled formats, such as Animoto (above), a picture cloud (remember this one from the photo-sharing sites post?), a Glogster poster, a Vuvox slideshow or other engaging online presentation tool.

      Roy Tanck's Flickr Widget requires Flash Player 9 or better.

      Get this widget at

      Exploring Glogster

      Glogster is new to me - I've heard good things about it, so have been looking forward to taking it for a spin.  This is pretty basic, my first time on the Glogster road...I hope you see how my opinions have shifted as I have worked more with the tool:

      My Glogster review and process is recorded within a Glog itself - take a look - and a listen:

      Be sure to run your cursor over the Glog to discover the links, end then jump in! To view the Glog on a full page, click here.  Despite the fact this Glogster posting is quite short compared to those on other tools, it is actually the posting I spent the longest time completing, building the Glog, creating the video and audio tracks, etc.  Please spend some time exploring the glog, especially listening to the Mahler YouTube video.

      Here is a little play-by-play to whet your appetite:
      Move around the poster in a clock-wise direction. What I'm trying to do is create a kind of template that a teacher could pull up on a SMART Board and use as a template for a lesson. The lesson could be one that students ALSO access at the same time on laptops, perhaps the start of an inquiry that students will depart from as they explore related resources, online and in print, in the library.

      Click on every link, because from there you will actually see our students at work, and hear Mahler's Resurrection Symphony - specifically chosen because my World Literature students are currently studying The Assault and this piece is referred to in the novel. Watch my video, reviewing my own thoughts wrestling with the tool for the first time, and finally, listen to my audio conclusions. Your tactile interactions with Glogster comprise this section of my blog posting - via multimedia, about multimedia. Happy poking around :)

      Here is one more vision of Glogster.
      1. Imagine students creating an abstract image that represents the theme of the book - or even a more concrete image the setting of the book (e.g. the island in Lord of the Flies or the town in To Kill a Mockingbird). 
      2. Then challenge them to find key scenes that connect well to the theme, and position a notation of those scenes directly on top the image (photo, collage, or drawn image (scanned or photographed).
      3. Then have each member of the group assume a character in the novel and have them record their rendition of and reaction to one of the key scenes on the book, using a webcam. 
      4. Upload the videos to YouTube.
      5. Place the large image as the background image on a Glogster poster.
      6. Insert the Youtube videos on the poster by the key scenes.
      7. Voila - a living representation of students' understanding of character, of voice, of setting and of theme.
           ~ I would really like to try this.... ~

      ...and one more twist on the same idea - not just mashing up media but mashing up the students - imagine the same assignment, with a younger grade, where the older students help the younger students with their videos, doing the scanning, etc. An elementary class could team up with senior high IB students (who need to track their hours in CAS - Creativity and Service - activities), who could help them with scanning their drawings, setting up their Glogster pages, etc. - then, both classes could showcase their work with their own peers. Any interested takers out there?
      Back to Learn All Ways - "Timely Tools..." menu 
      Next...From Flowchart How-tos to Mindmap What-ifs...with LucidChart

      From Flowchart How-tos to Mindmap What-ifs...with LucidChart

      LucidChart is a slick online flowchart maker.  Its interface and advantages are numerous:
      • You can maintain a free account by renewing your free trial indefinitely, with limited storage space (fair enough, for free).  
      • You can publish to the web - flowcharts or even flowcharts with other flowcharts embedded within them.  e.g. The original troubleshooting SMART Board displays flowchart I created above started off as one assisting colleagues in knowing when to ask me to help and when to ask our tech person to help, then linked to what you see here as a secondary hyperlinked (right from inside the flowchart) document.
      • You can publish as a jpeg, where you can simply click on it to enlarge it (as in the image posted above, here.)
      • You can brainstorm ideas right on here and then move them around on the page.
      • You can make linkages between ideas and sort them, adding shapes and thought bubbles as well as sticky notes in two colors.
      • When you add the diamond-shaped "decision" boxes, the tool automatically creates the "Yes" and "No" responses as you draw the line from the box - time-saving and cool.
      • I love how you can reposition parts of the chart about the page and the lines just adapt, like pieces of spaghetti.
      • You can change font and font format (bold, italic, etc.), background theme, add color...lots of customization options.
      I believe LucidChart would be an excellent tool to use when
      • working through the inquiry process with students or with teachers 
        • Here you can move your stickies around with a single finger on your SMART Board - or, better still, engage a student to move the ideas around, directed by the class.  
        • This is arguably even better than completing this in SMART Notebook, because the resulting chart can be saved online right away - so all the teacher needs to do is provide the link to the students so they can access it from home - much easier than having students open a document in Notebook Express or Notebook.
      • Creating instructional materials for students or for teachers, such how to search an online database or how to fix your SMART Board display (as above).
      This tool easily meets the "free" criteria in terms of little to no time investment learning it.  I think more than one type of mind would find this appealing:  it is very structured, and would appeal to the logical-mathematical types - yet its visual nature, and the tactile task of organizing ideas on it, would appeal to other learning modalities as well.

      Back to Learn All Ways - "Timely Tools..."

      Next...Poll Everywhere

      Poll Everywhere

      Don’t bother buying clickers!  Poll Everywhere provides real-time polling results as students text in their responses.  You can respond from a mobile phone or from a laptop, to a slide within a presentation or from a webpage, depending how you set it up.  With the reasonably priced education version, you can even monitor people’s responses (when texting words) to ensure legitimacy.

      Although not exactly presentation or multimedia tools, integrating a web poll into a presentation is a fabulous thing to do.  I have set up and managed PollEverywhere polls before, a couple of years ago (November, 2008) in a large-group (>400 people in 6 locations simultaneously), but most recently when planning to add some cellphone polling into our initial assembly presentation (after the library movie) this year.  Unfortunately, time constraints prevented this year's actual polling from taking place, but I will instead integrate the polls onto Keynote slides when I eventually give our much belated Library orientation presentations. My favorite part of PollEverywhere is watching the graphs of results build, ebbing and flowing as responses are received.  Very cool.

      An advantage of PollEverywhere is that some polling is free, and educator pricing is not too bad (an individual teacher is $50/year).  I am hoping that once teachers see this in operation they will jump on board, too.

      Below, I've embedded the web version of one of the questions (re: learning styles) that students will be responding to when we look at resources to meet needs of all learners in the library and online. Please give it a try by responding to it! HINT - Type the response EXACTLY - UPPER CASE for the word CAST, followed by the numerals.

      This chart (below) is the one that updates in real time. If you text in your response via text messaging, Twitter, or just input it on the web at, you should see the result appear here:

      Polling enables us to engage students through formative assessment activities, and also provides a way for us to gather data (such as here, re: learning styles or in my other polls, re: access to laptops, etc.) that can help us inform practise and other decisions (e.g. purchasing decisions). It provides a wonderful way to get past the "death by PowerPoint" (and other presentation tools, frankly) attitudinal veil that can so quickly descend once the lights dim.

      OK, just for fun, here's another one - we thought this would be an interesting question to ask our students, but we can try it out first!

      Please be warned - I have (for now) disabled the profanity filter, so whatever is written goes in here. If I were working with students, I would be monitoring the poll, keeping it on for only a minute at a time. IF you prefer voting online instead of through your phone, click here.

      It will be interesting to see how "worldly" we are.

      Back to Learn All Ways - "Timely Tools..." menu  
      Next...Googling Google Earth

      Googling Google Earth

      Google Earth has been a fun application to dip into from time to time. How many of us have, at one time or another, checked out our homes, our work places, places where we used to live on Google Earth? When presenting a display of ways to use SMARTBoards in the classroom at our 2008 Open House (the one before the school was built), I created a .kmz file (the Google Earth file format), that provided a Google Earth tour of where the school is located...followed by a fast-paced journey of places where we could end up, virtually or actually. A year later and some of us had already travelled to California and New York - we talk about using Google Earth for language arts, math, social studies and science activities, but really I wonder how much it is really quite important to use to help students visualize our global community - to help them develop a better sense of our role as guardians of our planet.

      Within Google Earth, you can add or subtract layers to reveal streets, maps, ocean view, zoomable Panoramio photos...or you can click on the Earth Gallery link and choose from a myriad of other layers that can be displayed on top of your images. You can add your own images directly or through sites such as Panoramio. You can also add other layers of your own, to annotate, label or otherwise customize your maps. You can record a tour of your locations.  Whether for personal or educational use, this tool is fun to fiddle with.

      The potential to explore volcanoes, glaciers and other Earth science and Science, Technology and Society topics in science and geography and even history in Social Studies, is beginning to take off with educators. In math, the website Real World Math provides a fascinating glimpse of how Google Earth can be used in a diverse range of math activities, from measurement to fractals.  Google Lit Trips is a well-known site sharing .kmz files created by teachers engaging students in Google Earth activities in language arts - from novel studies, to author studies, to genre studies, the use of place, fictional and actual, in literary analysis is significant, and the more students can develop a sense of setting, the better.  Last year, my grade ten English students used Google Earth (along with some other web links) to explore rural Alabama, when beginning To Kill a Mockingbird, and to find the Globe Theatre, when starting Romeo and Juliet.  In each instance, the Google Earth activity was not a central lesson focus, but provided an interesting starting point for conversation.  The samples of student class collaboration in creating tours shared on Google Lit Trips are inspiring and show well the value of collaboration today within a technology-mediated environment.  Following are screenshots of math and language arts Google Earth activities, from Real World Math and Google Lit Trips:
      Google Lit Trips, The Kite Runner

      Google Lit Trips, "Fifteen Poets"

      My favorite Real World Math activity is basic - one that challenges students to measure out a small distance (e.g. 100 m) and then measure the distance across Australia (but could be Alberta or Canada), and determine how many steps, or even how much time would it take to walk across the country.  The other advanced activities I look forward to sharing with our math teachers to see what they think about them for regular and/or IB students.

      The Real World Math site itself includes lots of supporting documentation, such as Xtranormal videos introducing Google Earth processes and an online community.

      Overall, I find Google Earth a little bit more "style" than "substance", primarily because it isn't up-to-date.  If we could view a volcano as its lava flows, or simply see our own houses in the right season, that would be wonderful.  It feels as if it is something static posing as something that isn't.  It does provide us with "real-world" educational possibilities, but the data one can glean about current events through other web sources will at this point still be more current.  As the web evolves further, I expect this will evolves nicely alongside!  I'd recommend it, but either for motiviting to-do activities at the start of class, or for larger activities if the students and teacher are interested in the learning curve to do that.