I’m in love with Google Earth.

There . . . I said it.

It can add so much to a teacher’s instruction, it’s hard for me to see how anyone could go a whole school year without using it. It is one of those essential 21st century tools we’re always talking about. And yes, Skype and Twitter and WordPress and wikis and whatever new shiny tool comes along are nice. They have a place.

But GE is like the Swiss Army knife of 21st century tools – you know, it’s got three different blades, a tweezers, an awl, screwdrivers, can opener, a saw and my personal favorite, the toothpick. It’s the all purpose gadget.

Use Google Earth to help kids understand geography terms, track US Congress pork barrel projects, teach about the Holocaust, learn more about ecology, dig into literature, do math and monitor earthquake data.

What can’t it do?

Well . . . until recently it was difficult creating high quality placemarks and tours. The average teacher has little to no grasp of html coding which makes creating professional placemarks burdensome.

But I just found the corkscrew that was missing from my Google Earth Swiss Army knife!

Using the Google Docs Spreadsheet software, the people over at the Google Earth Outreach site have created a template that now lets users easily create very polished placemarks and tours. It’s a simple matter of inputting your information into the cells of an online spreadsheet. Not html knowledge needed. If you can type, you’re in!

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6BlecrkM7w4]

The spreadsheet has six different sample placemarks that you can edit with your own stuff while retaining the professional look. And if you do have some html knowledge, the template lets you get in and muck around with the code to change colors, text box and photo size, etc.

It might be helpful to look at what others have done with the template. But it comes down to using the tool in ways that make sense to you and your students.

And if you do come up with something great, be sure to send me a copy!