I once called Google Earth the Swiss army knife of 21st century tools. It does so many things well and can be used in so many different content areas and grade levels. The only thing missing is that cool little slide out tooth pick.

It’s hard for me to see how any social studies teacher doesn’t use GE at least once or twice a week as part of their instruction.

And . . .

it just got better.

Google Earth 6, the latest update to GE, came earlier this week. And while it’s more of a tweaking of tools than a complete overhaul of the software, GE6 does have some nice features that make your experience a lot easier.

The tweaking includes:

Integrated Street View – The yellow, drag-able Pegman (famous from Google Maps) now lives in Google Earth. So instead of clicking the Street View layer on and off in the left-hand side of the screen, look for the Pegman alongside the Google Earth navigation controls. Along with being easier to activate, the Street View is now much more seamless while using – without all of those funky looking “bubbles” taking up space on the GE views. While in Street View, you can simple click around to move and get different looks. You can also toggle between Street View and ground-level, which if you have 3D Buildings turned on, makes for a very cool experience.

Better Historical Imagery – Google Earth also has messed with their very cool Historical Imagery tool. This allows users to look at map views of times like Warsaw in 1935, London in 1945 and Port-au-Prince Haiti before and after the January earthquake. In the new Google Earth 6, they make it easy to find the tool by making it a live link at the bottom left-hand corner of the screen. As you zoom and move around, the date changes to tell you the earliest map available.

3D Trees – Google Earth has supported 3D buildings for a while, they just added 3D trees. It seems a bit cheesy but trust me, when you’re walking around, it’s nice not having to keep bumping into trees. (the bonus is that the landscape just looks better!)

Google’s got some very handy videos that gives more overviews of all of the goodies.

Have fun!