Using Google Earth and a KMZ file I created for them, my 4th graders recently took a virtual field trip across the Southeast region of the United States. I tagged specific locations across the map which were provided to me by their classroom teachers and embedded links to web sites, encyclopedia entries, image galleries, and video wherever possible. It was a fun activity and the kids enjoyed it, especially since they were able to explore on their own and not follow a specific path like our last Google Earth activity.
To reinforce the the subjects they were supposed to be learning about, I gave them a sheet of paper and asked them to write down one thing they learned in each location. It didn’t have to be about the location itself, but something they learned while they were there. We gave them two weeks to explore and take notes not expecting them to find a fact for each location on the map (although a few did).
The next week, we had them bring their notes to the lab and opened up Print Shop. In Print Shop, I had them design the front of a postcard they might have bought at a souvenir shop on their trip. The card had to represent the entire Southeast Region, needed to have pictures from some of the places they visited, and had to have some kind of slogan at the top (Greetings From the Southeast!). Then they were asked to write a letter to the parents on the back as if they were really on the trip. The letter had to sound like they were having fun and had to include a number of the things they learned while they were on the trip. Finally, we printed the postcards out on cardstock and are mailing them home to their parents this week. There was a noticeable rise in enthusiasm when they found out that their projects were going to be mailed through the postal service as actual postcards (I didn’t tell them until about halfway through the writing process). This wasn’t a project that was just going to hang on a bulletin board in the hallway where the same 50 people would see it every day and maybe their parents if they happened to be in the building that month.