Cutting Edge > Manage Your Career > Early Career > Previous Workshops > Workshop 2011 > Program > Teaching Activities > Google Earth and Meandering Rivers

Google Earth and Meandering Rivers

Amanda Schmidt
Oberlin College
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This activity was selected for the On the Cutting Edge Reviewed Teaching Collection

This activity has received positive reviews in a peer review process involving five review categories. The five categories included in the process are

  • Scientific Accuracy
  • Alignment of Learning Goals, Activities, and Assessments
  • Pedagogic Effectiveness
  • Robustness (usability and dependability of all components)
  • Completeness of the ActivitySheet web page

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This page first made public: Jul 11, 2011


This activity uses Google Earth to introduce students to a variety of measurements related to meandering rivers by looking at how rivers around the world have changed over time.

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200-level undergraduate class on Earth Surface Processes. Required for majors and taken by many environmental studies students. Intro geology is the only pre-requisite. There is a page describing this class here.

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered

Reading or lecture on rivers. At this point students have read the rivers chapter from Key Concepts in Geomorphology and had a lecture on the same material. They have been introduced to rivers in planform and should know what sinuosity, wavelength, amplitude, and radius of curvature are. We have covered in class why these terms vary and what self-similar patterns there are among locations. Rivers come towards the end of my class, so students have already used Google Earth and have some context for dynamic processes shaping Earth's surface.

How the activity is situated in the course

This is an exercise that is part of a one-week unit on low-land rivers. It takes one 50-min class period.


Content/concepts goals for this activity

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity

Other skills goals for this activity

Description of the activity/assignment

This exercise takes advantage of student's interest in Google Earth to teach some basic concepts about meandering rivers. Students prepare for class by reading about lowland rivers and/or hearing a lecture on them. They bring their own laptops to class or share with a partner or I take the entire class to the computer lab next door. In class they work through the worksheet and use Google Earth to take quantitative measurements of the rivers. They look at historic migration of meander bends and quantify river sinuousity, wavelength, amplitude, and radius of curvature of meander bends. They explore meandering bedrock rivers in Taiwan as a cool thought exercise in how that can happen. They end with looking at images from an area that they will have a field trip to during their next lab period. To keep people from flying through the exercise and getting bored, we do the whole activity in think-pair-share style. Students work on a location, answer the questions, and then we discuss it as a class.

Determining whether students have met the goals

I don't have any summative assessment for this assignment but a lab exercise has them do these calculations as part of a field trip report. As a formative assessment, I both talk with individual students/groups while they are working on a location and have a class discussion about each location before moving on to the next site. One could collect and grade the handouts as summative assessment.

Some things to consider with formative assessments:

If you have the students turn in the handout, I think I would grade it as "great", "ok", and "poor" for each question rather than looking for exact numbers that are correct.

More information about assessment tools and techniques.

Download teaching materials and tips

Other Materials

Supporting references/URLs

Students need to have the most recent version of Google Earth so that they can view historic images.

A paper about bedrock meanders in Taiwan: Stark, C. P., et al. (2010). "The Climatic Signature of Incised River Meanders." Science 327(5972): 1497-1501.

The text I use for my class: Bierman and Montgomery, Key Concepts in Geomorphology.

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