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

For more information about the peer review process itself, please see

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.

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered

Reading or lecture on rivers.

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

Plan-form of meandering rivers and specific concepts associated with them (sinuosity, wavelength, amplitude, and radius of curvature).
River migration over time.

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity

Interpretating aerial/satellite images.
Using GIS-technologies to gain quantitative geomorphic information.

Other skills goals for this activity

Using Google Earth

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. 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. We end the class by taking a few minutes to talk about each of the locations.

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 talk with groups about what they are seeing in class. I also have different groups present each area as part of the class wrap up. One could collect and grade the handouts as summative assessment.

More information about assessment tools and techniques.

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Other Materials

Supporting references/URLs

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

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