Google Earth, Streams, and Glaciers

Allison Dunn
Worcester State College
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In this assignment, students download Google Earth and use it to investigate some of the fluvial and glacial processes introduced in lecture.

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This is for an undergraduate Physical Geography course with no pre-requisite. The class is approximately 80% non-majors and 20% geography/natural science majors.

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered

  • Students must know the difference between meandering and braided streams, and where each is likely to be found.
  • Students must understand the concept of a floodplain and how to identify it on a map.
  • Students must understand how fluvial erosion differs from glacial erosion.

How the activity is situated in the course

This is the final assignment in a semester-long course. It is the only assignment that they complete entirely on their own.


Content/concepts goals for this activity

  • be able to independently locate and identify different river types
  • be able to independently determine how different valleys were formed
  • be able to determine the gradient and floodplain of different rivers

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity

The biggest challenge for a lot of my students is knowing where to start to find one of these rivers (I ask them to cut and paste an example of each type of river). It's one thing to identify a braided/meandering river from a slide in lecture, but it's another thing entirely for them to have to find it on their own.

The students have to think back to *where* different rivers are likely to be found (i.e., ends of glaciers for braided streams) and hunt around with Google Earth based on their knowledge.

Other skills goals for this activity

To be honest, a major goal of this assignment is to get them just to use Google Earth. The most common feedback I get from this assignment is that they really enjoyed the assignment and couldn't stop exploring with GE after it was done. I think GE is a great tool to get them to explore geographic curiosity they may not have known they possessed.

Description of the activity/assignment

In this assignment, students use Google Earth to investigate a variety of fluvial and glacial features. Firstly, they simply have to find an example of both a meandering and braided river and cut-and-paste the image into their assignment. They also need to trace the path of the river to see where it ends. Next, they are given three latitude/longitude coordinates and are asked to determine the river type, channel width, floodplain width, gradient, etc. In the last part, they are given the latitude/longitude coordinates of two valleys. They use the terrain & tilt features of Google Earth to determine whether the valley is V- or U-shaped. They then decide what sort of processes is responsible for the valley's shape.

Determining whether students have met the goals

I have students email me their assignments upon completion (fewer trees lost that way). It's relatively simple to see if they understood the assignment or not.

One problem I have is that students often use Wikipedia to look up "braided river" and "meandering river" so I get several students each semester who use GE to find the river examples from Wikipedia. I still give them full credit because they have used GE to find the particular river.

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