Google Earth. Math Around the World

Posted on December 3, 2010

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I have been to a bunch of conferences where people talk about how great Google Earth is. I have had a real problem finding it useful in my 9th grade Chemistry and Physics classes. The product appeals to me because I like the animation, the layers and I am a lover of maps, but my subject matter does not really allow much “travel” so to speak. I do teach about the history of Chemistry. There is tons of it, but when it really comes down to it, I find that most of the chemistry history is grey, male, and pale. Through my discussion about the metric system and base number systems, I introduce the students to different cultures and systems across the globe and through history.

When we were tasked with this assignment in conjunction with our readings, I thought about one topic I have wanted to expand upon for years. I wanted to look deeper into the history of numbers. My goal with the Google Earth activity was to afford our students the ability to see some other base number systems and some other counting systems. The students would view a couple of different base systems while also delving into different cultures around the world. The students have a narrow view of the world to begin with, but when science is introduced, they think that everything has happened here in the US.

Through the use of pictures of the math systems, clips about the culture, and video snippets, the students would encounter a world that they were never even aware of. The students only interaction with the Mayans seems to be the recent pop uprising due to the Mayan calendar and the prophecies derived from it. The media and even some curricula portrays the Maya as a people that were too dumb to realize what the Spanish were doing to them, and too weak to fight off the diseases brought by the conquistadors. My goal is that the students see the Maya as an advanced culture that had advanced number systems long before the Europeans did. I think their respectful and ethical mind would grow when the value of the Mayan people is realized.

I put the Greeks and Egyptians into the mix because the story is not complete without them, but the students also do not realize how important the contributions of those people were. The student understanding of those two civilizations by many of the students are only in their ancient contributions not in what they are doing now. They think in terms of temples and pyramids without realizing the math systems behind those monuments took generations to perfect and our current mathematical system is reliant upon our past.

The Babylonians are usually something totally new to them. When I explain that these people are the ancestors of not only most of the worlds population; but our current Middle East “enemies” their eyes light up. Their understanding of the Middle East is oil and bombs. We have been at war over there for most of their life. How would we expect them to see any different? Through this lesson, they are able to understand the importance of their number system and how we still use it today. I could tell that they have a different opinion about that region when we are done with our trip through the Middle East.

I did not go into depth about Burma and Liberia on the Google Earth tour, because I simply wanted the students to see how many countries use the same system we do, and the relative power of those countries versus the rest of the world. I talk about our nationalistic past and the relationship that our measurement system has to that view. I would say that ethical and respectful minds are cultivated that day.

Here is my quiz and here is my Google Earth file

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