Making a VFE of the Niagara Whirlpool Part 3 — Putting Panoramas into Google Earth

Related Posts:

Some Technological Tips for Creating and Using Virtual Fieldwork

Making A VFE of the Niagara Whirlpool: Part 1

Making a VFE of the Niagara Whirlpool Part 2 — About Pictures & Panoramas

Making a VFE of the Niagara Whirlpool Part 3 — Putting Panoramas into Google Earth (You are here!)

What’s in this post?

  • How to embed pictures and other media in Google Earth (GE)
  • Making “zoomable” pictures using the ZoomImage Creator (and embedding those images)
  • I created some icons for Google Earth and posted them to
  • The current version of the Google Earth VFE of the Niagara Whirlpool

When I want to place a picture in Google Earth, here’s what I do:

See the screencast of this process by clicking here.

  • Post the picture to the web using a photo sharing website or, if I want to make a photo I can zoom in on, use the ZoomImage Creator.  More on the ZoomImage Creator below.  It’s cool!

Some of the big photo sharing sites (in alphabetical order):

  • Create the placemark in Google Earth at the desired location.
  • The placemark’s information window will open when you place the placemark.  If you close it, you can reopen the placemark window in GE by holding down the ‘command’ and the ‘i’ keys together.
  • Copy the link from the picture’s website, preferably along with appropriate html code.
  • Paste the html into the placemark window.  If you only have the URL without the code, look at another placemark formatted the way you want, open the placemark’s information window and copy it.  Replace the URL of the photo from the copied placemark text with the URL of the new photo.  The URL may be included twice.  If it is, replace both occurrences.  One may be a thumbnail image and the other a link to the full sized image on the web.
  • Verify the location of the placemark.  You can drag it whenever the placemark window is open.

Some New Icons for Google Earth:

I wanted to be able to look at the lay of the land within Google Earth (GE) from the standard aerial view and be able to tell where one looks when bringing up embedded photos.  You can add custom icons to GE, and if you post them to a website, they’ll work for any user.

So, I made a bunch and posted them to Photobucket.  I’ve been exploring the various photosharing websites and chose Photobucket for this task as they make it really easy to link to your images and accept things in some formats that other sites don’t.

Picasa also facilitates copying html code fairly well.  You can see that in the video above.  Flickr allow you to write blog posts to your blog from a photo’s page — click on the “blog this” button.  That creates a blog post in your blog, which is kind of cool, but they don’t offer up the html code to cut and paste in a conspicuous way.

When you look at my icons album in Photobucket, you can see the html code in a couple of different formats that make for easy inclusion in either a website or GE.  Both Google Earth and websites rely on html for formatting.

Putting Icons on the Map

D’oh!  The description below has been simplified greatly by the combination of Google Earth and Picassa. Here’s my Picassa photos mapped.

  1. Upload your pictures to Picassa.
  2. Click on the individual photo you wish to map.
  3. Click on ‘add location’ on the right side of the individual picture’s page.
  4. Add the location.
  5. Click on ‘View Album.’
  6. Click on the ‘View Map’ button.  This brings up the map view (“No duh!” as some might say).
  7. Click on ‘View in Google Earth.’

This should be a remarkable time saver for VFE creation.  The placemarks appear as tiny thumbnails of the photos.  The placemark pop up boxes are still editable — you can add text or links by clicking on the placemark and hitting the ‘control’ and ‘i’ keys.

Skip down to the next heading

Here’s the complicated procedure I used previously.  It might be useful for thinking about how to do certain things, but not embedding photos.

In Google Earth, it works largely the same way for putting in icons as it does for putting in pictures.  So, here’s the code for one icon using HTML:

<a href=”” target=”_blank”><img src=”” border=”0″ alt=”PanoramaIconNW”></a>

Most of the time when I’m writing my blog, I’m using the visual editor which makes writing the blog pretty much like writing in a word processor.  When I want do certain kinds of things, like put in a Youtube video or add an image from somewhere else on the web, I can edit in html, though I’m certainly a novice at that.  Sites that make the code obvious like Youtube, Photobucket and the National Academy Press make it a whole lot easier.   Since the html code is provided, all I need to do is:

  • copy the code for embedding,
  • switch back to the blog,
  • switch from visual to html editing,
  • paste the html code into the desired location (the text will still be readable to clue you into the right location),
  • switch back to visible editing, and,
  • there it is!

Or, here it is:


Unfortunately, I don’t know how to make the icons rotate with the map, so they only face the correct direction if north is at the top of the page.

Making Zoomable Images with ZoomImage:

Two cool websites I learned about today:

  • The Gigapxl Project at This has panoramas of a growing number of places (not yet including anything in the Niagara region of New York State) that are of a billion pixels.  High resolution digital cameras are now taking pictures with about 10 million pixels (that is, 10 megapixels).  These are whopping big images and the way they show up in Google Earth is way cool — turn on the Gigapixl Layer in Google Earth and then fly into those pictures.  This really does allow you to take a closer look at whatever they happen to take pictures of, but that’s a pretty small set right now.  A couple of pictures that might somehow connect to VFEs are of Angel’s Window in the Grand Canyon and Newspaper Rock in Utah.  There are quite a few more of interest, too.  It’s cool to look at on these websites, but it’s cooler to fly around through them in Google Earth.
  • The ZoomImage Creator at  This site allows you to upload a high resolution photo and convert it into a Quicktime VR image which allows you to zoom within the picture.  The picture is posted to the web and available for download.   It’s worth noting that this didn’t work in Firefox on my Mac but it did work in Safari.  I’ll add a note if I figure out the problem.

Images from the Gigapixl are already in Google Earth, so you’ve already got them.  If you’re making a VFE of one of the locations where Gigapixl pictures are available, you’ve got a nifty resource.

It’s a little more complicated for getting the ZoomImage pictures into Google Earth, but it’s doable.  It is a movie, so this means you can put movies of other things into your VFEs as well, using the same formatting.  Posting Youtube videos is doable as well, but requires some different coding.

I found the code for embedding Quicktime Movies on a presentation sharing site called  Here’s the link to the presentation with the code.  The presentation is from Mike Bryant at Discovery Education.  In the same presentation are code snippets for other kinds of media.  Note that scrolling down gives you the presentation text in a format where you can cut and paste.  But, I can easily embed it right here:

View SlideShare presentation (tags: earth google den)
Click the presentation link to go to the presentation.  There you will find the code you can cut and paste.

Here is the text and the code for a Quicktime Movie in the Google Earth VFE of the Niagara Gorge.  It should work for web pages too.

This outcrop is near the top of the Whirlpool Rapids Trail.  Note that the image is zoomable.

<object width=”189″ height=”360″ classid=”clsid:02BF25D5-8C17-4B23-BC80-D3488ABDDC6B” codebase=””>  <param name=”src” value=””>  <param name=”autoplay” value=”true”>  <param name=”controller” value=”false”>  <embed src=”” width=”189″ height=”380″ autoplay=”true” controller=”true” pluginspage=””>  </embed>  </object>

The image can be downloaded here:
Click on the arrow icons to open thumbnails of photographs taken from the marked location.  Clicking on the thumbnail will take you to a higher resolution copy of the photograph in your browser.

And, when I switch to the HTML editor and paste in just the code (the stuff between the <br> <br>s), it looks like this on the blog:

Use the shift key to zoom and the mouse to pan.

Here’s the direct link to the ZoomImage.

Cool, huh?  And, again, you can create your own with The ZoomImage Creator at After you make them you can link to the image on the web and/or download it. 

Here’s the current draft of the Google Earth piece of the VFE.  A website is under development, too.  More will be added to the Google Earth piece as well.  I’ll like head back to the gorge next week.  If you’re in the area and want to come along, let me know.

Click on the image below to download the file.

The Whirlpool from above

The Niagara Whirlpool VFE in Google Earth (First Draft)

Note that servers need to allow kmz (Google Earth) files to work properly.  Edublogs apparently allows Google Earth files.  Colgate did not.

Balancing Pedagogy, Technology and Geology (or whatever content you teach): Putting Understanding at the Center of Teaching

I’m still working on Part 3 in the series on making Virtual Fieldwork Experiences and on the accompanying VFE, but I found myself wondering about balance.  That third post is coming, but not until some further reflection.

In this post, pondering balance leads into a discussion of what should be at the center of teaching and then back to balance in the form of considering one’s niche.

Thoughts on Balancing Dynamic Entities

I’ve spent a lot of time so far this month immersed in technology and a bit of time immersed in nature (and thinking a lot about geology in the process).  That’s all for the purpose of pedagogy – trying to help teachers and their students understand the Earth system.  I think in the modern Earth science classroom, technology, pedagogy and geology are inseparable.

In fact, this trio has always been inseparable in the classroom, but the technologies used today are far different than they were as recently as ten years ago.  Does that change the balance?   I don’t know.  Maybe in a dynamic equilibrium sort of way?  That is, the scales may be balanced, but the stuff in the balance pans is ever changing.

To teach science well, the triad of content, pedagogy and technology have always been essential, though you might argue that it has been a technology infused duo of content and pedagogy. Be it blackboard, stream table or Google Earth, technology has always been a piece of the pedagogical puzzle.

Some of the struggle here is that not only are we teaching about the complex system that is the Earth system, but we are also teaching within the complex system that is the system of education.  Both systems are composed of a great many (effectively infinite) actors acting across many interrelated levels that dynamically interact.  No easy task.

Both systems are technology rich, too.  And in both systems, we often use technology to maximize.

In the system of schooling, we are often pushed to maximize many, many things:

  • Test scores,
  • Graduation rates,
  • Critical thinking skills,
  • Literacy of many sorts,
  • Politeness,
  • Environmental stewardship,
  • Return on investment, and,
  • Much, much more.

We’re also expected to minimize certain things – budgets and misbehavior are perhaps the top two on that list.

Optimize, don’t maximize.

Maximizing and minimizing are mismatched with balancing.  You cannot, for example, simultaneously maximize learning and minimize cost.  Stretching toward one extreme may mean losing sight of the other.  Good teachers and administrators, of course, already know that and whether they recognize it or not they seek to optimize.

Is technology a tool for optimization?

We should be using technology to support both our pedagogy and our geology.  Some might think that means technology is a tool for that end.  Well, sort of.

We certainly use technological tools (be they rock hammers, pieces of chalk or computer software packages), but technology writ large should only be thought of a tool in the way that we think of language as a tool.  Sure, they’re both tools, but they are oh so much more.

Our work as educators should be to build understanding.

One might argue that optimization is maximization within constraints.  What is it that we want to come out of the practice of schooling?  Well, apparently all that stuff in the bulleted list above, but for me it’s understanding or a specific sort.  Understanding that informs action.

Is that kind of understanding more likely to result from student-centered teaching or teacher-centered teaching?  Here I’m unsure of the answer to my own question because I think it’s the wrong question to ask.   We’re off the mark if we think of ourselves as either content-centered or student-centered.

Teaching should be understanding-driven, or understanding-centered. That’s an idea I picked up from Andy Anderson, while in grad school, now long ago.  All kinds of folks still talk about this false dichotomy between teacher-centered and student-centered teaching.  Understanding-centered teaching isn’t some happy midpoint between teacher- (or content-) centered teaching and student-centered teaching.  It’s something else entirely.

That doesn’t mean that student-centered and content-centered teachers aren’t out there.  When you ask a student-centered teacher what she teaches, she may well answer, “I teach kids.”  Indeed.  And sages on stages who are genuine fonts of knowledge about their content areas are out there too.  There are good teachers in both categories, and maybe some on a line in between those two things we think of as extremes.  But no one would claim that teaching is one dimensional.

We may be able to characterize aspects of teaching on lines, on scales from one to ten (or whatever), but there are so many aspects to effective teaching that we end up not a set of scales or even a matrix, but rather, a multidimensional hypervolume (Hutchinson, 1957).  Zoiks!  How can you balance that?

A multidimensional hypervolume is how Hutchinson classified an ecological niche.  Pedagogy, geology and technology are perhaps three important “niche axes.”  Hutchinson also noted that niches are not simply the jobs of organisms, but also what limits them.  (This definition of niche is richer and more on target than what I remember from high school biology).

Our technologies are not infinitely extendible.  We don’t have an unlimited supply of either cash or time (are those two more niche axes?) to create anything our minds can conceive.  My currently accessible technology exceeds that of some teachers and falls short of many too.  In the work of VFEs, we need to better understand the technological range in classrooms and the range of technological skills.  I need to gain a better understanding of these niche axes.  Again, no easy task.

The project, I think, has the potential to extend the technological niche axes of individual teacher and offer something to the population of teachers (at least that 99+% with Internet access).  In so doing, we can hopefully also extend the geologic axes and the pedagogical axes as well.  And somehow show the National Science Foundation we’ve done so.

I may have wandered away from the questions that started this post, questions may I didn’t state directly enough:

  • How can we help teachers maintain or achieve the “right” balance of pedagogy, geology and technology?
  • How much time can we expect teachers to be able to devote to the creation and use of VFEs?
  • What’s more important — getting a great finished product or getting finished?
  • What’s more important — getting teachers into the field and studying the Earth system or getting polished VFEs?
  • What can we do to optimize understanding in the creation and use of VFEs?
  • Will technologically streamlining the process for VFE creation make that process and its outcomes more didactic?

Those questions arose because I know that most teachers won’t be able to put in the time in a single year that I’ve put in on my still unfinished VFE.  All of these questions have to do with issues of balance.

What do you think?

Some Technological Tips for Creating and Using Virtual Fieldwork

This post starts with some “how tos”: How do you embed pictures in pictures?  How can I make a “how to” video for computer instruction?  It closes with some questions and thoughts about “what fors.”

First, the how to:

On the VFE Workshops Page, I’ve added materials related to our most recent workshop.  That includes:

Some other resources for Taughannock Falls:

And, just a couple of nice pictures of the falls:

It was pretty dry in August of 2005 when this picture was taken.  The people by the water’s edge give you a good idea of scale.  The falls is 215 feet high.  If you go today, you’ll note that the toungue of just below and to the right of the crest of the falls is missing its left half.

Here’s a picture taken from below the falls from just over a year later.  Do you see the difference?

The falls from below, October, 2006

There are more pictures on the page.

I wanted to share the simple and nifty way I made the “how to video.”

The Jing Project has free software for capturing video of your computer screen and, at least for the time being, allows you to share those “screencasts” for free.  The video tour on the homepage gives a good overview of its basic use and has the download link.

I was initially puzzled by where the icon went when I started the software.  It practically goes out of sight into the corner.  I could make an introductory video on how to use just about any bit of software with Jing – except for Jing itself as it intentionally goes into the background when in use.  And, besides, Jing has a page of “How do I…” videos.

Now, just a few thoughts on the What Fors:

Why embed pictures in pictures?

This is one small way we can simulate the field experience.  We want students to do things geologists do when in the field even when we can’t get students actually into the field.  One key thing is simply that, when in the field, you can take a closer look at the things of your own choosing.  Sarah Miller’s Virtual Fieldwork Experience of the area around Norwich, New York is a good example.

The examples for Tuaghannock provided here really only give the opportunity to look more closely at things I, as the teacher, chose.   Hopefully though, you can see how to build on that as you gradually develop your own VFEs.

What can you do with how to videos?

If you do a computer activity in class, you can create a set of the key technological steps.  That could let you focus on teaching your content rather than how to be a technician with the particular software.  If your kids are using PowerPoint, for example, your primary goal as a science teacher is the science they present, not the stylishness of their slide transitions.

Using Jing when you don’t have the Internet in your classroom…

This past year, I taught in a classroom without Internet access.  I used Jing to show certain animations from websites that didn’t save to my computer’s cache.  I could, for example, play sequences of weather maps from here:

Closing thoughts and questions…

It turns out making the video was about the simplest piece of this post.  I don’t think I’d have guessed that were I the reader.  Wow.  It seems as though something’s changed in the way I can post pictures on the blog to make it more complicated, and embedding videos too.

What uses do you see for these technologies?  What other techniques and technologies will or have you employed in VFEs (or teaching other stuff)?