Representing State Population with Google Earth and Polygons

At Teq, we are always showing teachers how Google Earth is such a valuable tool in the classroom and can be used across multiple subjects. In the past we have discussed using Google Earth in an ELA classroom with Google Lit Trips and also about using polygons and measurement tools to find the area of different states in a math classroom.

googleEarth-2In one of the Google Earth sessions for our Online PD, Matthew Thaxter showed us an activity that uses the Polygon Tool inside of Google Earth to represent different states according to their population. With this tool, the height of the state represents the population – the higher the population, the taller the state will appear.

This type of activity incorporates multiple skills for students to master and allows them to explore endless types of data or statistics associated with states, countries, continents or regions. The following list covers just a few of these skills.

United States Geography

Students will learn and explore the geography of the United States by manipulating Google Earth. This activity gives students a visual comparison of different states based on their population. It can easily be adapted to do similar activities using countries from around the world.

Researching Population

Simple research skills are needed to complete this activity. Not only did I have to find the population of the different states, I needed to understand where my source information came from which is an important digital literacy skill. For my information on population I used the internet to access United States Census reports from 2010-2013.  I could easily change this activity for my students by researching different time periods or any other information.

Analyzing & Representing Data

This activity allows students to use digital tools to represent almost any type of data or statistic. Other ideas include using electoral college, average yearly rainfall or many other options. Exploring websites like Gap Minder will give students almost endless possibilities for statistics for countries around the world.


googleEarth-1I needed to represent the population in a measurement that would give it the visual effect I intended. The measurement in altitude is represented by meters (m). To have the 3D visual effect I intended, I must convert the population (which is usually in the millions per state) to an altitude that is appropriate in meters. If I choose too small of a number for the altitude I would not be able to see the difference. Too great of a number would block my view of the less populated states by the more populated states. See the image beside to see how I converted the population of Texas (26.06 million people) to an appropriate altitude in meters.

With other possibilities of data represented by polygons on States, what interactive maps will you have your students create?

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