Eye From the Sky

By Kim Rakosky, October 31, 2006

Grade Level

  • Elementary School


  • Urban Planning

Subject Area

  • Mathematics
  • Technology

Lesson Time

Three or four forty-five minute class periods


This lesson introduces elementary students to the concept of aerial perspective and scale. Students will use satellite technology to view their neighborhoods and sketch the area surrounding their schools. They will take part in a neighborhood walk to view and measure the distances they are representing in their sketches in order to develop a scale of measure. Students will be able to explain how architects and designers use scale models to plan.

National Standards


Students will:
  • problem solve to discover a way to show multiple perspectives in the design process
  • explain a mathematical method to represent local structures in reasonable proportion
  • be able to relate their findings about scale to interpretation of distances on a map using a scale of miles
  • make connections in other curriculum areas by verbalizing and writing about different topics from a variety of perspectives


  • computer/Internet access
  • whiteboard and projector (optional)
  • websites:


graph paper, colored pencils, chalk, masking tape, measuring tape/meter stick, calculators, maps with scale of miles, model car to demonstrate concept of scale


Aerial-point of view as seen looking down from the sky or a point above an object Perspective-point-of-view Proportion-the size of objects relative to each other Ratio-a mathematical representation of a proportional relationship Proximity-distance relationship between objects Structure-something that is built
Various geometry and measurement vocabulary (prerequisite for this lesson):
Polygon, polygon names, parallel, perpendicular, angle, line segment, perimeter, area, etc.


*Teachers should download and explore the Google Earth free software at https://www.google.com/ as well as the website in step #1 to get acquainted with each one.
1. Visit website with class, either on an interactive whiteboard or in the computer lab: https://www.planemath.org (a great, kid-friendly site created by a former helicopter pilot) to view aerial perspectives of a city with interactive polygon review (tops of buildings are highlighted). Discuss how the buildings look similar and different from this perspective.
2. Introduce and discuss new vocabulary giving concrete examples the students can relate to.
3. Break class into groups of 2-4 students. Take class for a neighborhood walk to discuss the structures in the neighborhood, focusing on geometric descriptions as seen in their design. Bring along notebooks and pencils to record observations, possibly assigning each group to a particular structure.
4. Students will measure at least one side length of a structure using meter-sticks or measuring tape and chalk to mark places where measuring begins and ends (use masking tape if necessary to tape up a long measuring tape to keep it from flopping over). Remind students that the perimeter is the boundary of a shape or area; the length of such a boundary.
5. Return to class to discuss findings and to sketch the buildings observed from the ground by each group.
6. Visit Google Earth website and locate your school neighborhood. Explore and explain the use of satellite technology and measuring tools available on the site. Focus discussion on the differences of the same structures from this aerial view, compared to the ground view the students saw on the neighborhood walk. This is a great point to continue reviewing/reinforcing the geometry concepts reviewed on the first website. (If an interactive board is unavailable the teacher can run off a copy of the aerial view for each student.)
7. Using the measuring tools at Google Earth, trace and measure the line segments representing the sides of the buildings observed on the walk. Remind students that when they measured the length of the side of the building on the walk, they were doing the same thing in a different format. Distances will be measured in decimal form. Have students calculate the total perimeter of their structure. Extension: Students can convert measurements from meters to centimeters or vice versa and check instantly with Google Earth measuring tools.
8. Discuss how the screen image or photograph represents the real structures you saw, but in a smaller size. Point out how the structures relate to each other in exactly the correct ratio.
9. Assign groups the task to recreate the aerial view on graph paper using reasonable perspective. Label and color code the buildings. Brainstorm a method of describing what each graph space (square centimeter) represents in real space. Groups will report their results, including any problems they encountered.
10. Conclude activities with a visit to the Cooper-Hewitt Museum website https://ndm.si.edu/EXHIBITIONS/selects/eugene_thaw.asp to view the photos and measurements of the staircase models in the current exhibit. Discuss the importance of scale models in design and why it is important to have accurate proportions represented in those models.


1. Successful learning will be represented by a reasonable scale representation of student’s building. 2. A quiz to identify polygons, calculate perimeter, and convert measurements can be administered by the teacher using highlighted aerial views from Google Earth. 3. Students will explain in writing what an aerial view is, how their sketch was drawn to scale, and why it is important to have correct scale models in building structures.
Rubric recommendations:
Assessment 1: A 4 -point scale based on: following directions, completing task, cooperating and participating with group, and producing a neat and reasonably proportionate sketch.
Assessment 2: Traditional percentage correct score, based on total number of questions given.
Assessment 3: Use of your state’s Constructed Response Rubric. You may wish to break it down to 3 specific questions, requesting supporting evidence from your lesson experiences.

Enrichment Extension Activities

This lesson can be further developed by:
  • using scale of miles on a maps geography
  • writing stories from different character’s perspectives
  • building scale models of the neighborhood

Teacher Reflection

After implementing this lesson with my 4th graders I found parts of it to be quite successful. It was useful for reinforcing basic measurement skills, geometry (perimeter, polygon identification, parallel and perpendicular relationships) and the concept of aerial view. We were able to use Google Earth to view our school's neighborhood and our schoolyard. We measured the schoolyard and were within a reasonable range according to the Google Earth measurements. The students began demonstrating a better grasp of translating distances on a map using a scale of miles after this project. We also have learned many ways in which satellite imagery is helpful in understanding topography of the land, tracking weather patterns, etc. However, the class needed much more time to be able to reproduce a decent scale model, which our full curriculum did not afford us. Overall, my lesson was too ambitious for the amount of time we could work on it, but it was definitely useful, and the kids are gaga over Google Earth!

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