His Dark Materials: Northern Lights in Google Earth
Some ideas for cross-curricular teaching
This lesson idea combines the study of a classic modern children's book with
an investigation in Google Earth as students find out about an extreme and
Note to readers from the USA: the book is published elsewhere as The Golden Compass.
Year 8 students at my school are reading Northern
Lights, part of the amazing His Dark Materials trilogy by
Svalbard, is a remote Norwegian island, and in the His Dark Materials parallel universe, home to armoured bears and the prison of the mysterious Lord Asriel. The arctic landscape is portrayed beautifully by the author. The heroine, Lyra, survives the crash-landing of her hot air balloon following an attack by cliff-ghasts. She is taken to the palace of the armoured bears, and later makes a sledge journey to Lord Asriel's prison. Intermittently, the intense flickering of the Aurora reveals a strange city new suspended in the sky.
The Aurora borealis, source Wikipedia
During the final scenes there is a dramatic chase across an icy plain and Lyra survives an attack by flying witches before the climactic events at the Bridge to the Stars.
The idea of the lesson is to get students to visualize the geography of Svalbard. Fortunately there are two areas of high resolution detail for the island. One of them doesn't appear to have any terrain data, the other, despite measuring just 18.5 km square contains sufficient landforms, including mountains, snowy plains and a beach, so that it could very well form the setting for the events of the book.
Svalbard in Google Earth click for large version
download this placemark
The lesson involves students reading the final
part of the book and noting the major locations, for example the crash-landing,
the armoured bears palace, and the location of the Bridge to the Stars.
Imagining themselves as location scouts for the film version of Northern Lights, they use Google Earth to examine the the terrain very carefully, matching the landscape features with the text. They create placemarks that represent their ideas for locations for a film shoot. The information balloon in the placemarks should describe the reasons for their choices. Less able students could be given some partially completed placemarks as a writing frame.
Example of a placemark
The actual film (entitled The Golden Compass) will be released in December 2007. There is an excellent official site for the film.
Svalbard is a fascinating island to research. This photo from Wikipedia would make a good What / Where / Why - type introduction:
The opening scenes of the book are set in Oxford. Here is a picture reveal
PowerPoint to see if students can recognise Oxford from a choice of 4 mystery
Although Jordan College is imaginary, students could use the excellent 3D panoramas of the city to complete a similar location-scouting exercise for the Oxford scenes.
Here is an interactive map that links to the 3D panoramas.
This panorama makes a good introduction for students who are unfamiliar with Oxford.
Could this be Jordan College?
There is a folder of example placemarks to download. These could be edited
and used as a writing frame for less able students.
Download file of example placemarks
The official site for the actual film The Golden Compass (to be released in December 2007)
Find out more about Svalbard at Wikipedia
Watch video of the Northern Lights at Google Video (More at You Tube) If both sites are filtered at your school, here is a video to download. (This is the source)