Marble -An Open Source Globe for Your Device

marble logo,energize educationMarble is an open source virtual globe for your desktop or device.  Unlike a popular proprietary application, Marble works without an Internet connection.  That’s right.  You don’t need an Internet connection to use Marble.  It is part of the KDE Education Project and this article will seek to provide a better look at Marble and why it can be so useful in the classroom.

Clean Interface

Marble uses an interface that is approachable.  A menu is offered at the top of the screen with a simple toolbar below that.  The rest of the window is divided into panes.  A small pane on the left allows users to toggle such things as type of map viewed, current location and map legend colors.  The right pane occupies the majority of the screen and displays a map of the world  There is a minimized world map in the upper left corner that shows users where in the world they are.  In the opposite corner is a compass providing orientation.

Easy Navigation

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Marble displaying information on Casablanca.

Using the mouse, users can be explore Marble , but keyboard shortcuts are available.  Users can navigate the maps by clicking-and-dragging to find their desired location.  With the mouse wheel, users can zoom in for a closer look.  Clicking on a specific location opens a window which provides information about that area such as location (elevation, longitude , latitude), a short description of the locale and, in the case of specific geographic areas, such as cities, provides such data as population, nation and time zone.  Additionally, users can navigate using the compass/scroll tool on the right-hand side of the screen.  Orientation items, such as the world map in the upper left corner, the scale bar near the bottom or the compass, can be relocated simply by clicking-and-dragging them to desired locations.

Many Maps to View

marble virtual globe,energize education

Marble presnets a close-up of a rather busy area of the moon.

Users can toggle between various views of the current map, using the Map View tool in the  lower left-hand pane.  Available views include flat view, stereographic view,  Mercator view and Gnomonic view.  Here you can even toggle whether you’re viewing a map of Earth or of the Moon.  As much fun as exploring the Moon may sound, while looking at Earth, more options are provided as to the type of map/data displayed.  There are too many to list them all here, but here are a few available options: atlas, street map (via OpenStreetMap), satellite view, Earth at night and Historical 1689.  These are available in tje default installation, but plugins can be installed to enhance the types of maps available.

Curriculum Integration

marble virtual globe

North America in 1689. Hmm. Something”s missing…

So, how could Marble be utilized in a twenty-first century classroom?  The most obvious way would be as a tool to teach map reading skills to young geographers.  However, there a several historical maps that could be employed to enhance learning experiences.  Students could even study the history of United States moon landings using the Moon map.  Such maps as temperature and precipitation would be valuable tools in both the biology and ecology classrooms.  While on the topic of science, your class could explore the Moon or, by zooming out, get a look at some of the constellations that surround us.  In regards to mathematics, data could be collected on average rainfalls from locations around the world.  Rainfalls for extreme climates like rain forests or deserts would be interesting to compare.  Then there’s computer programming.  For computer programmers, Marble is written in the C++ programming language and can easily be integrated into C++ programs with the stipulation that said programs are released under the GPL 2.1 (GNU General Public License (i.e. open source)).

From Here….

I’ve informed you about Marble, given several strong arguments for its utilization in the classroom and provided some ideas for curriculum integration.  The next step should be for you to experience Marble first-hand and discover what an engaging application it is.


Marble Web Site

Marble Documentation


Rahn, T.  (2015).  Marble virtual globe [computer software].  GNU General Public License.< /p>

QGIS -An Open Source Geographic Information System

energize education, qgis

The QGIS logo

Today I want to take a look at QGIS, a free, open source Geographic Information System. So, what is a geographic information system? The U.S. Government Accountability Office (February 2015) defines a geographic information system as “a computer system for capturing, storing, checking, and displaying data related to positions on Earth’s surface. GIS can show many different kinds of data on one map, such as streets, buildings, and vegetation. This enables people to more easily see, analyze, and understand patterns and relationships.” Imagine the kinds of classroom activities that you could develop for Science and Social Studies classes with this kind of software. It’s comparable to ESRI, but without the rather hefty expense that often comes with proprietary technology.

QGIS is actually comprised of several components. The first is the QGIS Desktop. This component allows users to create, view, analyze and share geospatial information. The QGIS Browser allows users to review and organize their data. QGIS Server allows users to share data and to choose which aspects of the data are viewable by others. The QGIS Web Client makes publishing maps online a breeze. They can also be enhanced with symbols and labels. The final component, QGIS on Android, is at the beta level of development, but experienced users are welcome to try it out.

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A QGIS session

So what can you do with QGIS? You can create, edit, manage and export data using a variety of tools such as OpenStreetMap integration. There are digitizing tools that support OCR and GPS. Spatial data can be analyzed in terms of vectors, geoprocessing and geometry, among other criteria. QGIS also integrates 400 tools from GRASS GIS. Additionally, QGIS can share your work online as a WCS (World Coverage Service), a WMS (Web Map Service) or as a WFS (World Feature Service). In short, virtually anything that a user would want to do with a map, he or she can do with QGIS. Imagine the projects students could complete.

QGIS owes much of its functionality and versatility to the wide variety of plugins that are available. The core plugins installed by default include, but are by no means limited to, GPS Tools, Raster Terrain Analysis, interpolation and a Road Graph plugin. Furthermore, a real strength of this software, especially in terms of expandability, is the integration of the Python programming language. Python has been used to develop many of the external pulugins available through the QGIS community. As part of this integration, QGIS offers a Python console through the use of which new plugins can be developed. How’s that for growth potential?

qgis,energize education,energize education through open source

QGIS displays information about the habitat of the Asian Lynx.

Python and QGIS combine with OpenLayers, an open source mapping library, and APIs (Application Program Interface) to create some incredible maps. Maps can be generated that, with a click, can move from one location to another. Maps can be developed that zoom in and out as needed with a mouse click. Users can even toggle between different types of maps for the same regions. For example, QGIS was used recently by undergraduate students to analyze the habitat of the Asian Lynx in the Carpathian mountains. you can view some of their findings in the screenshot at left.

energize education through open source,qgis

QGIS running on Linux in GNOME

You’re thinking, ‘This is great! But how long does it take to learn to use QGIS or become proficient in it enough to teach my students?” The good news is that there is a large amount of documentation available to help new users install and learn to run QGIS. Most of the literature is available on the QGIS Web site and I have provided links directly to some of them below. Regarding the Python programming language, it is fairly easy to learn to use and there are plenty of free tutorials available online. As to using this application with students, you could argue that, because of Python integration, QGIS will grow with your learners.

QGIS is available for Linux, Microsoft Windows and MacOS X.

Thanks to Charles Cossé for suggesting this topic. All images have come from the QGIS home page.


QGIS Web Site

A Gentle Introduction to GIS


Dichte, A., Ehrminger, L., Garcia Travesi Reyes, S., Hoppe, T. and Winger, D. Gnilke, A., Hiltunen & Mund, J.P. (August 2015). Lynx habitat analysis in the Southern Carpathians. Creative Commons. Retrieved from

QGIS user guide. Release 2.8. (14 November 2015). The QGIS Development Team. GNU Venereal Public License. Retrieved from

U.S Government Accountability Office. (February 2015). Progress Needed on Identifying Expenditures, Building and Utilizing a Data Infrastructure, and Reducing Duplicative Efforts (Publication No. GAO-15-193). Retrieved from