Every year, NORAD and Google partner to track Santa Claus online. While the videos they post are a bit cheesy and animated, the service is actually incredibly valuable from an educational perspective.
Before leaving to do some last-minute grocery shopping yesterday, I showed my six-year old the Santa tracker. It was easier than answering every 10 minutes when it would be nighttime and when Santa would come and I thought it would be an interesting diversion for him.
However, when I came home a few hours later, he was still sitting in front of my Mac. He had mastered zooming and panning in Google Maps, watched video of Santa's stops in east Asia, found our town, and gotten his 13-year old brother to fire up another computer and track Santa side-by-side with him.
The tech lesson was great, but what really gave the whole thing value was how much they both learned about geography. We talked about time zones and noted that Santa had actually started very close to Alaska, giving him almost 24 hours with the time changes to make his deliveries.
We talked about countries that celebrate Christmas, others that just might have a few people who celebrate and why they might celebrate other holidays. The little guy would occasionally wander away and occupy himself in some other way, but invariably came back to check on his progress. He knew it was time for bed when Santa reached Newfoundland since he was only an hour away from our time zone.
We discussed continents, travel, and velocity, as well as using the satellite, terrain, map, and hybrid views on Google Maps to get a better idea of what Santa's stops looked like.
Quite frankly, he learned more about geography on Christmas eve than he has in two years of school. Geography isn't covered on our state standardized tests, you see, so it's hard to squeeze into a loaded curriculum. It's easy to cover on a lazy Christmas Eve as a family, though, thanks to Google and NORAD. As one users noted on Twitter, this is about the only good thing that came out of the Cold War.