Association of American Geographers
About AAG Membership Annual Meeting Projects & Programs Education Publications Calendar Of Events Jobs & Careers

 GeoMentor Case Study:

Lauren Sinclair

By Lauren Sinclair; GeoMentor/Educator in Portland, Oregon

How might your career or understanding of the world be different if you had learned GIS skills in middle school? Thanks to support from PSU professors David Banis and Dr. Hunter Shobe, an International Baccalaureate middle school in Portland’s west hills is being given the chance to find out.

The French American International School is nestled on the western edge of Forest Park, just below the crest of iconic Skyline Boulevard. Visit campus on a Wednesday and you’ll likely see 6th or 8th graders wandering around in small groups with smartphones in hand. They’re using ESRI’s Collector app to create novel maps of their school campus that contribute to their school’s community.

“I decided to make an accessibility map displaying the easy, medium, and hard routes getting from place to place when being on a wheelchair on campus,” says Sofia, an 8th grader in the school’s new GIS Design class. This map was inspired by analyzing several maps in Banis’ and Shobe’s book Portlandness. The students working on this map project will present their final interactive Web App (made using ArcGIS Online) to the professors for analysis, as well as to the school’s administration as a bid for more accessible campus design in upcoming construction projects. "Let's say we add this map in every [student] planner in addition to the [existing] campus map,” says Coco, another 8th grader working on the project. “I think that could be really helpful for students to think from that point of view and learn about how difficult [traveling via wheelchair] is." This student-led initiative could change this school for the better.

Every semester, students in two GIS Design classes learn about how GIS works, how to make their own GIS maps of campus using a free AGO Enterprise account (thank you, ESRI!), how to analyze maps effectively, basic principles of map design, and how to lie with maps. As students at an international school, they’re able to apply their learning to geography-based inquiry in other classes as well. All 6th graders this year “discovered” the Ring of Fire through a GIS inquiry hosted in their Science classes, for example. More connections are being planned for the future, as GIS Design teacher Lauren Sinclair envisions “foundational GIS experience for every student” in coming years.

These new GIS connections were made possible because of Sinclair’s GIS training in PSU’s Geography Department. Sinclair was a public school teacher and environmental educator before coming to PSU to study glacial geomorphology, GIS, and geography in general. After taking Cartographic Applications of GIS with David Banis, Sinclair was inspired to pitch the idea of a middle school curriculum that would teach GIS basics to kids using free software like AGO. It took years of convincing to persuade school administrators to support the idea, but Sinclair was finally cleared to add two GIS classes to a list of electives for the 2017-2018 school year, and they’ve been a hit. GIS Design is now cemented into the school’s schedule.

“The success of these new classes is directly linked to our partnership with David and Hunter,” Sinclair reports. “I take exit surveys of my students, and they cite our GeoMentors as a huge motivating factor in their design process.” “I think it was useful because we were hearing from a professor that has been teaching about GIS and is very experienced with it,” said one 6th grader. “It also gave insight on how designers use the design process in real life.”

Would YOU consider acting as a GeoMentor for local middle school students? Professionals and students alike are needed in schools across the Portland area. Only a handful of middle schools in the country are teaching GIS, mostly because teachers aren’t familiar with it. YOU can help bridge that experience gap.

To learn more, email or contact Lauren Sinclair at the French American International School to learn more about how GIS education is working in her classroom:

A work in progress: “Pokemon Go” from scratch by 8th grade enthusiasts


Check out more case studies here!

If you're interested in submitting your GeoMentor experience for a case study, we would appreciate you doing so through this survey. The collected information will only be accessible to and used by AAG and Esri program staff and will not be further distributed or posted online unless you indicate your permission to do so.

Questions? Email