We approach the complex themes of sustainable development using a geographic perspective that allows innovative responses to local community challenges. The basic learning framework of the MyCOE program model mirrors traditional scientific method and is:
Our pedagogy is outlined by a five-step process that begins with asking a question, making observations, analyzing, seeking solutions, and finally recommending or implementing change. We encourage and guide youth to form scientifically derived understandings of sustainable development problems and to take action, make a difference, and participate in applying solutions.
Diagram adapted from Michael Goodchild, UCSB
Learn more with the book, Active Learning and Student Engagement (discount available).
Project questions address local community issues in a way that provides an inherently interdisciplinary and spatial framework for inquiry, analysis, and ultimately understanding and learning. Attention toward connecting the local with the global encourages youth to participate in their own communities in positive ways. The interactive experiential approach promotes the development of opinion formulation, fact-based decision-making, critical-thinking and problem-solving skills. In combination, the MyCOE pedagogic approach, the synthesis perspective of geography as a discipline, and the power of geographic tools and technologies for learning across multiple subjects, helps us to build geographically, scientifically, and spatially literate generation, capable of addressing sustainable development challenges facing our global society. Freely available resources offer a unique opportunity for supporting science and environmental education, both formally and informally, in a way that adheres to a broad vision for world understanding and a sustainable future for the planet.
Our special initiatives also provide teacher professional development opportunities to ensure that youth have mentors, instructors, and teachers with the latest geographic knowledge and technology skills. Research findings consistently point to the critical role of teachers in helping students to learn and achieve and that improving teacher quality affects teaching practice, which in turn affects student performance. (NSF 2006). The subjects of geography and use of geographic technologies are particularly impactful across various subjects. Research has also found the use of GIS to be effective for teaching skills related to asking and answering general scientific questions (Kerski 2003); to improving attitudes toward technology and science among students (Baker & White 2003; West 2003); and to increasing students’ math skills and educator’s comfort level in teaching mathematics (Dorn et al. 2005).
MyCOE’s own program evaluations (Solís 2008) demonstrate success in these same areas. Fully 85% of teacher workshop attendees feel the experience to have been useful or very useful for their teaching, and 87.5% of them felt it met their personal goals. Before the workshop, only half of respondents (50%) on average felt comfortable or very comfortable teaching geography and only 21% of them felt comfortable for math/science education compared to 100% of respondents after the workshop for geography and 62% for math/science classes.
Of those whose responses before and after were tracked as individuals, 86% of them improved their comfort levels significantly using the technology for math and science education, with an average of 2.3 levels of improvement increase on a 5 point scale.
Level of Comfort in Teaching
MyCOE teacher workshops greatly increased the level of teacher’s potential use of geographic technologies when teaching, as shown as significant change for both using GIS and GPS.
Before participating, 27% of teachers believe that non-traditional pedagogies such as field trips, group activities or hands-on lessons are the same as standard classroom pedagogies for reaching student learning objectives. Afterwards, 94% of teachers believe that these inquiry-driven, hands-on, field-based, active learning activities are more effective than traditional approaches.
Baker and White. 2003. The effects of G.I.S. on students’ attitudes, self-efficacy, and achievement in middle school science classrooms. Journal of Geography 102: 243-254.
Dorn, R., et al. 2005. Learning Geography Promotes Learning Math: Results and Implications of Arizona’s GeoMath Grade K-8 Program. Journal of Geography 104(4): 151-160.
Kerski, J. 2003. The implementation and effectiveness of geographic information systems technology and methods in secondary education. Journal of Geography 102(3): 128-137. May-June 2003.
NSF. 2006 Science and Engineering Indicators (SEI): 2006. Elementary and Secondary Education, US National Science Foundation, Washington, DC. Full book available at http://www.nsf.gov/statistics/seind06/prsntlst.htm
Solís, P. 2008. Project Evaluation Reports: My Community, Our Earth Teacher Professional Development Workshop and Training Programs. Association of American Geographers: Washington, DC.
West, B. 2003. Student attitudes and the impact of GIS on thinking skills and motivation. Journal of Geography 102 (6): 267-274.