General Geography with 2nd Graders and Social Studies & ArcGIS Online with 6th Graders in Illinois

Photo of Lucy StanfieldGeoMentor Volunteer: Lucy Stanfield

Location: Chicago, Illinois

Grade level of participating students: 2nd & 6th

Activity Theme/Focus: 

  • 2nd grade – general Illinois geography; *general IL geography lesson used the NatGeo giant floor map of Illinois borrowed from the Geographic Society of Chicago
  • 6th grade – Social Studies topics in ArcGIS Online and general Illinois geography

Number of Participants: 120

How did you connect with your collaborator? My daughter was a 6th grade student and I worked for several years with different teachers and principals on learning about ArcGIS Online and finally set up student accounts for the 6th graders to make a few maps related to their Social Studies lessons. A professor and board member of the Geographic Society of Chicago also came to the school and spoke with the principal about the ArcGIS Online software and free school account to help show the value and connection to STEM learning. I helped the school apply for the free ArcGIS Online school account. For the NatGeo giant map lessons, I asked the Social Studies teacher to ask the other K-8 teachers if they would like to have a map lesson and a few requested a map lesson.

Describe your collaboration process. At the beginning of the school year, during the school open house, I told the Social Studies teacher that I was available to come into her classes and give 45-minute map lessons using the free ArcGIS Online software. During the 2nd trimester, she contacted me to ask if I could schedule map lessons for the students after Spring Break. I asked her for a list of topics she would cover in the 3rd Trimester and then I searched for Story Maps and map data related to those topics that students could look at. The students have access to Chromebooks so I planned three 45-minute lessons using ArcGIS Online. I met with the teacher a few times to give her an orientation to the software and to ask her what the state education standards for that grade level were to make sure we could cover those. I led each lesson with each student using their own Chromebook and logging into their individual account. I also noticed her classroom did not have any maps on the wall so I gave her some US and World maps to hang up.

Describe your tasks/involvement. The Social Studies teacher was very open to engaging students in different ways on the subject matter she needed to cover. Having the students integrate technology and design into their historical studies brought another dimension and allowed students to learn a new skill. Students could also view each other’s maps in the Group that I set up so the social component was an added benefit to discussion. The fact that ArcGIS Online is a free online software made the startup and training very quick. I set up all of the student accounts for the teacher so she didn’t have to worry about it.

What did you gain from the experience? What do you think your educator collaborator and/or the students gained? It was wonderful to finally have 2 classes of students and a motivated teacher to use the ArcGIS Online software. They learned very quickly how to make their own maps, read and navigate a Story Map and answer questions about it, and discuss cartography and design choices. I also gained an understanding of how hard teachers work every day all year long. I come from a family of teachers and so I’m aware of how hard they work. Teaching back-to-back hour-long lessons to students is exhilarating and exhausting (in a good way). The students are very comfortable with technology and picked it up very quickly. I feel their geographic knowledge increased over the course of the lessons and their curiosity and desire to learn new skills matched up perfectly with ArcGIS Online. Who doesn’t love maps?

Additional comments: I think every GIS professional should be a GeoMentor to spread the word on thinking spatially and being curious about our world. Teachers are happy to have speakers come into their class to give students real-world problems to think about and solve. I think the typical Career Days where professionals come and talk to students is nice but sharing your skills with a class full of students who can view and create interactive maps synthesizes their learning from several subjects in a much more meaningful way … and it’s fun!