Introduction to Maps & GIS with 7th graders in Washington

Photo of Casey FinedellGeoMentor Volunteer: Casey Finedell

Location: Port Townsend, Washington

Grade level of participating students: 7th grade STEAM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math)

Activity Theme/Focus: Introduction to maps – from basic mapping concepts to real world examples. Discussed everything from Lat/Long and Great Circles to map generalization and visualization of demographics through choropleth maps.

Number of Participants: 20

How did you connect with your collaborator?  I was asked to participate in an outreach program rooted in a ConnectED initiative. At a teacher training this summer, many teachers were excited by the possibilities of GIS in the classroom, but were a bit intimidated by the software. One teacher latched on to the GIS concepts and how they could enhance her classroom.

Describe your collaboration process. The teacher and I immediately started working on what we call the “BioCollector” app. With her 8th grade class, she has been collecting biological indicator information, such as pH levels, in local aquatic environments for about five years. She had the students collecting by hand, but the possibility of collecting on a phone or iPad was very interesting to her. To help with her comfort level with the software, we decided to introduce GIS to her 7th grade class.

Describe your tasks/involvement. For the first five sessions, we had discussions about mapping in general and GIS specifically. We focused these courses around the 5×5 exercise that ESRI put out for K12. These exercises were a great way to wade into GIS with this age level students.

After we concluded our 5×5 exercise list, we moved on to creation of our very own story map. We had the students group up into teams and each student was responsible for creation of a single location in a story map. We allowed the students quite a bit of freedom with the topic of these maps, focusing more on the creation as the lesson. We used the Story Map Shortlist template as our webapp. Most students chose to pin places they have been or desire to go, but a few chose topics such as sites where the Loch Ness Monster and other borderline mythical/real creatures have been spotted.

This was a learning experience for both the students and the teachers. Some basic computer skills were covered such as saving an image from the internet and consuming it in a Story Map. Teachers learned how to better assess student preparedness for tasks and students pushed their comfort zone with computer skills, internet searching, and mapping.

What did you gain from the experience? What do you think your educator collaborator and/or the students gained? This was an incredibly rewarding and reassuring experience. It was refreshing to see how quickly some of these kids stepped up and ran with these concepts. I personally gained a better understanding of student capabilities and, more importantly, my own teaching techniques. I learned how to explain topic from numerous angles to reach students with different learning styles. 

Additional comments: GeoMentors is a wonderful program for connecting professionals with interested students. I feel that every GIS Professional and any interested educators should look into this program and see how a relationship can be built with local educational programs. I am happy to be involved with AAG and my local school system.