Modeling and Rendering Software
Modeling and rendering software offer powerful tools for representing and manipulating information in a visual format. For example, Geometer's Sketchpad is software that enables users to dynamically model concepts such as tesselation or slope and intersect. Simple animations, including many available online, enable students to experiment and see results immediately. ArcView is an example of mapping software that enables users to use datasets to generate layered maps, building their geographic literacy and prompting higher-order thinking. For instance, using U.S. Census data, students can generate maps to help them analyze population trends over time. Online resources for educators help to explain how to make effective use of modeling and rendering tools to build student understanding.
Global Positioning Systems
Global Positioning Systems (GPS) are handheld devices that use satellite signals to provide exact location. Some come with screens large enough to display a map. Many newer GPS devices can be combined with software to plot the user's location directly onto a map.
These tools can be used in learning projects to improve geographic and spatial understanding, as well as provide direct experience with latitude and longitude.
Mapping software helps students visualize and analyze statistics around community issues
Jennifer Holmes teaches social studies at an inner-city high school in a high-crime area. Nearly all of her students are growing up in poverty. Many work after school and on weekends to help support their families. The dropout rate is high, and few students have access to technology outside school.
Two years ago a new principal arrived. Her goals: implement innovative and research-based strategies to improve student achievement and reduce the dropout rate. She aggressively pursued grants to improve access to technology as a way to close the digital divide. To foster collaboration, teachers share a weekly planning period. Holmes has been working with the technology teacher on a six-week social studies project that makes use of geographic information system (GIS) software.
Mapmaking helped the students make sense of statistics, geography, and social studies. The technology allowed them to spot trends at a glance. With a better understanding of data, students could engage in higher level analysis.
Students gain a better understanding of new concepts when they are encouraged to make nonlinguistic representations of their understanding. Research shows that we acquire and store knowledge in two ways: linguistic (by reading or hearing lectures), and nonlinguistic (through visual imagery, kinesthetic or whole-body modes, etc).
A geographic information system is a kind of scientific visualization. It allows users to select, query, overlay, and analyze physical and social features of the world in an integrated display. It increases the ability to identify and manipulate elements of complex systems. It is a nonlinguistic method of understanding data.
Public presentations encouraged students to focus on quality. Their proposals for the vacant block showed creative problem-solving ideas that addressed a specific need or a problem. Neighborhood leaders gained a new impression of local high school students as capable, creative problem solvers.
A technology grant equipped the computer lab to support projects that involve geospatial thinking as a strategy to improve students' higher-order thinking skills. The technology teacher was trained in the mapping software, global positioning system (GPS) devices, online databases, and other information and resources related to using GIS in education.
Holmes's ninth-grade class has been working on a unit called "The Geography of Place." Her goal is to teach students to apply critical-thinking skills to issues affecting their local community. She wants to build connections to local issues as well as address important national standards in social studies and geography. Standard 18 of the National Geography Standards states, "An understanding of the contemporary world requires an understanding of geography, that is, of the physical and human systems that drive world events. Geographic concepts also help us think clearly about alternative futures and make us wise decision-makers." Holmes hoped her unit would help students begin to meet standards like these.
The technology enables students to use data to generate multi-layered maps. A series of maps about a single region, for example, might show elevation, political boundaries, waterways, or population. Students learn to use online databases as raw material for generating maps. They can also use GPS devices to gather their own data for mapping.
Holmes and the technology teacher taught students how to use the technology tools through short, focused lessons. Some students were already familiar with the technology from taking an elective course about GIS. These students acted as peer mentors.
Holmes was learning along with her students. Although she had a basic understanding, she was not yet skilled at using the software. She relied on the technology teacher for support, and also turned to her tech-savvy students for help.
As a way for students to apply what they learned, Holmes assigned students to create proposals for redeveloping a crime-ridden city block near the school. By having students use data to generate maps about their own neighborhood, they were prompted to see patterns, raise questions, and suggest solutions grounded in their own research. Students had access to data provided by the police department, the neighborhood association, and the county health department to pinpoint crime and map incidents.
The mapping software made it easy to generate new projections. One student suggested that they create a new map, showing the location of community resources overlaid onto crime data. They had used GPS devices to gather data about the location of community resources. Analyzing this new map, students learned that property crimes were least common in residential areas near churches, youth centers, and parks, which caused them to think more deeply about connections and causes.