Fun with GIS 124: Problem-Based Learning at Esri International User Conference

At the 2012 Esri International User Conference, 14,000 people thunderously applauded stars of problem-based learning (PBL). At the opening plenary session, four students stepped out on stage and confidently displayed their experience with GIS, gained during just their senior year of high school. Their work was so real, so powerful, and so like what GIS professionals do that the demos were sifted in among those by other users, instead of isolated as a special student group. You can see their presentations, and the teacher’s summary here: Esri 2012 UC Plenary Videos
Choose “Mid-morning”, see “21:40-26:35″, “43:50-47:00″, “61:08-65:30″

Washington-Lee High School in Arlington, VA is a good school. These are bright and inquisitive students, and the teacher masterfully weaves together relevant content, powerful technology, and incrementally greater challenges. But the model of PBL with GIS used by these and hundreds of students across the Virginia Geospatial Semester program is the real star.

In school after school, teacher after teacher help students build skills in GIS by tackling real-world challenges. They construct maps of things around them, analyze the patterns and relationships they see in daily life, and struggle just like adults to integrate information and derive sensible answers in complex situations for which there is no “cookbook answer.” With a steady diet of such experiences, they build a disposition for challenges. Combined with the technical savvy and creativity of youth, this is serious power. In the hours and days following the WLHS students’ presentations, everyone I met agreed that these students were ready for college and career.

Across the US, employers and politicians (save only for one party in one state) clamor for students to have 21st century skills, including managing and thinking critically about all kinds of information, collaborating, communicating, and working with powerful tools. Lucky kids whose teachers or after-school activity leaders employ PBL with GIS get to practice this even from a young age. These kids will survive and thrive tomorrow, as the thunderous applause at the Esri Conference attests.

Are students in your community preparing for tomorrow by tackling real-world challenges without a cookbook? Can they demonstrate it using technology beyond a Number 2 pencil?

- Charlie Fitzpatrick, Esri Education Manager

Charlie Fitzpatrick

About Charlie Fitzpatrick

Charlie Fitzpatrick is the K-12 education manager at Esri. Before joining Esri in 1992, Charlie taught social studies in grades 7-12 for 15 years.
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  1. Charlie Fitzpatrick cfitzpatrick says:

    You can now see the three segments of the WLHS students’ presentations in a single neat package at the Esri EdCommunity page for videos: http://edcommunity.esri.com/im/videos/ (Scroll down to “Student GIS Presentations”)