A quiet revolution is building in US K12 education. States are recognizing the power of GIS and the opportunity it presents, for both instruction and administration.
A huge boost in helping educators introduce GIS is its utility in unlimited careers. Seeing how many directions a young person can go with geotech skills has inspired educators to consider GIS, and parents to promote it. In the Map Gallery at the 2012 Esri International Conference, I met a happy young man who began using GIS in high school, got hired into a full-time GIS-based job right out of high school, and had been sent by his employer to this conference to learn even more.
At the conference, I also met a high school principal and teacher whose students had conducted analyses that helped local police solve some crimes, and talked with a teacher whose students’ work was on display in a local museum exhibit. It is exceedingly hard to prove changes to standardized test scores – in any direction – specifically from using GIS, but students who regularly use GIS necessarily build content background plus skills in data analysis, critical thinking, and communication. This “problem-based learning with GIS” was also the highlight of three separate youth presentations (first, second, third) in the 2012 conference’s opening plenary, when students from the Virginia Geospatial Semester showed what they could do after a single year.
To this day, I’ve not had a single employer tell me “I need students with better test scores.” Instead, I hear constantly “I need people who can explore independently, learn when they need to, analyze and integrate data to make informed decisions, solve problems, communicate, and work well in a team.” Kids using geotech, whether in class or after-school programs, demonstrate this well, and more educators are paying heed.
Meanwhile, schools and districts are seeing how useful GIS can be for administrative purposes. Each dollar saved in operating more efficiently can help an institution be a more effective place of learning. Some schools and districts even recognize that they can meet multiple goals at once by having students learn geotechnology in class by tackling a task that helps the institution, such as mapping internal wifi signal strength or outside lighting, modeling alternative scenarios for school parking or reducing environmental impact, even just mapping trash. (For a broader look, see this Spatial Roundtable discussion.)
Finally, more states are establishing statewide licenses, to facilitate access to software, provide professional development, and influence what they want kids and educators to know and be able to do. This is a recognition that changes are important now and for the long term, and that education must be a part of the community instead of apart from it.
GIS professionals can help this revolution, by introducing local educators and leaders to GIS, and lending a hand to programs getting underway. GIS Day and the GeoMentor program are great places to begin. It takes time and consistent effort to bring about revolution, but it is underway, and growing, even if quietly.
- Charlie Fitzpatrick, Esri Education Manager