Designing and Teaching a GeoTech Club at a School

My colleagues and I on the Esri Education Team sometimes hear from educators, parents, and those in the GIS community who have successfully run geotechnology clubs at their local school.  Over the past few years, I have also had the opportunity to run a GeoTech Club of my own, at a local middle school, and then at a local high school.  Space does not permit me to go into too much detail, and therefore I would welcome a dialogue on this topic below.  However, I wish to share the approach I have taken and what I have learned in the process.

GIS Poster from High School Student

GIS Poster from High School student participating in GeoTech Club

First, an after-school club is an excellent way for students to engage in GIS, remote sensing, GPS, and web mapping.  Second, since it is a club, I encourage you to make the activities fun and engaging.  I hand out cool maps, satellite images, and other mapping related items.  We investigate current events using GIS.  During every class, I bring in real job ads requiring GIS skills in the local area and we discuss career decisions and work environments.  Third, I start the school year with field activities–we gather data about litter, trees and shrubs, social zones, cell phone reception, and infrastructure on the school campus using GPS receivers and smartphones (“We get to use our phones in school?  Cool!”).  We map our field collected data in ArcGIS Online.  Fourth, I ask them what they are interested in examining.  Fifth, choose a variety of topics and scales:  We examine local-to-global issues such as urban sprawl, open space trails, business site selection, population change and characteristics, watersheds, weather, natural hazards, energy, biodiversity, and more.

Sixth:  Soon after the second semester begins, I start instructing less and let the students pursue an independent project of their own choosing.  One student created an ArcGIS Online map with data points and photographs to support the field trip the Earth Science teacher was conducting. Another made a map-based project comparing all of the local lunch spots students in his school.  Another made a map with all of the major league baseball stadiums complete with team logos used as point symbols.

Seventh, since there is so much competition for students’ time after school, I make sure that I not only advertise the club via school newsletters, announcements, and web sites, but I also take advantage of the best way to grow the club:  I encourage the students in the club to tell and bring their friends.

Eighth, ensure that the club is well supported by the school’s teachers and administrators, and build connections between what you are doing in the club to the school’s focus areas.  Career academies are an important part of the high school housing the GeoTech Club I facilitated this past year.  The themes of geotechnology, inquiry, our content areas, and critical thinking skills became an important part of the school’s STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics) academy and, I hope in the future, their Business and Global Studies academy.  The career academies required participating students to focus on certain coursework and skills, and the STEM academy’s pathways on computer technology and “Earth, Energy, and the Environment” were particularly well aligned with the GeoTech Club.  I was thrilled when one of the students from the club decided to focus on GIS for her senior capstone project, an advanced research project that results in a research paper, poster (shown here), and presentation.  I was very impressed by the quality and professionalism during the day in which this student and the other senior capstone participants presented for their peers, parents, and teachers.

If you are already running a GeoTech Club at a school, what activities do you include in it?  If you are not running such a club, I encourage you to look into it, or encourage others to do so.   What I would love to see is for the students to direct the activities of their own club, and ideally, run the club themselves.  Is this happening anywhere?

Joseph Kerski

About Joseph Kerski

Joseph Kerski is a geographer who believes that spatial analysis through digital mapping can transform education and society through better decision-making using the geographic perspective. He serves on the Esri education team and is active in GIS communication and outreach, creates GIS-based curriculum, conducts research in the effectiveness of GIS in education, teaches online and face-to-face courses on spatial thinking and analysis, and fosters partnerships to support GIS in formal and informal education at all levels, internationally. He is the co-author of Spatial Mathematics, The Essentials of the Environment, The GIS Guide to Public Domain Data, and other books. Follow him on Twitter @josephkerski
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