If you visit our campus on a Wednesday, you'll likely see 6th or 8th graders wandering around in small groups with smartphones and clipboards in hand. They're using an app to create novel maps of our school campus. These maps are all student ideas to add to or improve our community in some way.
"I decided to make an accessibility map displaying the easy, medium, and hard routes getting from place to place when being on a wheelchair on campus," says Sofia Braun, an 8th grader in Mrs. Sinclair's GIS Design class. This map was inspired by analyzing several maps in the book Portlandness. The students working on this map project met the Portland State University professors who wrote this book of maps and learned how these experts had used the design process to design maps that range from informative to funny.
All students in GIS Design will present their final interactive digital maps to the professors for analysis. Past classes have described this formal final presentation as a huge motivating factor in their design choices and how they reflected on the design process. "I think it was useful because we were hearing from a professor that has been teaching about GIS and is very experienced with it," said one 6th grader. "It also gave insight on how designers use the design process in real life."
Sixth grade map projects this semester will include maps that our campus needs but doesn't have yet: a map of earthquake supplies, orientation maps for new middle school students, a map showing sports events with links to game schedules, the first accurate map of our forest trail and natural resources, and a map of the "Secret Side of Gilkey," sharing fun stories and student lore with new students so they feel instantly included. Eighth graders are working on some fun new technology and maps that could lead to team-building as well as educational games, including our very own Pokemon Go style map and several Marauder's Maps inspired by the world of Harry Potter. Eighth graders last semester created impressive maps of Portland that addressed real world problems like transportation issues, wealth and inequality, and more.
The 8th graders who are currently mapping accessibility on our campus will present their final maps to the school's Safety Committee as a bid for more accessible campus design in upcoming construction projects. "Let's say we add this map in every [student] planner in addition to the [existing] campus map," says Coco van Hameren, another 8th grader working on the project. "I think that could be really helpful for students to think from that point of view and learn about how difficult [traveling via wheelchair] is." Due to her suggestion, student planners will indeed include links to these new maps at the beginning of next school year. This student-led initiative could change our campus for the better!
Every semester, students in two GIS Design classes learn what GIS is and how it works, how to make their own GIS maps of campus, how to analyze maps effectively, the design process, basic principles of map design, and how to effectively tell meaningful stories with maps. As students at an IB school, they're able to apply their learning to geography-based inquiry in other classes as well. All 6th graders this year "discovered" the Ring of Fire through a GIS inquiry hosted in their Science classes, for example. More connections are being planned for the future, as GIS Design teacher Lauren Sinclair envisions "foundational GIS experience for every student" in coming years.
These new GIS connections were made possible because of Sinclair's GIS training in PSU's Geography Department and her partnership with her graduate school professors, Banis and Shobe. Do YOU have experience with GIS? Would you consider acting as a GeoMentor for our middle school students? We would love to invite you to participate in our class!
To learn more, you can contact Lauren Sinclair at firstname.lastname@example.org