"Hic sunt dracones” — Filling in the GIS Map for the K-12 Classroom

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Few schools have successfully integrated geographic information systems (GIS) into the curricula of their K-12 social studies classrooms, even fewer into the wide variety of disciplines that can be effectively impacted by the study of spatial data. Organizing and maintaining a school’s GIS component depend on several crucial management criteria, not the least of which are the appropriate teacher competencies and standards alignment. Among other essential protocols are data storage and retrieval, network functioning, computer platform capabilities, appropriate learning activities and developing a coherent format that is replicable from one campus to another. This session demonstrates a successful school-based GIS program with its complementary college in-service model.

Steven Branting

Steven Branting’s work in archaeology, geography and history has been honored by, among others, The History Channel, the Association of American Geographers, the Society of American Archaeology, and the American Association for State and Local History. His article "Not Your Father's History Lesson: Idaho Students Solve a Necrogeographic Mystery," published in the Western Historical Quarterly (XXXVIII, 2, Summer 2007), was nominated in 2009 by the Western Historical Association for the American Historical Association’s prestigious William Gilbert Award, which recognizes outstanding contributions to the teaching of history through the publication of journal articles. Mr. Branting retired in 2009 after 33 years as a consultant for gifted & innovative programs.

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Get involved

If you are a GIS professional who has always wanted to work with schools, this session is a must for you. A successful program will be demonstrated, and you will learn how to get involved in your own community.

An excellent initiative

Steven, this is an excellent program - great work on this!  I applaud your efforts, and ESRI for giving away ten sitewide licenses, but I can't help but wonder if at least at an introductory level if more students might be reached by either: a.) open source technologies or b.) web mapping exercises using ESRI software.  Reaching students at ten schools would be outstanding, but what if you could reach every school?  Again, great initiative!  Thanks.

follow up

Good recommendations, Brent.

The purpose of the geographic initiative has been to spur curriculum change in high schools. Since the early 1990's, Geography has spiraled into a precipitous decline as an easily dismissed curriculum, like a maiden aunt asked occasionally, if ever, to Sunday dinner. In Idaho, for example, social science majors are not required to take any geography courses prior to earning a teaching degree. Recent surveys are exposing a complacent, widespread geographic ignorance among young Americans, whose mental maps are often as flawed as the Tabula Peutingeriana (a medieval copy of Roman map), which described unknown territory with in his locis cenocephali nascuntur (here dog-headed beings are produced). Humorist Will Rogers rightly observed: “It isn't what we don't know that gives us trouble; it's what we know that ain't so.”

We also recommend the integration of GIS at the middle school level, albeit with different software more appropriate to those grades. At one of my former schools, every student takes GIS classes.

speaker's web site

GIS mentoring

ESRI has a web site to encourage mentoring opportunities for classrooms:


"a modest proposal"

Given the dearth of systematic geographic education in secondary classrooms, this session will include an analysis of a special collaborative initiative --- the "modest proposal" --- among ESRI, GIS professionals and their local school districts to jumpstart GIS studies at the high school level.