One of the most enjoyable things about attending the ESRI UC is interacting with all of the middle school, high school, and youth groups. Their enthusiasm is infectious — and that is just the teachers, parents, and mentors. The students are modest about their achievements which are usually civic volunteerism projects that benefit their community. The teachers, parents, and mentors are modest about the personal time and money that they invested in the project. They are all modest about the team effort, trust, and overcoming obstacles that volunteer projects entail beyond the geospatial component.
At the 2010 ESRI User Conference session on building content based learning environments on “teaching the teachers”, the speakers (Susan Flentie, Lewistown Junior High School; Jeff Dunn, University of Connecticut Libraries Map and Geographic Information (MAGIC) center, and Stewart Bruce, Washington College), brought up some of the core issues for integrating geospatial skills. The first is that often when teachers say “this would be too difficult for my students” what they mean is “this is difficult for me and I don’t want to look weak in front of my students”. For those who aren’t teachers, it is difficult to understand how much courage it takes for a teacher to let go of some of their authority in a class. Over the years of attending the ED UC and other educational conferences, the teachers who have overcome this problem often do so by taking the risk of learning alongside their students but the reward is that it encourages students to participate and feel mastery over a subject area.
As Susan Flentie pointed out, they had an application process for any student and teacher who wanted to learn GIS, the students who wanted to do it the most weren’t the best students in the “traditional sense” but they excelled in the content based hands on geospatial environment. They came in early in the morning, used their own personal time at night, and were dedicated to creating useful geospatial projects.
Part of why this works so well is that the teachers , mentors, and parents, involved with a voluntary class are often very dedicated and excited about a project themselves, but this leads to the other reasons teachers often don’t integrate geospatial skills into their classes – they don’t have some one to turn to as a “safety net” or to help them to do it beyond an introductory class. MAGIC at U.Conn. has found that by making themselves available to teachers to develop geospatial integration from static maps for social studies classes to integrated maps for lesson development gives teachers the creativity to go beyond just “Google it”. Just knowing that they have a resource to call if they get stuck, helps them to fly on their own. The geomentoring program is a great way to get involved.
However, this safety net doesn’t stop at geospatial skills. Teachers and youth leaders need help finding support such as finding and applying for funding for travel, food, program continuation, or equipment. They can benefit from used equipment or supplies. From personal experience, I can say that students will do a lot of work for a pizza party. An easy way to contribute is to give written feedback that can be used to show that someone outside their community recognized the skill it took to do what they did.
So this week when you see youth, teachers, parents, or mentors around – give them some feedback and tell them how great they are.