Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Elementary STEM Summer Institute: Integrating Geospatial Technology In the Classroom

GIS program staff Kate Hayman, Megan Wise, and Emily Aiken, along with Elementary Education Field Experiences Coordinator Michelle Johnson, attended the Elementary STEM Summer Institute in Cambridge in order to learn more about the STEM Standards of Practice. As part of our Race to the Top program, the GIS Lab has been working with Michelle and the Washington College elementary education team in order to develop curriculum to bring GIS into the classroom right from the start.

So what is STEM, and why is it so important for GIS? It stands for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics, and STEM education practices aim to integrate these four fields together in the classroom. By using STEM, students learn early on that science and math are not independent sets of facts, but that knowledge from one field can be applied in the other. STEM also integrates problem-based learning, or PBL, which aims to transform the usual teacher-centered curriculum into classes driven by problem-solving and discovery. Students are encouraged to actively engage with the material and apply the scientific method: rather than keeping silent because they fear giving the “wrong answer,” PBL students learn that an incorrect hypothesis just means you revise and try again.

The National Science Foundation estimates that 80% of the jobs created in the next decade will require some form of math and science skills. How can GIS help in preparing our students for the future? Implementing technology effectively is an integral part of STEM, and geospatial technology is a rapidly growing field. We have seen with our own student interns that learning a program like Google Sketchup first gives them greater confidence with more complex 3D applications like 3DSMax and Unity in the future. Likewise, bringing a foundation of geospatial concepts into the classroom early on will give students a head start on a future as GIS professionals. With the help of what we learned at this ESTEM conference, we hope to develop a training program that will give teachers the GIS tools they need to bring geospatial technology into their STEM curriculum. 

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