Implementing Geographic Information Systems (GIS) in Elementary Classrooms: Challenges, Opportunities, and Lessons Learned

Authors: Alycia Hund*,
Topics: Geographic Information Science and Systems
Keywords: Geographic Information Systems, Elementary Schools
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/8/2020
Start / End Time: 3:20 PM / 4:35 PM
Room: Tower Court B, Sheraton, IM Pei Tower, Second Floor Level
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


Our work focuses on building partnerships with urban elementary schools to design and implement inquiry-based social studies lessons using Geographic Information Systems (GIS). Most previous GIS research has focused on high school and college students (Baker, 2005; Hall-Wallace & McAuliffe, 2002; Kerski, 2003; Lee & Bednarz, 2009), with recent extensions to middle school students (Goldstein, & Alibrandi, 2013). We focused on upper elementary grades to test the early impact of GIS. Fourth and fifth grade students completed National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) geography knowledge measures and Cognitive Abilities Test (CogAT) spatial thinking measures before and after our intervention period. During the intervention period, GIS classes completed three modules focusing on inquiry-based problem-solving using GIS, directed by their teachers who received extensive training and consultation from our research team. Control classes completed their traditional social studies curriculum. We recorded classroom discourse throughout the intervention period. As predicted, students in GIS classes showed larger gains in geography knowledge and spatial thinking than did students in the control classes. In addition, more reciprocal exchanges between teachers and students were evident in the classroom discourse of GIS classes relative to control classes. Ongoing analyses focus on the nature and extent of spatial language evident during lessons, aspects of spatial reasoning evident in student interviews, and lessons learned from our teacher partners so we can better serve their needs. These details will be important for understanding the nature of GIS engagement and related learning evident in elementary grades.

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