The Case for GIS in High School: Impact on Students' Spatial Thinking Skills

Authors: Bob Kolvoord*, James Madison University, David Uttal, Northwestern University, Emily Grossnickle Peterson, American University, Adam Green, Georgetown University
Topics: Geographic Information Science and Systems, Geography Education
Keywords: GIS, K-12 education, spatial thinking,
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/9/2021
Start / End Time: 11:10 AM / 12:25 PM
Room: Virtual 36
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


With the support of the National Science Foundation, we have conducted a multi-year cognitive and behavioral study of high school students taking a class with extensive use of geospatial technologies, specifically GIS. Students participating in the Geospatial Semester, a dual-enrollment offering from James Madison University to high school seniors in Virginia, were recruited to a study which compared their spatial thinking and problem solving skills with equivalent students who did not do the GIS-focused class. Combining a variety of measures , including spatial psychometric tests, student interviews and fMRI scans, and hundreds of students, our study explores both the depth and breadth of the impact of the use of GIS in a classroom setting. Our results show that the students who used GIS performed better on a number of measures, including improved efficiency on spatial thinking tests, improved problem-solving skills, and greater recruitment of spatial portions of the brain, even when doing non-spatial tasks. We also see greater improvement for female students in a number of measures.

In addition to measures described above, we looked at the students' involvement in spatial activities in childhood and adolescence and examined how parental attitudes about student ability and potential college major relate to gender.

In this talk, we'll share the findings of our work, discuss their implications for bolstering the use of geospatial technology in secondary education and share the next steps in our ongoing research.

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