. "8 An Assessment of GIS as a System for Supporting Spatial Thinking in the K-12 Context." Learning to Think Spatially: GIS as a Support System in the K-12 Curriculum. Washington, DC: The National Academies Press, 2006.
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Learning To Think Spatially
Lessons for Educators (Malone et al., 2002). It provides customized lessons that lead students step-by-step to create maps. (See Appendix H for an example of students using GIS to understand spatial and temporal variations in rainfall in India.) Students are directed to hypothesize, investigate, analyze, and so on during the procedure of creating a series of maps. However, there is no explicit help for either teachers or students to complete the analysis of the maps and data. Evidence suggests that eighth-grade students, when given proper scaffolding and support, can make effective use of GIS (Baker and White, 2003).
The committee suggests that GIS software products be better adapted to users—both students and teachers—if they are to meet the needs of K–12 education. At present, the onus is on teachers to adapt to software products such as ArcView. If they have considerable knowledge of GIS, they can customize ArcView using its customizing options. If they can apply Avenue, ArcView’s object-oriented programming language, they can also customize ArcView’s GUI. However, the vast majority of teachers do not have the expertise, let alone the time, to use ArcView’s customization functions or Avenue.
Teachers and students would be better served by GIS software tools that are easy, flexible, and interesting to use. This view was shared by those who worked on the Technology in Education Research Consortium’s (TERC) Mapping Our City in the late 1990s. The objective was to apply GIS in various middle school settings. The project leaders concluded that the “out-of-the box” functionality of ArcView should be reorganized to meet the needs of the education community. They recommended organizing tools into three categories—drawing, questioning, and movement—using more intuitive naming conventions and visual cues to aid recognition. The Mapping Our City project employed a tiered format that gradually exposed all of the functionality, not unlike ArcVoyager.
For teachers and students to use GIS effectively, the industrial-strength technology should be simplified by vendors rather than users and third parties. In the committee’s view, the development of a component software application is an attractive option. Software developers in collaboration with the education community should investigate this option. The software must be designed for easy adoption by K–12 users with minimal training. Current versions of GIS, like much software, are too rich for teachers to integrate easily into their classes. Software should be designed to meet two needs. First it must accommodate what teachers need to know in order to feel comfortable teaching GIS. Second it must present what students need to be able to do in using GIS to solve problems. In both cases, the key is selectivity: software designers must distinguish between what is possible and what is necessary in the design of GIS for the K–12 context.
From this analysis, the following observations can be made about the capacity of current versions of GIS to fit student needs.
Existing professional-level GIS software products are not developmentally and educationally appropriate for the K–12 context. They are too complicated to use throughout all K–12 grades. The software industry should develop tools that teachers and different students find easy, flexible, and interesting to use.
Currently, GIS is not accessible to and supportive of the full range of learners, and making it so is daunting in its complexity. Nonetheless, GIS does have the potential to reach all learners, including the differently abled.
Existing professional-level GIS is customizable for the K–12 setting. For example, ArcView can be customized to fit student needs. With the use of Avenue, it is possible to customize ArcView’s interface, which opens up opportunities for organizing the data entry process, streamlining related