is not yet linked to multimedia in all of its variety, it cannot handle automatically the visualization of the quality of data, and it fails to provide user interface controls that remain “live” after the display is constructed.

As an engine for transformations, operations, and analyses, GIS reveals its full potential. However, the capacity of most current GIS software to perform functions is greater than K–12 students require. Moreover, the complexity of existing product functionality is greater than is desirable for the K–12 context.

GIS possesses many of the necessary requirements of a system for thinking spatially, although the committee notes that much of the initial learning about GIS—and indeed spatial thinking—can take place without the support of computers, network connections, and software.


In the committee’s view, existing versions of GIS can meet 6 out of the 10 criteria for the design of a support system in K–12 education.

  • GIS can facilitate the process of scientific problem formulation and solution, and therefore, it exemplifies many of the ideals of discovery-based, student-centered inquiry.

  • GIS can be useful in solving problems in a wide range of real-world contexts. It can succeed as a tool for both scientific research and problem solving. Consequently, it provides a link between science and policy. At the most general level, science is interested in principles and laws that are true everywhere, independent of geographic context. Policy, on the other hand, often takes such principles and puts them back in specific geographic contexts in order to predict the outcomes of proposed developments or to achieve better management of resources. In the K–12 context, the link between science and policy is exemplified in GIS community projects.

  • GIS has the potential to facilitate learning across a range of school subjects and to enhance interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary learning.

  • GIS can provide a rich, generative, inviting, and challenging problem-solving environment. It can empower students to address significant issues with the same tools that professionals use to address issues in their work.

  • GIS has the potential to accommodate and be accessible to the full range of learners, including the visually impaired. It is rigorous enough to challenge gifted students and accessible enough to reach many students who have difficulty learning in traditional ways.

  • GIS can be used effectively in a variety of educational settings. This tool can be infused throughout the curriculum or used in traditional subject-based curricula. It can be employed in all grades. In addition, it enables a range of modes of use (e.g., individual and stand-alone, collaborative and networked).

GIS fares less well on the four criteria for the design of a support system for spatial thinking:

  • Current versions of GIS are not developmentally and educationally appropriate. They are professional level and, therefore, tailored for use by expert users rather than novice learners. New versions of GIS should respond to the needs of the K–12 students. These new systems should be easy to learn, flexible, easy to use, and graded to support increasing levels of skill and experience.

  • Current versions of GIS are not customized by vendors to meet the needs of specific groups of learners working on particular tasks in specific contexts. Existing versions of full-blown GIS are customizable by users, but in the K–12 context, teachers have neither the time nor the expertise to customize GIS software. New versions of GIS should be adapted to meet the needs of learners.

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