Thursday, October 18, 2007

A day in Dallas schools

Dallas: N: 32º 46.913' W: 096º 48.340'
Schools in Dallas with Roger and Anita Palmer – Early adopter innovators.
Many Australians know Roger and Anita and are aware of their GIS consultancy work and authoring efforts. In particular those who are users of the “Mapping our world” books will be aware that Anita was also one of the authors of the books. Roger and Anita live in an amazing housing development in downtown Dallas (only 2 kilometres from Dallas centre) which is in an old warehouse building. The area is one of urban renewal and the development Anita and Roger live in is a wonderful example of taken an old building and creating a thriving urban community of over 1000 people all living in harmony with a real sense of association. The block even has a pool and gym on the roof where regular movie nights and events are conducted. Pictures of the development are shown above. Roger and Anita work out of their lovely apartment office and I had the pleasure of doing my blog as they worked and would you believe listening to a John Williamson album. Roger and Anita are busy writing the next set of ESRI publication books on the use of GIS in the classroom called “Analysing Our World Using GIS” and “Mapping our World book 2” . These books look like they will be a really valuable adjunct to the resources available to teachers in schools and I am really looking forward to their release. The other aspect of Roger and Anita’s consultancy is running workshops with teachers in the US and also organizing teacher trips to places such as Costa Rica to enhance the use of spatial technology. At the Oklahoma City NCGE Conference I went to several of Rogers and Anita’s workshop and really found them valuable. In particular the workshop on using GPS in cahoots with the website was a really good example of teachers teaching teachers in a really clear and purposeful way.
I visited several schools of good practice with Roger and Anita. They were Emmett Conrad High School and the Ted Polk Middle School. Both of these schools showed great use of GIS in the classroom and most impressively the integration of the class activities with the community.
Jennifer Stitt at Emmett Conrad gave some excellent insights into the present difficulties with implementation when she said:
“The major impediments are:
a.Money (funding)
b.Lacking of communication and information from admin to teacher. Most of the administration doesn’t understand what GIS is.
c.Lack of content specific professional development for teachers. Most of the professional development offered and required deals more with classroom management, dealing with English language learners, and how to start a club. We are not offered any career or content specific training. Although it is out there, but he school districts will not fund the money.
d.Lack of teachers trained in the technology.
e.Being able to control your own computer lab and being on a separate server. I know when I worked in Industry we had a separate server with our Aerial photos for the county. That data is very heavy and requires a GIS IT professional to keep it up and running. Maybe there needs to be equipment IT specific element that keeps GIS labs running in schools. You know most of the government levels, city, county and state, have GIS departments, it only makes sense for the school district to have a GIS department. One side of the department could run the actual school district needs and the other be the helpers to implementing the class inside of schools and keep it up and running. That way maybe even our senior level students could learn ArcSDE, ArcIMS, etc.”
Jennifer went on to say that despite the impediments as listed, she thinks
“there is a lot of positive buzz surrounding GIS. However, if teachers don’t understand what it is, and a professional tries to explain it to them they just sort of nod and smile. I have a lot of passion behind GIS and I try to give good examples how it fits in to every teacher’s content. I don’t think there is any negativity behind GIS in schools, just a lack of information about what it can do for a school. Maybe we need to address the higher powers that be and “sell” the idea to them, so it comes down from the government into classrooms. Again only small pockets of spatial education occur in Texas. I think selling the idea to the larger powers may be the way to go. We could start with City, then move to State government and then beyond.”

What was impressive at the Ted Polk Middle School was the week long ‘GIS Summer Camps’ the school conducts for students and the innovative way that the school is trying to get students and teachers involved in using GIS in their work. The Summer Camps have been a huge success but such summer activities are embedded into the education approach in the US and I cannot not see a real application to Australia other than the general out of school programme they conduct at the camps.

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