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High-tech maps: how to get here from there. (Social Studies & Science).

Districts are using it to manage student population shifts. Cities are using it for economic development planning. Parks are using it to manage natural resources. Corporations are using it to refine sales efforts. The "it" is GIS, or geographic information system technology, which maps the "big picture" as it coordinates the work of an organization around a shared geographic database. And now GIS is increasingly being used as a tool to help students understand their world and identify and solve problems within their communities.

The Schools and Libraries division of St. Paul, Minn.-based Environmental Systems Research Institute has been a major source for educators looking to bring GIS to the classroom. K-12 Education Co-Manager Charlie Fitzpatrick says that when he came to ESRI in 1992, "There were no more than a literal handful of users of GIS in K-12 education around the country." Now, he explains, the technology is used by at least thousands of educators.

A former junior high school social studies teacher, Fitzpatrick says that, surprisingly, science teachers are most actively engaged in using GIS, probably because they tend to be more tech-savvy. But GIS is a natural fit for social studies--within both geography and history. Students and teachers can watch a region's changes over time. Math and language arts teachers are also exploring GIS applications.

Because GIS offers the power to link databases to maps, a variety of classroom projects are possible. A few that schools have shared on ESRI's Web site include helping a local museum identify houses built prior to 1901, a study of car accidents involving deer on a treacherous highway stretch, and an exploration of approaches to population growth and change in a metropolitan area.

The Web site also includes links to curriculum projects, guides to getting started with GIS, and information on software (ESRI's ArcVoyager Special Edition is free) used to bring GIS to schools. *
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Author:Ezarik, Melissa
Publication:District Administration
Article Type:Brief Article
Date:Jun 1, 2002
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