Once upon a time...

At Misson Hill School in Jamaica Plain, MA, students as young as second graders are beginning to think about geography as a nexus for connecting with people in their neighborhood. As an ongoing project, the kids were asked to interview community members and communicate their stories with various visual aids. From firemen to bakery owners to dog walkers, a mosaic of characters began to form a collective story.

A key component of the project was to figure out where the community members came from and whether they moved to a different place in their lives. Slowly but surely, a sloppy but awe-inspiring map began to grow on the empty wall in the classroom, complete with pins and strings to depict movement of each interviewee. Photos were tacked on to the maps so the kids could put a face to a "place."

Students also hand painted a world map and added photos of themselves to mark where they had traveled or lived.

How do we support spatial thinking in K-12 schools?

It is no secret that there is a considerable gap in primary school curricula which offer little to no opportunities for students to engage in projects that will develop their spatial reasoning skills, give them hands-on experience with mapping tools and technology and participate in activities such as the one piloted at Misson Hill. Hopefully this gap is beginning to close, as President Obama has voiced his support for including GIS in the ConnectED Initiative. Esri president Jack Dangermond has announced that the company will pledge over $1 billion dollars to bring free cloud-based mapping software to more than 100,000 schools across America. (See left sidebar for more.)

GIS/Spatial Applications in K-12

Project Academic Focus Target Grade
Story Maps Social Studies 2nd-12th
Historical Mapping History/Social Studies 5th-9th
Mapping Ecosytems Biology/Ecology 6th-12th
Mapping Healthy Food Stores Health 5th-9th
Where to put a Community Garden Health/Sciences 6th-12th
Mapping Languages Language 4th-9th


Returning to our Mission Hill second graders, I can't help but remind myself what ignited my passion for GIS. It all begins with a question.

I was wondering this myself...