Examples of GIS projects in School

GAINESVILLE --- Future city planners and commissioners might find a new group of informed citizens investigating their proposals - middle and high school students using advanced mapping technology available at the University of Florida's P.K. Yonge Developmental Research School.

SaltLake The Geographic Information System (GIS) is computer technology that provides extensive information about a specific region, which can be used in a variety of classroom lessons, said Paul Becht, a UF education professor and science and technology coordinator at P.K. Yonge. Arcview, as the GIS software is called, was introduced in the fall and is used by students in sixth through twelfth grade. Software also is being developed for students as young as 10.

The idea, at least in part, is to create a better-informed public.

"This is a tremendous resource for students, which will hopefully start to increase community awareness," said Becht. "The program really gets the students involved. This is not a passive activity, like watching a video. This software gets students actively involved in setting out data bases and getting layouts on the computer."

Students can call up a region on a computer, then see what the effects of different data, such as increased population, rainfall or new construction would have on the area.

"One of the lesson plans we used recently involved social studies questions in urban areas and population densities," Becht said. "The students looked at hazardous waste dumps, where they are located in the community and what the environmental impact is."

High school students have worked on a number of other urban planning projects, including road construction around greenways, urban demographics and business locations.

"The students can overlay where roads are going to be built and see how this will affect the ecology and environment of an area," Becht said. "They can also see the effect of proposed landfills on the aquifers and suggest more reasonable sites for the landfills."

The curriculum used at P.K. Yonge is part of the GIS program developed through the UF GeoPlan Center and libraries, in cooperation with several state agencies, including the Fla. departments of Transportation, Community Affairs and Environmental Protection. The goal of the GIS project is to make urban planning data available to the public.

"The P.K. Yonge project is just a part of a much bigger project, where we are trying to develop a statewide GIS repository for data," said Paul Zwick, UF research scientists and co-director of the GIS project. "We are trying to disseminate this data, since all of this data was paid for with tax dollars. We are trying to close the loop and give this information back to the people."

Previously, only state agencies had access to this information, which was stored in an extremely large data base.

"Historically, the transfer of geographic data was very difficult," said Zwick. "Now that this information can be contained on a CD-ROM, our main objective is to distribute this data through a variety of sources, including schools and libraries."

The lesson plans being developed at P.K. Yonge soon will be available through the World Wide Web. This will give students the chance to collaborate with their peers around the world, and teachers would have access to P.K. Yonge's lesson plans.

"First, we are putting the information on a CD-ROM, then the information will be put on a Web site along with the lesson plans that we have developed," Becht said. "Downloading this information distributes our lesson plans for use right away."

Once students have access to the information on these data bases, Becht said, they can inform their parents, friends and other members of the community.

"We feel that if we can start in the schools, the students will acquaint their parents with the information they find, which will hopefully have a cascading effect throughout the community," Becht said. "This will put control of the environment back in the hands of the people."