Developing GIS-infused Content Courses with Chicago Public Schools

Note: Katie James is a postdoctoral research fellow at Northwestern University. She is a guest blogger through our partnership on the GPA Geospatial Semester project.

Researchers from The Learning Partnership, Northwestern University, and James Madison University recently participated in the International Conference of the Learning Sciences. As part of the conference, we gave a talk about our ongoing work with Chicago Public Schools teachers to integrate Geographic Information Systems (GIS), a geospatial visualization software, into CPS content courses.

The Chicago Geospatial Semester

The main goal of this work is to adapt the successful Geospatial Semester, a year-long high school course focused on building geospatial problem-solving skills using GIS and applying those skills to extended, student-driven inquiry projects, for the CPS context. Over the past two years, our team of researchers and GIS experts have been working with CPS teachers to adapt the Geospatial Semester for existing content classes at CPS. Teachers have been developing and piloting GIS-infused lessons in their classrooms and the research team has been there to watch and learn. 

Why GIS?

GIS is a powerful tool that allows students to create rich visualizations of data, which help them reason about spatial patterns or relationships in the data. For example, students can easily create a map of the locations of grocery stores in Chicago, using data from the Chicago Data Portal. They can then use this map to think about where grocery deserts exist within the city. Layering in demographic information about Chicago’s neighborhoods allows them to also explore patterns of inequity in access to fresh foods based on race and socioeconomic status. 

GIS technology is also a growing part of many careers, from public safety to engineering and architecture. In fact, according to the U.S. Department of Labor, geospatial technologies are a top three technology growth industry. This means that GIS may be an important part of the future careers of many of today’s high school students. By introducing students to GIS during high school, they will be set up for future successes.

Supporting GIS-infused Course Design

In our talk and the related paper, we detailed the process through which we developed a design framework — a set of supports for lesson design and implementation — to help teachers develop the most effective GIS-infused courses possible. Our design framework lays out how GIS-infused lessons might progress across the course. We also identify some of the most important components of effective GIS-infused content courses. CPS teachers are now using this design framework to continue the development of their GIS-infused content courses. In the coming years, these teachers will help train other CPS teachers to teach the courses they designed. 

Interested in learning more about the project?

To learn more about the work we’ve been doing with CPS teachers and the design framework we’ve developed, check out a video of our ICLS talk, or read our ICLS paper.