nSide Gives Back to Community for Geography Awareness Week

Established by presidential proclamation in 1987, November 15–21, 2015 marked the 28th annual Geography Awareness Week. Organized by National Geographic Education Programs, their website explains the the event was founded in order to address a geography gap in K-12 education and to “excite people about geography as both a discipline and as a part of everyday life.”

nSide team members Robert Nall, Cameron Martin, and Seth Thompson were excited to join McBride Elementary third graders in Muscle Shoals, Alabama last Wednesday in support of this important national initiative.

As a state, Alabama has the good fortune of strong geography allies in The University of North Alabama Department of Geography and the Alabama Geographic Alliance (AGA). UNA and AGA have been working together since 2014 to institute a geospatial semester for local high schools. The result of their successful collaboration is a dual enrollment course that introduces AP high school students to geography themes and geospatial technologies. Each high school class collaborates on a project, and this year, at Muscle Shoals High School, the class hosted a “Journey with Geography” event for area third graders. On Wednesday, November 18th, third graders from McBride Elementary filed into the Muscle Shoals high school library and were greeted by geography-themed learning stations representing different regions around the world.

The Data and GIS team from nSide joined the event to facilitate a hands-on GIS demonstration as part of the event. Focusing on Latin America, Nall, Martin, and Thompson introduced students to Google My Maps, a web-based application that allows Google users to create and disseminate maps and spatial information. Third graders were instructed in digitizing, describing patterns, and asking spatial questions. Students were collectively captivated by creating spatial data, adding attributes, and visualizing different basemaps. “These kids are used to technology, so they caught on extremely quick. You could tell the excitement when they started to be able to identify patterns in the maps they were creating. It was a lot of fun,” says Nall, GIS Manager. Thompson, GIS Analyst, was also impressed with the third graders, he explained: “I really enjoyed seeing the excitement and creativeness from the students as they took ownership of their maps. It was great to see them engaged and asking spatial questions.” Allie Grissom, third grade teacher at McBride Elementary, praised the interactive spatial thinking activity designed by the nSide team: “My kids loved mapping the locations using GIS technology in the computer lab. They were fascinated that they could pinpoint locations and determine distances instantly and see satellite images of those locations halfway across the globe.”

nSide takes great pride in participating in community outreach events, especially those that enable them to provide educational opportunities for kids. “The opportunity to work with kids at such a young age, providing a look at GIS and what you can do with it, was very gratifying. The students seemed to take pride in personalizing the maps and calling it their own,” explained Martin, GIS Analyst. nSide would like to thank the University of North Alabama Department of Geography, the Alabama Geographic Alliance, and Muscle Shoals High School for the invitation to participate in this event.

Other contributing authors: Cameron Martin, Seth Thompson

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