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Enhancing the Geography Curriculum Since 2000
King's School, Parramatta, Australia, Motivates Students With a Diverse Array of GIS Projects
Breaking free from entrenched teaching methods to support new learning styles challenges schools everywhere. The combination of contemporary teaching methods with technology, however, has brought a new dimension to many curriculum areas. The application of technologies, such as GIS, in the geography classroom expands lessons traditionally rooted in textbooks and paper maps.
The King's School in Parramatta, Australia, is embracing contemporary teaching methods that can help to produce excellence in today's students. Established in 1831, King's is the oldest independent school in Australia and is ranked as one of the country's leading boarding schools. With students from kindergarten to grade 12 (ages 6 to 18), geography is a compulsory subject in grades 7 to 10 (ages 12 to 16) and can be taken as an elective thereafter. The New South Wales (NSW) Board of Studies requires all students to take a school certificate examination in the subject at the end of grade 10. GIS has been integrated within the school's geography curriculum to assist students in understanding the world in which they live and study. Furthermore, GIS has increased the profile of geography and has generated great enthusiasm for the subject from the school's students.
C.L. Logan, director of studies at The King's School, says, "The integration of GIS into the geography curriculum at The King's School is helping our students develop the information technology literacy competencies required by the New South Wales Board of Studies. Additionally, the application of this innovative technology is developing our students' advanced problem solving skills, an expectation of today's vocations and career paths."
The school's GIS program was founded in 2000 after King's geography master, John Kinniburgh, realized the full potential of GIS as a teaching resource. As is the case in most schools, however, budget constraints, hardware limitations, classroom availability, and data accessibility made the initial integration of GIS at The King's School extremely difficult. Also, the Geography Department was familiar with using more traditional teaching resources.
"The staff had rarely integrated technology into their teaching and as a result were reluctant to embrace GIS. They had no idea of its potential," says Kinniburgh.
Kinniburgh was prepared to face these challenges and set out to incorporate his ideas. Once school funds were allocated, focus turned to software and hardware requirements. Kinniburgh determined Esri's ArcView 3.x offered the functionality he required and could easily fit into the school budget. After licensing ArcView from Esri Australia, the next concern was data acquisition. The Upper Parramatta River Catchment Trust (UPRCT), which manages community catchment issues, was willing to assist the school's GIS program with the provision of some data from its own database. The school's GIS program gained access to high-resolution aerial photographs, contours, building footprints, cadastre data, road systems, and other information about the area. Other data at the Australian and global scale was acquired from Land and Property Information in Bathurst, Queensland Aerial Survey Company, online spatial data vendors, Esri Australia, and Esri U.S. headquarters in Redlands, California.
Using ArcView software and locally specific data, Kinniburgh developed GIS activities for all grade levels that are linked directly to the NSW Board of Studies Geography Syllabus database. Students import shapefiles and image data directly from a Novell server and follow instructions to achieve the learning objectives. Which ArcView software functions are used depends on the student's age and level of ability.
"Our younger students utilize some of the software's basic functions, such as the identify and measuring tool, or query function," explains Kinniburgh. "Our middle school students do more advanced problem solving with ArcView Spatial Analyst such as converting contours to grids and generating slope and aspect output based on individually derived criteria. Our senior students study coastal environments and simulate sea level rise by reclassifying digital elevation models." More able students may choose to study Elective Geography in middle school, which is a course addressing knowledge and content above and beyond the core geography program. Meeting the requirements of the NSW Board of Studies, the course also teaches students more detailed theory about GIS, and they learn to become proficient users of the technology.
The most recent addition to the school's GIS program involves the integration of Esri's Internet application ArcIMS, IBM's Informix database, and Sun Microsystems' server and thin client technology. The King School's Geography Network (TKSGN) provides 24-hour, seven-day-a-week access to GIS data, images, and documents from the Geography Department's GIS database. Students have access to resources through the network, enabling them to complete research tasks outside of school hours with more efficiency using the data from TKSGN integrated with data from the Internet. The application also allows students to share their project work with the community and other schools.
The first project involving TKSGN involved a combined research and fieldwork activity examining water management issues within a subcatchment of the Parramatta River, Hunt's Creek. The creek flows through King's property, eventually emptying into Sydney Harbor. The water quality of the creek has deteriorated in recent decades as a result of urban development in the once agricultural region. Using ArcIMS technology, Kinniburgh created a site that integrated data from the school's GIS database with data captured in the field. Students were able to investigate the biophysical environment through which the creek flowed and investigate any evidence of human impact on the quality of the water in the creek. Historical aerial photographs from 1951 to the present also provided students with the opportunity to investigate temporal changes across the study area.
"The development of TKSGN removes the issue of access that previously existed at King's and provides an opportunity for students to actively engage and utilize the sophisticated technology," adds Kinniburgh. "The project provides a greater opportunity for students to engage in independent and active inquiry, which is an essential skill across all curriculums. The 24-hour access to GIS data also solves the problem of limited access to computers and classrooms during the day." Currently, only students at King's use TKSGN, but there are plans to share the facility with other schools in the area in 2004.
Since its development in 2000, The King's School GIS program has formally introduced a diverse array of GIS projects within its geography curriculum. "The use of GIS has been an exciting innovation," says N.A. Webb, head of geography at The King's School. "It is assisting our students to better understand the nature of contemporary geographic issues and how to manage environments. Their comprehension of spatial and ecological dimensions has reached a new level as a result. GIS is now embedded in our teaching programs from grades 7 to 12."
The school has also integrated GIS into other subjects including agriculture and history. The future includes plans to use the technology to enhance the students' learning environment across many more curriculums.