ArcNews Online

Fall 2006

New Zealand Students Use GIS Day Project to Develop School Travel Plan

GIS DayJust after making the decision to participate in GIS Day, Sally Brodie, geography teacher and head of Humanities at the Diocesan School for Girls in Auckland, New Zealand, took the next step in her GIS Day planning process—the step that can take an average GIS Day event and turn it into something that can affect an entire community. Instead of merely providing her geography students with information, Brodie wanted to identify a real-life problem that they could tackle using GIS. She wanted her students to experience firsthand how powerful GIS technology can be.

How will you use GIS Day to investigate a real-life problem in your community? Mark Wednesday, November 14, 2007, on your calendars.

Deciding on the Real-Life Problem

If you are reading this article and pondering how to do this with your own GIS Day event, you are probably wondering how you can focus on one specific problem, considering that there are so many pollution, urban sprawl, and public safety issues confronting society every day.

This was not the case for Brodie and her students, though, as they discovered that choosing a real-life problem was as easy as stepping out of their classroom and into the streets surrounding their school grounds.

  click to enlarge
During her recent trip to the 2006 Esri International User Conference in San Diego this August, Sally Brodie points to the location of her school in Auckland, New Zealand, while enthusiastically describing the GIS project her students worked on.

For many years, traffic problems in the Auckland region had been mounting, specifically the large amount of private car congestion witnessed around the school campus and in adjacent areas. These traffic issues posed real safety and site management problems for school administrators and staff, hence providing an ideal topic for the students to explore and study with the aid of their new tool—GIS.

Taking Care of Research

The group of 16-year-old girls went to work researching their problem. They began by surveying the entire school community—parents, staff, and 1,550 students—about their daily travel patterns, asking them to provide reasons for choosing to travel the way they did. They performed traffic counts, conducted interviews, and took photos of locations around campus with the goal of developing a travel plan to encourage staff and students to consider using alternatives to private vehicles to travel to and from the school.

The students were provided with data in shapefile format and were shown how to build their own ArcView projects. Datasets of transportation networks from the last census and from the school travel survey were put on the school's server for the girls to work with, and desktop computers in the computer lab were reserved for their use.

Seeing the Value of GIS

The girls soon realized the limitations of manually processing, analyzing, and presenting the volumes of material they had researched and quickly turned to the GIS for help. The students liked the ability to choose map symbols and colors to produce customizable maps to show the data they had collected.

The girls were able to use GIS query and buffering functions to analyze the survey data they collected to answer the following questions (and many more): How many 17-year-old students live within 500 meters of a railway station and use the train to travel to school? How many girls live within 2 kilometers of the school and walk? How many girls at each grade level do not catch a school bus but could do so?

Final Results

Although the primary objective of the project was to get the girls using GIS, Brodie never expected that they would do all of their processing and presentations using it. In fact, a number of students became proficient users of ArcView software with several participating in the working group that formulated the school's new travel plan.

Bonnie Leung, one of the students involved in the project, explained her experiences, saying, "I used the GIS to present my results accurately in maps and pie graphs. It was a valuable tool, as I could present my data efficiently and effectively." Leung went on to explain one of the key benefits that GIS provides for dealing with large amounts of disparate data, saying, "GIS aided me greatly because it could deal with large amounts of data, yet it was not difficult to use to show the data that I wanted. Therefore, it was easier to evaluate the features and the relationships between the results. This was particularly important to me because I wanted to describe the trends and explain why these trends occurred."

The end product for each girl was a large poster that presented her answers to the questions posed by the research assignment. "During the five weeks that the students worked on the traffic study, they learned a great deal," says Brodie. "They experienced working with primary and secondary data and working as a team and with traffic professionals. Using GIS to process and present their findings allowed them to examine different kinds of data, ask and answer questions, and produce some top-quality work." Summing up the favorable results of the completed project, Brodie remarks, "It helped the girls make a real contribution to solving a real problem that affected their lives."

Do you have a GIS Day success story similar to this? Tell us how you made a positive change in your community on GIS Day by visiting to share stories and photos from the events held in your neighborhoods.

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