Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Eighth Graders Mapping a Safer Neighborhood

A new addition to the technology and social studies curricula at Spain Middle School in Detroit has students mapping their neighborhood with Geographic Information Systems (GIS) software.

In a program called Mapping Out a Safer Community, run by the Urban Safety Program of the Wayne State University College of Urban Labor and Metropolitan Affairs, college faculty train eighth-grade students at Spain Middle School to use GIS software and PocketPCs to map various hazards in their school's neighborhood. The project, as reported by Ellen Delisio in Education World, is intended to help students learn about and advocate for their neighborhoods.

At the Wayne State University Taking Stock of Neighborhoods web page, the project is further described:
Using PocketPCs, students map locations and characteristics of dangerous properties, take photographs, and research property ownership. They also set priorities and identify the most problematic locations near their school. Properties with the most egregious violations, known as “The Dirty Dozen”, offer a compelling picture of hazards Detroit children face daily. This information is presented to community leaders and city officials who attempt to correct dangerous situations.
The computer technology teacher at Spain Middle School, Debra Blocker, said the program gives "students an awareness of their community and their surroundings and how they can improve it and be involved." Lessons in technology are combined with lessons in civics, geography, local government and community activism. For example, Global Positioning Receivers attached to the PocketPCs give students in the field precise locations, especially important for problem properties that may have no visible or clearly indicated address. Identifying an address is the first step in finding an owner, says David Martin, a research professor at Wayne State who has worked with Spain students.

In addition, students get to see results of their field and classroom work -- students prepare PowerPoint presentations for the city council and see change happen. In one case, students presented data that clearly showed a 50% increase in abandoned houses in one neighborhood alone, prompting county prosecutors to increase enforcement in the area. This hands-on aspect to the program makes it a popular one, says Blocker: "They get excited when they see their streets on the Internet, and can identify different landmarks. It gives them a different way to address problems. We have full attendance on those days."

Interactive Adobe Scalable Vector Graphics (SVG) maps from the middle school project can be found at the Wayne State University website. ESRI's website offers more information on GIS and mapping software. Try the link especially for educators.

SOURCE: "Students Map Neighborhoods With GIS" 05/30/06
SOURCE: "Taking Stock of Neighborhoods: Geographic Information Systems Capacity Building"
photo courtesy of Phanatic, used under this Creative Commons license


Steve O'Keefe said...

Having grown up in the Detroit area myself, I wanted to get a look at some of these student maps. Unfortunately, I couldn't get the interactive maps to work on my Mac computer.

There's no explanation offered on the GIS site as to why some of the maps are missing. Under the heading "Project Status" there is no information. It's possible this experiment in mapping has ended.

As a kid, I would have loved to play with maps like these -- to show monsters on one map and buried treasure on another. What a fun way to learn about how to use maps.

Dedra Johnson said...

It's unfortunate that some of the maps are unavailable. They are great informational tools and examples for other students, teachers and schools to follow. Perhaps contacting the school or program itself can help?