Our research was designed to complement and to be used in conjunction with the social science and science curricula of upper elementary school. Focusing on learning and problem-solving within an ecological interest, the goal of the study is to advance students spatial thinking, multi-step causal reasoning, systems thinking, and problem solving skills through the use of Geographic Information Systems as part of an enriched learning environment.
Though the basic features have stayed the same, our curriculum has continuously evolved over the course of our research. You can view more information about the current version of our curriculum materials at our curriculum website. If you have questions regarding the specific versions of the curriculum used in our formal interventions, please contact May Jadallah.
Modules - a scaffolding framework
Our learning modules build on a number of underlying concepts which scaffold the gradual development of a number of skills and cognitive processes to ensure students success including: technology skills and spatial and higher-level thinking processes.
Students will primarily interact with the curriculum through QGIS, an advanced experience with desktop computing is inconsistent in upper elementary grades, so the curriculum aims to introduce students to the technology in a way that reinforces strong, efficient computer-use skills. Students are encouraged to approach the technology "fearlessly," and are given opportunities to explore the computer and GIS software independently. Students are also given ample support through curricular materials and teacher instruction while becoming more independent in each progressive module. The students we have worked with have consistently been surprised by the things that they were able to do with computers by the end of the unit.
A primary focus of our study has been the exploration of the potential of GIS to hone and improve students spatial thinking skills. From teaching the most basic principals in spatial thinking, to creating opportunities to close the gender gap in students test scores, our modules provide students with opportunities to communicate about and reason through the use of maps and GIS technology while honing their spatial reasoning through environmental problems solving.
Students are challenged to find solutions to complex problems by learning to think creatively while considering multiple variables, and gaining a greater understanding of real life situations through the delineation of multiple components while developing step by step solutions to achieve the best potential outcomes. The study is designed to provide students with support for their learning through three primary modes of scaffolding: 1) content of the modules progress from simple to increasing complex, 2) learning activities are designed to require increasing degrees of independence, and 3) provision of organizers and guiding questions on activity sheets to help students organize their learning and devise plans for problem solving.
A number of materials have been developed for teacher and student use to aid in the implementation of the curriculum. These include:
Activity Worksheets that provide visual organizers and guiding questions to help students to complete modules and give teachers an immediate means of assessment
Lesson Guides and Answer Keys for teachers
QGIS Activity Files, to be opened in QGIS. These are the files that students will interact with in each module.