Students from Arctic Light Elementary School were excited to learn about GPS technology.With assistance from the UA Geography Program, fourth graders from Arctic Light Elementary School transformed a simple downtown Fairbanks walking tour into a practical GPS training exercise.
“The entire experience was incredible,” teacher Timona Grogran said. “The kids were enthralled with the project and couldn’t get enough.”
In fact, Grogan was so pleased that she plans to expand the project next year and will be seeking to buy GPS equipment for her school. She also shared the project details with the entire staff of Arctic Light at the end-of-school meeting May 20.
Katie Kennedy, education and outreach coordinator for the UA Geography Program, orchestrated the activity. “I had heard about Ms. Grogan’s walking tour from instructional technology teacher Lindy Kinn. We wanted to add geospatial technology to the field trip by having students work with GPS and Google Earth,” Kennedy explained. “I knew this would get kids excited about geography.”
She made an advance trip to the school to work with the students on geo-caching as an introduction to using the GPS units. On the playground she set up a mystery for the children to solve, asking them to locate clues contained in caches found at particular waypoints. She also explained how satellite technology works. “They understood they had to wait for the GPS unit to acquire signals from at least three satellites,” Kennedy said. “But they were so cute because they held the GPS receivers as high as they could to get closer to the signal.”
On May 8 the walking tour occurred, with students working in teams of three to collect data. Each child took turns taking photographs, recording information, and marking waypoints. Hiking through downtown Fairbanks, the students visited historic sites including the Clay Street Cemetery, a pioneer neighborhood, the Lacey Street Theatre, the Alaska-Siberia World War II Memorial, the E.T. Barnette plaque, the George C. Thomas Library, the Masonic Temple, and City Hall.
Throughout the day the students learned local history, used their writing skills, and began to grasp geospatial technology. “It combined a lot of skills,” Kennedy said. “One of the biggest lessons I wanted to convey to the students was that they can create their own content in Google Earth. Everybody knows how to go to Google Earth and look at things; I wanted them to know they can also display their own work in Google Earth.”
The class created a Google Earth (KML) file consisting of the path they traveled and placemarks, containing photos and short pieces of text, at each of the chosen sites.
Introducing children to geospatial technology is advantageous because so much information is shared this way now, Kennedy said. “It’s a powerful presentation tool and it’s great to see in 3-D, not just on a piece of paper.” She was impressed at how quickly the students learned their tasks and how hard they strived for accuracy. “They were pretty savvy,” she said. “They did a really good job.”