Creating Spatial Awareness

It is important for teachers to find ways to LFU is a way for teachers to support learners by allowing them to situate their knowledge so that concepts will be easily accessible when they require it (Edelson, 2001). Using place based education has benefits beyond simply learning new software. Students need to be able to bridge the gap between the real and digital worlds (Perkins et al, 2010).  It is valuable to teach students how to use GIS when it comes to place-based learning because it gives them a tangible experience that they can relate to. It is important that students establish spatial awareness.  Perkins et al (2010) demonstrates that students are able to improve their understanding on spatial awareness and grasp geographical primitives using place specific exercises with GIS. Perkins et al (2010) further states that GIS can be used as an effective classroom tool to topics in areas such as ecology.


The Create-a-World project is an activity that I wish to explore a bit more in my own teaching practice. The goal of the Create-a-World project is to have the students formulate a hypothesis and collect and evaluate data as well as create visualization of that data using data analysis tools. As Edelson (2001) explains, Create-a-World  allows students to refine their inquiry skills and participate in guided investigation activites. As a result, students will be engaged in something meaningful to them that incorporates a wide variety of skills sets.


Fortunately, I had am quite familiar with GIS software, as I took a few courses in this area in my undergraduate degree. I used ArcGIS at the grade 7 level to map out ancient civilizations with my students as well as for making maps to visualize environmental issues. When I first took GIS and digital cartography courses, the software was not very user friendly, and it would take hours of trouble shooting to get the right projection that you were looking for.  There seems to be an explosion of GIS software now that is very intuitive and user friendly. Creating GIS maps is something that does not require a professional anymore.  Learners are able to experiment with GIS at a very young age and develop some very interesting maps.


Edelson, D.C. (2001). Learning-for-use: A framework for the design of technology-supported inquiry activities. Journal of Research in Science Teaching,38(3), 355-385


Perkins, N., Hazelton, E., Erickson, J., & Allan, W. (2010). Place-based education and geographic information systems: Enhancing the spatial awareness of middle school students in Maine. Journal of Geography, 109(5), 213-218.


  1. Hi Tyler,
    I also explored the Perkins et. al article on place-based education. I agree with you that the explosion of new GIS software that is both intuitive and user friendly presents exciting possibilities for the classroom. I also agree that the Create-a-World project presents exciting opportunities to explore at a variety of grades and subject areas. I have heard of this type of project before, and too often I think one of the problems with it is that it can be left too open for students. Some students will take full advantage of this and go into creative detail out of motivation, but others seem to do a minimum just to finish the project. By providing students with more structure and guidance (while still allowing opportunities to extend and be creative) by implementing prior explorations of GIS platforms, possibly more students would be motivated to go into more detail. When considering the in depth details that authors have put into their fictional worlds (think Lord of the Rings, and Harry Potter for example), one begins to appreciate the amount of research and learning those authors must have engaged in prior to their creations.


  2. The Create-a-World project also excited me, particularly for the grade group I have now and in the wake of the NASA discovery of the new planets. It fits in nicely with our geography and science expectations for the grade also. I have not had the opportunity to use any GIS platforms before the course, so it is very interesting to me to explore them to see how they would work in the classroom. Often when we are shown some digital platforms they are not particularly suited for the elementary/middle school classroom, or they are too expensive and our Board does not support them. I am looking forward to exploring this further, especially after learning of them being used successfully by other teachers. Thank you.


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