LfU – What’s Your Motivation?

Through the use of GIS technology based applications, students are afforded the opportunity to apply skills and knowledge within authentic, real life situations that are similar to those experienced by experts in their field of work and study. From this, one of the key components of the LfU design model is to promote and support student development of deep, interconnected content knowledge and inquiry skills through activities that actively involve authentic scientific inquiry (Bodzin, Anastasio, & Kulo 2014). The LfU model also incorporates and characterizes the development of understanding as taking place through a three step process that includes motivation (experiencing the need for new knowledge), knowledge construction (building new knowledge structures), and knowledge refinement (organizing and connecting knowledge structures), which emphasizes the need for applicability in using knowledge and learning (Edelson 2001). With motivation as the essential starting point for student learning, applications such as Google Earth allow teachers to design tasks that follow LfU structures in teaching science and mathematics content through inquiry based activities. In order for knowledge to be truly useful, students must be motivated to learn specific content or skills through a personal understanding of the application of that content beyond the learning environment (Edelson 2001).

In terms of teaching an LfU based activity to explore mathematical and scientific concepts, educators need to start from the premise that student understanding must be incrementally constructed from experience and communication, as it cannot be simply transmitted directly from one individual to another. This involves the design of a learning task that engages and motivates the learner to find out more, often in the context of a situation that elicits prior conceptions and challenges these conceptions through the identification of gaps in the learner’s knowledge and understanding. By constructing new knowledge, and connecting it with existing knowledge, Edelson argues that a sense of curiosity, which he terms “situational interest,” creates a direct motivation to learn (2001). Through firsthand experience and observation, combined with the reception of information through communication with others, students construct understanding through a continuous, iterative process that leads them through progression, challenge, and sometimes, regression as they experience the target concept (Edelson 2001). Students must be afforded opportunities to engage in reflection and application of their own learning in order to foster knowledge refinement, thus allowing for a full integration of content and process learning.

As identified by Bodzin, Anastasio, & Kulo (2014), design activities must also incorporate scalability and portability, and they detail the applicability of Google Earth in structuring learning experiences for students that promote the development of linkages and connections between contexts that are personally meaningful and relevant. If tasks are structured in a format that provides appropriate levels of challenge within a reasonable time frame, and further promotes the application of knowledge and skills beyond the context of the specific learning task, students are afforded opportunities to participate in rich learning experiences that significantly deepen scientific and mathematical concepts and content.



Bodzin, A. M., Anastasio, D., & Kulo, V. (2014). Designing Google Earth activities for learning Earth and environmental science. In Teaching science and investigating environmental issues with geospatial technology (pp. 213-232). Springer Netherlands.

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.


  1. Thanks for the post Allen. I agree LfU provides opportunities to work in authentic environments, using real world data and connecting with professional scientists. With advances in networked communities like GLOBE (refer to Module C2), students can actually contribute measurements to databases to examine trends around the world.

    I wonder however, GIS seems to only be applicable comparing numbers from different geographical regions (ex. precipitation, temperature). Can such technology be relevant for teaching non-geographical content? How does LfU look like in those scenarios? Maybe I need to do some more digging.


  2. Hi Allen,

    Great summary of LfU! It was really fun for me to look at google earth as it was something that I had not played around with before. Next time I plan a trip, I might use it to scout out places!

    From a teaching point of view, how would you present a topic to motivate students and use Google Earth as the TELE, while sticking to the LfU model? Is this something you already do in your teaching environment?

  3. Hi Andrew and Momoe,

    Thanks for your comments. I feel that the LfU approach through GIS technology has direct relevance in areas of Mathematics and in developing spatial awareness in our students. In previous activities, we’ve explored distance and measurement through the application of mathematical skills within Google Earth. This also involved an investigation into the regions of Canada, and the types of landforms and geographical features that are prevalent in these areas across our country. We also examined the development of urban centres, and the placement of smaller population areas, to determine some of the differences and commonalities in these locations that were factors in their development over time. After exploring Canada, our students were very interested in examining other areas of the world to locate unique geographical features and the locations of urban and rural settlements in various regions of the world.

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