GIS & Inquiry

Edelson (2001) discusses the overwhelming pressure for inquiry to be built into science classrooms. He mentions that one of the pushbacks from educators that are finding inquiry difficult in the modern day classroom is the lack of time. While I can certainly understand that time is precious and not overly plentiful, I think this is where educators need to be especially saavy. Combining curriculum expectations and designing a unit that brings science, math and language together in one unit will help teachers jump the hurdle that is time. Solely dedicated time to science and science alone is not realistic and I can see why some educators are having difficulty with the concept especially when educators are being asked to “teach more content more effectively, [and] devote more time to having students engage in [inquiry] practices” (Edelson, 2001, p. 355). Edelson (2001) continues to say that another problem in schools is the fact that computers are placed in classrooms but educators are not shown how to use them to their benefit.

The same can be said for other technology or programs that are available to educators nowadays. There are endless amounts of programs (including My World GIS, ArcGIS & WISE) that can be used for science inquiry in classrooms but the education to educators is not being provided. Again, this raises the issue of how, or rather when, educators are to teach themselves these programs? Should this be done in their free time or during PD? The Perkins, Hazelton, Erickson & Allan (2010) article discussed a study on GIS systems and how they can be used in classrooms to increase spatial sense in students. They mentioned how the teachers at this particular school where specifically given a day-long workshop, presumably on a Professional Activity Day, to be trained in the Schoolyard Tree Inventory My World GIS curriculum.

This is a true concern for educators and should be taken seriously by boards that are pushing certain expectations, such as more inquiry with technology in classrooms. If boards want certain methods to be used in the classroom, they must back it up with mandatory training for teachers that will allow educators to feel comfortable with the programs so that they can teach students without feeling uneasy about doing so. When specific time is given to educators to learn certain platforms, wonderful learning can exist and therefore be transmitted to the classroom setting for students to be engaged with.

Reading the articles and learning more about GIS helps me to start forming ideas for my final project. Next year I will be teaching Grade 1 and would love to do an inquiry unit on living things that include humans, plants & animals. Utilizing the LFU principles from Edelson (2001),Motivation, Knowledge Construction, and Knowledge Refinement, we could use GIS such as Google Earth to explore different ecosystems in and around our community bringing the outside into our classroom. We could specifically look at an endangered species in our area using GIS-mapped natural heritage areas such as the Dundas Valley, where my school is located. Utilizing GIS will help us to narrow in on where this species is located and help us establish what can be done to protect it.

I would love to utilize the outside on a daily basis, money and time restrictions do not allow for it. That being said, if by utilizing Geographic Information Systems in addition to other technology that would allow for me to bring the outside in, I can engage my students and create relevant learning.



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 Kirsten,

    I will also be teaching Grade 1 next year (moving from many years in intermediate to primary) and agree this is a perfect connection with the units on living things. In BC, our revised curriculum looks at the following big idea: Living things have features and behaviours that help them survive in their environment. I would agree that having students explore their own environments, even if this is their backyard or local community (extension homework with family) would be a great start in having students who are motivated and curious about where they live. Providing real-world connections and context is necessary for students to take an active role in their learning. I wonder if an expert from the local Zoo or community outreach/wildlife centre would be able to visit your school to provide the expert guidance, as noted in the Perkins reading, when the second lesson was guided by an expert and then the teacher resumes the lessons during the week. I thought this model was interesting because it keeps the kids interested by providing an expert from the community, something that students really enjoy. As well, bringing someone in makes it easier when issues of time and money are considered. Thanks for your post this week.

  2. Hi,

    I definitely agree with the need for quality PD to support integration within particular pedagogical frameworks. Developing effective PD that teachers buy into, while considering cost constraints can be difficult however. My division has moved more towards an in-school, co-teaching approach. I have found it effective, provided there is teacher buy in. However, it has been difficult to create this for some projects. A range of differing beliefs, attitudes and abilities can make it challenging to effectively collaborate. Similar to a lot of MET courses, providing a lot of choice over how shared ideas and understanding are applied seems to help create more buy in.

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