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GPS Tools Connect Students to Community

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Is technology in the classroom just about academics?

Some educators see it as a way to forge rich connections between students and their communities.

I spoke recently with Vicky G. Cline, the technology director for the Greenbrier County schools in West Virginia, who has a vision to use technology to help build students’ “pride of place.”

Though known for the ritzy Greenbrier resort, the county offers limited economic prospects to its young people, and many move away after high school, Cline says.

But she has led a project that puts “global positioning system” devices into the hands of math students at the county’s two high schools, while giving them a way to serve their community and teaching them lessons in land-use planning and entrepreneurship.

Several hundred math students in grades 9 through 12 are using GPS to survey economic activity in the county. The satellite-based system helps them travel to specific coordinates in the county and measure a quadrant around each key point.

Students observe the way the land in each quadrant is being used, whether as woodland, agricultural, “non-plant covered,” mining, or other use. They estimate the percentage of the area that is used in various ways.

They record the data they collect using the free virtual globe software, Google Earth, which allows the creation of “image overlays” that can present the data to local users.

The classes are also working with two professors at Marshall University, in Huntington, W. Va., to put the information and geological features into a geographic information system, a more robust tool that links electronic maps with information.

Students discuss ways to reuse damaged areas of the county that have been partially reclaimed from strip mines.

“We want to use land use data to predict areas of potential growth” in economic activity, Cline says, noting that “the county is kind of interested in what we are going to come up with.”

Cline sees connections that may be made to other school activities, such as water testing expeditions that students have carried out for several summers at a massive “gob pile” in the county, where the waste from strip mines has been dumped.

In a related project, students are taking digital photos of landmarks and geographic features. “We are trying to do an online atlas,” Cline says.

She also wants students to explore the possibility of staying and working in the community after high school.

“One of my goals is to tell students to find ways to generate some kind of entrepreneurship in the area,” she says. “You can set up honeycombs on these strip mine sites--there’s money in that. We’re planting blueberry plants on reclaimed sites.”

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