California Department of Education
Taking Center Stage – Act II

GIS/GPS—geographic information systems/global positioning systems

In 2006, the National Research Council (Outside Source) issued a report calling on schools to incorporate spatial literacy (Outside Source) into their curricula. According to the Council’s report, “Learning to Think Spatially: GIS as a Support System in the K-12 Curriculum, spatial thinking is an increasingly important skill for living and working in the 21st century, and geographic information system (GIS) technology can help schools teach this skill to their students'.1 Global Positioning Systems (GPS) are an important companion to geographic information systems, giving rise to the acronym GIS/GPS.

The Environmental and Spatial Technology (EAST) Initiative (Outside Source) is among the national leaders in geospatial education and training. EAST students have access to "industry standard" tools and training. Many software packages that are in EAST classrooms are industry-grade, and EAST students have access to industry standard tools. ESRI, a business partner’s virtual campus (Outside Source), and a nationally lauded GIS/GPS support network with the Center for Advanced Spatial Technology (CAST) (Outside Source), provide technical support to EAST classrooms.

My World (Outside Source), sponsored by Geographic Data in Education (GEODE) Initiative (Outside Source), is a GIS program designed for use in middle school through college classrooms. For example, the Earth Structures and Processes unit corresponds to the grade six (Earth Science) standards to learn about plate tectonics and the shaping of the earth’s surface.

Though GIS technology appears in the National Geography Standards, teachers in earth, environmental, biological, and general science also are incorporating geospatial technologies into their lessons. The growing use of these tools in an array of social studies and Science Technology Engineering and Math (STEM) subjects supports authentic, problem-based instruction, helping students tackle real social and environmental research projects in their communities.2

Some teachers have begun to incorporate GPS technology in the classroom through geocaching. Geocaching is a high-tech treasure hunt using hand-held GPS devices. To see what GPS products are available, type 'handheld GPS devices; into any search engine to get a varied listing with prices and product reviews included.

Handheld GPS units are a novel addition to the classroom and make learning fun and engaging. To find lessons and ideas for using GPS units to enhance lessons in math, geography, science, and language, arts, see the Related Links below.

Related Links



1Researchers Call for Integration of GIS, Spatial Thinking in K-12 Curricula” (Outside Source), eSchool News, April 2006.
2GIS and Geographic Inquiry” (Outside Source), eSchool News