Web Exclusive: From ABC to GIS

April 1, 2009
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Fifth-graders at Parkside Elementary School, Lawrenceville, Ill., learn to use ArcExplorer Java Edition for Educators.


As the African proverb says, “It takes a village to raise a child.” But ESRI and GIS professionals are taking that concept even further by showing 4-H youth across the United States how to support their local communities-and map their own road to success-with geographic information system (GIS) technology.

For more than 100 years, 4-H has been helping America’s youth learn leadership, citizenship and life skills through camps, after-school programs and club meetings. In 2007, more than 6 million 8- to 18-year-old boys and girls of all ethnicities from urban, suburban and rural areas across the country were enrolled in 4-H programs. As 4-H entered the 21st century, the traditional 20th century programs were expanded to add high-tech programs that include robotics, video photography, Web programming-and geospatial technologies. Engaging youth in learning through its Science, Engineering, and Technology (SET) programs is the 4-H 21st Century Mission mandate.

At the 2008 Richland County Fair in Illinois, youth were given GPS receivers and instructions for their use. Their mission was to find their favorite place on the fairgrounds, mark that way point and return. They then downloaded their way points to an aerial photo of the fairgrounds, gave it a symbol and saved it.

Exploring Spaces, Going Places

The 4-H Exploring Spaces, Going Places geospatial curriculum was created by a team of 4-H youth development education specialists to introduce 4-H youth to spatial thinking by exploring the world of geospatial science. 4-H programs integrate a large component of service learning, and in addition to learning about technology and gaining skills, Exploring Spaces, Going Places enables 4-H youth to use GIS technology in their service projects in their own communities. As a result, citizens attending county and state fairs are introduced to GIS technology through the maps and GIS projects on display, which are created by the 4-H youth. Often, the fair judges are local geography educators and GIS professionals.

A map with several way points and symbols chosen by participants using a layout map designed by one youth.

The range of 4-H GIS projects is as wide and diverse as the geography landscape of the United States. New York State 4-H youth mapped healthy places to eat at the New York State Fair. In the west, 4-H youth mapped tribal lands that were hit by wildfires and talked to tribal members about how to better prepare tribal property to avoid fire destruction in the future. In Southern California, 4-Hers mapped the aftereffects of wildfires, and in 2008, the National 4-H GIS Leadership team’s service project involved working with the San Diego Animal Shelter (SDAS) and San Diego Humane Society (SDHS) to prepare a map of San Diego County showing where animal shelters are located. This information will be used by the SDAS and SDHS for evacuation situations in the future. 4-H youth in Utah, Colorado and Iowa worked with local natural resources professionals in the identification and mapping of invasive weeds at state parks, conservation lands and county right-of-ways. Plans were made for the ongoing treatment of invasive weeds and 4-H youth will be involved in the annual monitoring process.

Invasive weed mapping at Snow Canyon State Park in Utah created by the Dixie Tech 4-H Team in Utah.

Alert, Evacuate and Shelter

The National Geographic Foundation funded a series of nationwide trainings sessions in 2007 to enable 4-H to use geospatial technology (GIS and GPS) for emergency preparedness at the community level. The 4-H Alert, Evacuate and Shelter (AES) program identified and trained youth and adult teams from selected communities to use geospatial technology to enhance local emergency preparedness efforts.

4-H youth, GIS professionals and emergency management officials from 12 states and 46 counties were represented at the 4-H AES trainings in 2007 and 2008. Selected applicants from Maryland, Virginia, Georgia, Louisiana and Texas attended one of the five trainings offered. The teams spent three days learning about GIS and GPS technology and how GIS technology was used in preplanning and post-recovery natural-disaster efforts by federal, state and local governments and private companies. A tabletop exercise gave everyone involved an opportunity to experience a mock disaster and what happens at an Emergency Operations Command Center.

The teams then returned home with the task to identify their community mapping needs pertaining to emergency preparedness. The 4-H youth are working side by side with their local professionals to improve their community’s emergency preparedness while learning about community, careers and technology. “We are locating fire hydrants, fill pumps and main valves using the GPS units,” said one team leader from Florida. “We want to provide emergency management, water and sewer, fire departments-and anyone else who would use it-a map.”

Other teams are working to build community support and relationships with their emergency managers and agency officials. In Florida, 4-H youth made connections at the Be Ready Alliance Coordinating for Emergencies (BRACE) Hurricane Expo, which was attended by almost 4,000 people. “At their planning meetings, information about us was brought up, which allowed us to make contact with the county GIS person,” said a 4-H team leader from Florida. “We gave him a pamphlet, and he took it to his bosses who gave him permission to do whatever is needed to help us. The county commissioner has given full support, and he and the EOC chief officer have written letters for grant support.”

In Georgia, the Glynn County 4-H Pirates received the ESRI 2008 Special Achievement in GIS recognition for the use of GIS in their environmental projects, their collaboration with the Glynn County emergency management officials in the creation of a hurricane evacuation map for their county, and for being the youth trainers in the 4-H Alert, Evacuate, and Shelter (AES) project.

A map of the current ESRI GIS Program for 4-H participants in the U.S.

ESRI 4-H Grants

ESRI supports the 4-H geospatial curriculum through its annual GIS Grant for U.S. 4-H program. The grants equip 4-H clubs with ESRI’s ArcView and ArcPad software for use in local geospatial projects. ESRI offers three levels of grants to 4-H organizations: Getting Started with GIS and GPS, Introduction to GIS for 4-H, and Intermediate GIS for 4-H. To date, 4-H youth in over 700 counties across the U.S. have been introduced to GIS and spatial thinking through the 4-H geospatial program and the ESRI software grants. “The ESRI 4-H grant program has allowed our youth to explore professional skills that they had not been aware of, enhance their work ethic and sense of collaboration, and connect with other youth and their communities by creating projects that actively benefit the community,” said Sarah Cofer, an Oregon 4-H SET faculty member.

The Getting Started grant introduces youth and their leaders to the concept of spatial-thinking concepts and basic GIS skills. Utilizing ESRI’s ArcGIS ArcView and ArcPad software products, 4-H youth perform a service-learning project using GIS technology and create a community atlas for ESRI’s U.S. Community Atlas project. K-12 students and youth define “the nature of their community” and create 10-20 community static maps and descriptions. The presentations are combined on the Web at www.esri.com/communityatlas and can be searched by characteristic and explored for similarities and differences.

Intermediate level clubs can use ArcGIS extensions to utilize specialized functionalities for their community-based project learning. For example, CITYGreen software, an extension to ArcGIS, conducts complex analyses of ecosystem services and creates easy-to-understand reports. American Forests, the nation’s oldest nonprofit citizens’ conservation organization, is supporting 4-H youth by making its CITYGreen software available to intermediate 4-H clubs that have a tree-related project. Clubs that have successfully fulfilled the requirements of the Introduction to GIS for 4-H grant can acquire advanced functionality for their community-service projects through the Intermediate GIS for 4-H grant. ESRI equips these clubs with Youth Club Licenses for ArcGIS 3D Analyst or ArcGIS Geostatistical Analyst extensions. “By using the software to teach GIS skills,” Cofer said, “these youth have gained a sense of empowerment that they can make a difference in their community and their own life!”

North Carolina 4-Hers present a GIS project to afterschool providers at the North Carolina Center for Afterschool Program's Synergy Summit. The presentation encouraged providers to implement GIS and Community Mapping into their afterschool programs.

Companies and individual professionals who invest in formal (K-12) and nonformal (4-H, Scouts, Boys and Girls Clubs, etc.) education efforts at the community level are helping to build a sustainable community workforce of highly technical and highly competent citizens. “Youth want to be involved in programs that they know are worth their time. Fun is good, but to keep a young person engaged for the long term, it needs to be fun and worthwhile,” said 4-H youth development program specialist Thomas Ray, of Raleigh, N.C. “With the U.S. Department of Labor identifying GIS as one of the top three emerging fields, youth are able to see that what they are learning is a marketable skill that they can keep with them for the rest of their lives.”

Sidebar: ESRI Getting Started with GIS and GPS Grant

This grant includes Thinking Spatially Using GIS, which has lessons with ArcExplorer-Java Edition for Education software; Making Community Connections; Zeroing In; and Fun with GPS. This grant is intended for use by leaders or extension professionals who are not already familiar with GIS technology and want to begin introducing spatial literacy to youth. Grant awardees are expected to participate in a GIS Day event in their community and submit three maps to the 4-H Map Gallery. This grant does not include GPS units.

ESRI Introduction to GIS for 4-H Grant

This grant includes ESRI’s ArcGIS ArcView 9.3, ArcGIS Spatial Analyst, and ArcPad Youth Club licenses (up to 25 seats); ESRI Virtual Campus courses; and ESRI curricula. This grant is intended for 4-H groups who have technology experience, have met GIS professionals in their community, and have a youth-driven service-learning project in mind that will utilize GIS technology. Introductory grant awardees are expected to participate in a GIS Day event in their community, complete a service-learning project in the community utilizing GIS technology, and complete an ESRI Community Atlas project.

ESI Intermediate GIS for 4-H Grant

This grant includes ESRI’s ArcGIS ArcView 9.3, ArcGIS Network Analyst, additional extensions, and ArcPad Youth Club licenses (up to 25 seats); ESRI Virtual Campus courses; and ESRI curricula. For service learning projects involving tree and plant health, this grant also includes an option for obtaining CITYgreen software by American Forests. Intermediate grant applicants must have successfully participated in and fulfilled the requirements of an Introductory GIS grant. Intermediate grant awardees are expected to participate in a GIS Day event in their community, complete a service-learning project in the community utilizing GIS technology, and complete an ESRI Community Atlas project.

More information on ESRI’s 4-H grants is available at www.esri.com/4-H.

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