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Geographic information systems headed into Hall schools
Gary Martin, a teacher at the Da Vinci Academy, works on a geo referencing project in a geographic information systems class at Gainesville State College. - photo by Tom Reed

A new kind of technology is invading Hall County schools.

GIS, or geographic information systems, is a whole new way to bring mapping, cartography, demographics and GPS navigation into the classroom.

But the teachers have to learn about it first. Professors in Gainesville State College’s Institute for Environmental and Spatial Analysis are teaching local elementary, middle and high school teachers about the software and equipment they can use to help students in environmental science, technology and business classes.

Gary Martin, technology teacher at the Da Vinci Academy of South Hall Middle School, first incorporated simulations into his classes after attending the workshop last summer. He came back this week to learn more.

“After my first exposure, I just jumped in, and now I’m trying to get more proficient,” he said. “I’m planning a two- or three-week unit to expose students to GIS and give the technological tools to complete research projects.”

Last year, Da Vinci students Logan Allen and Chad Newstrom won awards from the Georgia Urban and Regional Information Systems Association for maps they created about Hall County’s test scores and Georgia’s hospitals.

“I teach them the technology toolbelt, and the students create research projects, such as a Web page or movie,” Martin said. “GIS is another one of those tools. It’s an emerging technology, and we’re trying to give the students a skill that is transferable to the job field.”

During the workshop, Zac Miller, Gainesville State’s GIS outreach coordinator, and Chris Semerjian, associate professor of GIS, discussed satellites and GPS technology. The teachers then picked up a GPS unit of their own and tracked locations on the college campus.

“I’m looking for ways to help the cross country team use GIS, possibly to create maps and track the distance they run,” said Jason Chesser, physical education teacher at Chestatee Middle School. “Instead of a PE class where students come in and just play a game, we can apply the latest technology to build a beneficial fitness program for them.”

Chesser plans to work with Lisa Taylor and Nick Scheman, science teachers at Chestatee High School, to build GIS lesson into the high school’s new outdoor classroom.

“We’re talking about using that area to track water quality, measure topography and put data onto a map,” Taylor said.

The science classes already do projects outdoors around the school, but now the lesson plans can incorporate new tools.

“We evaluate the trail system and do a study in the woods, so it would be nice to use a software program to track it on the computer,” Scheman said. “We want to take what we’ve been doing and bump it up a notch.”

Kathy Mellette, a North Hall Middle School directed studies teacher, also attended the workshop last summer and later won a grant to buy 20 GPS units for her classroom. This year, she wants to learn more ways to use the Gainesville State Virtual Lab, a remote-access system set up between the college and South Hall and North Hall middle schools.

“My students were virtually connected to the Gainesville State GeoTech center, allowing us to use the GeoTech programs and data to complete a simulation activity,” she said. “Chris and Zac work very hard to provide resources and support for both Hall County and Gainesville schools — not only in our county but the entire state.”

The K-12 outreach project, started up by Semerjian and Miller last year, is now in high demand at several Hall County schools.

Semerjian said he doesn’t mind helping younger cohorts of students learn the importance of GIS.

“Everything deals with geography,” he said. “Everything has a place, and we use this technology to understand our place better.”

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