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Hall Schools works to create geographic information courses
Geographic technology found success at Da Vinci
John Rutan looks at a color-coded map of Stephens County during a geographic information systems class at Gainesville State College. Students at Da Vinci Academy may soon be able to take similar classes through a joint effort between the Da Vinci Academy and Gainesville State College. - photo by Tom Reed

A half century of harmony

By: Times_Newsroom

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A handful of Da Vinci Academy students got their hands on geographic technology last year, and now students across the county may be able to take similar classes.

Geographic information systems was introduced to the Da Vinci technology classroom, and students produced maps, statistics and award-winning projects. After the success of the small program, Hall County administrators are proposing three GIS courses that students could take to fulfill high school credit.

"It's really a technology we want to proliferate, and it is absolutely phenomenal across the curriculum with environmental science or world studies," said Gerald Boyd, Hall County school improvement specialist. "We've written three proposed state courses that could be approved, and we have high hopes of getting that. People at the state level have spoken positively about it."

The state approves new courses once a year around February. No high school in the state currently provides credit for geospatial technology classes, and Hall County created the three-course pathway to help all students in the state have the opportunity.

The idea started when Gary Martin, technology teacher for the Da Vinci Academy program housed at South Hall Middle School, took a geographic information systems workshop last summer at Gainesville State College, which offers a major in the subject. The workshop presented several scenarios of how GIS technology can help solve problems, such as defining evacuation routes and helicopter landings during a severe hurricane.

Martin said he enjoyed the simulation and decided to incorporate the technology into his classroom. Partnering with teachers and students at the college, Martin offered a monthlong overview of GIS in his computing classes and a two-week project using GIS in another class.

"They wrote the project for us in a step-by-step manual similar to what we did at the teacher workshop, and the students really liked it," he said. "They got a good perspective on how spatial technology plays a role in any industry, such as doctors tracking diseases."

Two students entered a competition and won prizes - one for mapping the state with population and distribution data and another for tracking test scores in Hall County.

"We have big ideas," Martin said. "(Eventually) we want high schoolers to be able to get dual enrollment credit through Gainesville State. There are a lot of hurdles, but we'll hit them head on."

Other Hall County schools also approached Gainesville State about adding GIS to their classes. West Hall High School officials want to add the technology to their science curriculum, and Johnson High School teachers want to use GIS in international studies to analyze different parts of the world.

"It's part of their charter school idea to incorporate the international aspect," said Zachary Miller, one of the Gainesville State teachers who set up the programs at Da Vinci. "Through GIS, they can analyze different problems like resource distribution."

As the various programs move forward for approval, Gainesville State is also working with Hall County Schools to give remote access to their campus programs.

The college started a "virtual lab" for its students and faculty in 2007, which allows them to find the same information and software they use in the on-campus computer labs or classrooms.

"Some students log in because it works with their schedule, or they want to do homework after they get home from work and the labs are closed," said Lance Hunt, who helped set up the system. "We expanded this to Da Vinci and North Hall Middle this spring as a pilot program, and they were so excited about what we did that we may extend it to the other middle schools and high schools soon."