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Monday, January 16, 2012

A Geographer Looks at EdTech - Part 7 - STEM

--- This post is the seventh in a ten part series examining top 2011 trends in education technology in the context of GIS and geography education. ---

The seventh theme Audrey Watters identified in her top ten list of ed tech for 2011 is the newfound focus on Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM). She details how president Obama linked Sputnik to education reform in his 2011 State of the Union address. He also proposed ARPA-ED, a new agency funded in 2012, to explore ways to educate students. She argues we need to seed interest in STEM far before college and the way to do that is via hands on learning - coding, building, making - not via standardized testing.

GIS and geography have a good history of hands on projects dating back to the early 1990s. Middle schoolers from New Hampshire taught themselves PC Arc/Info (the HORROR!) and mapped their school. They were the first group, I think, to present their work on the big stage at the Esri international User Conference in 1992 or 1993. Now GIS is in science fairs and 4-H among other places, with much of the credit for these programs going to Esri.

The problem I see with GIS and geography and the current interest in and focus on STEM education is that GIS and geography sit on the edge of social and physical sciences. So, when those who advocate for GIS (a technology) or geography (typically considered a social science) speak up, they can seem a bit wishy washy about where it sits. I raised this issue this fall when Speak Up for Geography ran a campaign to get those who believe in geography education to contact their Congresspeople and ask them to support The Geography is Fundamental Act (TGIF).

I think for right now we need to push the human side of geography/GIS to the background and run a full force offensive highlighting its importance as a STEM discipline. Frankly, geography needs to fish where the fish are.