Promoting Spatial Thinking with Web-based Geospatial Technology

Project Name

Promoting Spatial Thinking with Web-based Geospatial Technology

Principal Investigator

Dr. Alec M. Bodzin


National Science Foundation (NSF)

The Lehigh Environmental Initiative, the College of Education, and the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences at Lehigh University seek support for an Exploratory proposal from the NSF K-12 Discovery Research Program (DR K-12) to address challenge #2 of developing STEM spatial thinking skills of middle school learners. To achieve this goal, we focus on enhancing earth science education to ensure that middle school teachers are equipped with well-designed earth science investigations and support materials to promote spatial thinking. This project will design, develop, and test innovative earth science middle school spatial learning curriculum materials that use Web GIS that includes advanced visualization and geospatial analysis capabilities that include Javascript APIs, Flex (an open-source framework for building highly interactive, expressive Web applications that deploy consistently in all major browsers), and Silverlight (a cross-browser and cross-platform plug-in for using graphics, animations, or video) that can be hosted on any ArcGIS Server. The project will enable researchers to investigate how Web GIS can best be used to promote both spatial thinking and earth science learning goals with diverse learners, to analyze to what extent educative curriculum materials as a form of embedded professional development can prepare teachers to implement Web-based geospatial science pedagogical approaches to teaching, and to document the impacts in terms of student learning outcomes. The curriculum materials will be developed using frameworks and design principles for spatial learning activities that incorporate an innovative spatial learning design model and the use of educative curriculum materials that have demonstrably promoted learning at the middle school level. The currricular modules we propose will be readily adaptable for incorporation into existing middle school science curricula.
            The intellectual merit of the project is enhanced by our innovative spatial learning design model and the creation of a new Web GIS to develop spatial thinking skills that are an enhancement to learning earth science content.  We seek to fill a deficiency in curricular materials in the earth sciences by taking advantage of newly available Web GIS applications and tools. This fulfills a pressing need in middle school STEM education. Our materials will provide research-based science learning materials designed for diverse middle school learners to promote spatial thinking. In addition, earth science literacy will be enabled through the use of design principles and frameworks that include robust educative curriculum materials to promote not only student learning, but teacher learning as well. The focus on Web-based spatial thinking and inquiry is unique in that the learning experiences we design for students will promote strong connections between national to global earth science issues while concurrently instilling spatial thinking skills. Our work will be enhanced through a design partnership model for the development of all curriculum materials that includes science educators, scientists, instructional designers, and classroom teachers. The project will advance our knowledge in important and significant ways to help the science education community understand how students develop spatial thinking skills that are essential to learning science and other disciplines with new Web GIS applications.

Broader Impacts and Enhancement for Infrastructure for Research and Education: The project will enable researchers to examine how Web-based geospatial technologies can best be used in a middle school science curriculum to promote learning with diverse learners. It will also elucidate how educative curriculum materials and other professional development experiences can be created to prepare teachers to implement geospatial science pedagogical approaches.  Further, the research conducted will reveal how Web GIS can be used effectively to impact student learning outcomes. The project will contribute to educational infrastructure by creating a series of assessment instruments designed to measure the effectiveness of  Web-based geospatial learning and inquiry instruction on the development of earth sciences content knowledge and spatial thinking skills. The focus on diverse learners ensures that this project will impact a great number of students who are traditionally underrepresented in STEM disciplines and careers. The project has a strong dissemination component that includes ESRI, the NSF supported GeoTech Center, and national education organizations. The project will serve the education community more broadly and save other groups and commercial publishers from the time and expense of creating a Web GIS with dynamic applications such as Javascript APIs from scratch.

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