In this post, I share my opinion on how to expand the use of GIS in schools, starting with the geography teacher training programs.
To get GIS into the classrooms, we need to start with the teachers. It is important to get them enthusiastic and to try to take away any barriers they may come across. By getting a couple of them fired up and ready to try new things, they can get others to try it to. Things like this should be spreading like a wildfire.
But this has not started yet. At least that is what I think. Until now, some teachers find it great, but it is hard to spread the GIS-in-schools-fire. This is because in the Netherlands, GIS is not easily available for schools. So, when a teacher finds out about it, (s)he cannot easily try it out. The software should be free and usable on the school computers by teachers and pupils. However, those are mostly banned from downloading and installing new programs. A free and semi-advanced webGIS is needed.
The United States has a great program for this; ConnectEd. It is introduced by Obama and makes sure that ArcGIS Online (and desktop programs if needed) is freely available in schools. Here in the Netherlands, this was not the case, and schools needed to pay for access to the software. But not any longer, on the San Diego user conference, it was announced that the software will be free for schools all over the world.
This is a great improvement and teachers should take advantage of this. There is some time until this rolls out, how should this new possibility for geography teachers be approached?
One of the best ways is to start young. So start with the students that are still learning to become a teacher. In the teacher training programs, interest in GIS should be sparked in those students that are open to it. The goal now is not to make every teacher in the future use GIS. The goal is more to make sure that teachers that have the interest, also get enthusiastic and do it.
So, teachers of future teachers, give the students (that are learning to become a teacher) a project to introduce them to GIS. Give them freedom and space to explore their own topic and let them try it out in small groups. Let them collaborate and inspire each other. The goal is not to teach them how to teach with GIS, that is something for later on. You are supposed to enlighten a spark, an interest in them so they get the drive to figure it out for themselves. Because only inspired and enthusiastic teachers can inspire their pupils, so fire them up!