Background, Objectives, and Program Structure

Place-based education has a strong history in the state of Vermont, often incorporating physical education, science, the humanities, and the arts. However, students are sent back to the regular classroom for math instruction so that they can follow the traditional path of algebra 1, geometry, algebra 2, etc. Many within and outside of the math community recognize that math is often a gatekeeper for other educational opportunities in high school and college. Many also recognize that math may play little to no role in the day-to-day lives of people beyond formal schooling.

This project seeks to tackle the challenges outlined above by creating a Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and Storytelling course at my high school. GIS is a term for systems that collect, analyze, and display geographic data, which we often see as maps. While most people only interact with finalized maps, those in the geospatial world layer data on top of data until they produce the map that communicates their desired message. Have you ever gone to Google Maps and seen the “Most Fuel-Efficient” suggestion or “Fastest Route?” What is happening here is that the Google Maps app is accessing all of the data underlying the displayed map and analyzing it to give multiple options for reaching the same final destination from one’s starting point. With this most basic idea, one can begin to imagine all of the math that is hiding in plain sight, obscured by a user-friendly display.

Following the National Geographic Explorer Mindset Framework, I believe we can create a math class that teaches students how to ask questions, collect relevant geographic data, analyze that data, visualize the data with maps, communicate their conclusion, and take informed action. Beyond the mathematics, I hope to help students become storytellers, using audio, video, photography, and written narrative. National Geographic also has a great professional development series called Storytelling for Impact, which will help me to build this into my curriculum. To achieve this objective, regular trips outside of the classroom will be essential because I want students to see themselves as explorers and demonstrate that an academic career, even one grounded in mathematics, can also be a physically active one. For example, I want students to imagine themselves as researchers in the Juneau Icefield Research Program. To accomplish this, we will have a three-block program (3 hours 45 minutes) every other day. Loosely speaking, one block will be for mathematics and GIS, one block for multimedia storytelling, and one block as independent/collaborative project time. The three-block system is essential for regular field trips for documentation and field data collection.