Grant Supports GIT Curriculum Research – Hobart and William Smith Colleges \
The HWS Update

Grant Supports GIT Curriculum Research

Hobart and William Smith have collaborated on a $499,965 grant by the National Science Foundation (NSF) supporting curriculum development and research focused on implementation of that curriculum. 

Associate Professor of Education Jim MaKinster, who is the Principal Investigator  at HWS, is working with three area high school teachers to design an environmental science curriculum that uses scientific data and Geospatial Information Technology (GIT) and to enable students to explore the relationship between climate change and biodiversity. The project’s title is “Studying Topography, Orographic Rainfall, and Ecosystems (STORE) with Geospatial Information Technology,” and it is a pioneer in using time-based geospatial simulations of publicly-available datasets and climate change models to build greater student understanding about climate change and its impacts on biosphere.

“Geospatial information technology creates new opportunities for learning in high school science,” says MaKinster. “It’s exciting to give students access to real data. Current scientists and policymakers are using the same tools we’ve provided these students.”

MaKinster and his colleagues are making available for students weather data that is, in some cases 40-50 years old, as well as predictive data for 2050 that students will use to predict the impact that changes in temperature and precipitation will have on the distribution of different kinds of vegetation and tree populations.

“What will be the distribution of evergreens, deciduous forests, cropland and grasslands? It’s all influenced by temperature and precipitation,” says MaKinster.

He uses as an example data from California that shows the temperature in a certain study area is expected to shift by about four degrees Fahrenheit by 2050. The area encompasses elevations ranging from valleys to mountains, with normal temperatures varying by 40 degrees or more across the elevations. Vegetation in those areas also varies accordingly. A lesson might ask students to graph the temperatures by elevation, and then might ask them to predict how the four-degree change will impact land cover by 2050.

MaKinster explains the curriculum, still being developed, will be a series of three to five lessons. The first lesson aims to explain the relationship between temperature, precipitation and elevation, and was used this spring in classrooms of partnering teachers in Canandaigua Academy, Hannibal High School and Dryden High School.

This spring, MaKinster conducted research on each one of the classrooms using classroom observations, interviews, and other research materials to determine how and why teachers use and adapt lessons like this, especially in regards to curriculum, their students and technology. He will continue to conduct similar research as the curriculum is designed and used in the classrooms.

“This whole process recognizes that teachers with diverse student populations, various technology and other classroom characteristics or constraints need teaching resources that are flexible so that the teachers can customize and refine their uses of them over multiple implementations,” MaKinster explains. “The contribution of this work to the research community will be how the ways teachers choose to adapt and implement these lessons relate to student learning and interest in science courses and careers.”