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TwiST Workshop Teaches Educators About Incorporating Community-based GPS Projects into their Lesson Plans

DATE: 06-15-2011

During the past 10 years, more than 500 K-12 educators and college professors from around the world have been invited to learn how to incorporate geographic information technology into their classrooms through the Teaching with Spatial Technology (TwiST) Workshop. The three-day workshop will be held June 28 through 30 at Cayuga Community College in Auburn.

TwiST had changed quite a bit over the past 10 years,” said Amy Work, GIS analyst and education coordinator at the Institute for the Application of Geospatial technology at Cayuga Community College. “One of the major changes in TwiST has been the shift from teaching the technology to teaching with the technology. This was primarily the result of adapting to new advances in the technology. The change in GIS, GPS and remote sensing technologies has actually made integrating the technologies into educational environments much easier.” 

This year, participants will work on a community-mapping project in collaboration with the Auburn Business Improvement District. The group will look at possible locations for new signage to help visitors navigate their way through the city to places of interest.

The project continues the service-learning and project-based model that the TwiST workshop adopted last year. This model enables participating educators to bridge concepts from geographic information systems (GIS) and global positioning systems (GPS) into practical applications that will resonate with their students.

In 2010, TwiST participants worked with the Owasco Lake Watershed inspector to collect data on ditches in the Dutch Hollow Brook watershed. The participants used the data to map and track erosion that could affect water quality for the 50 percent of Cayuga County residents who depend on the Owasco Lake Watershed for their drinking water.

The use of geospatial technologies in the classroom has shown to improve students’ spatial thinking and critical thinking skills,” Work said. “By working with educators, we can provide the support they need to use these technologies to engage students in their classrooms in the content matter.

“When GIS is used in the classroom, students are asked to do investigations into the data they are working with and draw conclusions about what they see,” Work said. “Using GIS can help people see patterns in the data that’s not easily identifiable through charts and tables. They start to make connections to increased runoff and a change in the water quality, the impacts of off shore earthquakes, and the distribution of people across the country.” 

The workshop provides foundational knowledge of GIS and GPS; using such tools as Google Earth, ArcGIS, computer mapping and analysis software; experience conducting fieldwork; and ideas of how to develop projects that integrate these GIS and mapping concepts for students of all ages.

This year’s workshop features a keynote on community mapping by Jonnell Robinson, who serves as the community geographer at Syracuse University and worked on such projects as the Syracuse Hunger Project, Connective Corridor, EITC, and Youth Resource Mapping Project.

Past participants have returned to their classroom with fresh ideas and engaging projects for their students. Here are a few projects that TwiST participants have initiated:

  • Teachers in an entire school district in Washington working together to have their students map the lake that would be created from the development of a dam along the river that runs in their town. They mapped the homes and agricultural lands that would be affected and presented their results to the town council.
  • Elementary school students mapping plots of land to record plant and animal species in the Adirondacks. They then looked at the variety between all their plots.
  • Two school districts, one in the Adirondacks and the other in Massachusetts, received grants to work with community organizations to map and share features of their watersheds.
  • A BOCES instructor in Auburn introduced the technologies to students and had them map nearby trails. 
  • An environmental science high school teacher took students to Puerto Rico to understand bleaching of coral reefs by mapping the bleached and live corals.
  • Hannibal School District has integrated geospatial technologies into a variety of courses. They have mapped trails, and most recently they worked with Oswego-911 to improve the accuracy of address locations that emergency responders use to report to an incident.


Anyone interested in participating in this year’s TwiST Workshop should apply online at  

TwiST is sponsored by the Institute for the Application of Geospatial Technology, Cayuga Community College, SUNY College of Environmental Science and Forestry, the National Geospatial Technology Center, the New York State GIS Association, the Center for International Science Information Network (CIESIN), and the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority School Power...NaturallyProgram.