We laugh at the scene in the movie “Vacation” when Chevy Chase’s family finally arrives at the rim of the Grand Canyon, only to snap a few photos for a minute before getting back into the car and driving to their next destination. Yet how much of our fieldwork is brief and limited to just a few of the five senses? Earth Day provides an annual reminder that fieldwork is critical to what the GIS education community believes in, advocates, and analyzes. Nowadays, we have so many map, video, and data sources along with GIS tools at our fingertips that it is tempting to think we can “get by” without doing any fieldwork. Indeed, in these days of educational funding constraints when fieldwork involves high costs, permissions, and effort, these resources are extremely welcome and valued.
We on the Esri education team work closely with the education community to promote active fieldwork. We work with the American Geological Institute on Earth Science Week and with those promoting “No Child Left Inside” initiatives; we make use of the documents on the Place Based Education Initiative, and promote the use of probes, GPS, and other mobile devices to provide primary data to map and analyze within a GIS environment.
But the importance of fieldwork goes far beyond the GIS education community. Sobel’s Beyond Ecophobia: Reclaiming the Heart in Nature Education (1996) makes it clear that children are disconnected from the world outdoors, but yet are as never before connected with endangered animals and ecosystems around the globe through electronic media. He states that essential to helping students to understand environmental issues in distant lands is to cultivate connections to the local environment by teaching about local systems. “What’s important is that children have an opportunity to bond with the natural world, to learn to love it, before being asked to heal its wounds.” This can be done through his stages of empathy, exploration, and social action. His statements such as “Authentic environmental commitment emerges out of firsthand experiences with real places on a small, manageable scale” are expanded in his book Place-Based Education: Connecting Classrooms and Communities. These ideas were brought to the attention of additional educators and the general public by Louv in his book, Last Child in the Woods (2005).
Even if students cannot get away from campus, they can still collect data right on their own school grounds. I taught for a week with Dr Herb Broda awhile back, and his book SchoolYard Enhanced Learning provides excellent ideas on how to do just that.
To support your continued advocacy for fieldwork in your own educational institution, I created a video entitled “Why is fieldwork important?“.
How might you make every day an “Earth Day” in terms of exciting your students about the importance of observing the world around them?
-Joseph Kerski, Education Manager