When an experienced teacher retires, the loss can be huge. Fortunately, some stay engaged, learning insatiably and sharing more widely. So it will be with 8th grade geography teacher Dave Casey of Buffalo Middle School, in a small town just beyond the northwestern suburbs of Minneapolis. After decades of over 150 kids a day, with a bum knee getting replaced, Dave decided it was time to "retire." But he has big plans to help others learn to teach with GIS.
Dave started with ArcView 3.3, "as soon as I switched from teaching history to teaching geography, maybe 10 ... hmm ... well, I guess 15 years ago now. In 30-some years of teaching, GIS is the best thing I've ever come across ... by far the best education tool I've ever used. The one complaint I hear most often from kids, why they don't like these things I do with them, is that it forces them to think. It's preparing them for the future too. It forces them to use higher level thinking, and that's where I see kids who are struggling in school do really well with this, and bring it over to other areas of study."
His colleagues are learning the ropes of the school's ArcGIS Online Organization... "Right now we have over 400 in the Org, close to 500. I probably use it most but others are starting. I've introduced science teachers and they're doing it. Once they got to Online, they were hooked. I used GeoInquiries, sometimes building things to add to them. I wanted the kids to be on computers as much as possible. What I've been doing a lot of now is building a presentation, and they really like that. They do it on their own machines, they have to look at the map and I'll have like 26 questions. Kids are so tech-savvy... We used to have to show them everything but they can figure things out so fast now, they teach me things. That's the biggest change in education; they want instant gratification, but with GIS they have to think.
"GIS really evens the playing field. Some of the kids who were not the so-called gifted kids, they perform much better with GIS; they look outside the box to solve problems. Some of the kids with whom we had the most discipline problems, they're the ones who probably did the best job with GIS. They're engaged, and it really forces them to concentrate. Even the kids who are the second language learners are able to do quite well with GIS.
"I just talked with one parent, the kid got into building story maps, and he's now going into GIS in college, getting a GIS degree. On parents night, I said we'll use a lot of GIS, and a bunch of parents said they use it in their work ... city administrators and people in businesses ... They wrote an article in the paper about me using GIS, and I got an email from another student who said how cool it was that we were using GIS because he's now with the CIA and that's what he does, using Esri."
Many experienced educators who have watched big changes are still passionate about kids, education, science, understanding the world, and solving problems. GIS can be a challenge for educators not yet comfortable with teaching. But there are some fabulous resources out there, skilled educators who know GIS, and still want to save the world, even after they hang up their gradebook.
Dave Casey (right) shares with another teacher at Esri's 2013 T3G Institute.