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GeoMentor Spotlight: Lauren Sinclair

08-27-2020 03:00 AM
Occasional Contributor
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Each month we feature GeoMentor volunteers to showcase the wonderful talent available in our community to assist K-12 schools.

Read our full collection of GeoMentor spotlights online. Want to be featured? Information is available on our program website.
Name: Lauren Sinclair
Position/Job and Affiliation: Middle School GIS Teacher! It's my dream job!
What was your favorit class in K-12? I loved it all. I think that's why I'm a teacher. But in undergrad my favorite classes were all geography... so I asked my favorite geography professor for advice on learning more. Because of his awesome advice I tried my first GIS and ended up at PSU studying geomorphology and GIS for my master's.
How did you first learn about and/or use GIS? My first GIS experience is freeze-framed in my memory, which is exactly why I love recreating that magical experience for my students every semester. It was an exploration of the Ring of Fire on an early version of ArcMap in 2005 or so... what I remember most was following the directions and turning on the volcanoes layer, the earthquakes layer, and then the plate boundaries layer... and I felt like I had discovered plate tectonics myself! My immediate thought was "kids have got to try this!"
Name one thing you love about GIS and/or geography. GIS has evolved to be more intuitive and user friendly every year. It's already at a point where my 6th-8th graders learn how to use ArcGISOnline independently over the course of about 30 hours in one semester... and some of my 8th graders are honestly better at spatial analysis than I am by the end of the semester. That's powerful. That tells me that we need to give youth more opportunities to use this technology earlier... we shouldn't wait until an undergraduate program to introduce people to GIS!
GeoMentor Lauren Sinclair
Why did you want to volunteer as a GeoMentor? I guess I see myself as a GeoMentor advocate. When I started turning the technology class at my middle school into a GIS class, I had no idea what to do, so I reached out to the GeoMentor network and connected to some of my PSU professors. They got me from crawling to running in no time! I've since invited dozens of GIS professionals to my classroom and encouraged them to become GeoMentors. It's important for my students to meet GIS professionals in person and see the huge range of applications for the technology. They've met people from Esri, MapBox, Quantum Spatial, Extensis, Portland State University, Portland Community College, and more! There are so many more classrooms out there that will never experience GIS without the encouragement and support of a GeoMentor, which is why I'm always encouraging GIS professionals to visit a classroom!
What kind of GeoMentor volunteer opportunity and experience are you looking for?  Most teachers don't know about GIS and don't know what to do with it, so I encourage GeoMentors to take an existing resource and volunteer to teach it themselves with the teacher's support. Teachers are so busy... it's overwhelming to consider trying new technology. But if someone is willing to visit my classroom and say "Hey! You sit back and sip your coffee and just help me keep the kids on their best behavior, and I'll teach the lesson"...I'll say yes to that in a heartbeat! I recommend that GeoMentors offer to teach an activity like this one I just published with Esri's LearnArcGIS team, or a GeoInquiry. The GeoInquiries are great because you can ask your child's teacher "what are you studying right now?" and then find an existing GeoInquiry that matches almost any topic! Everything is ready for you: the GIS is ready for students, there are worksheets you can print... they're ready to go in 5 minutes. I've brought GeoInquiries into my colleagues' classrooms in almost every subject, and they're always amazed at how easy and engaging they are. Now they're teaching GeoInquiries themselves! That's the dream... that a GeoMentor sparks a fire that keeps burning after they leave the classroom.
If someone asked you why they should learn about GIS and/or geography, how would you respond in one sentence?  The kids in school right now are the meme generation; they communicate visually. That means they're primed to communicate with GIS! I want the world to catch on to this perfect match and put GIS in as many classrooms as possible.
About the Author
Senior Research Geographer with the Association of American Geographers; Map Nerd