Students Use Real World Data to Make ‘Green Maps’ of their Community
by Todd Burley
Homewaters Project, Seattle
“Green Mapping connected Cleveland’s students to their community by opening up their eyes to the environmental benefits and detriments around them. It gave the students a sense of ownership, pride, and responsibility. The culminating presentation at City Hall was the icing on the cake–students were able to share their voice with students from other schools and show what they found from their research.”
Amy Baeder, 10th Grade Teacher, Cleveland High School
How can we bring the titanic issues of community health – both environmental and social – down to a level that can be taught in the classroom? How can we make pollution immediate, income disparity tangible, and historical landscape changes apparent to the average tenth grade student? And how can we show the connections among all these issues including the students themselves?
Ten years ago, the seed of an answer to these questions germinated in New York’s Green Map System. This nonprofit organization facilitates the creation of ‘green maps’ around the world that make visual the sustainable features – and problems – in a local community. Green maps are locally created, but use an international set of icons as a shared language.
Using these green maps as a starting point, Homewaters Project, an educational nonprofit organization in Seattle, developed the Neighborhood Green Map Project (NGMP) for local high schools. The NGMP adds a technological spin to green maps (after all, it is Seattle!) by using the Geographic Information System (GIS) software, ArcView, by ESRI (Environmental Systems Research Institute).
With real world computer data donated from the City of Seattle and King County, Homewaters created lessons that guide students through investigating the health of their school’s neighborhood. They use census data to explore income disparity in relation to population density and how that impacts urban runoff into nearby streams, lakes, and Puget Sound. They locate superfund sites and places that require pollution permits, then investigate what type of pollution these sites may create. Students use actual data and tools to answer the same questions GIS professionals and city planners deal with every day.
All Homewaters’ programs are inquiry-based, and the Neighborhood Green Map Project is no exception. After the students have explored available information using ArcView, they devise a question of their own to investigate a community health issue they find important. This exploration centers on a green map walk around their neighborhood, where they look for features – such as parks, pollution, or vacant buildings – that help answer their research question. They then return to the classroom and plot these features on a new GIS layer they create using the Green Map System’s international set of icons.
The culminating event for the NGMP brings participating schools from different Seattle neighborhoods together at City Hall to present their findings and engage in small group discussions about the different challenges their local communities face. This cross-cultural exchange within their own city solidifies the realities apparent on the computer screen, and expands students’ understanding of the diverse issues affecting different neighborhoods.
Perhaps the most powerful feature of the Neighborhood Green Map Project is the combination of real world data, professional-level technology, local investigations, inquiry learning, and the international Green Map System. By merging all these strengths, the NGMP connects students to their neighborhood, their city, and even other countries. As students learn about their community, formerly amorphous issues such as pollution and economic inequity suddenly become tangible. The Neighborhood Green Map Project makes these and other issues real by using real data and personal experiences.
Learn more about Homewaters Project at www.homewatersproject.org.
Learn more about the Green Map System at www.greenmap.org.
Learn more about ESRI at www.esri.com.
Todd Burley is the outreach coordinator for the Homewaters Project in Seattle.