GIS, Community Action, and Drone Flying!

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This summer, Tim Hawthorne was proud to teach the next generation of GISers at the Urban Atlanta Geospatial STEM Academy—work that earned space as a finalist for the Fourth Annual STEM Education Awards. He has 10 years of teaching experience and is the former coordinator of the Georgia Geographic Alliance. He recently relocated and is now part of the faculty at the University of Central Florida. 

Topics: GIS, Student-Driven Projects, Community Action, and Drone Flying!
Grade: 9-12

TimHawthorne (1)
Our featured educator, Tim Hawthorne.
Photo by Georgia State PR

This summer, the Urban Atlanta Geospatial STEM Academy provided a fun and free space for students to learn about geospatial technologies. The Academy worked with 100 enthusiastic students, predominantly from Title 1 schools in Atlanta.

Every week, 25 students attended the Academy, and every Friday, they completed citizen science projects centered around geospatial technologies. Academy students interacted with geographic information systems (GIS), online mapping, and drone flying.

ALL students came into our program without any geospatial training—and in five days they learned mapping tools, create a research project that supports community organizations, and present their work publicly.

Students had fun working on their projects and were simultaneously learning geospatial techniques applicable to career fields within government, environmental research, urban planning, and the non-profit sector.

The academy was made possible with the support of a $75,000 Verizon Foundation grant.

Academy youth work on an ArcGIS online training exercise for their final projects.
Photo by Georgia State PR

How long did this activity take and what did you need to prepare ahead of time?

Mondays and Tuesdays were dedicated to the GIS basics. The ConnectEd Initiative‘s Geo Mentoring website was a great resource for teaching ArcGIS Online.

Students met with our community partners at the beginning of the week to discuss project goals. The rest of the week was dedicated to field work, project creation, and presentation. Later in the week, the student completed field work with Galaxy tablets and the ArcGIS Collector app. They then analyzed and presented the data publicly through a web map and presentations to community partners and parents.

Students also had a chance to fly the DJI Phantom 3 drones. This allowed them to see the value of aerial photography and do-it-yourself data collection for future GIS projects. (To learn more about the academy visit their Facebook page.)

Describe the student impact of this lesson. Was there a change in thought process, behavior, perspective?

Our proudest achievement is that ALL students come into our program without training in geospatial STEM technologies, and in five days they apply online mapping tools to generate real-world impact with local organizations.

The Sidewalk Walkability Mapping Project, for instance, helps residents and organizations understand walkability and sidewalk quality in relation to social services near Atlanta’s Ponce de Leon Avenue. Academy partners in this project were the Atlanta Community Food Bank and Intown Collaborative Ministries.

Take a look at other projects created by Academy graduates!

Academy youth “reaching new heights” with drones in Atlanta.
Photo by Georgia State PR

Are there specific teaching methods or technologies you use to help students to connect with the outside world?

To help our students become better thinkers, it is pivotal that we make learning fun and connect it to students’ everyday lived experiences! That’s why we focus so much on community GIS and student-driven projects with real impact.

Do you have a favorite book, blog, or quote that inspires you in your personal life or in your teaching?

I was born in Pittsburgh and grew up on Mr. Rogers Neighborhood. (Fred Rogers is from PA.) This quote from Mr. Rogers guides me every day and it’s incorporated in the closing of each weekly Academy.

The thing I remember best about successful people I’ve met all through the years is their obvious delight in what they’re doing and it seems to have very little to do with worldly success. They just love what they’re doing, and they love it in front of others. —Mr. Rogers

Tim Hawthorne’s Urban Atlanta Geospatial STEM Academy was part of his work as the former coordinator of the Georgia Geographic Alliance. Find your National Geographic Alliance and connect with educators in your city or state. 

The Network of Alliances is a state-based group dedicated to supporting geographic education throughout the United States and Canada. Alliances are partnerships between university faculty, K-12 educators, and the National Geographic Society. These state-based organizations connect educators, provide world-class professional development, and promote educational innovation at the state and local levels. 

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The Educator of the Week series features inspiring activities educators are implementing with their students that connect them to the world in bold and exciting ways.

2 thoughts on “GIS, Community Action, and Drone Flying!

  1. very will.the project would bring more students in the next few years ,the drone will occupy a large market .and young technicians will come out .

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