No electricity, No problem: Teachers in Costa Rica forge ahead integrating GIS and GPS in their classes

Teachers at one primary school in Costa Rica are changing students’ lives while having access to limited resources that one would think are essential for conducting geospatial investigations. Escuela Verde is a bi-lingual primary school located in Uvita – Bahia Ballena in the Osa Region on the southern Pacific Coast. During two months this summer, four teachers at Escuela Verde worked with the Geoporter program to learn how to use GIS and GPS in their classrooms.

With teachers having both excitement and hesitation of venturing into learning how to use GIS and GPS, the experience wasn’t without a few bumps. After the first week learning how to use GIS and GPS, Escuela Verde had the unfortunate experience of having the copper lines for their electricity stolen. Without electricity for the next two months the Geoporter program worked in Bahia Ballena, the teachers forged ahead learning how to use GPS and integrate data with ArcGIS for Desktop and ArcGIS for Online.

Escuela Verde has about 90 students total in grades K-5. Two teachers share a grade teaching different subjects, with half the subjects in English and the other half in Spanish. During two months, the teachers at Escuela Verde integrated several geospatial activities into their classrooms. Margarita, the social studies teacher for grades 3, 4 and 5 was the first to use GPS. Her 3rd grade class took a field trip to the local National Wildlife Refuge, Hacienda Barú, to learn about ecosystems and wildlife of Costa Rica. Hacienda Barú has over 330 hectares (815 acres) of different habitats ranging from wetlands and secondary rainforests in the lowlands to primary rainforest on the highland coastal ridge. Students hiked a portion of the seven kilometers of trails using GPS units to record observations and take photos of animals they encountered. Students recorded sightings of parrots, caimans, snakes, leaf-cutter ants, fire ants, in addition to a variety of trees.

Without electricity in the school, Margarita utilized Internet and electricity off site to learn how to download students’ data to ArcGIS online while also linking their photos. When the electricity returns, the students will download their data and link their photos to their points using ArcGIS Online.

Based on the excitement of students using GPS at Hacienda Barú, Margarita decided to engage her 4th grade mathematics class in a geocaching adventure on school grounds. Marking five locations ahead of time, she placed mathematical questions at each waypoint. Students had to answer the mathematical question before using the GPS unit to navigate to the next question.

Another teacher, David, engaged his 1st grade students’ in two activities: understanding continents and exploring rivers and mountains of Costa Rica. Seeing the value in using GIS to engage his students in having a better understanding of the world around them and not wanting to let a lack of Internet prevent him from using GIS with his students, David opted to learn to use ArcGIS for Desktop. Working outside the school to acquire and modify data for the activities, Davide engaged students in the activities using one laptop computer with a fully charged battery. Students rotated to the laptop in groups to use ArcGIS for Desktop to answer their questions.

As the teachers at Escuela Verde began using GPS and GIS in their classrooms, word started to make its way around school among students, and teachers, about the cool things they were doing in class. The teachers at Escuela Verde have shown that it doesn’t matter what resources you have, or don’t have, geospatial technologies can be used to increase students’ interest in content subject matter while making activities enjoyable for students. No electricity. No Internet. No problem. Just fully charge your laptop at home, think about the resources you have and prepare to venture down a bumpy road. The back of the school bus was always fun when it hit a few bumps in the road, right?

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