Trip of a Lifetime for one local Elementary School Teacher

Escuela-Verde-Margarita-computer-T3GThe adventure begins, and with this adventure comes knowledge and skills that will be brought back to Costa Rica to share with other teachers and students. Margarita Morales Gamboa, a teacher at Escuela Verde, a local bi-lingual elementary school that Geoporter works with, applied to and was accepted to attend the 2014 Esri Teachers Teaching Teachers GIS (T3G) week-long institute this summer in California, USA. In its 6th year, T3G offers a professional development opportunity for formal, informal and non-formal educators to build their skills for teaching other teachers learn why and how to use Geographic Information Systems (GIS), or computer mapping.

Margarita is very excited to be attending the T3G institute from June 15-20, 2014. She cannot wait to “learn about the technology to use with her students and be able to help other teachers use the GPS and GIS.” In her application, Margarita had to create a big project about Costa Rica, mapping the location of her house and other amenities using an online platform for GIS, ArcGIS Online. Upon acceptance to T3G, Margarita was “so happy to have the permission and opportunity to attend, but very worried about getting a visa for her trip.” Getting a visa to the U.S. is not an easy task for many Costarricenses. Many apply several times before finally getting their visa.

On her first visit to the U.S. Embassy, Margarita was successfully approved for her visa to travel to the U.S. and attend the T3G Institute. With the visa in hand and an excitement that is hard to control, Margarita is set to head off and learn how she can advance her current GIS skills and how to bring back additional skills to run a workshop back in Bahia Ballena for other teachers in the area when she returns. Acceptance into T3G requires that all attendees conduct a training event for other educators in the year following their return.

While getting accepted and receiving her visa are the key components, Margarita’s trip would not be possible without the support of many businesses and organizations who have stepped up to make sure she is able to attend. As part of getting accepted to T3G, Esri will put Margarita up in a hotel with one other attendee for her time during the week. Geotecnologias S.A., based in San Jose, Costa Rica is sponsoring Margarita’s airfare to Los Angeles from San Jose. GISetc has offered to cover Margarita’s meals expenses while she is attending, and Escuela Verde is covering Margarita’s classes while she is gone. School is still in session and the kids need to continue learning. Geoporter is thrilled for Margarita to have this opportunity and looks forward to working with Margarita to teach others how they can use GPS and GIS in classrooms and to map community issues.


Geoporter in April

Since August of 2012, I have been living and working in Bahia Ballena, Costa Rica teaching and training educators, youth and community members how to use geospatial technologies, or GIS and GPS, to investigate their community resources or issues they think are important. I want to take just a few minutes to summarize some of the incredible Geoporter activities taking place here in this wonderful community that have occurred in the past month. There are so many things, but I’ll try to keep it short.

Pollination Project
Geoporters was selected as a recipient of a Pollination Project to improve our mobile geospatial technology lab. With their support we were able to secure a few additional GPS units, one that have a stronger signal under the forest canopy cover, two laptops to conduct additional GIS trainings, and rechargeable batteries to use with the GPS units. We are so happy to be a part of this wonderful opportunity. We have also been asked to help another Pollination Project to use geospatial technologies to map the trees they are planting. What a great example of being able to thank The Pollination Project by “paying it forward.”

Let’s talk about Boundaries and Mountains at Escuela Verde:
I’ve had the opportunity to work with incredible teachers and staff at Escuela Verde, a bi-lingual school for grades K-6. To see the way these students are processing the information related to the GPS and GIS activities they are doing, is incredible. The past few weeks I have been working closely with Esteban, the new 5/6th grade science teacher and David, the 1st/2nd grade social studies.

David’s students are learning about political boundaries and key features found in every Costa Rican town; which include a soccer field (cancha), mini-supermarket (pulpería), church (iglesia), and school (escuela). To make learning these concepts more fun, we took a field trip to actually see the boundaries of the district, Costa Ballena, where the school is located. We marked the locations of the boundary limits and the features using GPS units. Oh, and don’t forget about the photos to go along with GPS’ing the locations.

The class is now downloading the waypoints and photos, and transferring the information that was recorded on paper to a digital version so we can symbolize the features to create a map to share with their parents.

Esteban’s 5/6th grade class has been exploring mountains, valleys, rivers and deserts that are found in Costa Rica and around the world (with deserts in the world rather than Costa Rica). What is the tallest mountain in the world? What is the largest desert in the world? The longest river? And where are all of these features located?

After examining a map of these features using ArcGIS Desktop and a modified activity from Mapping Our World, we used GPS units to mark elevations on school grounds. The students were able to compare mountains, valleys and rivers found on the map, but understanding differences in elevation. Next students are planning to create presentations highlighting these features and more information about each theme.

What to do when the northern whales have started their migration north?
The whale monitoring project working with tour guides, captains and tour companies has taken somewhat of a break this month due to the early departure of the northern whales that have called Bahia Ballena home since late October. But this has provided us the opportunity to prepare for the southern whale migration season, which will arrive in June and stay through early November.

Ballenas Map Only 2012-12-01

We are in the process of mapping the whale sighting data from this past season of northern whales to add to the map of the southern 2012 whale season from August to October. We will then be able to use these maps when we start our training for new guides and captains next week.

Rise and shine!!! It’s Trash Collection Time!!
Starting in April, a solid group of about 8 people (at times up to 15 people) have collected and categorized trash in order to map the landscape of trash in the streets and on the beaches of Bahia Ballena. We’ve had 5 trash collections starting at 6 am. Yep, that’s 6 am. The sun has just come up and it’s one of the coolest times of the day. We’ll collect trash until 8 am, but it seems that we have such a great group that we don’t finish until around 9 am. And one day, we went until 10 am when the sun and heat let us know that it was time to call it a day.

We’ll continue to map the trash in the streets to continue providing information for others, Asociacion de Guias de Bahia Ballena (ASOGUIBA), Asociacion de Tour Operadores, and the Asociacion de Desarrollo (Development) can construct new trash cans and place them in the areas of trash hotspots.

Silence your cell phones, it’s presentation time
On May 7th, Geoporter had the opportunity to present our project and what we are doing to the Chamber of Tourism and Commerce of Costa Ballena de Osa (CACOBA). We presented all the projects we have been working on and a future project of creating a community map of Bahia Ballena with youth here in town. We’ve already made some progress with getting some of the waypoints and photos of different tour companies, restaurants, hotels in town.

We were also invited to a meeting organized by KETO to present our trash mapping project as they continue to work with different individuals, organizations and the National Park staff to seek improvements for Marino Ballena National Park.

This week, we will be driving to San Jose to make a presentation to La Nacion, a national newspaper in Costa Rica. In the afternoon we are headed over to meet with MarViva, an organization that promotes the conservation and sustainable use of coastal and marine ecosystems in the Eastern Tropical Pacific.

The start of a new school year

As the New Year begins, so too does a new school year for students in Costa Rica. Unlike the U.S. where summer vacation occurs during the months of June through August, students in Costa Rica graduate in December and go back to school in February.

At Escuela Verde, the teachers decided to spend some of their final summer days not only setting up their rooms and preparing for classes, but also wanting to learn more about what they can do with GPS and GIS with their students. During the school year last year, students were using GPS to record wildlife at a nearby wildlife refuge, conduct mathematical geocaching activities, observe rock and soil types, and explore plate tectonics.

Wednesday was the first of three training sessions for the teachers. With limited internet access at time at Escuela Verde, the training used book 2 from the Mapping Our World Series to learn the basics of ArcGIS Desktop. Joining us was Esteban, the new 5/6 grade Spanish speaking science teacher. Remember, Escuela Verde is a bi-lingual school with classes at every grade level being taught in English and Spanish by different teachers. Even with the lessons from Mapping Our World in English, the Spanish speaking teachers were able to explore an activity that can be used in their classroom.

Today was the second training and rather than meeting from 9-12, we decided as a group to meet at 7:30am so that we can get a start on heading out into the field to learn to use GPS. But to start any day off right, one needs a good cup of Costa Rican coffee.

We stayed on school grounds today as we had to modify our original plan to go to Playa Arco to collect due to another meeting the teachers had to attend. After collecting some points about features on the property, we returned to the library to setup the computers and then download the points onto ArcGIS Desktop. We’re using ArcGIS Desktop rather than ArcGIS Online due to the limited internet connection that exists at school. Even while stepping through downloading points, the electricity went out for 10 minutes.

Next Tuesday, we’ll meet for the final time before classes start so that the teachers can explore more activities with ArcGIS Desktop, create a map of Costa Rica, and develop and modify activities to use in their classes, which start Wednesday. This should be an exciting year to see the various activities and projects the teachers will do with their students.

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?

Venturing through the forest with Escuela Verde

Yesterday I spent the day with Margarita and her 3 grade class at Hacienda Barú. Hacienda Barú is a National Wildlife Refuge situated on the Southern Pacific Coast north of Uvita. Hacienda Barú has 330 hectares (815 acres) of different habitats, from wetlands and secondary rainforests in the lowlands to primary rainforest on the highland coastal ridge.

Our trip yesterday was to walk some of the seven kilometers of walking trails with a guide to learn about the ecosystems and wildlife we encountered. Besides just walking and learning, the students worked in groups of 2 or 3 to use GPS to map locations of interest. Items of interest included parrots, caimans, snakes, leaf-cutter ants, fire ants, and a variety of trees. We also walked through the orchid garden and butterfly garden.

The next step will be to take the GPS points and download them to the computer. We will then also link the photographs to the waypoints. However, one thing that will make this step more interesting is that the school had their electricity line stolen the night before. It’s made of copper. Not sure when the electricity will get turned back on, but hopefully soon. Otherwise, we’ll make do by using a laptop that has a strong battery life.



In a bilingual school, GIS and GPS are a common language

We had our first GPS and GIS training of the week at Escuela Verde. While the students were on their two week break, a few of the teachers came back to school to see what GPS is all about and get some ideas on how they can use it in their classes. Escuela Verde is a bilingual school, offering classes in both Spanish and English for students in K-6. Some teachers were very comfortable in English, while others were native Spanish speakers with limited English. But when teaching others to use GIS and GPS, its seems that it has its own language that is universal.

We started off with an overview of, demonstrating how to access a variety of basemaps and other data hosted online. One teacher, David, picked up on using the ArcGIS online immediately and had set up an account and was on his way just after the overview. It was so great to see him and the others dive right in. After some exploring on the computers we stepped outside to use the GPS units.

The best way to learn how to use a GPS unit, start using the unit as you walk around the school building looking at your track and collecting waypoints. There are also several great activities that explore latitude and longitude, as well as finding your location from the Going Places with GPS book.



Over the next month, the teachers have been asked to explore some more with the online GIS and the GPS units so that when I’m back in August I can help them answer any questions they might have as well as help them with their ideas on integrating both into their teaching.