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Geospatial leaders hope St. Louis teachers will bring the technology to classrooms

 Teacher Laura Linck looks at a map on a laptop.
Kate Grumke
St. Louis Public Radio
Kairos Academies teacher Laura Linck looks at a map on a laptop at a geospatial workshop for teachers on Friday. The workshop was held at the University of Missouri-St. Louis.

Dee Leible is a self-described spreadsheet person. She teaches math and history to middle schoolers at Christ Community Lutheran School.

When Leible first learned how geospatial technology can be used in a classroom, she said it was the perfect merging of her interests. This year, she brought data analysis and mapping technology to her classroom for the first time, and now she’s encouraging other teachers to do the same.

“It was just so impactful for my interest in the classroom, and asking the students, ‘well, what's going on with this data?’ and how can they use it in understanding and helping our community, classroom and world around us,” Leible said.

At a workshop last week, Leible spoke to other educators from around the St. Louis region about ways they can get their students working with geospatial technology. It’s part of a broader effort to develop a workforce pipeline as the region moves toward becoming a leader in the industry.

Many elements of the very technology St. Louis is pushing are already present in schools. Students learn about geography, math, technology and social studies. At the University of Missouri-St. Louis campus on Friday, presenters talked about the specific ways teachers can merge these disciplines using software like ArcGIS. The workshop was a partnership between UMSL and the American Geographical Society.

Leible told the teachers about a lesson she taught last school year. Her students created projects they were interested in for a competition called StoryMaps.

“They just took the ball and went running with their projects,” Leible said.

The students’ projects are a perfect example of the diverse ways geospatial technology can be applied; they analyzed pet adoption, stadium capacity for a students’ favorite sport and geographic locations of flooding and pollution.

As the National Geospatial-Intelligence Agency opens its new western headquarters in St. Louis, business leaders anticipate a growing need for these skills.

“We see tremendous growth coming, not just from NGA, but also from all of those industry partners,” said Zekita Armstrong Asuquo, chair and CEO of Gateway Global, a workforce development organization.

She thinks most people don’t know about geospatial, so there’s a need to build awareness in the region. That’s why she spoke to the educators Friday.

“We want to ensure that we're doing everything that we can to move the region forward,” Armstrong Asuquo said. “And to make St. Louis a geospatial hub, we want to make sure that teachers are aware of the opportunities and that they can take that information back to their students and to their colleagues.”

Teacher Laura Linck said her school is focused on preparing students for careers, instead of just college. She teaches 9th grade history at Kairos Academies.

“We've realized that there's a gap in our students' understanding of geography,” Linck said. “Next year, we're trying to implement a geography course. And so coming here was kind of the goal of gaining information. What tools are people using? And how can we implement that in our classroom?”

Linck said she already has ideas for the class. She hopes to teach students to contribute to OpenStreetMap, an open-source geographic database that anyone can add to and use. Eventually the students could map the area around their school in Marine Villa or even their own neighborhoods, to be part of a global effort to bring detailed geospatial information to under-resourced areas.

Kate Grumke covers higher education and the many school districts in the region for St. Louis Public Radio.

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