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OCTO, NGS and National Geographic Alliance Launch GIS Education Project


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Hey, kids! Want something really exciting to do on a rainy day?

On a rainy Saturday, October 29, 2011, a group of DC middle-schoolers and their teachers got an answer to that question when Geographic Information Systems (GIS) professionals from the DC Office of the Chief Technology Officer (OCTO) and the National Geographic Society (NGS) helped the DC Geographic Alliance launch a new geography education initiative, “TAGS DC.”

TAGS DC (Teachers and Geographic Students in DC) is designed to open up new vistas in geography for District students and teachers. The initiative consists of three intensive sessions, led by professionals, where student-teacher “TAGS teams” will learn new geography and technology skills to take back to their schools. Each student-teacher TAGS team will develop innovative, technology-based lessons that explore the geography of the DC region. The initiative will encompass three Saturday sessions in October, February, and May.

October 29 was the first session in the initiative. About 25 student and teacher participants gathered at the downtown DC headquarters of the NGS, where five NGS and OCTO professionals taught them geographic skills to use in their TAGS projects.

OCTO’s GIS group is responsible for building and maintaining the DC Government’s broad library of online maps and providing geospatial technology for a wide variety of government functions, from procurement to policing, urban planning to emergency management. At the October 29 TAGS session, the OCTO GIS and NGS volunteers provided hands-on instruction in geography, maps, GIS data, and online map-building.

The students and teachers learned how to download GIS data from the over 300 datasets on OCTO’s District data catalog (http://data.dc.gov) and how to use the online ArcExplorer application to view the data. They also learned how to build their own GIS maps. For example, one team mapped Metro stations near their school, and another mapped local grocery stores.

The TAGS session attendees represented four District schools—two DC public schools, Stuart-Hobson Middle School and Alice Deal Middle School, and two private schools, the Capitol Hill Montessori School and Bishop Walker School for Boys in Southeast Washington.

The rainy weather prevented a planned outdoor lesson on Global Positioning Systems (GPS), but the OCTO and NGS instructors were able to show the teams how GPS units work. They even went out to the building lobby to try to capture a GPS satellite or two.

All participants in the October 29 session came away excited by their experience and delighted by how much the TAGS teams learned in just a few hours. The GIS volunteers will continue as teachers and mentors through the conclusion of the TAGS initiative.

“This project is a great example of partnership between OCTO and the community of One City created by Mayor Gray,” said District Chief Technology Officer Rob Mancini. “We, as public servants and technology professionals, should never under-estimate the impact we have by connecting the next generation to the technologies that exist for society. Our GIS team is opening up new worlds for the youth of the city, and we hope that we are inspiring potential future employees.”

“It was wonderful to teach the skills we use every day and see students be so thrilled to learn and use them,” said Eva Stern of OCTO. “I can’t wait for the next TAGS session!”