Isn't it so gratifying to learn a new skill and get to apply it?
One thing I've been learning lately is how to use ArcGIS, a super fancy mapping tool that allows you to collect, analyze, and visualize all sorts of data.
I've talked about mapping with clients and at conference presentations for awhile, and I've loved using public (read: FREE) mapping tools to learn more about the communities I was serving or studying.
I’ve used maps in many ways – describing the community for grants or needs assessments, determining which students need home visits, or figuring out which resources are near students’ homes.
Most recently, I've gotten to use maps through my part-time work as a researcher at Ohio State.
We were trying to figure out if the students in our college had practicum placements within federally designated "medically underserved communities."
Using a free public map file from a government agency and uploading a list of addresses where our students were placed, I was able to instantly visualize and (through ArcGIS's fancy tools) analyze the percentage of our students working within underserved communities.
Seeing it all come together was magical.
It painted such a clear picture of the impact of our college and the difference that our students are able to make.
Given the disproportionate impact of COVID-19 on disadvantaged communities and the rising awareness of systemic racism on, well, every aspect of community life, knowing what children and families need outside of school – and acting on it — is critical.
Using data to pinpoint which students are at the greatest risk of disengaging from online school or whose families struggle to meet basic needs is essential for targeting interventions and outreach.
Here's a list of free mapping tools to get you started (from my May post on the AEA365 blog):
City and county agencies also have amazing resources. See if your health or police departments, school districts, or universities have online tools for exploring your area.
Here’s a map I created of the schools, hospitals, and other services where I live, from the city’s mapping tools:
To get started mapping your own data, I always recommend starting with Google Maps!
Beyond being a lifesaver for those with a poor sense of direction like me, Google Maps offers a free tool for creating your own maps. You can map multiple data sources and use colors, symbols, and labels to make sense of your data.
Then go play! See what maps you can create of your community.
Now think about each of your students and families as dots on that map. Imagine what they might see every day when they walk down the street. What resources are available to them in their community? In what ways is their community potentially putting them at risk?
You can use what you learn from your mapping explorations to influence survey questions and interview protocols for students and families. For example, if there has been a recent rise in crime rates in a neighborhood, ask families and students if they feel safe and what the school or district could do to make them feel safer.
Certainly, your findings can also help you figure out what services to offer within your program or school.
It's been so enjoyable to build my mapping skillset and explore a whole new way of looking at data. I hope you take some time to play around with these mapping tools and see what you can learn!
When I was a senior in high school, I thought the coolest job would be to serve as a member of Congress.
I was lucky to be part of an amazing course (in a public school, might I add!) called Government and Law-Related Experiences, affectionately known as GALRE.
Our teacher, Doug Martin, a hero of mine, is a Vietnam veteran who continued to serve his country by educating thousands of students about their civic rights and duties, in honor of his friend who didn't make it home from the war.
He taught us to be good citizens, but more importantly, he modeled for us how to be good people and to enjoy life in the process.
We had frequent guest speakers in the course -- GALRE alumni, community leaders, and elected officials on all levels -- who would come talk to us and answer our questions.
We also had to complete "outside experiences," where we immersed ourselves in the local community and political scene. I was canvassing and registering voters before I was old enough to vote myself.
The class culminated in a three-day, whirlwind trip to Washington, DC, where we got to see the federal government operate in real life.
GALRE inspired me to pursue a degree in Political Science and spend my career in service of others and the common good.
As I watched the horrific news of the insurgence of white supremacist domestic terrorists on the nation's Capitol yesterday, I found myself thinking back to our trip to DC, sitting on the steps of the Capitol building with my classmates, imagining working there one day.
More importantly, I keep thinking how safe I felt being with a teacher like Mr. Martin during times of national (9-11 occurred when I was a sophomore) and even personal times of crisis.
That level of security -- that my teachers could help me process what was happening and reassure me that, by learning from history, we would pull through any challenge -- is something I wish for all students.
Mr. Martin was a huge inspiration for me when I became a Social Studies teacher in Baltimore.
I brought in guest speakers, helped my students participate in a civics education competition, and took them on field trips to see where history happened in their local communities. Following the guidance of a veteran teacher at my school, I tried my best to teach my students the "real" version of early U.S. history and impart the lessons I learned from Mr. Martin.
As I watched yesterday's events unfold, I kept thinking about today's generation of students and all the challenges they have faced over the past year.
I worry about the quality of social studies education they are receiving.
Are they receiving the white-washed, textbook version of history that will only perpetuate the bigoted culture that we're seeing on display?
Or are they learning about the suffering and triumph of people from all racial and ethnic groups, the truth about how government has perpetuated inequity, and how they can play a role in making things better?
Worse, are they learning about history at all?
Most of all, I find myself wondering if they have a Mr. Martin in their lives to help them feel safe and make sense of what's tearing our country apart during this scary time.
I may not be a social studies teacher anymore, but the lessons I learned in G.A.L.R.E. and my time in the classroom have informed my work today.
I truly believe that we can all begin chipping away at the ills of our society through our own actions: how we support others, how we engage and empower children and families, and how we ensure that everyone gets what they need to thrive.
To all the social studies (or other!) teachers having difficult conversations with their students today and making them feel safe in an increasingly unstable world, thank you. You are making a difference.
The goal of this blog is to highlight relevant issues that impact students, families, and communities and spark engaging discussions about how to address those issues through evaluation.