Teacher resources and professional development across the curriculum

Teacher professional development and classroom resources across the curriculum

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Teaching Geography: Workshop 3

North America

Geographic Information Systems (GIS): Taking Mapmaking Further

Sample Map Image

True Geographic Information Systems allow mapmakers to layer data such as census information in order to discern spatial distribution patterns. Multiple layers allow geographers to see how different factors interact, to understand the relations between these factors, and to understand how they correlate. For example, is there any relation between income, education, and access to computer technology?

That question is one addressed by the Digital Divide. The term "Digital Divide" expresses the gap between people who have meaningful access to computers and the Internet and those who do not. This definition expands to include other digital disparity gaps, such as effective use of information, the ability for an information user to be more than a passive consumer, and the availability of relevant, useful, appropriate, and affordable content. While a consensus does not exist on the extent of the divide (and whether the divide is growing or narrowing), researchers are nearly unanimous in acknowledging that some sort of divide exists at this point in time. This gap can be viewed along socio-economic status and race/ethnicity lines.

GIS Mapping at Jordan High School

Students at Jordan High School, in the Watts section of inner-city Los Angeles, mapped the Digital Divide for Teaching to Change LA, part of a program of UCLA's Institute for Democracy, Education, and Access. Their teacher, Herschel Sarnoff, teaches GIS skills to his students as a means to engage them and provide skills they can use in future careers. He has been reaching out to the underprivileged students in this neighborhood for 30 years and is a tenacious proponent of providing informed computer access.


James Binko "Jordan High School is hardcore inner-city, incredible poverty here…we've got kids feeding in from the housing projects—just your classic inner-city neighborhood. This is it. The Watts Riots took place right out here in '65…Most of the kids are really good and they want to learn...if you can give them something they're interested in, and something that they can learn. GIS...the kids that come to class are totally fascinated by it and they'll sit here and they'll try and try and try. It's really encouraging for a teacher to see kids really involved with the work.

—Herschel Sarnoff, tenth-grade history and GIS teacher, Jordan High School, Los Angeles


First introduced to GIS in 1998, Herschel has educated himself on its use and created the GIS skills course at Jordan High School. The following maps were produced by Herschel's students using ArcView GIS software and were presented at the 2001 Digital Divide Conference held at UCLA. The students' objective was to create GIS layouts examining selected schools and their place in the Digital Divide: Which schools have access to computers and the Internet? This project gave students the opportunity to map the spatial dimensions of the Digital Divide and helped build their own understanding of technology's impact on economic success. The maps were created using data from three different sources: the U.S. Census, the California Department of Education, and surveys designed by Teaching to Change LA.

As you view the maps, consider these questions: What conclusions can you draw from individual maps? What conclusions about the Digital Divide can you draw from the maps as a whole?

Geographic Information Systems (GIS): Slideshow

Note: Click on the right side of the image to progress or the left side to go back. (6 slides)