High schoolers excel with dual-enrollment course

In a unique partnership between James Madison University and high schools across Virginia, nearly 3,000 students have earned college credit while learning geospatial technologies on their home campus through JMU's "Geospatial Semester" program.


 

In a unique partnership between James Madison University and high schools across Virginia, nearly 3,000 students have earned college credit while learning geospatial technologies on their home campus through JMU’s ‘Geospatial Semester’ program.

After working with over 34 high schools, the Geospatial Semester has developed a program that offers a break from the increasingly rigid structure of many high school classes by offering a flexible interdisciplinary approach where students can develop critical and spatial thinking skills while utilizing GIS software in a variety of fields.

Paul Rittenhouse, who manages the Geospatial Semester program alongside fellow JMU instructor Kathryn Keranen and Dean Bob Kolvoord, appreciates the impact the flexible design has on student learning.  “In this ‘Problem Based Learning’ environment, students get the chance to explore issues that relate to their community, current events or even their personal interests. In doing so, students stay excited and engaged throughout the year.”

The students learn about geospatial analysis, remote sensing, satellite imaging, and software at the beginning of their first semester. At the end of the first semester they begin to apply their knowledge to their final project, which they choose themselves.

For their final exams, students provide an oral defense in front of a panel of peers, teachers and JMU professors.  This June, the Geospatial Semester concluded its 10th year when the Integrated Science and Technology (ISAT) department hosted 180 students from nine participating high schools from Loudoun County, Virginia.

This was the first time they traveled to the university to present. “This year, we decided that it would be more meaningful for the students—and easier for the JMU staff—to present their final projects on campus as a culminating event to the Geospatial Semester,” said Michael Wagner, geographic Information systems lead teacher for LCPS.

Presenting at JMU makes the event more professional, added Odette Scovel, science supervisor at Loudoun County Public Schools (LCPS).

“It gives them exposure to the university environment,” she said, “and it feels much more special if they’re leaving their hometown.”

In addition to building spatial thinking and project management skills, the Geospatial Semester helps students as they transition to higher education or the workplace.  The presentations give the students practice in communicating project results and defending their work to professionals. They have to find data sets, assimilate them, and communicate the importance of their findings. 

“The kids have so much contact with our university partners but work the way professionals do,” said Odette Scovel, science supervisor at Loudoun County Public Schools (LCPS).

 “We are proud of the fact that our students leaving the course are employable...many of which look for and receive paid and unpaid internships directly out of high school,” said Wagner.  

The Loudoun faculty hopes to offer the Geospatial Semester in all 15 Loudoun County high schools by 2016-2017.

“I am amazed at how quickly Geospatial Technology has become a vital skill in the workforce,” said Wagner, “and I'm happy to be leading Loudoun County Public Schools in efforts to give students a chance to obtain this skill that they will surely use in the future.”

Published: Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Last Updated: Wednesday, March 16, 2016

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