When Mary O’Connor was faced with the task of coming up with a project for her Geospatial Semester class, she got her inspiration right outside her classroom window at Washington-Lee High School in Arlington, Va., she told an audience of about 14,000 people at the 2012 Esri International User Conference in July. She decided that she would use geographic information systems software to find out how the Washington, D.C., metro affects development.

O’Connor told conference attendees that she started by using a 3-D model to examine population in the area of a proposed metro line in 2010 and how it would change by 2020. She then used lidar to look at the relationship between impervious surfaces around metro stations and came to the conclusion that the proposed metro line would have negative environmental consequences.

Click on image to watch O’Connor’s presentation at the 2012 Esri User Conference. Source: Esri

“Through problem-based learning, I was able to see how GIS plays an important role in analyzing our environment and making decisions for future development,” O’Connor said during her presentation.

Washington-Lee High School is one of 16 in Virginia that participate in the Geospatial Semester program through a partnership with James Madison University. Students in the program take classes on geospatial technology at their high schools and earn credit from JMU. They also have the option of completing a project in which they use GIS software to study a local issue, according to the program’s website.

The projects students complete through the program are so realistic that the demos of O’Connor and her three classmates who also presented their projects at Esri’s conference were sorted among those of professional users, instead of being separated into a special student group, Esri’s GIS Education Community blog reported.

Click on the image for an enlarged view of O’Connor’s project. Source: M. O’Connor

O’Connor’s classmates’ projects that were presented at the conference include Albert Marquez’s, in which he used automated infrared processing and ArcGIS image classification tools to study wetlands. Noah Pitcham used ArcGIS to study sewer lines and city water.

“Students who do real life problem solving projects that help real people become very engaged in learning because their learning has a purpose,” Ryan Miller, the Washington-Lee teacher who taught O’Connor’s class, told the Esri International User Conference blog.

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