Collaborative Research: Adapting and Implementing a Geospatial High School Course in Career and Technical Education Clusters in Urban Settings

Project: Research project

Project Details


This Successful Project Expansion and Dissemination (SPrEaD) project seeks to adapt and implement the successful Geospatial Semester (GSS) high school course within six career and technical education (CTE) clusters in the Chicago Public Schools, which is the third largest district in the United States. Geospatial Semester is year-long course for high school seniors in Virginia. The course focuses on developing geospatial problem-solving skills using state-of-the-art software and the application of those skills to extended local problems chosen by the students. The course is taught in the students’ high schools. Through dual enrollment at James Madison University (JMU) students receive guidance and support in the development of independent research. The efficacy of the GSS has been demonstrated in a variety of studies.  Participation in the GSS has been shown to improve students’ real-world spatial problem solving as well as their core spatial abilities as measured by cognitive assessments. These effects have also been measured at the neuropsychological level. When students engaged in spatial problem solving after the course they showed more brain activity in the spatial parts of the brain than before the course.

Intellectual Merit
At the core of GSS, is the development of spatial thinking, which plays a very important role in the learning and practice of STEM and CTE. Spatial skills are strongly predictive of achievement, persistence, and attainment in STEM fields, even after accounting for other relevant variables such as mathematical and verbal aptitude. In addition, the U.S. Department of Labor identified geospatial technologies as one of the three fastest growing technology sectors over the next decade. What is learned from this project about supporting spatial reasoning can be applied in a broad array of disciplines.

A primary goal of this project is to expand the reach of the GSS beyond the schools supported by James Madison. A new partnership has formed between Northwestern University, The Learning Partnership, the Chicago Public Schools, and the City Colleges of Chicago. Through a process of design-based implementation research, the partnership will adopt the core elements of the Geospatial Semester and adapt those elements for the context of Chicago. We will use a framework of Spread and Scale to investigate the strategies for spreading the course and the ways in which contextual factors influence the likelihood of success. The process of adapting the GSS on a large scale in an urban context can inform other urban centers on how to adapt GSS for their context.

Broader Impacts
Enhancing spatial thinking may be very important for increasing the access of women and girls to participation in STEM-related jobs. Reported sex differences in spatial reasoning that favor males have often been cited as one, of many, factors that contribute to the underrepresentation of women in STEM. However, this disparity can be overcome through the kind of spatial training offered in the GSS. About 1500 students graduate each year with CTE credentials in CPS. Around 1000 of those students graduate from clusters targeted by the GSS. More than half of those students are female. Roughly half of those students are Hispanic and around 40% are African American. Expanding the GSS to the CTE program in Chicago has the potential substantially contribute to the broadening of participation by members of underrepresented groups.
Effective start/end date1/15/1812/31/21


  • National Science Foundation (DRL-1759360)


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