A COOL Summer

Hello Backyard Geographer readers! My name is Emily Speelman and I am the Social Media Intern for GSC for the 2016-2017 year. I’m excited to share what we’re doing at the Geographic Society with you. While I am new to this position, I’ve been working with the Geographic Society since June through a program called COOL Summer Learning Experience in Waukegan, IL.

COOL is a six-week program for kids ranging from 3rd to 8th grade that focuses on environmental science and teaching sustainable practices. The program’s goal is to enhance students’ skills in science and learn more about the environment around them. This summer’s theme was “Our Footprints on the Earth,” teaching students about their ecological footprint and how they can minimize their footprint through responsible utilization of resources such as soil, water, and air. There were usually 40-55 kids in attendance each day throughout the summer, split into three different classes (3/4, 5/6, 7/8).

My role at COOL was the GIS/GPS Intern. Two days a week, I helped plan and lead GPS-based activities. I worked closely with the teaching staff to show students how to use GPS units (Earthmate PN-40s), explain how GIS/GPS are used to study the environment, and execute GPS activities that expanded on their classroom material. After collecting data in the field, students brought it into ArcOnline to create maps showcasing their results. These maps were used not only for everyday classroom work, but also for their final program at the end of the summer.

We spent the summer studying a variety of topics and traveling throughout the surrounding area to study phenomena such as pollution, water quality, and neighborhood plant life. Some of my favorite projects we worked on were: collecting water samples at Bevier Park and Waukegan North Beach; walking around the neighborhood cleaning up and marking different types of litter; studying carbon footprints by country through ArcOnline; and visiting Illinois Beach State Park to collect soil samples. These projects connected information from the classroom into interactive, exciting projects to show students how ecological consciousness can be incorporated in their everyday activities. I loved spending one-on-one time with the students, getting to know them as they learned and grew this summer.

One of my key takeaway from this summer was how important GIS/GPS is for younger generations to learn. I was amazed at how enthusiastic and excited the students were about it: the students loved working in ArcOnline. They search through the maps, customizing them to properly show the data they collected. The students caught on quickly, often moving on to the next step of a project without needing guidance. The same goes for the GPS units. Since GSC has worked COOL for a few years, some third and fourth year students already had experience and were able to assist others when collecting data on site. They gladly accepted the work at hand and everyone got a chance to operate the units.

I had a great time working at COOL this summer. I was constantly amazed by the students’ ideas and willingness to work on class projects (even though it was their summer break!). Some of their final projects, data and maps created by students, can be seen below:

3rd/4th Final Project5th/6th Grade Final Project