Project Profile

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


This is a collaborative project submitted to the Successful Project Expansion and Dissemination (SPrEaD) strand of the Innovative Technology Experiences for Students and Teachers (ITEST) program (Program Solicitation NSF 17-565) to advance efforts to better understand and promote practices that increase student motivations and capacities to pursue careers in fields of science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM). The goal is to expand and disseminate strategies to support spatial thinking at the high school level by adapting and implementing the previously developed Geospatial Semester (GSS) one-year, dual-credit course focused on developing geospatial problem-solving skills and applying those skills to student-selected problems. GSS consists of introductory exercises to develop students' basic skills in using Geographic Information Systems (GIS) for analyzing spatial problems, supporting students in framing a meaningful problem from a spatial perspective, identifying and organizing relevant spatial datasets, analyzing their spatial data as evidence for proposing solutions for their problem, and making a public presentation of their results. GSS is currently taught in high schools in Virginia in partnership with James Madison University. At the core of GSS is the development of spatial thinking skills, which are strongly predictive of achievement, persistence, and attainment in STEM fields, even after accounting for other relevant variables, such as mathematical and verbal aptitude. Thus, the central purpose of the study is to adapt and implement the GSS high school course in six Career and Technical Education (CTE) clusters in the Chicago Public Schools (CPS). The project will select participants from identified groups currently underrepresented in STEM occupations. Through the GSS course, students will engage with relevant STEM, social science, and CTE topics that cut across multiple disciplines, and engage in relevant practices, including scientific data collection, analysis, modeling, and interpretation.

The project will adopt and adapt the core elements of the GSS for the context of Chicago CTE programs using a design-based implementation research (DBIR) approach. The study will use a framework of spread and scale to investigate the strategies for expanding and disseminating the course and the ways in which contextual factors influence the likelihood of success. It will address two research questions regarding whether, and how, the GSS can be adapted to the needs of a large, urban district teaching a variety of CTE-related skills: (1) How can large urban school districts develop the necessary infrastructure to implement GSS without the direct support of the developers?; and (2) Can we develop classroom-based assessments of spatial reasoning that have convergent validity with the research-based measures used in past research? To address the former, the project will partner with the City Colleges of Chicago to provide the dual enrollment credit, and engage in co-design with teachers to develop an implementation model that is tailored to CPS's CTE curriculum and supported by continuing professional development practices. To answer the latter, the project will engage in co-design with teachers to develop classroom assessments of spatial thinking and validate the extent to which they correlate with research-based measures. The project will use these assessments to investigate whether the adaptation of GSS in Chicago provides outcomes that are comparable to those of the established GSS implementations in Virginia. Data sources will include classroom observations, ratings of student work products, teacher interviews, student demographics, and growth in student performance on pretest and posttest assessments. A debriefing routine will be used to interpret what has happened and plan prospective events for the next implementation phase. A mixed-method approach will be employed to incorporate quantitative analysis of student learning. As DBIR research, the project will (a) form partnerships between researchers and practitioners focused on persistent problems of practice from multiple stakeholders' perspectives; (b) focus on the importance of spatial reasoning as foundational for STEM practice through a multi-stakeholder partnership of GIS educators, psychologists, implementation researchers, a large urban district and community college; and (c) develop capacity for sustaining change in systems through GSS teacher leaders and new courses in GIS at City Colleges of Chicago. The project will develop new co-designed curriculum materials through (a) pilot testing of materials (years 1-2); (b) field testing of materials (year 3) with emphasis on professional development, implementation research (to examine the extent to which the program is successfully implemented across a variety of school contexts), and analysis of field-test results; and (c) testing the integration of the professional development and course implementation into the CTE operations, including analysis of the validity and quality of spatial-thinking classroom assessments. The main outcome of this effort will be a high school GIS-focused CTE curriculum prototype developed through co-design processes, as well as DBIR focused on geospatial problem-solving. An external advisory board will provide ongoing, independent, and critical reviews of the implementation of the program to evaluate progress, both formative and summative.


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Principal Investigator(s)
Primary Contact


Award Number
1759371, 1759370, 1759360
Project Duration
2018 - 2023
The Learning Partnership, .
Project Work State
Target Gradespan(s)
High school (9-12)
Project Setting(s)
Formal Education
Geographic Location(s)
Project Status
Additional Target Participants
Students eligible for Free/reduced price lunch
Black or African American
Hispanic or Latino