Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Virginia Middle School Students View the Earth’s Surface in Time and Space

By Tammy Parece, Geographic Society at Virginia Tech

On Saturday, February 25, 2012, VirginiaView, and the Virginia Geographic Society participated in Kid’s Tech University (KTU). Kid’s Tech University is a program at Virginia Tech with one primary goal: creating the future workforce in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) by sparking kids’ interest in these fields. KTU, active at Virginia Tech since 2009, invites middle school students from across the Commonwealth to participate in a university research experience. Geographic Society Members have participated on an individual basis in the past, but 2011 is the year we decided to be involved as a Society.

The title of our program was Looking Down is Looking Up: Why do we work with aerial photography? The GIS portion of the program was designed by Dr. John McGee, Associate Professor and Geospatial Extension Specialist, Department of Forestry and Environmental Conservation, and a leader of the VirginiaView program, and has been presented by John at KTU over the past three years. This year, John asked if the Geographic Society could provide the manpower for the event and members jumped at the chance to support student research experience. Geographic Society Members have participated on an individual basis in the past, but 2011 is the year we decided to be involved as a Society.

The program introduced participants to applications of some common geospatial tools - geographic information systems (GIS), global positioning systems (GPS), and remote sensing, to provide these young minds with a new understanding of the earth. In this activity, the students used GIS to identify changes on the earth’s surface. They also examined aerial photography from three different time periods (1962, 2002, and 2008). The students explored, estimated, and measured general changes in land use during these periods. Our display was the first one the students saw when they walked through the door of the Lane Stadium West Club Box. 

At our first table, we had two laptops with GIS programs running. The students were shown how to display the different layers in GIS, zoom in and zoom out to obtain different scales, and view the changes between aerial photos of the New River Valley Mall area. Students were awed at the changes between 2002 and 2008, but flabbergasted when they saw 1962. In most instances when they saw these 1962 aerial photos, they commented “nothing is there.” When they looked closer, they were able to identify farm fields, trees, streams, and the VPI Horticulture Research Center which was located on land now occupied by a strip mall.

At our second table, Dr. James Campbell, Professor, Department of Geography, introduced students to applications of stereovision in the analysis of aerial imagery introduced students to applications of stereovision in the analysis of aerial imagery. On a portable light table students could look at a glass plate of a 1968 aerial photo of Chicago and a 1980s high-altitude color infrared aerial photograph depicting the Roanoke, Virginia metropolitan region. Using a large mirror stereoscope, students could examine coastal landforms near a Minnesota Lake, using stereoscopic capability to see subtle variations in landforms and vegetation cover.
At our third table, participcants could view episodes of the Geospatial Revolution, a video series that introduces key applications of geospatial technologies in today’s world. We discovered that parents were not the only ones extremely interested in this video - many of the middle school students could not believe the capabilities of geospatial technologies, and their significance for our society.

Observing these kinds of changes helps us understand how landscape changes influence our local communities and environments. The activity was co-sponsored by VirginiaView, a state level organization within AmericaView, a national consortium that focuses on research, outreach to K-12 and community college educational communities, and distribution of imagery to a spectrum of users at state and local levels.

At the end of the day, we were thanked by VBI officials, including Dr. Kathleen O’Hara and Dr. Reinhard Laubenbacher. They told us that they were looking forward to our participation again next year. We let them know that we are participating in the next KTU event scheduled for Saturday, March 25. The theme for that KTU session is Health, Nutrition, Biomedical Engineering, and Medicine. They asked how we could participate in such diverse topics from session to session, an insight that highlights the essence of Geographic inquiry, which seeks to illuminate interrelationships between the physical and human worlds.