- The Washington Times - Monday, May 1, 2006

PORTSMOUTH, Va. — Blue oceans and green continents: That is the simple view offered by a map hanging in an I.C. Norcom High School classroom.

The students ignore it. It is a dinosaur in an age of satellites and online technology.

Instead, the students’ eyes are trained on their laptop screens, where with a few clicks they can create maps that tell far more than just the boundaries of a country or the location of a major city.

Using digital mapping software, along with data gleaned from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the police department and the local board of elections, the Portsmouth juniors and seniors are tackling political, environmental and economic problems.

They are hunting down the intersections where drivers are likely to find police speed traps and calculating whether Disney World can support another Epcot Center or Norfolk a major league stadium.

“It’s pretty cool,” said Jerome Johnson, 18, a senior at Churchland High School who signed up for the class offered at Norcom after he saw an online satellite photo of his school’s courtyard.

Since then, he and his classmates have located photos of their own homes using Internet programs such as Google Earth.

Mapping software has been available for years and is used by many, including municipal planning departments and the military. Cars come equipped with Global Positioning System (GPS) devices. Some people use GPS units to participate in intricate scavenger hunts.

School divisions, however, are just tapping into the technology.

Portsmouth is the first division in South Hampton Roads to offer a digital mapping and geospatial course, and it could become a standard for schools across the state.

Last month, the Virginia Department of Education announced a statewide plan to train teachers on how to incorporate the technology into their class work.

“There’s a significant interest,” said Eric Rhoades, the state’s science coordinator for middle and high schools.

On a Friday, the state notified divisions about summer training opportunities. By the following Tuesday, Mr. Rhoades said, he had received 40 e-mails from teachers statewide.

“The feeling is that this is a really great opportunity to integrate technology with instruction in a really creative way,” Mr. Rhoades said.

In Portsmouth, high school students take the mapping class for three college credits through James Madison University.

The division plans to incorporate the technology all the way down to fourth grade when students start learning about watersheds, said Dan Lewandowski, the division’s secondary science specialist.

Students already are adept at using technology in their everyday lives, but training the teachers takes some time, Mr. Lewandowski said.

Division administrators say they hope the classes will produce skilled workers who can find jobs easily after they graduate from high school.

In 2003, the U.S. Department of Labor identified geospatial technology as one of 14 high-growth industries.

“It’s one of the hottest, exploding fields out there,” Mr. Lewandowski said. “I don’t want to get the straight-A honors student for this. I want to get the kid who doesn’t really know what they want to do. I’m providing an option for the student who isn’t the pure academic.”

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