American Migrations Project
Program Type:Research Project
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The American Migrations Project is a resource for teaching and research about African American and Latino migrations that have shaped American history. We work with Middle Schools and university faculty to create curriculum for teaching and learning about these migrations, using Geographic Information Systems (GIS) as an online resource in the classroom.
GIS historical census maps enable students to visualize population patterns as they change over time, and can be powerful tools for building spatial reasoning skills. Historical census maps can be used to develop deeper understandings of African American and Latino American history, making it possible for students to ask and answer their own questions about everyday people whose movements have shaped our shared history.
Our project builds on the work of educators at different grade levels – from 6th grade through college – who are developing new ways to teach historical thinking and spatial reasoning. Our research studies the ways GIS technologies can support these kinds of learning, helping us develop better curriculum and assessments for teaching with data visualization tools like GIS.
Over the next five years this website will share our curriculum units for Middle School and undergraduate social science projects studying these American Migrations, along with links to online, classroom-ready GIS census data tools. It will also share current research on spatial reasoning, historical thinking, and GIS technologies. Please browse the resources on this site, and contact us if you would like to share other resources or be part of the work we are doing.
Purpose: To study productive ways to teach history and spatial thinking with GIS, at the Middle School and undergraduate level, by developing, refining, and studying curriculum units on African-American and Latino American Migrations using historical census data in GIS maps.
Logic of the research: We know very little about effective teaching with GIS, and how teaching interacts with learning objectives, curriculum design, GIS design, and discourse processes in classrooms where GIS is being used. We can learn more by developing, teaching, and studying this American Migrations unit over time than by trying to study these things separately. The studies begin with design-based research in a small number of classrooms in the first two years; then eight case studies of instruction over the following two years; then a wider study of the effectiveness of the curriculum units in helping teachers accomplish the learning objectives, using curriculum-based assessments.
Our curriculum: We want to design curriculum units that have high cultural relevance in African American and Latino communities and schools, that give students opportunities to learn and practice historical inquiry. These units pair case studies of African American and Latino migrations. GIS maps with historical census data can be useful for our goals:
- they enable us to study (and question) who we are as people of the USA – rather than just famous names, or “social issues”;
- they give access to population distributions, including race and ethnicity, over time; and
- they can be used to reason spatially about these patterns, and to teach spatial reasoning.
We are designing middle-school and college units in tandem, in order to get a sense of learning trajectories for spatial reasoning across grade levels. The curriculum and assessments will be developed through a backward design process, working closely with teachers at both grade levels.
GIS tools: On-line, free, easy-access GIS tools will be used exclusively. The undergraduate unit will use Social Explorer, and the Middle School Design Team will look at possible activities using several available tools, such as GIS for History, Social Explorer, and/or Immigration Explorer. We will develop new features in GIS for History if it is determined to be useful, but will minimize the development of any new software for this study in order to stay focused on the affordances of existing tools.
- Learning Sciences Research Institute
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