NIMA Volunteers Support Local Schools
By Rudi Williams
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Apr. 10, 2001 There's a lot of "fun 'n games" on the Internet for kids and their parents, compliments of DoD's National Imagery and Mapping Agency and NASA.
The Web sites are part of NIMA's School Partnership Program at five elementary schools in the Washington metropolitan area and St. Louis. The schools are Fort Belvoir (Va.) Elementary; West Elementary, Washington; Hutchison Elementary, Herndon, Va.; Hodgen Elementary, St. Louis; and Fox C-6 School District, Arnold, Mo.
Cartographers, aeronautical specialists, imagery analysts, geodesists and geospatial analysts and other NIMA professionals visit partnership schools to talk to students about the Earth's surface and how maps are made.
NIMA and NASA have Web sites featuring the Shuttle Radar Topography Mission from February 2000. In that joint project with the German and Italian space agencies, the space shuttle Endeavour spent 11 days mapping the world in three dimensions.
The NIMA Shuttle Radar Topography Mission Kids Page contains several games and puzzles and is at 184.108.40.206/srtmkids/games/index.html. NASA's SRTM site is at /www-radar.jpl.nasa.gov/srtm.
NASA has another Web site for youngsters, "The Space Place," which features "Make Spacey Things, Do Spacey Things, Space Science in Action and Dr. Marc's Amazing Facts." The site is at spaceplace.jpl.nasa.gov.
When NIMA volunteers visit schools, they break down geospatial information into language children can understand, said Sharon Smith of the NIMA Public Affairs Office in St. Louis. The office oversees the partnership program in St. Louis and the Washington area.
"We have a number of presentations for volunteers that are geared to particular grade levels and can be expanded to accommodate the level of understanding by a particular class," Smith explained.
For example, she said kindergartners through third graders are given a basic understanding of parts of a map. The scale of a map is discussed using a slide presentation and classroom activities.
"The activities include drawing maps of their street, their house and finally a map of their room," Smith said.
She said the transition from manual to computerized map-making is the focus of presentations for middle and high school students.
"Students are shown how geographic data stored in a computer can be used to make a variety of maps," she said. "The information is stored in the computer in files called 'layers.' Using specialized software, layers can be added or deleted depending on what the map is to show."
Joan Mears of the NIMA headquarters public affairs office in Bethesda, Md., said the Defense Mapping Agency started the school partnership program in 1987. It was continued when the agency became a part of NIMA in 1996. "During the 1999-2000 school year, 242 volunteers participated in the program agencywide," Mears noted.
A NIMA coordinator works with school officials in providing support during the year -- different schools have different needs, Mears said. "We have reading and tutoring programs and support geography bees, career days, science fairs, math and computer activities days, and spelling bees."
NIMA participated in Geographic Information Systems Day on Nov. 15, 2000, by sending volunteers to speak to children at local schools about geography and how mapping is changing, she said. The day is observed in conjunction with National Geography Awareness Week to showcase real-world applications of geographic information systems.
"We try to spark an interest in geography in the children rather than have them look at geography as something boring to memorize," Mears said. "These are the folks we will draw from someday. They're the future geospatial and imagery analysts."
Volunteers mentored 10 sixth graders from Washington's West Elementary and helped them with a project -- mapping an amusement park. They presented their work at the University of the District of Columbia on Geographic Information Systems Day in an event sponsored by a technology group from industry, academia and the government.
When Todd Stovall mentored the sixth graders from West Elementary, he introduced the children to geographic information systems, then let them decide what they wanted to do.
"They decided to develop an amusement park," said Stovall, a geospatial analyst at NIMA headquarters. "I walked them through the process, how to make a map, what a map is, and showed them some commercial images on a project board. They developed a lot of it on their own.
"They really enjoyed themselves, but they were disappointed that they were not actually going to develop Rock Creek Park (in Washington) into an amusement park," he said. "But they were excited to see their homes and school on aerial photography. They also enjoyed using the computers."
Stovall said the children were upset about him not returning after the project was over.
NIMA also has a school speaker program to handle the many requests they receive. Cartographers, geodesists, geospatial analysts and other NIMA specialists speak to children at elementary, middle and high schools.
"Last year, 110 military and civilian personnel spoke at schools in the Washington metropolitan and St. Louis areas," Mears noted.
After the Endeavour astronauts returned to Earth, they participated in four NIMA-sponsored visits to partnership schools to talk about their space experiences.
"We also showed the children videos from the SRTM mission and that mesmerized them," Mears noted. "One of the astronauts ended his talk with, "People at NASA today believe there's a child somewhere who will be the first one to walk on Mars.
"I saw this little boy turn to his friend and say, 'It's gonna be me!'" she said.
NIMA also sponsors a "Reading Buddies" program at the St. Louis partnership schools.
"The program has been wonderful for all involved," said Richard Egan, a volunteer at Hodgen School in St. Louis. "I feel that working with the students, knowing that somehow I've made an impact upon one's life, however slight, is very satisfying."
Livingstone Sykes, another Hodgen volunteer, said, "My student has made great improvements since the beginning of the year, especially in the word recognition area. I believe the biggest gain is in her confidence. The more she reads aloud, the better she is able to do it. I definitely believe the program is providing a great benefit."
Judy Packman said, "I've particularly enjoyed having a buddy who is learning English as a second language. For these kids it's not just a matter of learning to read, but also to speak and understand English."
"The improved reading results from this program are great," Donna Pekarek said. "The progress my student made within a short period is amazing."