Author: Susan Lindell Radke

GEODESY: An Educational Series for Youth


Berkeley Geo-Research Group (BGRG), in collaboration with NASA's Commercial Remote Sensing Program (CRSP), is developing a comprehensive and integrated application of remote sensing and geographic information systems for K-12 schools. This application, GEODESY, (Geographic Development: An Educational Series for Youth) is designed to bring the power and intelligence of the well-established spatial information industry into the K-12 school arena. The major components of GEODESY are remote sensing and GIS software built upon Esri's ArcView 2.1 product, a customized local data set, and a curriculum-based graphical user interface designed in accordance with the 1994 Geography for Life Standards.1 This interface focuses on integrating earth's physical and human systems to provide a complete geography environment for grades 4, 8 and 12. Funding through NASA's EOCAP '94 program enabled BGRG to focus on a two year pilot study for the development of GEODESY.


GEODESY is a program which provides a digital environment for teachers and students to study Earth's systems in accordance with the Geography for Life: National Geography Standards. It uses Esri's ArcView 2.1 software as its GIS engine, and enhances its capabilities with a series of external programs to do image processing and environmental decision-making. It is based on the use of local data to enable the user to explore the physical and human systems in his/her own community, and then to study the spatial relationships between them. The GEODESY KnowledgeBase provides on-screen documentation about the basic geographic systems (Atmosphere, Lithosphere, Hydrosphere, Biosphere, Human Movement and Settlement, Cultural Mosaic, Economic Activities and Political Divisions) to assist the user in understanding the dynamics of these systems.

GIS and Remote Sensing Components

GEODESY uses ArcView 2.1 as its GIS engine. As an ArcView developer, BGRG has modified ArcView's default interface using it's Avenue programming language. The modified interface allows the user to load and view digital data by choosing designated icons and menu selections designed within a curriculum context around the basic geographic systems.

ArcView's image viewing and enhancement capability is extended by the integration of a set of select image processing utilities, to include pixel value identification and classification tools. These tools enable students to recognize landscape features that are not easily distinguishable in images, or beyond the visible spectrum.

The "marriage" of these two utilities provides a complete spatial information toolkit for students to use in the study of their environment. This toolkit provides the vehicle through which students capture information about landscape features and represent it in a graphical environment.

Customized Local Data Set

Data is a critical component of any study of the environment. Local data is a vitally important element in harnessing and maintaining student interest.2 Introducing the tools and concepts of remote sensing and GIS to a student is expected to have greater impact when done through the study of his/her local community. Familiar landscape features and patterns enable the connection between conceptual theory and reality.

GEODESY is constructed to integrate local data sets providing plan views of each school and vicinity using the application. A template has been developed to quickly identify data needs to fit the integrated curriculum. This template is constructed as a matrix to cross-reference data theme, type, source and cost with the appropriate geographic system identified in the Geography for Life Standards. Examples of some of the data themes include meteorology, geology, soils, topography, water bodies, wetlands, wildlife habitat, vegetation, ecoregion, transportation, land use, population, economic activities and political boundaries. Data types include aerial and digital images from airborne and satellite sensors, and digital geographic themes converted to ArcView shapefile format from ArcInfo, USGS DLG's, and TIGER data from the US Census.

Curriculum-based Graphical User Interface

The "heart" of GEODESY is its curriculum-based graphical user interface (GUI) designed in accordance with the Geography for Life Standards. The initial objective of the interface is to enable teachers and students to explore the basic geographic elements within a digital environment. The long term objective is to encourage the use of spatial tools to answer geographic questions about how we manage and use the resources within their environment. The modified ArcView environment establishes an ease of use at the appropriate level for educators and students to effectively interact with digital geographic data without the excess burden of learning tedious computer systems and functions.

The components of the GEODESY GUI include:

Tools: Educators and students are introduced to the tools used to study the environment. Aerial photographs, digital images, and digital maps of the local area are viewed and studied by using the following tools:

Air Photo Browser:
Ground view photographs and sample graphic elements are linked to features in images to establish the connection between the more familiar ground view and less familiar plan, or overhead, view.

Satellite Imagery:
An image processing tool is available for basic image enhancement and interpretation.

GIS Toolkit
Views and descriptions of basic information and concepts regarding digital geographic data.

Definition information on all tools and elements is stored in a textual database, the GEODESY KnowledgeBase, and accessed throughout the application from the menu bar.

Elements: After interactively studying the use of aerial photographs, digital images, and digital maps, the educators and students uses them to explore the basic elements of the physical and human systems in his/her local environment. In accordance with the Geography for Life Standards, the physical systems include the Atmosphere, Lithosphere, Hydrosphere and Biosphere. The human systems include Human Movement and Settlement, the Cultural Mosaic, Economic Activities and Political Divisions.

Each element is viewed through an ArcView graphical screen where images and coverages are added, filtered and/or removed from the viewer. The objective of this exercise is twofold: first, to familiarize users with the individual elements themselves, their attributes and distribution in the local community; and second, to familiarize users with the process of using digital data to study these elements.

Geographic Relationships
Educators and students can use GEODESY to explore how two or more geographic elements relate on the landscape. A fundamental component of any study of geographic phenomena is how it is distributed in the environment. The reason for its spatial distribution is not always evident without concurrent study of landscape patterns of other geographic phenomena. For example, it is difficult, if not impossible, to understand the spatial distribution of population density in a particular region without studying these data along with data of elevation or floodplains.

Three basic forms of geographic relationships are supported:

Geographic Decisions: (In development as of 4/96)
Building upon the knowledge of geographic elements and their spatial relationships, educators and students begin making decisions about how to best manage and use the resources within their environment. The Site Suitability Tool will enable users to scan the landscape via the digital GIS screen to gather information regarding suitability for a selected land use. The suitability criteria is built via a matrix template associating the value of geographic elements with respect to particular land uses. For example, steep slopes have high value in a recreation area if hiking is the primary use, but have low value if baseball is the primary use. This matrix enables the user to navigate through this exercise by way of a systematic decision-tree structure to determine if a site is in compliance with the selected use's requirements, do not comply, or are within marginal compliance.

The final outcome of this exercise is the identification of a suitable location that meets the requirements of a selected land use. The students complete the exercise with a comprehensive understanding of the complexity and interdependence of the issues and geographic elements fundamental to land use planning and site suitability studies, as well as a proficiency in the use of spatial information technologies.


The development of GEODESY encompasses a two-year project plan supported by a co-funding arrangement between BGRG and NASA. The "Earth Observations Commercial Applications Program (EOCAP) is a NASA-sponsored partnership with US businesses in applied remote sensing research and technology, practical product-process-service development, and customer-centered innovation."3 The goal of the program is to expand "the opportunities for the entire US spatial information industry into information service markets which include, among others, environment, urban mapping, natural resources and infrastructure applications."4

Year One

The development phase of the GEODESY project spans a two year period. The first year of the project (April 1995-March 1996), involves the direct development and programming of the software application, data acquisition and integration, and school distribution plan. During this first year, a full-scale survey of 3,000 teachers associated with the Geography Alliance network in 19 states nationwide was undertaken to gauge the level of interest, experience and expertise in K-12 GIS and remote sensing.

Year Two

The second year of the project (April 1996-March 1997) focuses on testing the application prototype and interactively formulating a curriculum scope with direct input from selected educators and students. Initial testing is taking place at four school sites: Grade 4 at Sleepy Hollow Elementary School in Orinda, California; Grade 8 at Our Lady of Lourdes School in Slidell, Louisiana; Grade 12 at Andrew Jackson High School in Chalmette, Louisiana; and a Grade 4 home school site in Carriere, Mississippi. This initial round of testing is the first step in bringing the teachers and students into the development process. The version of GEODESY delivered to these four schools (Beta1.1) contains the Tools, Elements and Relationships environments for the teachers and students to explore. It does not contain any specific curriculum guidelines or lesson plans. The objective of this first phase is to have the teachers and students familiarize themselves with this digital geography environment, and to consult with them on ways that it can be effectively integrated into the existing curriculum scope to enhance or modify it.

Once the recommendations and reviews of Beta1.1 are integrated into GEODESY, further testing will take place at selected Geography Alliance Summer Institute programs, and designated school sites in California, Pennsylvania and New York. This first iteration will contain the final tool for geographic analysis, as well as more specific curriculum guidelines.


The scope of GEODESY is meant to be means to an end, rather than an end in itself. The curriculum interface designed with the application enables educators and students to learn about the tools employed to study the environment, and to use them to study the basic physical and human elements of their community. Once accomplished, they have a foundation from which to direct their own studies using this information and technology.

An enriched understanding of one's environment springs forth when a balance is struck between environment and society. This balance can only be achieved when information is available, understood and used to make appropriate decisions about how environment and society coexist. The effective introduction and use of contemporary spatial information tools, such as GIS and remote sensing, provides the framework through which today's students can achieve that balance. It is expected that GEODESY will provide this framework so that the next generation of decision makers will have an intuitive sense of the interaction between environment and society and can answer relevant questions about where they are, why they are there and how they can enhance the quality of life in their communities, and ultimately, in our world.

1. Geography for Life: National Geography Standards, 1994, Geography Education Standards Project.
2. Klieg, P. 1995, "Using Inquiry to Enhance the Learning and Appreciation of Geography," Journal of Geography, Vol. 94, No. 2, pp.358-367.
3. EOCAP'94 Cooperative Agreement Notice, CAN SSC-01-94.
4. Ibid.

Susan Lindell Radke
Berkeley Geo-Research Group
51 Crest View Drive
Orinda, CA 94563
Telephone 510-254-0951
Fax 510-254-0955