Students Map the Effectiveness of Local Government
It seems that everyone likes to complain about the effectiveness of local government. Citizens want to know exactly what their elected officials are doing with their tax dollars. How is local government helping residents of their community? But how is the average citizen supposed to find out?
At Westinghouse Tech H.S. in Brooklyn, NY, the seniors in Kristen Tompeck’s U.S. Government class came up with an answer. Using basic mobile devices (smart phones) and readily-available online applications, they created something they called the Geoproximity Project — a series of online maps that graphically illustrate how local government is active (or not) in their communities. With their work they showed how mobile devices, online communications, and a study of political systems could be combined to encourage better citizen awareness and activism.
Tompeck developed the semester-long class project with the media professionals from NLI’s New York City Innovation Center, located in the same campus as Westinghouse High School. They divided the class into six teams of four students each. Each team was responsible for researching and collecting data, evaluating and presenting their findings for a city council district in the borough of Brooklyn. The districts were Coney Island, Crown Heights, Brooklyn Heights, Flatbush, and Bushwick.
Their goal was to identify and map three categories of data, using Nokia smart phones and Google Maps to record their findings. Each item was recorded as a place marker on the map of their district. The three types of place markers were:
1. The District, which included a general overview of the district, including demographics, brief history, and points of interest.
2. The District Council Member, placed at the council member's office, and including general information about the council member, a link to his/her webpage, and an original photo taken by the students.
3. Local government initiatives, showing the location of projects or other government funded works in progress. Students were tasked with finding five to seven projects in each district.
For each category of place marker, the students used their smart phones to take digital photos, and in some cases to record audio or video interviews with the public. They also wrote text to accompany each place marker. These media elements integrated into the online maps built with Google Maps.
Learning to Poll
In addition to building the maps, the student teams used a web-based application called PollEverywhere as a survey tool. The application allows users to construct a poll that can be answered online, through text messaging, or on Twitter. The poll was used by the class to evaluate the project and their final presentations.
The Geoproximity Project is a good example of the way NLI uses project-based learning to integrate digital media and mobile technology with existing curriculum. Working with faculty members, this methodology leads to innovative programs that help young people gain new skills and understanding while unleashing their own natural curiosity and creativity.