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Where to Live?

Grades: 5-8
Author: Tess Ewart
View Student Lesson Plan


Module Description

Information analysis is a huge part of our lives. As a result of the presenter-conducted module, participants will explore various aspects of their world using a Geographic Information System in order to make decisions. Participants will design a lesson plan using GIS in their classroom.


  • Participants should be able to identify some of the types of spatial data found in a GIS.
  • Participants should be able to make associations between various GIS data layers.
  • Participants should be able to use a GIS to facilitate analysis and decision making.


GIS program (see Resources)


Large screen for computer presentation

Inventory of Residential Preferences handout

Lesson Plan Template



Ask participants, "Have you ever seen or eaten a Club sandwich? What are the layers of the Club sandwich?" (bread, mayonnaise, lettuce, bacon, tomato, bread…) The presenter may want to have an actual Club sandwich as a visual. Tell the participants, "Earth is like a Club sandwich. What are the layers of Earth?" (core, mantle and crust or core, mesosphere, asthenosphere, lithosphere) Tell participants that "GIS, Geographic Information Systems, are used in many aspects of daily life. GIS is like an Earth sandwich with each layer representing a set of data. GIS will go into greater detail about the layers of Earth than we just mentioned." Tell the participants, "A way to envision what can be included in a GIS database is if you can answer "yes" to the question, can it be mapped?" Ask the participants to "brainstorm what sort of information (layers) you could find in a GIS, what things can be mapped?" (Some general examples are the following: hydrology, topography, ecology, geology, land use, utilities, soil types, streets, land parcels, other human characteristics such as demographic or socioeconomic) Tell the participants to look at the layers that were brainstormed, classify and sort the layers into two groups - physical layers and human layers. (Physical layers are information about the natural features of an area. Human layers are facts about people, their structures, or their interactions with the land.)

Demo the GIS program for the participants. Have the participants use the GIS program to view your city or one nearby. Have participants identify different items on the map and classify each layer that is represented on the map as a type of information they brainstormed earlier. Have participants share their findings.

Assessment: Monitor participant ideas of layers, grouping of layers and classification of GIS program layers.


Tell the participants, "They can choose to live anywhere that they want in the United States. They have the support of friends and/or family for such a move and the money necessary to make it happen. They need to decide where to live." Have participants individually fill out the Inventory for Residential Preferences (see handouts). After filling out the inventory, participants should rank the major categories in order of importance to them. Once the participants have determined the categories that matter most to them, have the participants use the GIS program to determine a location that meets those requirements. Have the participants share with the class what was the most important category in determining where to live with their reasons why and the place(s) they ended up choosing.

Assessment: Resulting location where participants would like live.


Ask the participants, "what are the advantages and disadvantages of using a GIS in order to determine where to live? Include your reasons." (An example of an advantage would be the ease and speed of mapping their preferences, any disadvantages would depend on the GIS program used.)

Assessment: Discussion on the advantages and disadvantages in using GIS in decision making.


Have participants discuss ways that GIS improves our lives (see Additional Considerations), the limitations of technologies (cost, materials, etc.) and how science helps drive technology (see NSES Standard E).

Assessment: Discussion on technology in our lives.

Classroom Implementation

Have participants discuss ways that they could use GIS in their classroom settings.

  • Participants should complete a lesson plan template for a GIS lesson that addresses grade level content indicators for use in their classroom. See Lesson Plan Template handout.
  • Further and on-going collaboration among participants should be encouraged.


From Explore Your World with a Geographic Information System:

The use of computerized information is a growing part of everyday life. More and more people around the country and around the globe are plugging into geographic, social, economic, political, and environmental information to answer practical questions in their lives. The answers they find have relevance in their education, affect their business decisions, expand their understanding of the place they call home, and influence personal choices.

To explore this growing part of everyday life, people are using a range of electronic tools designed for acquiring, presenting, and interacting with information. One of these is called a geographic information system, better known as GIS. Basically, a GIS is a system designed for storing, updating, analyzing, displaying, and manipulating spatial data—information about places on the planet. This system uses the power of the computer to answer geographic questions by arranging and displaying all kinds of data about places in a variety of ways such as via maps, charts, and tables.

Maps are powerful tools. They help us plan trips ("Which roads will we drive to get to the Grand Canyon?"), find things ("Where in Texas are farms the smallest?"), and make decisions ("Based on the area's population growth, should we build another school?"). Possibly, most importantly, they help us imagine worlds. They help us envision people, places, things, trends, events, and other phenomena in ways that go beyond our individual locations and the immediate range of our five senses. Maps literally can guide, inform, and persuade us.

Science Standards

NSES Standard A: As a result of activities in grades 5-8, all students should develop abilities necessary to do scientific inquiry

  • Develop descriptions, explanations, predictions, and models using evidence.
  • Think critically and logically to make the relationships between evidence and explanations.
  • Use appropriate tools and techniques to gather, analyze, and interpret data.
  • Identify questions that can be answered through scientific investigations.

NSES Standard E: As a result of their activities in grades 5-8, all students should develop understandings about science and technology

  • Science and technology are reciprocal. Science helps drive technology, as it addresses questions that demand more sophisticated instruments and provides principles for better instrumentation and technique. Technology is essential to science, because it provides instruments and techniques that enable observations of objects and phenomena that are otherwise unobservable due to factors such as quantity, distance, location, size, and speed. Technology also provides tools for investigations, inquiry, and analysis.

NETS #6 - Technology problem-solving and decision-making tools

  • Students use technology resources for solving problems and making informed decisions.
  • Students employ technology in the development of strategies for solving problems in the real world.

NSES PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT STANDARD A: Professional development for teachers of science requires learning essential science content through the perspectives and methods of inquiry. Science learning experiences for teachers must:

  • Involve teachers in actively investigating phenomena that can be studied scientifically, interpreting results, and making sense of findings consistent with currently accepted scientific understanding.
  • Address issues, events, problems, or topics significant in science and of interest to participants.
  • Introduce teachers to scientific literature, media, and technological resources that expand their science knowledge and their ability to access further knowledge.
  • Build on the teacher's current science understanding, ability, and attitudes.
  • Incorporate ongoing reflection on the process and outcomes of understanding science through inquiry.
  • Encourage and support teachers in efforts to collaborate.

NSES PROFESSIONAL DEVELOPMENT STANDARD B: Professional development for teachers of science requires integrating knowledge of science, learning, pedagogy, and students; it also requires applying that knowledge to science teaching. Learning experiences for teachers of science must:

  • Connect and integrate all pertinent aspects of science and science education.

Best Teaching Practices

  • Use of Technology in Science Instruction

Time Frame

One day


Notify the participants in advance to bring their curriculum guide/map or textbook to facilitate their development of an implementation plan.

Depending on the GIS program used, the software may need to be installed on the computers the participants will be using prior to the start of the activity. Check out the GIS program prior to finalizing lesson plans since different GIS programs will have different features and layers.




Break the participants into groups of 3 (computer user, recorder, manager/reporter). Each group represents a successful businessperson and each is financially well off. Each has been eyeing the neighborhood around the school as the site for a new business or community service. Using GIS, the participants will choose one business or service that will be constructed in the neighborhood and give the rationale for where it will be located.

Explanation of Science

GIS (geographic information system) has various layers representing different sets of data. Some general examples are the following: hydrology - water patterns, topography - surface land features, ecology - interactions between vegetation and animal life, geology - subsurface land features, land use, utilities, soil types, streets, land parcels, other human characteristics such as demographic or socioeconomic. Layers can be sorted into two groups, physical layers and human layers. Physical layers are information about the natural features of an area. Human layers are facts about people, their structures, or their interactions with the land.


Inventory of Residential Preferences

See below for Lesson Plan Template.


Investigate how GIS programs are used in different occupations

Use GIS to provide evidence for plate tectonics

Lesson Implementation Template

Download Lesson Implementation Template: Word Document or PDF File


Issues to consider are the following: seating so everyone can see the display on the computer, make sure every person participates in discussions, and grouping with diversity in mind.


From Explore Your World with a Geographic Information System :

GIS is at work around the world and across your neighborhood. Here's a sample list of ways in which GIS touches everyday life:

  • Planning school bus routes based on student residences
  • Studying water consumption patterns in arid areas
  • Designing noise abatement buffer zones around an airport
  • Mapping current sewer service areas and projected need
  • Profiling present bank customers by branch office
  • Identifying telephone market territories across the country
  • Researching changing wildlife habitat in a national park
  • Modeling hurricane evacuation scenarios in a coastal city
  • Laying out neighborhood newspaper delivery routes
  • Analyzing patterns of toxic wastes in area soils
  • Documenting archaeological sites and findings

Viewing global vegetation cover from satellite images

Possible GIS programs:

My World GIS –PASCO Scientific, ArcView or ArcExplorer - ESRI programs, Google Earth – free program, Other Programs can be found at


Adapted from Explore Your World with a Geographic Information System from ESRI Schools and Libraries Program,