When teacher and resident GIS expert Vince Wray left Shelley High School, in Shelley, Idaho, in 1994, science teacher Mike Winston was, as he put it, "up the creek." The two had constructed a projects-based science course in which students identified and solved actual community problems.

Wray was the GIS teacher, while Winston covered general science. The two also helped establish summer sessions of the course at the Idaho National Engineering and Environmental Laboratory (INEEL), in nearby Idaho Falls.

Although his experience with ArcView was limited, Winston knew the value of GIS as a teaching tool. He saw the excitement in students learning to use it, and was convinced the technology could make any subject interesting. The challenge was to find a way to continue teaching it.

Student Mentoring Program

"My best option was to develop a student mentoring program in which experienced GIS students would teach the basics to beginners," Winston said. The idea was a winner.

The program, now in its fifth year, has opened career doors many students had not thought possible. For others, it has been an exciting medium for exploring career interests. Despite a professed "rudimentary understanding" of GIS, Winston later developed new curricula and lesson plans incorporating ArcView into a broad range of applications. To ensure support for the program, he wrote grants making it possible to pay former students to return and teach part time.

Professional guidance came from Gene Heaton, senior GIS analyst at INEEL and owner of DG Associates, an AutoCad/GIS training and applications consulting firm in Idaho Falls. Winston and Wray met Heaton in 1994 during a training program at INEEL, and enlisted his help in promoting GIS at the high school. "He has been an incredible resource," Winston said. "He also introduced us to Charlie Fitzpatrick at ESRI, who supplied us with software, technical information and a lot of encouragement."

"Gene has been our mentor and troubleshooter," added Jessica Winston, now a part-time teacher's aide in her father's science class. "When we run into problems, Gene helps us work through them. If we don't have the software we need, we take our work to him and he uses his system to get the data for us."

Several students who learned ArcView from their peers went on to teach others and work on projects for local government agencies. They developed GIS tutorials and created innovative programs as part of their work in other classes, including English, history, math and geography.

They made class presentations of their work in those subjects. Students also developed their own projects. One student's project was submitted to Geo Challenge, the National Geographic-ESRI-sponsored competition that rewards excellence in independent geographic research by students in grades nine through 12.

Students Creating Tutorials

Student teachers recognized that the tutorials packaged with ArcView did not hold the interest of beginners, so they created their own. Jessica Winston, then a senior, wrote explanations of the different functions of ArcView and how they worked. Another student, Cassie Searle, created a tutorial for beginners; a game in which users decipher a series of clues leading to the identity of countries and cultures around the globe.

The goal is to find and stop "Duke Nucem," an elusive international terrorist threatening to blow up the world. The process takes the beginner through many of the basic steps and functions of ArcView. Since its creation, the program become one of the introductory GIS tutorials in Winston's science class. Students intending to do in-depth projects also use the ArcView tutorials

After learning ArcView last January from Searle, Chris Bohman, a junior, developed another GIS tutorial that teaches elements of math, geometry, geography and geology. Users are given the speed of waves generated by an earthquake, and their respective arrival times