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He finally hears something, jerks awake, and sees it looking at him with an unblinking digital eye. A horrified look spreads over his face ....
Then he hears group laughter in an adjoining room.
The "probe" actually is a remote-controlled toy truck with a digital camera strapped on board. Stickers on the pickup proclaim "Carnivore," and the controllers of this not-so-nefarious device, which transmits what it "sees" to a big screen in the next room, are a group of Montana teachers attending a technology workshop at Carroll College in Helena.
is a teaching tool used by UM's Earth Observing System Education Project,
a NASA-supported organization that trains educators and students nationwide
to use remotely sensed images -- especially those from NASA satellites.
"The Carnivore is a great teaching tool," says Doug Beed, director of the EOS Education Project. "We try to teach using things that people know about, since research fairly strongly supports that we learn best using something we are already familiar with."
Beed was an educational psychologist in UM's School of Education for 20 years before joining the EOS project. Along with Assistant Director Jeff Crews, a former junior high school science teacher and technology director at Lolo Elementary School, he leads nine full- and part-time employees who spread the gospel of practical, everyday applications for high-tech NASA imagery.
Now in its fifth year, the EOS Education Project is a spinoff from UM's Numerical Terradynamic Simulation Group, which created software for NASA's Earth Observing System environmental satellites.
Montana U.S. Sen. Conrad Burns was instrumental in garnering federal funding for an educational center at UM that would train both natural resource managers and educators to use EOS imagery. In 2000 the teacher-training component of the project was moved to UM's School of Education as part of the Division of Educational Research and Service.
"It was probably a better fit for the project given that our emphasis is on teachers and kids," Beed says. "There is an enormous amount of NASA data available to people, if we can teach them to make sense of it. So that's what we do."
The EOS Education Project works to bring NASA imagery into everyday classrooms. It hosts free workshops for teachers and students, training them to use digital data and GIS -- geographic information systems. Beed says that during the last three years their outreach already has worked its way into 180 Montana schools, and EOS employees give presentations at national education, technology and science conferences across the nation.
"Doug and I have both taught before, so we know what it's like in the classroom," Crews says. "It's great to have all this technology, but you have to be able to use it in a normal school environment."
The EOS educators believe in a hands-on approach during their workshops. With a state-of-the-art flotilla of 30 wireless laptop computers, they get people manipulating digital imagery right away -- generally using ArcView GIS software and similar applications. During a typical training session, they might view and overlap data layers that show how Russia's Aral Sea is shrinking, the ranges of various missiles coming from Baghdad or the surging urban sprawl of Las Vegas.
"The real powerful part of all this is being able to look at relationships between different sets of imagery," Crews says. "We can use data layers to look at trends and analyze certain environmental situations -- in-depth types of things."
They always try to take a community-based approach with their workshops, so if several Stevensville students come in for training, they will see high-resolution satellite and aerial images of their town, school and the surrounding area. Soon comments are heard such as "Wow! There's my house" or "There's daddy's storage shed." Crews says watching the enthusiasm build among kids is extremely rewarding.
"I love kids and science, and this job really melds those two pieces together," he says. "Everybody kind of dreams of being an astronaut or somehow being affiliated with NASA, and being able to do that has been great for me."
Dan James, a technology coordinator from rural Trout Creek School who attended training at UM, says, "To have our kids experience this sort of training is great. This kind of foundation will help them with anything they do in the future."
GIS is a fast-growing field. Beed says there are between 90,000 and 100,000 people who are GIS-trained in the world today, but in 10 years the United States alone will need an estimated 1 million workers just for its own needs.
To help meet this growing demand, the EOS project offers three online GIS courses, which may lead to a certificate in GIS competency. So far more than 300 people have taken the course, and Beed says they are probably the best courses available for meeting the GIS needs of America's teachers. They recently had a Montana high school student who took three of the courses before going on to college.
Beed says the project uses an outside evaluator to contact educators who have taken EOS workshops to see if they actually put what they learn to use.
"Not only do we get good evaluations from our training," he says, "many of the schools our surveyor talked to -- a very high percentage -- do in fact use the technology on a daily basis with their kids."
Crews says they conduct workshops for everyone from kindergartners to college students and retirement-age teachers. As an example, they recently completed a Safe Schools Project in Lolo, in which kindergarten students were paired with fifth-graders on a project to find the safest route to school. This can be a challenge in a community bisected by Highway 93 and 20,000 vehicles per day.
"We developed a project for kids to go out, count traffic, use imagery, overlay data layers and come up with conclusions," Crews says. "As part of this we printed out huge aerial maps of the Lolo community -- 46 inches by 5 feet tall -- and laid them on the ground. The kids came in and were literally crawling around on these giant maps. These kids interact with their environment from 4 feet and under, and we gave them the perspective of being way up high; and the fifth-graders helped them find the best way to school. It was really cool."
The EOS project also excites learning using the Lewis and Clark Expedition as a teaching tool, which is timely since the Corps of Discovery bicentennial is now under way. EOS' Lewis and Clark Project uses high-tech NASA imagery to describe the historic trek, and resources about the epic journey are available online at www.lewisandclarkeducationcenter.com.
"Lewis and Clark give us a context for bringing in remotely sensed data and GIS," Crews says. "We set the stage by showing people what it was like 200 years ago using journals, historic maps and scholarly interpretations. But then the real power comes into play when we send students and teachers into the field, marking a spot and comparing the data between then and now. What happens is the students become producers of information, and they can analyze their data to better understand the changes that have happened in the last two centuries, good or bad."
Beed says, "We really think the applicability of the things we teach is almost universal. The use of this imagery is limited only by the imagination of the user."
-- By Cary Shimek