Connecting Students Through Education and Technology

This project kickstarts development of an interdisciplinary program of study at Columbia Falls High School that combines fieldbased investigation, geospatial technologies—including Geographic Information Systems (GIS) and Global Positioning Systems (GPS), and NPS-based mentoring in both science and technology. Modeled after a similar and very successful effort at Whitefish High School, this project uses visually engaging technology coupled with field studies within Glacier to inspire and provide students with career development experience using Glacier as their learning laboratory.

Park staff will mentor staff and students in the use of GIS and GPS tools, using lesson plans developed through a 2013 GNPC grant. Students will work on projects inside Glacier that will allow them to gain experience using GPS as a data collection device in building geodatabases of information. Land cover change related to fire will be the focal project, helping park ecologists understand vegetation response to varying levels of burn severity.

This program is emerging as a National Park Service model, providing hands-on, leading-edge technical skills training and career development opportunities for students. Applying technology to teach park management topics in the classroom will help to build the next generation of park scientists.

Students from the Columbia Falls HS Field Ecology class took a field trip with Forest Service silviculturalist Amanda Smiley. They worked on a Forest Service project area, collecting tree data, that Amanda and the Flathead National Forest are currently analyzing for future management action. These forest lands border Glacier National Park and are of importance to park managers in both public lands.

Students visited areas previously burned by the Crystal Fire in 1984, the Roberts Fire in 2003, and a burn in the Marias Pass area in 1910 to collect field data to help them understand and analyze landscape disturbances that are shaping the park landscape and ecology.