Rubino-Hare, L. A., Whitworth, B. A., Bloom, N. E., Claesgens, J. M., Frederickson, K. M., Henderson-Dahms, C., Sample, J. C. (2016). Persistent teaching practices after geospatial technology professional development. Contemporary Issues in Technology and Teacher Education, 16(3).

Persistent Teaching Practices After Geospatial Technology Professional Development

by Lori A. Rubino-Hare, Northern Arizona University; Brooke A. Whitworth, Northern Arizona University; Nena E. Bloom, Northern Arizona University; Jennifer M. Claesgens, Weber State University; Kristi M. Fredrickson, Northern Arizona University; Carol Henderson-Dahms, Southwest Evaluation, Inc.; & James C. Sample, Northern Arizona University


This case study described teachers with varying technology skills who were implementing the use of geospatial technology (GST) within project-based instruction (PBI) at varying grade levels and contexts 1 to 2 years following professional development. The sample consisted of 10 fifth- to ninth-grade teachers. Data sources included artifacts, observations, interviews, and a GST performance assessment and were analyzed using a constant comparative approach. Teachers’ teaching actions, beliefs, context, and technology skills were categorized. Results indicated that all of the teachers had high beliefs, but their context and level of technology skills strongly influenced their teaching actions. Two types of teachers persisting in practices from professional development were identified:  innovators and adapters.  Persistence of practice and implementation of the integration of GST within PBI must continue after professional development ends, or the sustainability of the positive results experienced during the professional development will not persist.

A common goal of professional development (PD) is to improve teachers’ skills, understanding, and pedagogical practices in order to impact student learning (Wallace, 2009; Yoon, Duncan, Lee, Scarloss, & Shapley, 2007). However, no simple input-output model exists; there are many mediating factors between what teachers experience during PD and how it is translated into student learning experiences in the classroom (Desimone, 2009; Guskey, 2002; Whitworth & Chiu, 2015).

Often, evaluation efforts of technology education PD document implementation of pedagogical practices during the life of the program, but little is known about whether these practices persist once the programmatic supports end (Baker et al., 2015; Lawless & Pellegrino, 2007). Recently, a proposed geospatial technology (GST) and learning research agenda suggested the identification of the technological, pedagogical, and content knowledge required for teachers to implement and use GST as a priority for the field moving forward (Baker et al., 2015).

The current study begins to address this priority. The purpose of this research was to determine what pedagogy persisted following a PD institute with project-based instruction integrating GST and what factors promoted or hindered sustained implementation of these practices.

Project Based Instruction

Project based instruction (PBI) is a teaching method designed to promote students’ development of 21st-century competencies (critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and creativity; Partnership for 21st Century Learning, 2015) through a collaborative, structured inquiry of an engaging and complex question, problem, or challenge (Krajcik, Blumenfeld, Marx, & Soloway, 1994; Larmer, Ross, & Mergendoller, 2009). PBI also requires engagement in the practices of science, which translates into a deeper learning experience (National Research Council [NRC], 2012). Many GST-integrated PD programs have promoted the use of PBI integrated with GST (e.g., Bodzin, Anastsio, & Kulo, 2014; Kolvoord, Charles, & Purcell, 2014).

Professional Development for Geospatial Technologies

GST is a powerful tool to support spatial thinking, scientific research, and real-world problem solving (NRC, 2006; Sinton & Lund, 2007). Teachers who utilize GST within student-centered practices in their classrooms provide opportunities for students to engage in data collection, analysis, and argumentation based on evidence (MaKinster & Trautmann, 2014).

PD is a critical component in the overall success of teachers’ development of practices that will lead to effective implementation of science and technology in an authentic environment. Developing science content understanding, the intellectual capabilities of their students, and specialized pedagogical knowledge requires specialized PD focusing on the core ideas in the discipline and modeling of how teachers should present the material to their students (NRC, 2007).

Koehler and Mishra (2005) stressed the need for authentic, project-based PD activities to help teachers develop this knowledge of how to teach content with technology effectively. To teach effectively with GST, teachers must build their knowledge, skills, and practices before they can implement lessons with students and realize instructional changes that ultimately lead to student learning gains (Desimone, 2009; Guskey, 2000). In addition, PD must help teachers integrate knowledge of GST into their existing schema (Coulter, 2014; Kolvoord et al., 2014).

As technology has been infused into most schools, and with greater accessibility of GST tools such as ArcGIS online and Google Earth, teachers can now focus on more sophisticated, student-centered technologies. In order to provide teachers with effective PD around GST and PBI, facilitators should immerse teachers in a real-life problem which involves the examination of spatial data (Borko, 2004; Loucks-Horsley, Love, Stiles, Mundry, & Hewson, 2003). As teachers grapple with spatial data to resolve a problem, they are able to experience many of the same issues and struggles students encounter.

By becoming a learner of the content via immersion in inquiry, teachers broaden their own understanding and knowledge of the content they are addressing with their students (McAuliffe & Lockwood, 2014; Moore, Haviland, Whitmer, & Brady, 2014). Experiences should focus on teaching with GST and on learning more advanced tools as they become necessary for the exploration at hand (Barnett et al., 2014; McClurg & Buss, 2007).

Providing lessons and datasets that can be used immediately in classrooms supports implementation, but it is important to allow for some adaptation of the teaching materials to meet teachers’ needs (Kolvoord et al., 2014; Moore et al., 2014; Stylinkski & Doty, 2014). It is also imperative that teachers understand the theory behind the lesson design, so when changes are made, critical components are maintained (Singer, Marx, & Krajcik, 2000).

Implementation of Geospatial Technologies in the Classroom

When teachers begin implementing GST-integrated PBI lessons they face barriers, such as finding time to implement projects, pressures of high-stakes testing, technology access, and computer glitches (Baker & Kerski, 2014; Barnett et al., 2014). Kerski (2003) said that teachers who expressed an interest in teaching with GST did not actually use it until 1 to 3 years after they received the software. Teachers require adequate support, not only in the form of technology infrastructure, administrative permission, and time to allow students to engage in authentic inquiries, but also from a community of practice and educational mentors (Blank, Crews, & Knuth, 2014; Rubino-Hare et al., 2013; McClurg & Buss, 2007).

Long-term PD allowing time for practice, reflection, and discussion with others increases teacher implementation (Baker & Kerski, 2014; Desimone, 2009; Loucks-Horsley et al., 2003). When teachers see the engagement and learning gains from their students, they receive positive reinforcement and gain confidence to implement further (Guskey, 2002; Yarnall, Vahey, & Swan, 2014). Teachers who are comfortable with student-centered approaches such as PBI and those who are willing to learn alongside their students seem to be drawn to GST as a teaching tool and have had success in implementing (Baker & Kerski, 2014; Baylor & Ritchie, 2002; Coulter, 2014).

Charles and Kolvoord (2003) described four stages through which teachers progress as they begin to teach with GST: entry, adopt, adapt, and innovate. Kolvoord et al. (2014) presented illustrative cases for the stages. During the entry stage, teachers are able to use GST within PD. The next stage sees teachers adopt and teach lessons that use GST to teach content as written, without modification. Teachers who modify lessons to meet instructional objectives and student needs are in the adapt stage.  When teachers begin developing their own original activities, they have reached the innovate stage. The ultimate goal of GST PD should be to move teachers along this continuum.

The Power of Data Projects

The Power of Data projects sought to increase science, technology, and 21st-century skills through immersive PD experiences with PBI, by requiring teachers to propose solutions to authentic problems through spatial data collection and analysis utilizing GST (Rubino-Hare et al., 2013). Following the PD, teachers were expected to implement similar GST-integrated PBI units in their classrooms. The PD team included geology faculty members, science teacher professional developers, GST experts, and science education researchers.

PD institutes focused on teaching Earth science with GST. The premise for the institutes was that modeling and practicing research-based pedagogical methods through an immersion program focusing on real-life problems would improve participant science instruction (Loucks-Horsley et al., 2003; Parker, Carlson, & Na’im, 2007). The expectation was that instructional modeling would elicit a deeper level of understanding of how to integrate GST into content in a PBI context.

Teacher teams who demonstrated the ability to implement PBI and integrate technology in their classrooms were recruited to increase the likelihood of success during implementation (as in Blank et al., 2014; Coulter, 2014; Kerski, 2003). During the PD institutes, spatial analysis with the goal of answering a question and presentation of projects using spatial data as evidence to communicate claims was emphasized (as recommended by Bodzin, Anastasio, & Kulo, 2014; Coulter, 2014; Zalles & Pallant, 2014).

Teachers experienced an Earth science unit utilizing commercially available GST lessons (as in Johnson & Schmidts, 2005; Palmer, Palmer, & Malone, 2008; Palmer, Palmer, Malone, & Voigt, 2008) organized into a PBI unit designed to build conceptual understanding (as recommended in Larmer et al., 2009; Schwartz et al., 1999). Teachers were then asked to implement the lesson with students, encouraging modifications for local relevancy (as in Coulter, 2014; Kolvoord, et al., 2014; Penuel, Fishman, Yamaguchi, & Gallagher, 2007; Stylinski & Doty, 2014). The premise was that implementing the lessons with students would enable teachers to see the benefits for student learning and encourage continued use (Baker & Kerski, 2014; Guskey, 2002; McAuliffe & Lockwood, 2014; Trautmann & MaKinster, 2014; Yarnall et al., 2014).

Although the PD content was similar, two models of PD were enacted, one that occurred over an intensive, 2-week summer institute and one that was implemented on weekends throughout the academic year (Claesgens et al., 2013; Rubino-Hare et al., 2013). After initial PD, both groups were invited to participate in an advanced 1-week summer institute to learn more about the theories behind the lesson design and to develop their own PBI units.

Because technology was added to the already high demands of new student-centered and PBI pedagogies, barriers to implementation were anticipated and addressed in the design of the PD. These interventions included developing teachers’ content, pedagogical, and technical knowledge, requiring support from administrators and information technology (IT) specialists to ensure technology access, and providing classroom resources, including software, books, and data collection devices (as recommended by Kerski, 2003; Mumtaz, 2000; Tamim et al., 2011).

In previous studies of the Power of Data projects, teacher skills, knowledge, school support, and student learning were measured pre and post participation in order to determine overall effectiveness of the PD and the impact of the PD format on student learning (Claesgens et al., 2013; Rubino-Hare et al., 2013). Results indicated that when there was a high level of implementation of PBI integrating GST, teachers and their students improved their performance on a number of factors regardless of the PD format.


A common assumption is that in order for student learning gains to occur following teachers’ participation in PD, changes to pedagogical practices must persist beyond the PD (Desimone, 2009; Guskey, 2002). Yet, ability to sustain practices in teacher participants is a challenge for high-quality PD programs (Lawless & Pellegrino, 2007).

Many variables come into play that affect implementation, sustainability, and ultimately, student learning (Lawless & Pellegrino, 2007; Whitworth & Chiu, 2015). Lawless and Pellegrino urged for these variables to be systematically investigated and the need identified to determine if pedagogical change persisted after PD.  Furthermore, identification of the support structures needed to maintain long-term pedagogical change was suggested (Lawless & Pellegrino, 2007).

The challenge is to determine what critical factors in high-quality PD programs support persistence of pedagogical practices. Therefore, based on findings from the previous study (Claesgens et al., 2013), the research questions guiding the current study were as follows:

  1. What pedagogical practices did teachers sustain following the PD experiences?
  2. What contexts were present in schools that supported or limited the use of GST as a teaching and learning tool?
  3. What characterized teachers who sustained practices?

The study presented here followed teachers 1 to 2 years post-PD to construct a more complete picture of the aspects that affected the path from professional learning experiences to the classroom.


This study employed a qualitative case study approach (Yin, 2014) to describe the experiences and perceptions of teachers who continued to implement their learning in the first and second years after PD ended.  When a lack of in-depth understandings of a phenomenon exists, case study designs are appropriate (Creswell, 2009).  The unit of analysis for the study was the teacher within the classroom.  A variety of data, including artifacts, classroom observations, interviews, and survey results, were collected.


The Power of Data PD was offered in two formats: one through an intensive 2-week summer institute and the other via monthly or bimonthly meetings throughout the academic year. Both formats immersed teachers as learners in a GST-integrated collaborative PBI unit, with the goal of responding to a driving question related to an Earth science concept (weather and climate and mass wasting, respectively).

Global/regional investigations and inquiry-based science labs were followed by an application of the science concept in a more local context to propose mitigation solutions. For example, teachers analyzed world and regional data to understand the differences between weather and climate (e.g., Power of Data Unit on Weather and Climate; see Appendix A). Armed with a greater conceptual understanding of how climate change can result in extreme weather and how extreme weather might affect the Earth system, they studied a local watershed and stream system (e.g., Power of Data Unit on Climate Change Site Mitigation; see Appendix B). The final products presented were short- and long-term recommendations to a fictional community planning commission for site modification along the stream system.

Teachers were encouraged to replicate this process in their classrooms. They received lessons and datasets that could be implemented immediately as written or adapted as necessary. They were then encouraged to develop and teach an authentic PBI lesson for their context that required students to collect and analyze local data, integrate non-GST hands-on science investigations, and present solutions. During the PD, participants spent time planning lessons and future implementation. As they taught the lessons they received peer feedback through both face-to-face and online discussions to encourage a professional learning community.

Initial analysis of data from classroom observations, teachers’ self-reports, and students’ work from lessons indicated three levels of initial implementation following PD: high implementers, mechanical implementers, and nonimplementers (Rubino-Hare, et al., 2013). High implementers were those who used GST, assigned students authentic projects that emphasized claims and evidence, and often required students to present project findings to stakeholders. In comparison to the high implementers, mechanical implementers were more comfortable implementing step-by-step lessons from a GST text. Lessons and student assignments tightly followed the curriculum materials presented in the PD, though occasionally teachers adapted materials and students collected data in the field. The third group, non-implementers, did not implement GST within lessons, and students did not use the software in any capacity.

Many of the teachers participated in an advanced 1-week summer institute to learn more about the theories behind the lesson design, learn and practice targeted GST skills, and develop and prepare data and base maps for their own GST-integrated PBI units (e.g., Advanced Institute Unit on Grand Canyon Ecology and Advanced Institute Unit on Local Water Resource Analysis; see Appendixes C and D). During the advanced institute, teachers received individualized support from the pedagogical, technical, and subject matter experts.


One year after completing the final PD project, all former Power of Data participants who were still teaching (n = 60) were contacted and asked to complete an online survey to identify what aspects of the PD they were still implementing in their classrooms. A total of 47 participants completed this follow-up survey, representing a total response rate of 78%. Ten of the teachers who completed this survey (21% of survey respondents) were purposefully selected for this study based on two criteria: level of initial implementation and continued use of GST in the classroom.  The 10 teachers selected for this study were previously identified as mechanical or high implementers during the initial PD and reported on the survey that they were continuing to teach with GST. These criteria for selection were used in order to determine if high levels of pedagogical practices continued 1 to 2 years following the PD experience. Descriptive characteristics of the participants are presented in Table 1.

Table 1
Description of Participants, n = 10

Demographic CategoryDescriptorn (%)
Grade levelMiddle School3 (30%)
High School7 (70%)
School typePublic7 (70%)
Charter3 (30%)
School locationRural5 (50%)
Urban2 (20%)
Suburban3 (30%)
Subject MatterScience9 (90%)
CTE1 (10%)
Years Post PDOne6 (60%)
Two4 (40%)
Advanced PDAttended6 (60%)
Did not attend4 (40%)
Initial Implementation DesignationMechanical4 (40%)
High6 (60%)

Data Collection

Multiple methods of data were collected to triangulate findings, identify patterns, and develop a rich description of the patterns of implementation and persistence of practice (as in Creswell & Miller, 2000).  Data sources included artifacts, classroom observations, semistructured interviews, and GST performance assessments.  Because the research focus was on persistence of pedagogical practices, authentic classroom artifacts generated by each teacher were used as data. Face and content validity for the interview protocol and GST performance assessment were established through review by a team of geospatial educators. Modifications were made to the interview protocol and GST performance assessment as suggested by the team. Validity of the Inside the Classroom Observation and Analytic Protocol has been established previously (Horizon Research, Inc., 2000).

Artifacts. Teachers submitted their lesson plans for GST-integrated, inquiry-based lessons.  When applicable, they submitted course syllabi for the courses where GST-integrated lessons or PBI units would be implemented. Teachers also submitted student work samples for GST-integrated lessons or PBI units they implemented. These artifacts provided insight into how teachers utilized GST in their lessons and if or how they designed PBI units for their curriculum.

Semi-structured interview.  The interviews were designed to be completed in 30 minutes and were conducted by researchers external to the PD delivery team to discourage bias and to elicit honest responses from participants (see Appendix E). The goal of the interview was to understand what, if anything, teachers were still using from the PD and why. Teachers were first asked questions about their background with technology integration in general. Other questions were asked to construct an understanding of teachers’ school context, and specific questions were asked about what from the PD they were implementing and why. Participants were also asked to identify barriers to implementation and how they might have overcome these obstacles. Finally, teachers were asked about perceived or actual impacts on student learning and attitudes and plans for future instruction. Interviews were tape-recorded and transcribed for analysis.

Classroom observations.  Teachers were asked to identify a GST-integrated inquiry-based lesson in order for the researchers to conduct classroom observations. Prior to the lesson teachers were asked to identify the purpose of the lesson, the context of the lesson (days prior and following lesson), and the elements of inquiry that were present in the lesson. Classroom observations were conducted using a modified instrument based on Inside the Classroom Observation and Analytic Protocol (Horizon Research, Inc., 2000). Sections of implementation from the protocol were chosen as a focus (Table 2). Observers were looking for evidence of high-quality teaching, based on the degree of student-centered teaching as opposed to direct instruction, and the degree to which inquiry was valued and encouraged.

Table 2
Domains and Items in Observation Protocol

  • The instructional strategies were consistent with investigative mathematics/science.
  • The teacher appeared confident in his/her ability to teach mathematics/science.
  • The teacher’s questioning strategies were likely to enhance the development of student conceptual understanding/problem solving (e.g., emphasized higher order questions, appropriately used “wait time,” identified prior conceptions and misconceptions).
Mathematics/Science Content
  • Students were intellectually engaged with important ideas relevant to the focus of the lesson.
  • Appropriate connections were made to other areas of mathematics/science, to other disciplines, and/or to real-world contexts.
Classroom Culture
  • The climate of the lesson encouraged students to generate ideas, questions, conjectures, and/or propositions.

GST Performance Assessment.  A GST performance assessment was administered pre- and post-PD to teacher participants. This assessment measured participants’ abilities to use the ArcGIS software and was developed and used to measure GST skills as part of the original Power of Data projects. Teachers were asked to perform increasingly complex tasks, from opening an existing map document and obtaining information from data tables to creating a map layout that communicates information from the data in a choropleth map.

Data Analysis

A constant comparative analysis (Strauss & Corbin, 1990) was employed to analyze the qualitative data collected and to evaluate the sustained pedagogical practices of teachers.  A summary of the alignment between the research questions, data sources, and data analysis is provided in Table 3. Data were analyzed to identify the level of teachers’ teaching actions, beliefs about teaching and learning, teaching context, and technology ability. The criteria and categories emerging from the data and describing the levels in each of these areas are described in Appendix F. Further description of the analysis follows.

Table 3
Alignment Between Research Questions, Data Sources, and Data Analysis

Research QuestionData SourcesData Analysis
What pedagogical practices did teachers sustain following the professional learning experiences?
  • Classroom observations
  • Artifacts
  • Interview transcripts


  • Coded observations and artifacts for how teachers sustained pedagogical practices.
  • Confirmed coding with interview transcripts.
What contexts were present in schools that supported or limited the use of GST as a teaching and learning tool?
  • Interview transcripts
  • Classroom observations
  • Artifacts


  • Coded interview transcripts for teaching contexts that supported or limited GST use.
  • Confirmed coding with classroom observations and artifacts.
What characterizes teachers who sustained practices?
  • Interview transcripts
  • GST Performance Assessment
  • Artifacts
  • Coded interview transcripts for beliefs.
  • Coded GST performance assessment for technological skill using GST.
  • Confirmed coding with artifacts.

Teaching actions. Implemented pedagogical practices were categorized as teaching actions. The following teaching actions were identified from a review of all the data:

  • Opportunities for students to engage in authentic projects.
  • Opportunities for students to collect and analyze data.
  • Opportunities for students to work with or present findings to local stakeholders and professionals.
  • Opportunities for students to use GST to learn content and communicate ideas.

These actions were informed by the PBI literature (Krajcik, Blumenfeld, Marx, & Soloway, 1999). Teachers who used all four of these teaching actions were coded high (Appendix F). Those teachers who met three of these criteria were coded medium. For example, one medium-action teacher modified a lesson about a hazardous spill from a GST text to provide a local, authentic context, and the students used GST to communicate their ideas. If fewer than three teaching actions were present, the teachers were coded as low. Teachers who were coded low were not completely void of student-centered teaching. For example, one low-action teacher attempted to make learning relevant for students by delivering a lecture and providing news articles about current natural disasters, but students followed step-by-step instructions to study old data from a text provided during the PD rather than exploring current data or a relevant local natural disaster. Teachers who used none of the identified teaching actions were coded none.

Beliefs and context. Themes emerging from teachers’ interview responses about supports or barriers to teaching with GST were examined. Transcriptions of interview data were read individually by three researchers and open coded to classify elements of the data and look for emerging categories or themes. Three researchers reviewed these initial codes. To ensure interrater reliability, similar codes were merged, redundant codes were eliminated, and definitions and codes were developed into the initial codebook. Each interview was then recoded by two researchers, and 100% agreement was reached through discussion. The codes were crosschecked and then revised to form more broad categories.

Patterns in the interview responses formed around (a) beliefs about teaching and student learning and (b) context. Teachers’ discussions of beliefs about teaching and learning were coded as beliefs. Teachers’ discussions centered around the following six ideas: student-centered approaches, high outcome expectancy for students (Bandura, 1977), the importance of making learning relevant for students, data collection and analysis opportunities for students, engaging community members as stakeholders in student learning, and recognition of GST as a tool for student learning and communication instead of a learning goal in itself.

Following the development of these categories, we further examined transcripts to code teachers as high, medium, or low in the category. Teachers who described four or more of these beliefs about teaching and learning were coded as high beliefs, teachers who discussed three of these beliefs were coded medium beliefs, and teachers who scored two or fewer of these beliefs were coded low beliefs (Appendix F).

The code context describes the school structure and environment, including the course in which the teacher implemented GST, technology support, and school support. Teachers’ discussions of context were coded based on the following: class size, flexibility in subject matter and curricular decisions, access to reliable technology, extended time to work on projects, administrative, IT, and teaching supports (e.g., resources such as texts, lessons, and equipment).

If five or more of these conditions were in place for a teacher, they were categorized as high context (Appendix F). High-context teachers had a great deal of flexibility, time, access to computers, and support to implement projects using GST with students. If a teacher had three or four of these conditions in place, they were coded as medium context. For example one medium-context teacher had larger class sizes and only seven computers, but had a great deal of support from administration and a supportive colleague who helped with projects. Those teachers who had fewer than three of the conditions in place were categorized as low context. One low-context teacher had small class sizes but an administrator who was very focused on reading and mathemathics and did not support the use of technology with students and provided little access to reliable computers.

Technology. To provide insight into teachers’ abilities with GST and classroom implementation, teaching actions again were examined and teachers’ technology skills were studied to create a better characterization of the teachers. To understand teachers’ technological knowledge, teachers’ performance on the GST performance assessment was examined . This assessment measured participants’ abilities to use ArcGIS software to display layers, obtain information, and communicate variability in data (Appendix F). Teachers who were able to obtain or create data of their choosing, generate maps, and create graphical representations from data to communicate bigger ideas were scored as high in technology. Medium-level technology teachers could generate maps and create graphical representations from data provided to communicate ideas. Teachers who could create basic maps from provided data and obtain information from data to answer or generate their own questions were coded as low.


The purpose of this qualitative case study was to explore the critical factors impacting teachers’ persistence with integration of GST within PBI units 1 to 2 years following PD.  Ratings for teachers in teaching actions, context and beliefs, and technology are found in Table 4. All teachers had high beliefs at the time of the study, but displayed a range of levels in technology, context, and teaching actions. Further exploration of these findings is presented first, followed by a presentation of two illustrative cases.

Table 4
Teachers and Categories 1 to 2 Years Post PD

Teaching & Learning BeliefsTeaching ContextTechnology Ability


Teaching Actions

Results indicate that all teachers persisted at some level with the pedagogical practices presented during the initial PD. Five of the 10 teachers displayed all four of the teaching actions and were identified as high action. For example, one high-action teacher recognized the value students placed on a stream that runs behind their school. The teacher capitalized on students’ concerns about the quality of the water to engage them in an authentic environmental study (e.g., Power of Data Lesson Plan on Macroinvertebrates, Appendix G). The students collected water quality data such as pH and turbidity. They also captured and cataloged macroinvertebrates at different points in the stream. They mapped and analyzed these data using GST and then used the data as evidence to make claims about stream health.

One teacher used three of the teaching actions, identified as a medium action, and four used two of the teaching actions, identified as low action. The medium-action teacher modified a lesson about a hazardous spill from a GST text to provide a local, authentic context. Since the school was near a nuclear power plant, the teacher invited the fire department to share a story about an aerosol can spill that happened a few years prior, which resulted in the closing of a major interstate for 7 hours. The students used this story to consider emergency response of another potential hazard. They researched the worst-case scenario effects of a possible explosion at the plant, calculated the extent of the hazard area, developed an emergency plan to divert traffic and keep the area safe, and presented and defended their plans to each other. In the future the teacher plans to have students present to the school board and the fire department. 

Low implementers generally did not include authentic experiences. For example, one low action teacher attempted to make learning relevant for students by delivering a lecture and providing news articles about current hazardous weather events, but students studied data about an older weather event from a text provided during the PD rather than current weather data, which would have resulted in a more authentic project (e.g., Power of Data Lesson Plan on Weather and Climate; Appendix H). 


Context is an essential element of teachers’ ability to implement new technology and pedagogical practices (Cox, 2008). Three teachers scored high in context, four scored medium, and three scored low. Based on the experiences of all teachers studied, four critical contextual factors were identified as especially important for persistence of practice: subject matter alignment, curricular flexibility, assessment, and support.

All teachers in this study taught science or technology classes. Earth, environmental, and life sciences seemed particularly suited to conducting fieldwork, data collection, and the analysis GST affords, possibly because the nature of these disciplines generally requires examination of spatial data to identify patterns, and relies on a systems perspective for their theories. Teachers in these content areas appeared to be able easily to integrate pedagogy and technology into the curriculum being taught. For example, an Earth science teacher described how GST was used to gather and explore data students collected after a nearby fire and how the students used these data to make claims about erosion:

Earth science, it’s real easy to use the GIS….[It] really helps with the evidence part, and not just, “Here’s a map with everything on it.”  It’s better for [students] to explore [a site] and find [data] themselves…. I think it’s beneficial because you can visualize and you can sort the data.  It’s something useful in looking for patterns, and that’s really something I wanted my students to do, like, “Do they see a pattern in the data they collected?” …We can just talk about fires or just talk about erosion, or we can talk about a real example.  (Teacher D)

This teacher was able to connect the subject matter to the technology easily; thus, she was able to implement the technology within her classroom.

Second, curricular flexibility, or the ability to choose the pedagogical strategies and sequencing of lessons necessary to arrive at learning goals, also affects implementation. For example, Teacher H felt constricted by curriculum:

In 6-8, we’re departmentalized, so the sixth graders get their reading time using a scripted reading program that the rest of the school is using.  So that’s very restrictive….Time is prescribed, the teacher’s manual tells the teacher exactly what to say and what materials to have ready at every point in the lesson.  No flexibility at all.  I would say that at this point in time, the reading program overrides the curriculum. (Teacher H)

The lack of flexibility in the curriculum and inability of Teacher H to change this prescribed curriculum led to reduced implementation. It also reduced the teacher’s ability to choose the best pedagogical approach to utilize in lessons.

In addition to a supportive context, teachers who understand how particular technologies and pedagogies impact student learning are able to understand more easily how to meet educational objectives using these technologies (Cox, 2008). In this study, some teachers struggled to see how teaching their particular content with GST would meet student learning objectives. One example of this was Teacher G: “I have to write lesson plans and I have to [identify] what standard I am teaching to.  Would you please show me standards for the state of [omitted] for GIS?” This teacher did not see GST as a tool for helping students learn the content. He was still thinking about the technology as the learning goal.

Given there were no explicit state standards for GST and his lesson plans were checked by his administration, Teacher G had difficulty identifying standards and was concerned about implementing the project in his classroom. In contrast, Teacher E recognized the pressure of high-stakes testing, but was allowed flexibility in his teaching approach, which empowered him to make the best pedagogical choices for his students:

We do have a…district test for every class. And then, in my [Advanced Placement] AP class I have…that AP exam. But…there’s nobody telling me the road I need to take to get there. So it’s kind of like, “This is where we want you to be successful in these things, but we’re very open to…how you get students there.” (Teacher E)

This teacher may have had a more developed sense of how the GST was an appropriate tool to help his students reach their learning objectives. He displayed a higher level of ability for using GST to teach environmental science by understanding how to best incorporate the technology and pedagogy with the content.

Like Teacher E, those who did not feel the external pressures of the school system or state testing and had support from their district or school were able to accomplish more in their classrooms.  Teacher C is a representative example of this circumstance:

We have more freedom within our school because our school’s agenda is one of innovation….They are trying to lead…in innovative, more technologically advanced approaches to teaching.  And so from that standpoint we have much more freedom than many might… (Teacher C)

In his classroom, he was able to have more control over the curriculum because of the support and vision of his school and administration.

Even teachers who were able to implement at the highest levels struggled with the curricular issue of how to measure learning within the traditional grading system. For example, Teacher E implemented a highly successful project in an AP environmental science course where students were able to conduct an energy audit, share it with teachers and administrators, and effect change at their school. For this course, students pay a fee and must pass a standardized, rigorous content test to gain college credit. Although the energy audit project was relevant and engaging for students, it did not adequately prepare them for this high-stakes test.  The teacher was considering going back to a more traditional way of teaching, because success is conventionally viewed as students doing well on an AP exam. The conflict is obvious. The teacher knew the project was powerful for students but could not reconcile that success with the pressures for the students to pass the AP exam.

Another teaching team also recognized positive student learning outcomes that are difficult to measure with a letter grade:

We had a kid who [couldn’t find available data]….Oh, wow. He was determined to get this on his map.  [after teacher encouragement] the kid went nuts….He was just so excited to be able to include that in his thinking….The reward for that was his original thought that would then be recognized in the grading.  But beyond that it was just that he knew that he had done something that was not yet available elsewhere. (Teacher B)

The team struggled with how to assess the student project.  Teachers and students viewed a rubric as a way to delineate minimum requirements for final student products:

That approach [rubrics] really got great results out of kids, saying, “This is bottom line, but if you want to impress us and get a high grade then show us what you can do.  But you really have to say that up front, because kids need to know how they are being evaluated, and that’s always the hard part, and we were struggling with that last year. (Teacher C)

Within a system that values grades, and because a numeric grading system was assigned to each category of the rubric, teachers and students had difficulty thinking about the rubric as a communication tool to examine the quality of work and learning displayed and to provide feedback and suggestions for revision.

Finally, successful teachers often had support or found support. If they did not have support at their schools, they sought out community members to collaborate with the class. Community GST experts became mentors to students and may have provided support for teachers who lacked GST skills. Partners in the community also posed problems for students to tackle or acted as an audience of stakeholders to make student projects more authentic. For example, Teacher J teamed up with a university faculty member whose specialty was the fishing industry. Students mapped fish behavior to examine capture methods and freshwater residency. They reported their results to an advisory committee for the Department of Fish and Wildlife.

It is evident that contextual factors played a critical role in whether teachers were able to implement and sustain the teaching practices from the PD.  Teachers with strong subject matter alignment, curricular flexibility, and support from their school or districts were able to persist in their teaching practices beyond the PD.


All 10 teachers were coded high in the beliefs category, indicating higher levels of pedagogical knowledge. They mentioned more than three beliefs about teaching and learning aligned with research on effective student learning. They consistently talked about being impressed by students’ abilities and how they wanted to provide opportunities for students to “use their brains.”

For example, Teacher D identified some issues with implementing inquiry and how she decided to address it: “I think my students really struggled with the inquiry…although these students were bright…they have been pampered….So, instead of doing less inquiry I decided to do more.”

Another teacher recognized the importance of allowing students to have ownership over their projects: “But the big GIS projects that we do…are done basically to empower students….The students realized that they have power” (Teacher E).  Teachers recognized the importance of allowing students to have choice and the struggle this may involve.

Teachers discussed using current events and local issues to make learning relevant for students and suggested students were more engaged if they could actively explore and analyze data.  For example, Teacher F described the following:

It is my students’ future….This is going to be an asset for them….I wanted to bring this tool to them to use as they use tech with their friends. I want them to be that familiar with it….I am excited about the program.  I’m getting ready to work with the fire department this summer.  They are a big stakeholder.   You don’t know how important this is.  If our students get trained in ArcGIS, they could get jobs. (Teacher F)

Teacher F recognized GST was a means to make learning relevant to students and to supply them with skills that could aid them in future career paths.

Other teachers recognized the importance of making learning relevant, student-centered, and engaging for students, as exemplified by the following quotation:

Prior to my involvement [in Power of Data] I didn’t use any of this stuff and taught traditionally….Students over time had become less and less willing to learn from the 1950’s model of education….using technology and using the inquiry based approach, with the students generating questions and the material that they learn, is relevant to their existence….If you package all of those things together I think you make a much happier and effective learning environment for the student. (Teacher J)

None of the teachers in this study fell into medium (only discussing three of the items) or low (discussing fewer than three of the items) categories. However, analysis indicates that high beliefs did not consistently translate to practice.


Five teachers had high technology skill level using GST. Three teachers had a medium skill level, and two teachers had a low level of GST skill. Technology skill level was predictive of levels of teaching action implementation that were closer to the vision of the Power of Data project team. We also found that teachers with high technology skill were able to overcome certain contextual barriers. We observed that barriers such as large class size, lack of access to computers or IT support, or lack of administrative support were overcome by teachers with higher technology skills. For example, one high technology teacher at a large urban school had no access to computer labs, but he was able to obtain computers for his class to use for GST projects.

I joined the [Power of Data] crew and came back with just such a thrill for it and kind of told my administrator, “You know, you signed the paper. What are we going to do? How are we going to do this?” And we were able to scrounge up seven unused computers. And from that we built, we added…additional RAM to [them].  (Teacher E)

This teacher had confidence in his ability to upgrade and maintain the hardware necessary to run the software, indicating his strong technological knowledge.

In comparison to the high technology Teacher E, who overcame his contextual barriers, Teacher G, a medium technology teacher who did not attend the Advanced Institute, was not able to overcome the contextual barriers at his school:

Last year I had adequate time [to collect data in the field] and that was great. Now we have a problem.  I was in a block schedule, for 90 minutes.  I’m now in a seven-period day. Fifty minutes.  In a 90 minute class, I could actually take my kids out to collect the data. Now I can’t take my kids. By the time I take attendance, it’s over. (Teacher G)

Teacher G was limited by the changes to the structure and schedule of his classes. He was unable to find ways to complete the work needed in a shorter time frame; therefore, he gave up on implementing in the classroom. In contrast, Teacher F, also a medium technology teacher at a rural high school, had little computer lab access, unreliable Internet, and no support from administration or IT. However, she attended the Advanced Institute where she had an opportunity to practice and learn additional GIS skills. Determined to implement a GST project, she partnered with a graphics arts teacher who had a lot of computers. She was able to add 1 hour each day over an extended period of time for her GST project, thus, overcoming her contextual barriers.  Though she had medium technology skills, she sought out someone with higher skills to help.

Teachers in this study were initially characterized by two levels of implementation, mechanical and high. The categories align well with Charles and Kolvoord’s (2003) stages of tool use for teachers following the entry stage of PD, (adopt, adapt, innovate): Adapters and Innovators (Table 5). Innovators as a group have high beliefs, high actions, high technology skills, and medium to high context compared to the Adapters, who also have high beliefs, but are low to medium in technology, actions, and context. In this study, five stand out as Innovators and five as Adapters. Using these categorizations, illustrative case summaries were developed to describe these stages of teachers.

Table 5
Innovators and Adapters

TeacherCategoryTeaching & Learning BeliefsTeaching ContextTechnology AbilityTeaching Actions


InnovatorsInnovators were high in both beliefs and actions and displayed higher levels of ability to integrate technology within their context. Qualities that exemplify Innovators included the teacher not only believing the learning should be relevant, authentic, and experiential for students, but also acting upon these beliefs by implementing lessons that exemplified those stated convictions.

Because they had higher technology skill, the Innovators orchestrated experiences for students that included conducting fieldwork, analyzing spatial data, and working directly with and making presentations to community stakeholders. These teachers believed all students could learn and provided opportunities for students to explore their world and struggle with real problems. The teachers understood that the power of GST lies not in the technology itself, but in its potential to build spatial thinking, scientific practices, and 21st-century skills in students. Innovators were risk takers and willing to cede control and learn alongside the students. They encouraged students to explore data in a GST and then create new products for communication using GST.

Some evidence indicated that the initial required implementation and resulting evidence of student learning influenced Innovators to continue. Teacher E came into the program with high technological knowledge; he was pursuing a graduate degree in GIS and had the technical ability to create his own classroom lab, load the software, and troubleshoot. He also hinted at his tendencies to modify lessons to meet his students’ needs, indicating his knowledge of pedagogy and content:

We had really…poor screens to start out with, I mean hand me, hand me, hand me downs….Then also we had to upgrade the RAM. We were given 1 gig and that was just crashing terribly. And so we had to find the funding to up that, and we did.

I just modified [the lessons provided in PD] a little bit…based on what I saw the first time I used it. I was taking on a lot as a teacher as my first year of teaching AP. It was my first year getting a lab up and running in my classroom that could use GIS. So there’s a lot of firsts in there. And so I kind of stumbled through the lesson. But I also did find some really good points and some really good things to change and to utilize. So I’m using it again. Claims and evidence, we did that….It’s all really based on the real world problems. (Teacher E)

Another Innovator teaching team talked about how they had used similar pedagogical skills before the program, but refined them as a result of the PD. In an interview with the two teachers, they discussed the following:

I think the Backward Design and the problem-based approach we have found to be a really fantastic idea, and it has pretty much structured what we’ve done in the course, both the last year when we were doing it for [the PD program] and this year as the follow-up year. (Teacher B)

Even before that we had used a similar thing not quite as well structured, but a similar approach….[Students] knew that the courses that I would teach, they would not be deadbeat courses. They wouldn’t be courses that are just timekeepers.  They would be doing something where they would have to, you know, use their brain, and they like that….That’s the expectation.  If you can perform and analyze and tell me responses that make sense that you can draw from the data you have that are appropriately linked, yeah, you’ll be fine. (Teacher C)

The teachers began with high, standards-based expectations for their students and described that students would need to analyze spatial data critically using GST in order to make claims based on these data. These behaviors indicate an advanced understanding of pedagogical practices within their context.

Innovators like Teachers B and C held high expectations for their students and encouraged students to develop 21st-century skills through their interaction with the technology.  Innovators recognized important concepts that could be enhanced by the examination of spatial data within a GST. They identified authentic connections and provided opportunities for students to analyze and present evidence-based explanations and solutions based on these data collaboratively to stakeholders.

Adapters. In comparison, Adapters were successful in adapting and teaching at least once a lesson that was provided during PD, but often began to revert to adopting lessons as written in GST texts. Adapters had lower technological skills and were generally more comfortable using resources and data already created. They frequently played the role of deliverer of knowledge. Adapters preferred a more controlled classroom environment. After the PD had ended, they continued to teach with GST to some degree. The pedagogical practices presented during the Power of Data PD were persisting in their classrooms at some level. However, there was something preventing these teachers from fully teaching in the way they expressed was best for student learning.

Teacher J is an example of an Adapter. Initially, this teacher’s students tackled a local issue with the help of GST professionals and local wildlife scientists, indicating some understanding of the importance of students engaging in an authentic problem. A year later, the teacher sounded like an Innovator, emphasizing teaching “using the inquiry-based approach” and “students generating questions.” Yet, the actual teaching observed in this classroom was a traditional teacher-centered lecture on current natural disasters. The lecture was followed by computer lab time in which students followed a set of step-by-step instructions. Instructions guided them to examine 15-year-old data sets provided by the teacher and answer low-level questions provided on a traditional worksheet.

The assessment of this lesson was provided by the curriculum and required students to create an evacuation plan for inhabitants rather than make a claim about how populations are affected by weather events, which was the goal of the lesson, according to the teacher. This instruction somewhat followed the model provided in PD, but based on our definition of teaching action (Appendix F) this lesson fell on the low end of implementation practices. 

Additionally, contextual barriers such as time, curricular flexibility, and access to computers were sometimes more than could be overcome. For example, one Adapter said, “…You can’t do this in a 50-minute period unless you have a lab setting.  In a public school, that’s kind of hard” (Teacher G).  Another Adapter said: “So we use the Mapping Our World lessons [GIS text] to kind of supplement, or to give the kids a break….” (Teacher I). 

These statements exemplified typical views held by the Adapters: that GST is a skill taught in isolation, as an elective course, or to supplement instruction. Overall, they placed an emphasis on teaching about the capabilities of the technology rather than on utilizing the technology as a tool to help students develop content understanding through data analysis and for communicating ideas. Adapters viewed the GST as a skill to learn that is tangential to the content learning. They did not see GST as important for helping students analyze spatial data to find patterns, understand content, or communicate ideas.


The goal of this study was to determine if teachers who implemented lessons at a mechanical or high level during PD would continue to implement 1 to 2 years following PD and to what extent they would implement. The intent was to determine which practices they sustained and in what contexts and to attempt to characterize teachers who persisted in these teaching practices.

Persistent Pedagogical Practices

Evidence demonstrates that practices consistent with teachers’ goals for student learning persisted following the PD. Participating teachers all implemented GST-integrated lessons at an innovate or adapt stage. PD emphasized the importance of allowing students to experience learning science as scientists do by engaging in the practices of science around authentic issues. Teachers recognized career connections and the potential of GST to engage students who are interested in technology but might not normally be drawn to the natural sciences. Teachers experienced the collaborative use of GST to explore solutions to problems and built on the strengths of team members during PD. These practices were also enacted in their classrooms.

This model resonated with teachers. They saw the value of implementing lessons for developing 21st-century workforce skills, such as critical thinking, collaboration, and communication. They engaged community members as stakeholders to provide an authentic context and gave students the opportunity to work in teams to explore geographic questions. Teachers recognized the cross-disciplinary nature of GST tools and wanted to give their students opportunities to engage with the technology as well. PD providers should keep these unique affordances of GST in the forefront as they work to support teachers to teach with GST.

Teachers with less-developed technology skills were more likely to implement if they had materials and datasets that could be adapted to fit within their curricular needs. This finding is consistent with literature on coherency and best practices for GST PD (Kolvoord et al., 2014; Moore et al., 2014; Stylinkski & Doty, 2014). Our findings further confirm the importance of providing teachers with resources and supports during PD, especially those with lower technology skills.

In order to see higher levels of implementation continue, more time should be spent on developing the technology skills of science teachers.  This study does not address whether teachers learned GST skills better within the context of engaging in a real-world problem than they would have learned it in isolation. However, participants had the opportunity to experience some of the limitations and abilities of the tool for teaching specific Earth science concepts during PD, which may have been helpful for learning. As Baker et al. (2015) recommended, additional research is needed to determine if the use of GST in different content areas require different levels of technological and pedagogical skills. We are currently conducting a design-based research study to determine if the Power of Data PD model can be translated into new contexts to achieve similar desired outcomes.

Persistence of practice and implementation of the integration of GST within PBI must occur after PD ends or the sustainability of the positive results experienced during the PD will not persist. If teachers are able only to implement with support from PD staff, GST will never see widespread use.

Context Supports and Limitations

Based on the experiences of all the teachers studied, four critical contextual factors were identified as especially important for persistence of practice: subject matter alignment, curricular flexibility, assessment, and support. Implementation within the context of a traditional school system plays a huge role in determining what practices persist.

Our goal was improved teacher instruction and use of technology to bring authentic learning to the classroom. We wanted teachers to use data to help students visualize phenomena, look for patterns, and propose solutions to authentic problems using data as evidence for claims. We were focused on implementation leading to improved student learning as a measure of success.

However, in spite of these goals and PD provision, traditional school systems constrained teachers, and structured courses dictated what should be taught and how students should be assessed. Those teachers who recognized and described student learning similar to our definition and the definition in the literature (Krajcik et al., 1999) were more able to persist with the practices presented in the PD. They had such high beliefs in the value of teaching with GST and PBI that they made it work by squeezing it into an overloaded curriculum or offering a special elective course.

Those teachers who did not recognize the value or who ran into too many barriers were less likely to persist with the initial change in their practice following implementation. This finding is consistent with the literature that context will determine persistence (Borko, 2004; Desimone, 2009; Penuel et al., 2007). Perhaps expecting teachers to be innovating constantly is unrealistic. High levels of innovation are difficult to maintain, and if teachers are utilizing existing high-quality GST lessons from texts, even if the lessons are not authentic, it is a step in the right direction. Regardless of the level of innovation, we can still celebrate the fact that students are being exposed to spatial analysis and GST tools.

Sadly, authentic GST-integrated projects that stress relevant learning and build students’ 21st-century workforce skills may never truly fit into a traditional science course. These types of projects may be doomed to be on the fringes of curriculum—something to be experienced as an elective or add-on if all the other requirements are met or only for those students who have time in their elective schedules.  It is time to ask the questions: What is the purpose of required science courses? Are they solely for content learning, or are the tools of scientists important to learn as well? Do GST-integrated projects fit better in lower level, introductory courses, in order to encourage students to consider additional courses in STEM? Is the goal to prepare the workforce of tomorrow or to prepare students for college readiness? Must teachers dispense critical science knowledge or have students understand and appreciate the nature of science?  Moving forward, school systems and the science education community need to reflect on these questions.

Characteristics of Persistent Teachers

Shulman (1986) identified pedagogical content knowledge as the ability of an expert teacher to understand how specific content is best taught and communicated through appropriate lesson design. Koehler and Mishra (2005) added technology to the discussion to describe technological pedagogical content knowledge (later referred to as technology, pedagogy, and content knowledge, or TPACK). Cox (2008) defined TPACK as the “transactional negotiation” between these elements and noted that essential features include choosing appropriate technology for teaching specific content using a particular pedagogical strategy within an educational context for a particular student learning goal.

Although the teachers we described as Innovators struggled with fitting new ways of teaching into a traditional grading and school system and realized GST projects could not meet prescribed curricular goals/standards, these teachers persisted, perhaps due to their higher levels of GST skills and knowledge and implementation of the pedagogy. They created electives and special courses to allow students to complete authentic projects. These types of courses are often implemented after students have completed required courses and go above and beyond graduation requirements. All of our Innovators had to take risks and approach their administrators to create pathways for students. All of the teachers had a strong understanding of how to integrate pedagogy in their disciplines, and most teachers were experienced in their fields. Adding technology or pedagogy to their repertoire strengthened their teaching practices, as they developed their understanding of how GST could enhance their instruction.

Rogers (2003) described a diffusion of innovation as it progresses from the innovators to early adopters, early majority, late majority, and laggards through normal distribution across social systems. Horsley and Loucks-Horsley (1998) described change as a process and stated that changes in classrooms can take up to 5 years to materialize. This timeline has been found to be true with GST integration also (Baker & Kerski, 2014).

Kolvoord et al. (2014) illustrated cases of teachers as they progressed through stages of concern: entry, adopt, adapt, and innovate. The teachers in our study were at different points along the adoption continuum and experienced natural stages of concern as they progressed at their own pace.  Those who persisted were further along the continuum of learning.

In the current study, we recruited teachers who could explain how they were already implementing PBI or student-centered, inquiry-based methods. We asked them to describe how they were currently integrating technology into their classrooms. We chose teachers who were naturally more ready to progress in their practice, then we focused on building their understanding of how to incorporate GST in the areas where they needed more support. This strategy led to teachers who were in the adapting and innovating stages and whose practices persisted at some level beyond the PD. Studying whether targeted assessment of existing TPACK components followed by individualized interventions would yield higher levels of TPACK and implementation after PD support ends would be interesting (Baker et al., 2015).

For many teachers, PBI is a novel way to teach. If a teacher is new to PBI, layering complex technology on top of it makes PBI more challenging to implement, especially when educational institutions value academic test performance over less-traditional learning outcomes, such as problem solving and communication skills. Knowing this, PD providers must offer differentiated support to teachers that meets their needs and builds upon their individual knowledge and skills as they adopt new teaching methodologies within their particular contexts. In other words, their abilities should be built through differentiated PD.


All teachers in this study believed that students should learn through experience and had high expectations for students. It is not possible from our data to determine whether the teachers came into the program with these beliefs, found the PD to be consistent with their existing beliefs and, thus, continued to implement lessons with GST, or if the PD influenced their beliefs, or if beliefs changed as a result of implementing and seeing student learning gains, as Guskey (2002) surmised. Because all teachers’ beliefs were coded as high, context seems to be the most influential mediating factor.


This study described teachers with varying technology skills who were implementing GST and PBI at many grade levels in various contexts, while maintaining consistently high beliefs about teaching and learning. From these findings, we delineated contexts that must be addressed as PD providers to encourage persistence of practice. Like others, we found the keys to helping teachers persist with even the most mechanical levels of implementation involve access to software and resources that integrate technology with subject matter, support from administrators who understand the benefits of these practices (including allowing extended periods of time and curricular flexibility required for PBI) and having a partner in the school or the community who also supports efforts (Baker et al., 2015; Claesgens et al., 2013; Kerski, 2003; Mumtaz, 2000).

Guskey (2002) stated that for PD to be effective teachers must learn and implement before student learning and a change in beliefs can occur. The teachers in our study were satisfied with PD, learned from the experience, applied their newfound knowledge and skills in the classroom, and recognized initial positive student learning outcomes. Upon closer examination, however, and looking 1 to 2 years past the PD, the practices some teachers originally enacted did not sustain at their highest stage (adaptation or innovation). Some teachers, when faced with classroom constraints, fell back to using materials as written.

Although all the teachers in this study expressed similar beliefs about teaching with GST and the power of allowing students to conduct inquiry using relevant data, and all were continuing to teach with GST to some degree, they were not all able to teach with pedagogical practices that aligned with these beliefs. Science educators want to see action that is consistent with beliefs, yet the observed mismatch is consistent with research in teacher education (Mansour, 2009).

In spite of high beliefs, teachers displayed a range of teaching actions. Contextual factors were more predictive of action than belief, yet context was not the only factor. Certain teachers were able to overcome contextual barriers.

Coulter (2014) asserted that teacher competence, capacity, and readiness is critical before GST can be successfully integrated into classrooms. Our findings support this assertion. Similar to other findings, teachers in our study who were most successful with implementing lessons were teachers who knew their content well and were actively seeking new ways to engage students (Baker & Kerski, 2014; Kerski, 2003; Kolvoord et al., 2014).

Our research illuminates teachers’ beliefs that students should struggle with data and solving problems; they know it empowers their students. Unfortunately, similar to what Baker and Kerski (2014) reported about teachers in the 1990s, teachers often find measuring and recognizing authentic, real-world student learning outcomes to be difficult, especially when the traditional academic establishment defines success as student performance on standardized exams. A prevalent, though possibly misguided, focus on grades persists as the most important measure of student learning. This  focus on grades appears to impact the pedagogical approaches teachers are willing and able to take with respect to the implementation of GST in their classroom. If evidence of higher student learning gains as a result of teaching and learning with GST can be effectively measured and gathered, implementation may increase.

MaKinster and Trautmann (2014) and Coulter (2014) stressed that in order to be successful at teaching science with GST, teachers need strong TPACK to develop and guide students through authentic, geospatial inquiries. We did not explicitly measure teacher levels of TPACK in this study but our findings are somewhat consistent with this idea. We are intrigued by the work being done to better define the construct of TPACK. We agree with Rosenberg and Koehler (2015) that instruments must be developed to measure teachers’ existing and growing TPACK more accurately, taking into account the critical element of context, which we have found to be the most influential mediating factor to implementation.

If it can be accurately measured, PD efforts must focus on building teachers’ TPACK when teaching with GST.  Supporting teachers to move to higher levels of implementation and sustained pedagogical practice will require additional learning experiences to help them see beyond the technology itself and how to utilize and integrate technology within PBI to meet curricular goals. Additional research to determine which learning experiences might advance TPACK growth the most and knowing when interventions are most effective is necessary before moving forward (Baker et al., 2015).

A possible way to connect the dots to build teacher TPACK is the PBI framework. PBI seemed to resonate with teachers in this study. PD providers can introduce this as a pedagogical strategy that results in student learning. Even if the driving question is not completely authentic, it provides students with a reason to engage in the analysis of geospatial data using GST. PD providers can help teachers consider what specific content might benefit from a geospatial perspective and which geospatial analyses and technical skills are most appropriate and necessary to support the investigation.

Teachers need help crafting driving questions centered on disciplinary core ideas. Once the driving question is established, teachers can build cohesive units of instruction that culminate in students’ developing evidence-based arguments or explanations of scientific phenomena. Teachers should recognize how each investigation of geospatial data helps students develop a bit more understanding of the content that will allow them to come closer to answering the driving question. Obviously, any investigations that do not contribute to students’ explanations or arguments should be eliminated.

Beyond the integration of technology and consideration of pedagogical strategy, teachers need guidance in the assessment of student learning that might differ from the traditional assigning of grades. Experiences should also assist teachers to articulate and measure 21st-century skills, such as collaboration, creativity, communication, and critical thinking. This organizational support and change is critical for persistence of new pedagogical practices following PD. Perhaps as teachers implement student-centered teaching methods that engage students in the practices of science and 21st-century skills and recognize learning gains that cannot be measured on standardized tests, school systems will also acknowledge these methods as beneficial for learning and support their use. 


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Author Notes

This work has been supported by the National Science Foundation (DRL 092846) and Science Foundation Arizona (MSAG 0412-09). Any opinions do not necessarily reflect those of NSF or SFAz. We would like to thank the teachers for their dedication to their students and for agreeing to participate in this research. We also thank Esri for their continued support of K-12 education.             

Lori A. Rubino-Hare
Northern Arizona University
Email: [email protected]

Brooke A. Whitworth
Northern Arizona University
Email: [email protected]

Nena E. Bloom
Northern Arizona University
Email: [email protected]

Jennifer M. Claesgens
Weber State University
Email: [email protected]

Kristi M. Fredrickson
Northern Arizona University
Email: [email protected]

Carol Henderson-Dahms
Southwest Evaluation, Inc.

James C. Sample
Northern Arizona University
Email: [email protected]

Appendix A
Power of Data Unit on Weather and Climate

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Appendix B
Power of Data Unit on Climate Change Site Mitigation

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Appendix C
Advanced Institute Unit on Grand Canyon Ecology

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Appendix D
Advanced Institute Unit on Local Water Resource Analysis

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Appendix E
Semi-Structured Interview Protocol

Background with technology integration

Briefly describe the technology you have taught with:

Briefly describe the technology you have had students use in your classes:


Briefly describe the school environment in which you work:

How much flexibility are you allowed within your curriculum?


  1. Provide specific examples of what (if anything) from the PD you have implemented in your classes.

(Based on response, use the following probes:)

a. Lessons from PD: Mapping our World, landforms, graham cracker lab, etc.
b. Own lessons
c. Projects based on “real-world problems”
d. Claims and evidence
e. Use of geospatial technologies, Labquests etc.
f. CTS
g. FACTS/rubrics/summative assessments

(Based on response, probe): Which classes are you implementing these technologies/strategies in?

  1. Identifying one example, what was the reason for implementing this specific lesson/ activity/strategy?
  1. What type of support did you have as you implemented the lesson/activity/strategy?
  1. What went well in the lesson? What would you do differently?

(Probes: technology challenges, student response to the lesson, etc.)

  1. Was the lesson/activity effective for student learning? What is your evidence for this?
    1. What areas of student learning are you referring to (subject matter, communication skills, technology skills, data analysis skills)?
  1. Was the lesson/activity/instructional strategy effective for student engagement in the subject matter? What is your evidence for this?
  1. How did you assess student learning in this lesson/activity?
  1. If you have taught this lesson before, do you think GIS helped, hindered or had no effect on student learning?


  1. If you encountered obstacles attempting to implement lessons/activities from the PD, how did you overcome them?
  1. Where there any barriers that prevented you from teaching these lessons/activities/strategies?
  1. What computer resources do you have available at your school?

a. Do you have reliable access to the computer lab?
b. Has a computer support person been available, helpful?

  1. Are there any things at the local/school/state levels that influence the use of geospatial technology in teaching?  What are some examples of this? 


  1. Have you participated in other geospatial activities/professional development because of this experience?

a. Have you mentored other teachers at your school in the use of geospatial technology?

  1. Have your conceptions changed about the role of geospatial technologies in the classroom? Explain based on your experiences.
  1. As a result of your implementation of the PD, was there any impact on student interest in STEM/geospatial careers? Please elaborate with specific examples.


  1. Do you plan to continue teaching with geospatial technologies in the future? Why or why not?
  1. What additional support, if any, would help you continue to teach with geospatial technologies?
  1. Do you plan to continue teaching with other strategies (PBI etc.) in the future? Why or why not?

Appendix F
Data Analysis and Emergent Codes


Coding CategoryCoding CriteriaHighMediumLowNone
Teaching Actions1. Opportunities for students to engage in authentic projects
2. Opportunities for students to collect and analyze data
3. Opportunities for students to work with and/or present findings to local stakeholders and professionals
4. Opportunities for students to use GST to learn content and communicate ideas during observations
All 4 criteria were met3 of these criteria were met2-1 of these criteria were met0 of these criteria were met
Beliefs about Teaching and Learning1. Student-centered approaches
2. High outcome expectancy for students
3. Importance of making learning relevant
4. Data collection and analysis opportunities for students
5. Engaging community members in student learning
6. Recognition of GST as a tool for student learning and communication instead of a learning goal in itself
4 or more of these criteria were met3 of these criteria were met2-1 of these criteria were met0 of these criteria were met
Teaching Context1. Manageable class size
2. Flexibility in subject matter and curricular decisions
3. Access to reliable technology
4. Extended time to work on projects
5. Administrative support
6. IT support
7. Teaching supports
5 or more of these criteria were met4-3 of these criteria were met2-1 of these criteria were met0 of these criteria were met
Technology Ability1. Level 0 = Inability to use the map or data to obtain information to answer the question.
2. Level 1 = Able to use the map and/or data to obtain information to answer the question.
3. Level 2 = Able to use the map and/or data to obtain information to answer the question and to create a basic map adding points, lines and polygons to the map to represent geographic features.
4. Level 3 = Able to use the map and/or data to obtain information to answer the question and create a basic map, add points, lines and polygons to the map to represent geographic features and symbolize geographic features based on levels of variability in data across a region (choropleth map).
5. Level 4 = Able to use the map and/or data to obtain information to answer the question and create a basic map, add points, lines and polygons to the map to represent geographic features, symbolize geographic features based on levels of variability in data across a region (choropleth map) and create a layout with a graphic (bar graph or pie chart) and/or include other graphical representations to communicate ideas.
Level 3 or Level 4Level 2Level 1Level 0

Appendix G
Power of Data Lesson Plan on Macroinvertebrates

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Appendix H
Power of Data Lesson Plan on Weather and Climate

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