Siting NOAA Weather Radio Transmitters: Spatial Thinking using a Paper-Based GIS
I plan to demonstrate the entirety of this activity. Paper maps of South Carolina as well as the weather radio range transparencies will be provided so participants can go through the spatial thinking process their students would go through. Information about how to create appropriately scaled transparencies will be available upon request. The GIS software I developed to evaluate the plans and mathematically optimize a solution will be demonstrated and freely available to anyone interested in using it in their classroom.
In this activity, students are tasked with selecting locations for NOAA Weather Radio transmitters for the state of South Carolina. To guide the students' spatial thinking, students are asked to consider what types of locations would be viable (i.e. cities/towns with existing towers and related infrastructure) and what types of locations would not be viable (i.e. lakes or national parks). Students are encouraged to provide weather radio coverage to the entire state as inexpensively as possible (i.e. with as few transmitters as possible). To accomplish that goal, students use a paper map of South Carolina and transparencies sized to the range of a weather radio transmitter to create an arrangement of sites with 'optimal' coverage. After the students have created their plan, the instructor demonstrates how a geographic information system (GIS) can be used to evaluate their plans (i.e. calculating the percent of state area or population with coverage) and how the GIS can be parameterized to find a mathematically optimal solution. Students have an opportunity to apply spatial thinking skills to a real-world problem and gain an appreciation for the utility of GIS to address spatial problems.
I have used this activity with introductory geography students. I use this activity early in the semester as an exercise for my students to start thinking spatially in an interactive way. As a tool for encouraging spatial thinking, this activity could be used in a variety of other geoscience contexts.
Why It Works
In many introductory geography textbooks, GIS is described as layers upon layers of geographic data. This activity demonstrates that GIS is much more than geographic data; in fact, GIS is an analytic tool designed to gain insights from geographic data. This activity also demonstrates that GIS-like spatial analysis methods can be applied without a computerized system.
Anecdotal feedback from students has been overwhelming positive and the students have enjoyed making a competition out of the activity to see whether they can select the best locations for transmitters.