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June 1, 2004

map work

As regular readers know, my colleagues and I have been helping high school students to conduct fieldwork and make maps of their community. They are trying to understand how features of local geography may affect behaviors that, in turn, affect health. We and the students have collected mountains of data of various kinds: questionnaires, focus group notes, notes from "window tours" of the neighborhood, GIS data collected with Palm Pilots, ratings of local food sources, and more. Most of the data is incomplete and not yet suitable for drawing conclusions. Nevertheless, we need hypotheses so that we can narrow our focus.

Here's a map, generated from the students' data, that suggests some ideas for our kids to pursue more rigorously. Each name is a pseudonym of a real student in our class.

The blue squares show students who appear to live in pedestrian-friendly areas. They say that they walk for exercise, they report that their neighbors walk a lot, and they say that it's safe to walk near their homes during the day.

The red squares mark students who answered "no" to at least two of the same questions, so they appear to live in pedestrian-unfriendly zones. The remaining dots mark students who gave mixed answers or no answers at all.

The cluster of red squares near the top of the map includes three young women of Caribbean ethnicity who live in single-family homes. Two of them say that it's safe to walk, but none say that they or their neighbors walk. (In general, females in our sample are less likely to report that their neighborhood is safe, but more likely to walk even if they feel unsafe.) The cluster of blue squares near Northwestern includes four African American young people, all apartment-dwellers, who walk and feel that walking is safe and common. There is a positive correlation between being African American and walking, in our small sample.

The real purpose of all this work is civic education--to teach students to understand and care about their communities, by engaging them in real research. This approach to education requires that we take their research questions very seriously ourselves. Although most of the information we have collected so far is simply confusing, I remain hopeful that we and our students can generate truly innovative findings about the effects of urban planning on health.

June 1, 2004 12:27 PM | category: a high school civics class | Comments


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