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Abby Gogolin, left, and Brooklyn Rentschler paired off to work on their map story using geographic information system software. The two hope to enter their creation into a statewide contest this spring.

Huddled at a pair of desktops in the corner of a Twin Oaks Middle School computer lab, eighth-graders Brooklyn Rentschler and Abby Gogolin mapped zebra-mussel-infested waters across Minnesota.

Their maps digital combined geographical information system software with county data to create a project more detailed than Google Earth and provide information on each body of water selected.

This is one of many similar student projects under the direction of global studies teacher John Wabbe. Other map story projects, created with geographic information system technology, include housing prices in the region, flooding effects on the mosquito population and the geography of waterways.

Students hope to place in the 2019 Minnesota Map Contest, a statewide competition for grades four through eight. But their projects also build valuable skills and can be useful for real-world public needs, Wabbe said.

“They can create anything they want,” Wabbe said, “as long as it relates to this year’s theme of Minnesota. It’s cool to watch as their projects grow and they learn to tell a story.”

The global studies class will select its five strongest maps to submit to the contest in April. Meanwhile, the bunch is receiving help from Christopher Ross, a Scott County GIS senior analyst. The county has helped with data gathering for map story projects for three years since Twin Oaks began competing.

Gathering credible data may sound like a straightforward process, but it isn’t quite, Wabbe said.

“It’s more than running a Google search,” he said. “It’s finding the data that makes the map and using it in (ArcGIS Online) to make a story.”

The kids are free to gather data, for instance, about zebra mussels.

“I like it because we have a lot of freedom to make maps on what we’re interested in,” Abby said. “I feel like we understand the topic we’re making a map on.”

She and Brooklyn have thus far generated two maps: a more detailed map pinpoints infested lakes and ponds, and the other identifies infested rivers. Their idea came from their interest in animals.

“I feel like we can win,” Brooklyn said. “We’ve done well.”

ArcGIS and the map story contest have value beyond winning, however, because the skills students learn have utility outside the classroom.

“The cool part is that they’re learning real life skills, problem-solving skills and potential career opportunities,” Wabbe said.

There are always related careers on the county and state levels, Wabbe said. These typically involve surveying land and using map data a county or state government.

“Our (Scott County) GIS guys had to put together a presentation for the county board in order to secure $600,000 in flood relief funding,” Wabbe said. “Those maps can be used to tell a story (and make arguments) for funding.”

The students began work on their projects in March. The statewide winner stands to earn a $100 Amazon gift card — and bragging rights. A two-person team can win two $50 gift cards for each member.

Last year, a Twin Oaks Middle School pair placed third with a project on the population of Prior Lake. That map was shared with the Prior Lake Savage Area School District superintendent.

“And the map on mosquitos was shared with the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources,” Wabbe said. “I always encourage the students to think about their audience. Who would use this map? It’s not just a matter of being done with it and checking it off a list.”

Maps are due at the end of April.

“They’re doing something that can reach a far greater audience,” Wabbe said.

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