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What should I know to introduce my learners to the GIS they will be using? 

Luckily, you don't have to build your own GIS.  Counties, and perhaps some other government entities as well, have found GIS such a useful tool for their employees and their constituents, they have converted existing data to GIS databases and collect new data in formats that can be entered into the databases.  The GIS is made available to the public via the Internet in many counties.  A Google search of GIS and county yielded over seven million hits in the spring of 2006; chances are your county has a GIS that you can use with your learners.

Each county GIS is unique.  Perhaps this is a strength.  On the other hand, they have a number of attributes in common.  Common features include:

  • Map that is redrawn on the screen as layers are turned on and off

  • Map-related tools to zoom in and out, pan, select, measure, and print

  • List of available layers (data) with checkboxes to turn them on and off

  • Context-sensitive legend

Of the numerous possible layers in the county GIS, the following may be useful to your classroom "planners" as they attempt to identify possible locations for a new landfill:

  • Water Resources:

    • hydrography: waterways, lakes, wetlands, watersheds

    • FEMA Flood Zones

    • groundwater resources: wellheads, wells, aquifers

  • Existing Soils and Topography: 

    • soil classifications

    • elevation - contours

  • Township or other political boundaries

  • Roadways

  • Demographics

  • Natural Areas

    • parks, recreation areas, refuges, forests

  • Land Use

    • existing land use

    • comprehensive land use plans

  • Points of Interest

    • historical sites and monuments

    • schools

    • cemeteries 

    • airport locations

Carefully screen the county GIS you plan on using with your learners.  Some may not provide enough layers to facilitate landfill siting.  Within the county, it will also be wise to limit the area of the search to a single township or some other smaller political boundary.  Using the whole county, may cause your learners to zoom out and view the entire county map.  Fine detail in the layers will not be visible on the map when zoomed out.