Introduction to GIS for high school students in Dallas, Texas

Transportation can have a significant impact on vulnerable ecologies, especially in rapidly urbanizing regions such as Dallas / Fort Worth. In order for future professionals to be able to balance the needs of sensitive environments with the mobility of people and goods, they must have the right tools – including a good foundation in regional mapping technologies.

To introduce high school students to geographic information systems (GIS) and spatial reasoning skills, researchers at the University of Texas at Arlington (UTA) developed a four-week training workshop in ArcGIS and other new regional mapping technologies. The workshop was incorporated into an existing high school course focusing on the transportation network and environmental justice issues in the communities along the Trinity River.

Led by the research team from UTA’s College of Architecture, Planning and Public Affairs (Joowon Im, Assistant Professor of Landscape Architecture, Alan Klein, Director of the Institute of Urban Studies, Amruta Sakalker, Graduate Assistant in Planning), they collaborated with CityLab High School in Dallas Independent School District to pilot this workshop. The curriculum, which can be copied for use by other teachers, introduces students to the links between transportation planning and design and environmental justice.

Download the curriculum modules here, or access the full final report to learn more about the latest project funded by the National Institute for Transportation and Communities (NITC).


Most often, university research is divided primarily into higher academic business and journals, limiting its impact on young people in high school – the future students at these universities. Although research and education partnerships are extremely beneficial for both universities and colleges, they can be challenging to establish and maintain. This project created the GIS curriculum together with high school teachers, and incorporated the four-week workshop into a study class at CityLab High School.

“The Dallas Fort Worth subway complex is experiencing drastic urbanization due to a population boom that has had a major impact on natural resources such as the Trinity River and led to many neighborhoods lacking access to walkable and safe green spaces. The collaboration with a high school enabled us to apply our research in an environment that could directly benefit from knowledge: the students, the school, and the people who live in and around Trinity. This helps build upward mobility and shape the future of the transport workforce, ”said Im.

This partnership had the composite benefits of introducing students to key STEAM skills (science, technology, engineering, art, and math), while contributing to an improved understanding of the problems faced by communities living in the Trinity River watershed. , be faced with. The project had three phases:

  • Curriculum development and data collection
  • A pilot lab workshop with GIS tutorials and a study trip to Trinity River
  • An exhibition and feedback from the spring of 2022

Curriculum development and data collection

The research team worked with the faculty at CityLab to develop a GIS curriculum that could be incorporated into an existing high school study course that focused on the transportation network and issues related to environmental justice for the communities along the Trinity River. Segments of the Trinity River flow through several cities in the Dallas / Fort Worth area. The researchers downloaded, cleaned and simplified data from several data sources for student use, including shapefiles from DFW cities, neighborhood facilities next to the Trinity River such as parks, river access points, trails, bus and DART bus stops, highways, and CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) vulnerability data for neighborhoods near the river. They used this data to create a base map that served as a starting point for students to engage with the GIS interface, observe, and interact with all the information that was made available.

Pilot lab workshop with GIS tutorials and excursion

The team then tested the curriculum via a four-week pilot workshop, held in September 2021 with a class of 30 students. The workshop included laboratory training in GIS with virtual tutorials, guest lectures (both virtual or personal) from transport and environmental planning experts, and site studies with new technologies, such as drone-captured observations.

In partnership with the Trinity Coalition, an environmental and recreational regional nonprofit organization, the students went on a study trip to Moore Park, a local park adjacent to the Trinity River with a river launch, DART train station, DART bus stop and a green neighborhood space. Students had the opportunity to do a short kayak trip with volunteers from the Trinity Coalition. The UTA team developed an observational study on excursion, and students compared their observations and analyzes in the classroom with observations on site. Volunteers from North Texas Master Naturalists brought environmental education materials to talk about local wildlife and wetlands. Students were also given the opportunity to fly a drone and document environmental resources and trail connections along the riverbank.

Exhibition & Feedback

Finally, the students exhibited their work in March and April 2022, which highlighted the effectiveness of the GIS transport analysis as a context study for the students’ study course. The exhibition was organized by the research team in collaboration with the American Institute of Architects, Chapter Dallas and held at their exhibit site in downtown Dallas. The students shared their achievements and work with the partners involved in the project, their teachers and parents.

While composing the GIS analysis, students were encouraged to engage in complex local urban issues, understand the needs of communities, and explore design solutions to suggest creative and practical improvement strategies. The curriculum demonstrates the interdisciplinary relationship between transport planning, sustainability and architecture for students with future courses in transport and related areas. It also made it possible for students to apply new software skills to cases in the real world around them.


Teachers and students provided feedback in an online survey, and one student said they appreciated becoming proficient in the basics of GIS software. Another student said the GIS workshop was at a good pace and informative. The teachers were generally satisfied, and most of the comments indicated that the students enjoyed learning new skills.

The results of this project include a set of curriculum modules with complementary materials that are ready for use in an online format or can be adapted to a personal classroom. The workshop is a multifaceted experience that includes an excursion and guest lectures, and the final report offers ideas and resources to educators looking to copy this syllabus. Educators looking to reproduce this workshop in their schools will find a wealth of tools to help introduce high school students to the transportation field and its many overlapping disciplines.


GIS training in transport and environmental justice to promote student success in STEAM education

Joowon Im, Alan Klein and Amruta Sakalker University of Texas at Arlington

This research was funded by the National Institute for Transportation and Communities with additional support from the University of Texas at Arlington, the Institute of Urban Studies, the CityLab High School Foundation, and the Trinity Coalition.


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The National Institute for Transportation and Communities (NITC) is one of seven U.S. Department of Transportation national transportation centers for universities. NITC is a program of the Transportation Research and Education Center (TREC) at Portland State University. This PSU-led research partnership also includes the Oregon Institute of Technology, the University of Arizona, the University of Oregon, the University of Texas at Arlington, and the University of Utah. We pursue our theme – improving the mobility of people and goods to build strong communities – through research, education and technology transfer.

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