Project GRACE & Keweenaw Time Traveler


Project GRACE & Keweenaw Time Traveler

A student gives a powerpoint presentation.

Project Objective of Project GRACE: To prepare youth in economically disadvantaged communities for the prospect of careers in science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM) through Geographic Information Systems (GIS). 

At Keweenaw National Historical Park (Keweenaw NHP), we think a lot about what an education program in a rural, economically disadvantaged area looks like.  Being primarily a historic and cultural resource based park, it can be difficult to see where our program "fits" in the informal education world.  Are we environmental educators?  What is environmental education?  Does history education intersect with environmental education?  These are questions we explore often.

The conclusion we come back to again and again is that we are environmental educators, though perhaps not in the traditional sense. Our park tells stories about the people who have interacted with this environment for over 7,000 years, and encourages residents and visitors to interact with the rich resources that still remain on the landscape today.  In order for these resources to be here tomorrow, we need to create the stewards of today that will truly bring this park into the 21st century.  This is where Project GRACE was born.

Michigan Technological University (Michigan Tech) is the anchor of this large, rural community in the western Upper Peninsula of Michigan.  They have an excellent Geographic Information Systems program, and were interested in using it to to create awareness and enrich our understanding in one of the area's most valuable resources - our nationally significant natural resources and history.  By partnering with Keweenaw NHP's interpretation and education staff, Michigan Tech was able to get access to resources that helped Project GRACE develop what is essentially a citizen history project - Keweenaw Time Traveler.

Keweenaw Time Traveler is an opportunity for the community to help generate a database of historical information in GIS that is presented in storymap format.  It has become a citizen history project through the numerous outreach events that Keweenaw Time Traveler is hosting throughout the year, soliciting knowledge and resources from residents about their experiences in the Keweenaw. Attendees have the opportunity to use digital devices at these events to explore their community on a whole, or perhaps what the block that they live on looked like 100 years ago.  Just this past week they hosted a Scan-a-thon event where local residents brought in their historic photographs to add to the database and contribute to their community's knowledge of the past.

What is really remarkable about Project GRACE is the sense of pride is has instilled not only in themselves, but their local community.  If you attend one of their presentations where they explain the question they had about their community, how they decided to research it, and consequently how the storymap was developed, it is very inspiring.  These young people are exploring a possible career path, learning a useful skill, and connecting with their local communities (all under the umbrella of STEM!).  

This multi-faceted project is the intersection of many things at once: urban environmental education, public history, STEM, national parks, technology in environmental education, and more.  What excites me as the Education Technician at Keweenaw NHP are the possibilities in using this in an outdoor, urban setting with local students.  Working in cooperation with educators, I see many possibilities in incorporating digital devices and the storymaps into curriculum about local and national history.  In addition, it would be inspiring to have Project GRACE interns come and share this technology and their experience with younger students in elementary and middle school.

There is something really powerful about standing in a spot on the street with an iPad in your hand and being able to see what it looked like in the past - it brings place-based education to a whole other level, essentially enabling you to "time travel" to days gone by.