Editor's note: Teachers and students from St. Albans City School will speak about their trail mapping project in a Tech & Learning webinar, to be held Wednesday September 24, 2014 at 10am PST / 1pm EST

St. Albans City School in Vermont knows how to take learning outside of the classroom. Last year 7th and 8th grade students participated in The Light Project, studying the relationship between streetlight coverage and crime rates and presenting a prioritized list of repairs to local decision makers. The school was eager to bring the same spirit of community to a new project, so this past Spring they decided to hit the trails.

The Friends of Lake Champlain, a local nonprofit, had noticed that trail erosion in the nearby Hard'ack and Aldis Hill recreation areas was causing runoff and pollution to find its way into the local lake. Teachers challenged 7th and 8th graders to walk the trails and map the conditions online. Laura Eichorn, a teacher at St. Albans City School, explains their approach: "We designed this project to solve a real problem in our community. Students interviewed engineers, surveyed the community, gathered data on trail erosion, and interacted with a variety of adults in hopes of improving the local trail system."

The school decided to use Nexus 7 tablets for trail documentation and related research, and Google Play for Education to distribute apps, books, and videos to students. Working in teams of five and armed with their tablets, students used the MyTracks app to capture location information and noted areas of erosion, trail widening and excessive mud.
Students from St. Albans City School map trails in the Hard'ack and Aldis Hill recreation areas
Even though they didn’t have access to Wi-Fi on the trails, students were still able to use the offline feature of Google Apps on the Nexus 7 devices to do their work. Some students used Gmail to communicate with one another about their trail findings, others used Drive to share documents. They used shared Docs to input data and comment on each other’s findings. “The students quickly picked up on how to use the Nexus 7 and enjoyed working together on the devices,” says Matt Allen, an Innovation Specialist at the school. “Plus, they became interested in learning more about technology.” The data students gathered was entered into Google Earth so that Sinousity Flowing Trails, a trail development company, could map out and identify the areas of concern.
Teams used the MyTracks app to chart their location and document problem areas
An overview of a trail segment. Each pin represents an area flagged by the students
The work had an immediate impact, resulting in the closure of one trail for repairs and helping to preserve the park and maintain safety. Students are eager to learn more about trail surveying and mapping technologies, and St. Albans City School is now looking to return to the park reserves to dig deeper into the field of trail engineering.

Hear from Laura, Matt, teacher Val Loucy, and students from St. Albans City School in tomorrow’s Tech & Learning webinar at 10am PST / 1pm EST.