Explore the World with Story Maps TechCamp Recap

Written by volunteer writer Amy Freeman

A whiteboard reading Welcome Techgirlz virtual vacation girls in stem

While the option of traveling to exotic locales might be off the table for many people right now, a group of TechGirlz recently had the opportunity to use Esri StoryMaps to design their dream vacation. The girls attended the virtual Explore the World With Story Maps TechCamp, hosted at Grand Junction MakerSpace where Heidi Ragsdale TAed/streamed the hybrid event with lots of tech troubleshooting, and live learning for both in-person and virtual participants.

Heidi has used StoryMaps as part of her STEM classes with Colorado students and teachers, but this was the first time she used a geographic information system (GIS) to plan a vacation. Her favorite part of the camp was seeing the wide range of places the girls decided to travel and the variety of media they used to make their maps, such as video, audio, and photos, in addition to the basic map-making geotechnologies.

The camp turned out to be a family bonding experience for Heidi, too, as three of her nieces were in-person campers while 17 girls participated virtually. (pictured below right) She loved having the opportunity to watch her nieces learn to use GIS and appreciated having the chance to connect and learn with them virtually.

a techgirlz volunteer wearing a face mask and taking a socially distant photo with three workshop participants

Heidi was impressed by the persistence of the girls during the camp, marveling that they succeeded in learning several new technologies over just a few short days. She credits the girl’s engagement with the fun topic of the camp, noting that “when learning is fun, then campers will stay engaged and excited!”

Heidi’s interest in mapping was sparked by road trips she made with her family growing up. She now uses GIS in almost every area of her life, stating that she loves “to share the GIS bug!” She’s worked with middle school STEM students, using GIS and geo technologies as part of problem-based learning. She’s also taken her love of GIS to several national teach networks, such as the Space Foundation Teacher Liaisons, National Geographic Certified Educators, and 100Kin10.

Her advice to anyone who’s interested in leading a TechGirlz camp or virtual workshop is to be flexible and ensure students are prepared with the necessary day of materials (i.e. account logins, wifi and computer access, etc.) . She also highly recommends the use of breakout rooms to give the girls more individualized attention and support.

“This was my first and definitely not last class supporting TechGirlz,” she says. “I am excited to survey my own nieces and the community to see what other courses and camps we can pull together. Being in a rural area, our participants’ ZIP codes made no difference in accessing this incredible training resource for our youth and soon-to-be TechStarz!”

Two photos of young girls sitting at laptops to virtually attend the workshop

TechGirlz is so grateful to everyone who helped make this new camp a success. We had an amazing team of GIS experts Brittany Berry, Heidi Ragsdale, Alex Northup, Mike Wagner and Pete Stetson. Additional TechGirlz volunteers included an AmeriCorps Digital Service Fellow from the Urban Technology Project, Kayla Blackburn and a high school volunteer, Reeva Kohkhar. A special thanks to Brittany Berry for creating the lesson plans for the week and helping all of the teaching assistants.

“A special thanks goes to Tom Baker and the team at Esri who were so very generous in providing TechGirlz with a free organization account granting us full access to all of the ArcGIS tools needed for our camp. Tom put me in touch with the GIS experts who assisted with camp and provided many hours of support. This camp would not have been possible without the hours of dedication from all of our volunteers, the experts at Esri and the TechGirlz team.” – Donna Cusimano, TechGirlz Curriculum Manager

You can plan a camp, too! Learn how to get started here.