Shelley Rath is the librarian at West Middle School in Rapid City, an Exemplary 21st Century School Library. In summer 2017, she and colleague Amber Robbins, a West Middle School science teacher, were among 104 middle school educators across the country to become National Geographic Geo-Inquiry Ambassadors.
The two attended a summer institute in Washington, D.C., where they learned about National Geographic’s Geo-Inquiry Process, which they were then charged with introducing to their students through a class project.
The students generated ideas for the project. At the time, there were wildfires burning in California, Montana, etc. There was a lot of smoke in the Black Hills region, and the kids gravitated toward that topic.
Ultimately, their driving question became, “What can we do to help our community prevent forest fires in the Black Hills of South Dakota?”
The Geo-Inquiry Process is broken down into five steps: ask, collect, visualize, create, and act. Students do the research, gather and present information, but also go out into their community and do something about it. In their findings, students learned there was a lot of debris in nearby forest areas left over from a snowstorm several years back. They had learned that this debris is fuel for fire, so they wanted to help clean up an area. It was discovered that there was a fire mitigation station only about a block away from the school, so the group worked with firefighters there. Students ultimately spent an afternoon building slash piles and digging fire lines to assist a local neighborhood.