Geographic Information System (GIS) is a system or software application for displaying, analyzing, and manipulating spacial data. While the definition may make the concept seem like one that is way above the high school or middle school level, in reality, this is something that students may already use every day through their maps and GPS on their cell phones.
Hopefully these introductory GIS lesson plans will inspire you to dig a little deeper with your students. Most counties in the U.S. have GIS maps available online for you to explore your own neighborhood, adding in layers for topography, flood zones, planning and development, and more.
Introduction to GIS
This lesson plan has several great introductory questions for leading students to understand what GIS is and how it is used in everyday life. The activity using a large rope to make a map may be one that is better suited for classroom situations and younger students. All in all, it is a good, quick way to introduce the concept.
Exploring Ecosystems with GIS
Another quick lesson from National Geographic on GIS which would integrate nicely with an Environmental Science or Biology course. The lesson uses the Jean Lefitte National Park FieldScope mapping software (free online) to bring real information into the lesson. Using the FieldScope software, students used provided handouts to complete maps and questions.
Think Spatially Using GIS
This is a series of lesson plans for upper elementary or middle school level. The lessons cover I think that these lessons could be completed by middle school students without much direction, but elementary students would need a lot of help to get through the lesson. There are nine lessons total, and each one builds upon what the student has previously learned.
Hands-on Exercises for GISday
The GISday resources page has several great lesson plans for teens (grades 7 12). Some of the links are to downloadable resources and other are links to other websites that you may want to explore further. Some of the resources for those age 18+ are easily accessible to high school students as well.