Teacher's Tale: Jason Burke of Abington Heights H.S.

DTL Staff

Jason Burke, human geography teacher at Abington Heights High School near Scranton, talks gerrymandering. | Image Credit: Linda Breitstein

No high school across the state produced more maps or more honorees in DTL's spring competition than Abington Heights High School near Scranton. Teacher Jason Burke explains how he got his students so fired up to take on the mapping challenge.

Q. Have you taught redistricting/gerrymandering before this last year? How did you previously do it?

As part of my AP Human Geography course curriculum, political geography and redistricting/gerrymandering are covered every year. I usually give students notes that cover the definition, history and highlight the dangers of gerrymandering, as well as various court cases that involved political maps to show just how contentious and competitive the process can be.

Q. How’d you hear about Draw the Lines PA and what made you want to introduce it to your students?

My principal mentioned the initiative and I immediately thought that it could be a perfect fit for my class because I love interjecting GIS any chance I can.  Especially at the end of the year when the national Advanced Placement Exam is over, we really have time to learn the cutting edge technologies in geography and map-making and this is where I spent most of the time working on the maps with my kids.

Q. Were you confident or concerned about your students’ ability to grasp the DistrictBuilder mapping tool and do a map?

I knew they were going to do well with it and even enjoy it! 

Q. How did you prepare them to actually draw a map?

I used the various tools on the Draw the Lines PA website including the District Builder demo video, and the User Guide offerings. Finally, I modeled a map of my own, told the kids I was going to win the money, and submitted a map to the contest too!  Then, we got Chris Satullo and Linda Breitstein of the DTL team to come to the school for a day of presentations to five of my classes. After that, the students were ready to go.

Q. How did the mapping go?

Pretty smoothly, considering the complexities of the project. Most of the questions and issues we had were answered by the user guide.

Q. What do you feel your students learned from trying to finish a map on DistrictBuilder, or from the other Draw the Lines materials you used?

I think they got to see how competitive politics are and that a lot work, effort, and money is spent trying to keep power at many levels of government. 

Q.  What are the lessons you hope your students take away from the experience?

I hope they remain politically active and aware. Those that are benefiting from the broken system want it to remain broken. We need our young people to become aware and do something about it. This project taught them that they CAN do something about our political corruption.

Q. Any suggestions for making the Draw the Lines program more useful to teachers and students?  

I would say to keep doing what you are doing. The resources are great. Keep putting them in front of teachers and adults and kids and the movement will continue to grow. I think I would add a political action aspect to the project/contest. I think the kids need to take their knowledge and write a letter of make a video and start a campaign of their own in order to feel like they have accomplished something unique.