High School Experience

Oregon high school students are learning the basics of surveying by performing hands-on work with total stations and other instruments, thanks to a big state grant.
By Bob Galvin

hen Bryan Hatzenbihler jumped from teaching economics to tackling a CAD instructor’s position at Sprague High School in Salem, Oregon, in 2010, a lone and well-worn total station he had in his classroom triggered an idea. Why not integrate field surveying into the CAD instruction? Hatzenbihler didn’t know it at the time, but he was about to parlay his lonesome total station, along with some savvy networking, into what now may be the most enviable high school surveying program in Oregon.

The turn of events began when the CAD teacher attended a week-long conference in the summer of 2009 presented by TwiST (Teaching with Spatial Technology), which is a program sponsored by the geomatics department at the Oregon Institute of Technology (OIT). The mission of the TwiST program at OIT, which has one of the premier geomatics programs in the United States, is to increase interest and competence in spatial technologies (GPS and GIS) for K-12 teachers and to have them introduce these areas of science to their students.

Hatzenbihler’s participation in the TwiST conference garnered him a free, used total station from OIT.  “It was an old one,” Hatzenbihler said of the total station package he got, “but it allowed me to realize how easy it is to turn some angles and figure out distances. We have CAD in our architecture and engineering classes where this could be useful.”

Grant Buys New Total Stations

Hatzenbihler, who still teaches economics, began incorporating the total station and prism into his classroom CAD instruction. Soon after, the teacher learned he could apply for state funding to buy more equipment. Little did he know the bonanza he was about to tap. After applying for funding, he received nearly $46,000 for the purchase of surveying equipment.

The CAD instructor’s next move was to find a supplier for the equipment he would need to help his students learn the basics of surveying. He chose Pacific Survey Supply of Wilsonville, Oregon, a dealer offering a wide spectrum of survey equipment, including various makes of that ubiquitous, standard tool, the total station. A key reason for choosing Pacific Survey Supply is its close proximity to the high school so that Hatzenbihler can receive occasional hands-on training.

As for what equipment Sprague High School captured with its grant, the list is one any other high school survey program’s administrators would only dream of having. According to Jeff Whittaker, one of Pacific Survey Supply’s sales managers, “Sprague High School has enough survey equipment [through the ODOT grant] to outfit five field crews, from plumb bobs to hand compasses, all the way up through two-way walkie-talkie radios, plus the total stations, data collectors, and auto levels. As such, there is no other high school in Oregon that owns this type of equipment.” Whittaker continued, “I’ve only heard of two more high schools in the entire nation that have a survey program, let alone this type of equipment.”

As for total stations, Pacific Survey Supply was able to equip Hatzenbihler’s CAD class with five new Sokkia SET650x total stations and Sokkia SHC25 data collectors. Hatzenbihler received delivery of his equipment in December 2010. “Then I started learning how to use them myself,” he said. “It took a while to figure out a curriculum.”

Goal: Learn Total Station Basics

Hatzenbihler’s students are adept at using computers and, especially, a CAD program. “I give them an area to draw or a building,” Hatzenbihler explains. “They can draw architectural structures, but they’ve never done any mapping.”

Now, armed with their new total stations, the students are learning the basics of field surveying. They set up the total stations on a large lawn in front of the high school, with three or four students to a total station, and learn how to measure points. Students take turns operating the total station and documenting the mapped points. When they return to the classroom, they download the data points into their CAD program and create a 2D or 3D diagram.

Working in parallel with his students, Hatzenbihler makes his own diagram of the exact area his students have mapped. “We’re going to lay the various diagrams on top of each other and look for differences in accuracy,” he explained. “We may have issues here, and I may have made errors, too,” Hatzenbihler confesses. “We can look at students holding the prism pole. Were they on the edge of the grass or not?  Was it plumb?”

These experiences are exactly what Hatzenbihler wants his students to have. But what is his goal for the students? What is realistic for them to learn in their semester-long class? “I’m not going to try to get them college credit,” Hatzenbihler said. “I want students to leave knowing how to set up a total station and how to map data points.”

On the day of the interview for this story, his surveying class comprised sophomores or younger who are not using data collectors at this stage. They’re just learning how to set up the total stations and turn some angles, Hatzenbihler said. “I have the students record the data by hand and put it into a computer. This lets them appreciate how to record data in a book for future use.”

Depression-era Park Cabins Mapped for First Time

On a recent field trip, the students traveled to Silver Falls State Park, the largest state park in Oregon, with more than 9,000 acres, 20 miles east-southeast of Salem, the state’s capital. Teacher and students have a mission for the park: to map all of the visitor cabins. Presently, the Oregon State Parks and Recreation Department does not have diagrams showing layouts of the cabins.

Silver Falls was built by the Civilian Conservation Corps and the Works Progress Administration in the 1930s and 1940s. Since then, only paper maps showing various aspects of the park have existed, and they were not to scale. Thus, Hatzenbihler, whose family has been involved in a youth camp at the park for years, felt mapping the park’s cabins would be a good project for his surveying class, especially because they’re now armed with the new Sokkia total stations.

“I brought my architecture students to the park, and they got some good measurements of buildings made out of logs,” Hatzenbihler explained, excitedly. Students use the total stations to measure and map the cabins, then build diagrams with CAD software back in the classroom. “We’re setting up control points and re-creating a map [of cabins in the park]. When we’re done, we’ll have electronic maps of all the cabins, which can be clicked on, and a bunch of attributes [electricity, phone service, other details] will show up.”

Hatzenbihler feels his students will walk away from his class realizing that the surveying principles they learned can be used professionally later. He is trying to focus on civil engineering in the long run. “The Oregon Department of Transportation is being very receptive of that,” Hatzenbihler said.

Recruiters Interested

Meanwhile, the survey class is attracting serious attention from other schools, especially regional colleges. Whittaker, the Pacific Survey Supply sales manager, noted that he spoke with college professors about the Sprague High School surveying program while he was attending a conference for the Land Surveyors Association of Washington. “They got excited,” Whittaker said, because the professors’ schools each have a survey program.

“One professor even offered to come to Sprague High School to interview students because they have scholarship money for their surveying program and nobody to give it to! They would love to have students coming into their program who already had hands-on experience with their equipment because that would give them a leg up,” Whittaker added. “Plus, the students would come into the program knowing they want to do surveying as a career, not just testing the water.”

The rewarding experience both Hatzenbihler and his students have had so far discovering the practical application of surveying basics demonstrates how important the educational side of this profession always will be. According to Tim Kent, coordinator for TwiST, this training program has been highly successful for teachers in Oregon and Washington. “They have taken the information TwiST offered and applied it in numerous ways back at their schools,” Kent said. “This has given students valuable skills and understanding of spatial geomatics they might otherwise never get in a high school environment.”

And in January 2012, Pacific Survey delivered an additional three new Sokkia total stations to Sprague High School, plus more data collectors, levels, and accessories, so they are ready to welcome even more students to the program.

 Bob Galvin is a Portland, Oregon-based freelance writer. His writing covers developments in total station equipment and diagramming and data-collection software.

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