7-Day Short Course: Exploring Spatial Thinking with GIS

Want to quickly ramp up to speed with applying spatial thinking with Geographic Information Systems (GIS) to education?  Join me in the Online Learning Consortium for an asynchronous 7-day short course through the Online Learning Consortium beginning 2 October 2015.  Read more about the course here.  The course has two main objectives:

  • Explore spatial thinking in a wide variety of disciplines and apply it to your own discipline.
  • Use GIS tools to capture, analyze, and present data from your discipline.

The workshop is entirely online and requires approximately 6 hours of work, including reading research-based articles, viewing presentations, engaging in discussion forums, and working through hands-on, engaging activities.  The activities will be based on ArcGIS Online and includes investigations in earthquakes, population change, business locations, weather, and citizen science.  Faculty interested in spatial thinking, instructional designers, and others who have a location component to their teaching or research should consider attending.  Or, tell a colleague that you have been encouraging to explore GIS about the course.

If you are reading this after the course has begun, if there is sufficient interest, we can offer the course again.  Contact Joseph Kerski – jkerski @ esri.com  for more information.

Exploring Spatial Thinking with GIS 7 Day Short Course

Exploring Spatial Thinking with GIS – 7 Day Short Course.

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Educating about GIS for the General Public: 20 Ideas and Strategies

We write frequently in this blog about educating students and professional development for educators.  But, could the general public also benefit from GIS education?  I contend that not only can the general public benefit, but it is part of our responsibility as GIS professionals to seek out opportunities to do so.  And, when we find an opportunity, what are some tried-and-tested strategies for educating the general public about GIS?   In this essay I present 20 ideas that I have used in many different venues for general-public GIS outreach, and I would like to hear about your ideas and strategies as well.

1.  Sometimes, a one page information sheet about “Why GIS in education (and society) matters” is what is needed.  Here is my document on this theme.

2.   You may have the opportunity to teach a workshop or a short course for the general public.  I recently taught a course for the general public and titled it, “Why Maps Still Matter”, at the University of Denver.

3.  Need an example of an elevator speech?  I have a series of them, filmed in actual elevators, here.

4.   I created a series of “Why geography matters” videos in this playlist.

5.  Events such as the one I describe here at a local history museum are sometimes effective ways.   Note that “G-Harmony” was the message here!

6.  Geocaching provides a good way of outreaching to the general public.  I have created a set of geocaching courses that I have set up and run at events, parks, and other locations.  I favor “virtual geocaching” where the course still takes place outdoors, but rather than planting plastic or other containers, I use objects already on the landscape, such as light poles, trees, and so on.  Some of these geocaching courses are listed here; all contain a story “theme” to spark interest, such as “aliens land at city park!”

7.  Messaging.  For some events, consider not leading with the term “GIS” or “spatial analysis” might puzzle or alienate some.  Consider “Mapping” or “Spatial Thinking” or “Geo-enabling your …” or Telling Your Story through Maps.  I realize that “mapping” is not the end goal – it is admittedly an oversimplification, but it in one word at least gets to some of our message that is at least understandable to someone browsing an event program.

8.  Spreadsheets to Maps.  If you only have a short time, show (1) a table / spreadsheet; demonstrating attempting to understand it as is, but then show (2) a map of that same spreadsheets’ data.  The spreadsheet could be earthquake epicenters, location of hydroelectric dams, countries with high birth rates, or another topic that would resonate with your audience.

9.  Create story Maps to help people understand what GIS is – such as the Titanic with spatial distribution and graphs showing quantitative data.  Create story maps for campuses, events, or convention centers where you will be presenting.  The message is, if you create a story map in the day or hour before the event, so can your audience!  They are easy to create and yet powerful.

10. Incorporate Spatial Analysis.  Show, in ArcGIS Online, simple but powerful examples of spatial analysis, including the use of the Esri spatial analysis poster:  My live examples in ArcGIS Online usually include mapping earthquakes or some other natural hazard, some current event, John Snow’s cholera points, wells, and city streets, or mapping a specific business in a metro area, and creating a hot spot analysis, route, spatial interpolation, or heat map from it.

11.  Show current, real world events using multimedia and ArcGIS Online, making a Geo-News out of it and encouraging your audience to do the same.

12.  Use Simple but effective web maps to demonstrate and discuss:  600 world cities, plate tectonics with earthquakes, tornadoes, watersheds (drop pin and trace downstream), Starbucks locations, compare locations of two different types of businesses in your community; population change, median age, diversity, and tapestry segmentation. All of these activities are searchable in this blog.

13.  Show web mapping applications, including:  Landsat Change Viewer, and the Urban Observatory and invite conversation on the patterns and issues that you are showing.

14.  Core Messages:  Use Dr Charles Gritzner’s “What’s Where, Why There, and Why Care?” document as a memorable “core message.”  Also consider using my own Working Definition of Spatial Thinking.

15.  Presentations versus Live Demos and Stories.  Limit the number of slides you show; it is much better usually to give live demos of GIS in action and tell stories about what you do with GIS, how you entered the field, and what interested you growing up and in school.   Ask questions during your presentation and foster inquiry!

16.  Paper map and satellite image or aerial photo activity:  Create a map from an aerial photograph activity, discuss map elements such as TODALSIGS.  Print aerial or satellite image, put in plastic sleeve, use markers to make thematic map on top of aerial.

17.  Landforms and land use quiz using satellite imagery:  Land use:  schools, hospitals, churches, shopping centers, golf courses, malls, apartments vs houses, railroads vs light rail, streets vs freeways, etc.  Landforms:  Karst, lava, grasslands, sand dunes, barrier islands, glacial terrain, ice fields, mesas and buttes, oxbow lakes, alluvial fans, deltas, wetlands, sinkholes.   Weird Earth QuizOdd natural and human-built things on the landscape using satellite imagery.  Provide multiple choice questions.    Along these lines:  Other Quizzes:  Use Street View images to determine what city or country the image was taken; provide multiple choice questions.

18.  Think outside the Box:  Tap into community events and make a geo-something out of them.  I did this at History Colorado Museum’s “date night” and created an interactive Colorado geography quiz on the large terrazzo map on the floor, dubbing it “G-Harmony.

19.  Don’t be afraid to use some paper maps and aerials/satellite imagery, and thematic maps to foster inquiry and a roll-up-your sleeves conversation around a table.  Obtain USGS and other large thematic sheets from www.omnimaps.com, ODT Maps, or other map dealers.

20.  Involve the audience in a crowdsourced map that you set up yourself, in answering a quiz, or something else map-related with their cell phones.

Additional Resources include this GIS education blog, GIS Day, and this set of 2,700 videos.

What are your ideas to reach out to the general public?

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Fun with GIS 182: T3G2016

Teaching is thrilling, exasperating, energizing, and exhausting, frequently in the same hour, but for those truly called to the craft, it is constantly captivating. Helping other educators grow their skills is even more … of everything. Now, imagine coupling this with GIS, a tool with the power to harness, reveal, integrate, explain, model, and even mesmerize, using the limitless and exploding data about the world, from macro to micro … a tool for understanding the world and solving problems.

Esri’s educator institute, “Teachers Teaching Teachers GIS,” is a chance to build skills in three distinct legs of a stool, all at once … in using GIS, teaching with technology, and providing professional development. But T3G relies on all three legs, and so is only for those hungry to help other educators use GIS. It is an event for both classroom practitioners and education influencers alike, from grade school to grad school, from one-room schools to district or state offices, from university deans to wizards of informal settings who enchant across many ages at once.

The 8th annual T3G is now receiving applications. T3G2016 seeks 100 passionate educators and influencers anxious to change the world, through education, with GIS. The event is Sunday July 17 – Fri July 22, 2016. Applications are available now, and due by Nov 9, 2015.

Be part of a growing community (see Map#5). Build your skills to make a difference, in lives, communities, and the planet. Check out the movies, take the prerequisite course, and read the application doc, even if you are not sure – these are all good steps for becoming a true artisan — a GIS-using educator.

Charlie Fitzpatrick, Esri Education Manager

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Mapping Weather Balloon Data in 2D and 3D

The Cherry Creek School District in Colorado has been using GIS in the curriculum and in administration for many years now.  When the STEM coordinators of the district told me recently that their students were launching weather balloons and recording atmospheric data from them, I jumped at the opportunity to show them how easy and powerful it is to map the data in ArcGIS Online.  The data from just one of the many balloons they had launched was stored in a standard spreadsheet and contained latitude and longitude coordinates, and therefore was a snap to map in ArcGIS Online.  This particular balloon, launched on 1 May 2015, flew over 56 miles (100 km) in 3 hours and 6 minutes, reaching a maximum altitude of 30.7 km, recording a minimum temperature of -59.3 C and achieving a maximum speed of 114 km/hour. I mapped the balloon based on its height on a satellite image base, which you can examine in ArcGIS Online by clicking on the map below.

2D map of weather balloon mapped by speed in ArcGIS Online

2D map of weather balloon mapped by speed in ArcGIS Online.

Since balloons fly in 3D space, a natural next step was to map the data as a 3D scene.  I used ArcGIS Pro to extrude selected attributes, such as height, and published the scene to ArcGIS Online, shown in two views and symbologies, below:

3D map of weather balloon mapped by height in ArcGIS Online

3D scene of weather balloon at its launch point mapped in ArcGIS Online.

The track of this particular balloon followed the typical west-to-east prevailing winds, but as it neared the tropopause, it encountered stronger winds from the southeast, that not only blew it in the opposite direction, but also blew it higher in the atmosphere.

3D map of weather balloon mapped by height in ArcGIS Online, looking southeast.

3D scene of weather balloon mapped by height in ArcGIS Online, looking southeast.

What excites me not only is the ability of these tools to map the data that the students are collecting, but the power that they offer in terms of helping students understand the relationships among all of these variables.  The variables in this case included altitude, speed, heading, and temperature, but other data that the students have collected include atmospheric quality characteristics.  GIS provides a fundamental component of the district’s STEM goals, perspectives, content knowledge, and skills.  Another thing about this project that excites me is that — Grade 5 students are the ones engaged in this project–yes, 11 years olds, collecting and analyzing data!

Think about the kinds of data that you and your students work with.  It may not be weather balloon data, but it occurs over space and time.  How could you use ArcGIS Online and the 3D scene viewer to map and understand your data?

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Fun with GIS 181: Enviro Justice

EJSCREEN is a sobering look at environmental justice. The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) recently released this tool using the ArcGIS Online platform. EJSCREEN lets users compare some demographic and environmental characteristics with nationally standardized data. This means economically advantaged or disadvantaged areas can see their environmental situation relative to those of other places, near and far.

It is important to read the EPA’s description of data sources, uses, and limitations. Any nationally consistent data source has issues because of the tradeoffs made for the sake of consistency and spread. But this would be a powerful tool in the hands of students for learning about conditions and relationships, and a very interesting way for students to learn key concepts in math, science, and social science.

EJSCREEN employs an ArcGIS app and therefore works on any device connected to the internet: computers, laptops, tablets, and even (with careful scrolling) smartphones. Any device, anytime, anywhere connected, about the entire USA.

Charlie Fitzpatrick, Esri Education Manager

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Why GIS in Education Matters: 1 Page Document

I have recently updated a document entitled “Why GIS in Education Matters” and have placed it online.  It represents my attempt to provide the most compelling and important reasons to teach and learn with Geographic Information Systems in a concise document that takes up no more than both sides of a single page.  While we have discussed other documents, messages, lessons, and videos in this blog over the years that are tailored to specific educational levels, needs, and content areas, this document contains the “essentials” that I have found resonate with the widest group of educators.  These essentials include critical thinking, career pathways, spatial thinking, the whys of where, asking good questions, sustainability and green technology, and mapping changes over space and time.

I am interested in your reactions to this document:  What is missing from this document? What is useful about this document?  In what settings could you use this in your own work with fellow faculty, with faculty from other disciplines, with administrators, with parents, and with students?  What do you include in your own documents with similar goals?

Why GIS in Education Matters

Why GIS in Education Matters, brief document outlining the value that teaching and learning with GIS brings to education.

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New Book: Geospatial Technologies and Geography Education in a Changing World: Geospatial Practices and Lessons Learned

New Book: Geospatial Technologies and Geography Education in a Changing World: Geospatial Practices and Lessons Learned

Editors:  Osvaldo Muniz Solari, Ali Demirci, Joop van der Schee

This book is an initiative presented by the Commission on Geographical Education of the International Geographical Union. It focuses particularly on what has been learned from geospatial projects and research from the past decades of implementing geospatial technologies (GST) in formal and informal education. The objective of this publication is to inform an international audience of teachers, professionals, scholars, and policymakers about the state of the art and prospects of geospatial practices (GPs) as organized activities that use GST and lessons learned in relation to geographical education. GST make up an advanced body of knowledge developed by practitioners of geographic information systems (GIS), remote sensing (RS), global positioning systems, (GPS), and digital cartography (DC).

GST have long been applied in many different sectors; however, their first use in higher education began in the early 1980s and then diffused to secondary schools during the 1990s. Starting with GIS and RS, it evolved into a much broader context, as GST expanded to include GPS and DC with new communication technologies and Internet applications. GST have been used around the world as a combination of tools and special techniques to make research, teaching, and learning more effective.

Contributors include  Joop van der Schee, Sarah Bednarz, Niem Tu Huynh, Thomas Jekel, Lara Bryant, Karl Donert, Tom Baker, Joseph Kerski, Reed Perkins, Jung Eun Hong, Bob Sharpe, Injeong Jo, Marsha Alibrandi, and several others.

Springer link with Table of Contents:


Hard cover version:


Kindle version:


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Forests to Faucets: Teaching and Learning about Natural Resource Interconnections through GIS

One of the chief advantages that GIS has always had as an instructional and research tool is its ability to help people understand interconnections between issues, phenomena, and data.  A set of interconnections that are important to people’s everyday lives around the planet is those between the existence of surface drinking water sources, watersheds, development, the extent of forests, and threats to forests from insects, disease, and wildfires.

Forests are a critical part in keeping water clean and pollution-free. Forest are “living filters” that provide clean water by intercepting and absorbing sediment, excess nutrients, and pollutants.  Trees also help store water and release it slowly over time, enhancing water quantity.   Most of the world’s population lives downstream from forested watersheds, and 40% of the world’s 100 largest cities rely on runoff from protected areas.

The US Forest Service (USFS) project “Forests to Faucets” provides information that can identify areas of interest for protecting surface drinking water quality. The spatial datasets produced by the project can be incorporated into broad-scale planning and decision support tools, and sets the groundwork for identifying watersheds where a payment for watershed services (PWS) scheme may be an option for financing forest conservation and management on private unprotected forest lands. And the data can also be used in teaching and learning in geography, environmental studies, biology, mathematics, hydrology, and other disciplines, as we have written in the past here and here about teaching water topics using GIS.

Many of the layers from the Forests to Faucets program have been loaded into this web map, including watersheds, the importance of surface drinking water, and forest importance, insect, disease, wildlife, and development threats to forests important to surface drinking water.  One of the things I’ve always loved about mapping is that the results often run counter to our preconceived notions.  On the map below, I had been expecting to see evidence of fire threats to surface drinking water in California, but not in the southern Appalachian region.  Think of the discussions that just this single web map can foster:  What factors influence whether water is obtained chiefly from surface resources or from groundwater?  What are the influences on forest health?  What can be done to protect water quality?  And GIS allows for the examination of other data layers and the use of spatial analysis techniques.

We always encourage students to be critical consumers of data.  This data was created by the US Forest Service group responsible for publishing, cataloging, and managing the USFS’ authoritative enterprise content on ArcGIS Online. Does that mean the data is perfect?  No, but the content includes only that which has been vetted and approved through a national governance process and by GIS and science professional staff.

Wildland Fire Threat to forests important to surface drinking water

Wildland Fire Threat to forests important to surface drinking water.

For further investigation, see the other map layers published by this group, including wilderness areas, specific insect threats, and my favorite, the trends in burn severity back to 1984.  For additional background, see the Forest Service’s resources and the The Nature Conservancy’s resources.

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GeoInquiries: K-12 instructional materials for Earth science, US History, and more

GeoInquiries are short, standards-based inquiry activities for teaching map concepts that are found in the most commonly used textbooks in the United States.  GeoInquiries use ArcGIS Online to teach subject matter content and requires a classroom with a computer (or device) and a projector.  Any teacher can use a GeoInquiry, regardless of their prior experience with GIS.

This spring Esri released the Earth Science collection of geoinquiries – a set of 15 activities that span the curricular calendar in middle school science.  From topographic maps and plate tectonics in the fall to weather and climate in the spring, these activities should offer something to K12 Earth science teacher (or physical geography teacher) at any time.

The U.S. History GeoInquiry collection is being released now – with one or two new “beta” activities available weekly.  Throughout the fall, we will be releasing more of these activities, with the full collection available around mid October.  GeoInquiries available now and suitable for teaching with include:

Later this fall, we’ll begin releasing our third GeoInquiry collection!  As early samples of this collection become available, we’ll post updates to this education blog.

Don’t forget for elementary classrooms, we offer Thinking Spatially Using GIS and for the middle school geography classroom, we offer Mapping Our World.  Both of these collections are designed for 1:1 settings (1 student to 1 computer/device).   As with GeoInquiries these collections are free and use ArcGIS Online.

If you’d like to stay up-to-date with new  K12 curriculum news, be sure to register at the Esri ConnectED instructional materials page!

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Fun with GIS 180: Esri K12 GIS Org

School’s open! Just in time, Esri’s ArcGIS Online Organization for K12 GIS has grown stronger. The front carousel sports easy access to intro documents, lessons, maps and apps, and videos. (Scroll right for specialty items.) Contents are curated and organized to help learners of all kinds find most quickly the resources of greatest value. This includes easy-to-use instructional materials and access to an ArcGIS Online Org for any US K12 school, as part of Esri’s commitment to the ConnectED Initiative. Use the shortlink http://esriurl.com/k12gis.

Charlie Fitzpatrick, Esri Education Manager

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