Mapping Cropland in ArcGIS Online

I recently mentioned that maps, tools, and applications in ArcGIS Online continue to expand, highlighting the new map showing the distribution of Starbucks as an example. Another example touches on a subject that many students know very little about–agriculture.  We have written about this topic in the past, offering curricular resources such as this one that asks students to analyze the distribution of four crops in the USA  and this one asking students to investigate the distribution of five crops around the world using ArcGIS.  A starting point for such investigations is simple but powerful maps of agricultural data, such as this one showing the acres of total cropland by county in the USA as a percentage of total land in acres.  The data comes from the 2007 Census of Agriculture.

Does the pattern of agricultural land as a percentage of total land surprise you?  Do the statistics that are visible when you select a county, indicating how much of the cropland is harvested, surprise you?  What are some of the reasons for the spatial patterns that you see?  If you live in the USA, how does your own county compare to the others in your region and across the country?  What are some factors that explain how much land in a county is dedicated to agriculture?  How would you rank the following factors:  Soil health and type, climate, growing seasons, frequency of hailstorms and floods, landforms, relief, urban areas, and the height of the water table?  Zoom in on some of these counties, change the basemap to satellite image, and examine the type of farms and ranches.  Do the croplands rely on precipitation alone or are the croplands irrigated?  If they are irrigated, are they irrigated from a canal or from wells?

Change the style–the colors and classification method.  How do these changes affect the way you understand the cropland patterns?  Based on your answers above to the importance of factors explaining cropland patterns, use “Modify Map” and then the “Add” button to find, add, and investigate these other factors.  For example, add the Crops 2009 map by “hillrc” to examine the type of crops grown in Indiana.  Which crop type(s) exhibit the most intensive agricultural land use?  If you are logged in using an ArcGIS Organizational subscription, search the “Landscape” group under Esri Map Layers for USA Land Cover GAP and soil layers.  Also, change the basemap to topographic or add USGS topographic maps to determine the effect of landforms and steepness of terrain on crops.

Sort the table and find the counties with the highest percentage of their land in crops. Then, change the style and choose a different attribute to map, such as average size of farms, cotton or soybeans, orchards, or milk cows.  This single table of data contains many variables that can be mapped, compared, and contrasted.

How might you use these maps and resources in your own instruction?

Cropland in Use Map of the USA in ArcGIS Online

Cropland in Use Map of the USA in ArcGIS Online.

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Examining the Distribution of Starbucks in ArcGIS Online

Maps, tools, and applications in ArcGIS Online continue to expand, affording exciting new opportunities for teaching and learning.  One of the new maps highlights the new capability of generating “heat maps” by showing the distribution of Starbucks coffee locations.  The map is quick to load but contains 18,680 Starbucks around the world.  The points are grouped at a small scale, for analyzing regional and continental patterns, and at a large scale, for analyzing patterns within a metropolitan area.  Examine this map via the above link, shown below, guiding students through inquiry using some of the following questions followed by investigations.

Does the pattern of Starbucks in Manhattan surprise you?  What are some of the reasons for the spatial pattern?  How does the number and pattern compare to other boroughs of New York City, to your own city, and to other cities around the world?   What are some factors that explain how Starbucks determines where to locate?  How do these factors and the spatial pattern compare to other coffee-oriented businesses, and to other food-related businesses, and to non-food businesses?

Make the two heat maps associated with the Starbucks locations at the two different scales visible.  A heat map is another way to visualize data, creating a “density surface” of the points, which brighter oranges and yellows indicating a higher density, and greens and blues indicating a lower density.  What are the differences between the heat maps at the two different scales?  How does the heat map help you understand the clustering of the Starbucks locations?  Starting in March 2015, you can now easily create heatmaps of any point data using ArcGIS online.

This map isn’t a fabrication created for educational use:  Indeed, Starbucks uses Esri GIS solutions at many levels and for many reasons, from managing its suppliers to packaging operations to selecting optimal retail outlet sites.  During the unit where you and your students are exploring the map, you could show this video from the Esri User Conference where Starbucks GIS analysts explain why and how they use Esri GIS technology to make their business more efficient and sustainable.   For more detail,  your students could read and reflect upon this article in Forbes written about how big data helps retailers like Starbucks pick store locations.

A related mapping application in the “coolmaps” gallery allows you to filter stores by the average income in neighborhoods in San Francisco, California, and to buffer the most effective distance for a mobile “coupon” message to potential customers.  If you are interested in analyzing patterns of other businesses, the locations of thousands of businesses are included in the Esri online products Business Analyst, Business Analyst Online, and Community Analyst.

How might you use these maps and resources in your own teaching?

Starbucks in New York City - points and heatmap

Starbucks in New York City – points and heatmap

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Kolb’s Learning Cycle and Styles: Connections to GIS Education

Those of us in GIS education continually strive to ensure that our teaching methods adhere to respected and innovative learning styles.  Adult learning theorist David Kolb’s Experiential Learning Theory (1984) works on two levels:  A four stage cycle of learning and four separate learning styles.  I believe Kolb’s cycle and styles can help inform how we can more effectively teach with GIS and about GIS.

Kolb’s experiential learning style theory includes these “stops” along a cycle:  1.  Concrete Experience, where a new experience of situation is encountered, such as what happens while performing a task, followed by 2. Reflective Observation of the new experience, followed by 3. Abstract Conceptualization, where reflection gives rise to a new idea, or a modification of an existing abstract concept, and, finally 4. Active Experimentation, where the learner applies the experience to the world around them to see what results.  At first glance, pausing at each of these stops seems like something we already do in our GIS-based assignments. However, at times we hear from students who feel that they are “going through the motions” in technical tasks and aren’t assimilating and conceptualizing what they are doing.  Therefore, a critical examination from time to time of how we are enabling students to reflect upon their learning and apply it may be challenging, but helpful as we strive to improve the effectiveness of our instruction.

Kolb’s learning styles attempt to identify an individual’s predominant way of learning, and include (1) Diverging–those who watch from different perspectives; they are good brainstormers. (2) Assimilating–those who prefer a concise, logical explanation and approach.  They are good organizers.  (3) Converging–those who can solve problems and will use their learning to find solutions to practical issues. (4) Accommodating–those who prefer “hands-on” learning, often rely on intuition rather than logic, are able to meet challenges, and who like new experiences.

Kolb’s learning stages and cycle could be used by GIS educators to critically evaluate how they are teaching, and ensure that they design GIS activities to be carried out in ways that offer each learner the chance to engage in the manner that suits them best. Also, the activities should be taught in ways that usually take students through the whole cycle.

Kolb believes that the learner must be involved in the planning of the learning experience if experiential learning is to be fully effective.  How can we ensure that the learner has a say in our GIS courses, over and above the standard “GIS project” assignment?

Kolb, D. A. (1984). Experiential learning: Experience as the source of learning and development (Vol. 1). Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.

How might you use Kolb's Learning Cycles when you teach GIS?

How might you use Kolb’s Learning Cycles when you teach GIS?

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Facilitating 7 Ways of Learning: Connections to GIS in Education

A fascinating and practical book entitled Facilitating Seven Ways of Learning by James R. Davis and Bridget D. Arend is a resource for more purposeful, effective, and enjoyable university teaching.  In addition, I believe that the seven ways presented by the authors provide a useful framework for instruction focused on spatial thinking and geotechnologies.  The seven ways include behavioral learning, cognitive learning, learning through inquiry, learning with mental models, learning through groups and teams, learning through virtual realities, and experiential learning.   Each way of learning is associated with intended learning outcomes, or what students learn, and is accomplished through specific methods.  For example, the intended learning outcomes in learning through inquiry are developing critical, creative, and dialogical thinking, and is accomplished through question-driven inquiries and discussions.

As we have discussed numerous times in this blog, teaching and learning with GIS invites students to ask questions, solve real-world problems with real data, and think critically about why and how they are solving that problem.  Every single one of the seven ways of learning identified in this book have been used by educators and students who analyze spatial relationships, patterns, and trends through GIS, as is evident in these and other case studies.  Furthermore,  all of the methods identified in the Seven Ways book, including tasks and procedures, practice exercises, presentations, explanations, inquiries, discussions, problems, case studies, labs, projects, group activities, team projects, role playing, simulations, games, internships, and service learning, are the “bread and butter” of teaching with GIS.  No one single method is used, which illustrates the versatility of GIS in instruction to meet different learning objectives.  We use all of them when we model effective teaching with GIS at our annual T3G instructor institutes.

I recently met with one of the authors, Dr. Arend, who is the Director of University Teaching at the Office of Teaching and Learning at the University of Denver, and I believe that the Seven Ways can be used effectively by instructors (1) to make a strong case to their administrators on campus that teaching and learning with GIS meets numerous instructional objectives and learning styles, and (2) as a guideline in their own instruction, to ensure that they take full advantage of the 7 ways, and the result will truly be more purposeful, effective, and enjoyable teaching!

How might you be able to use this book and framework in your own instruction?

Facilitating 7 Ways of Learning:  Book

Facilitating 7 Ways of Learning: Book.

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Using Mathematics, Web Maps, and Geography to Investigate Global Temperature Extremes

In my last post, I described some simple but powerful activities that you can use with students to engage them in mathematics using ArcGIS Online.   What else can you do with mathematics with ArcGIS Online?  Using another activity I have written, I invite students to investigate global temperature extremes.   The activity begins by asking two questions: “Can you work effectively with numbers so that they can understand extreme temperatures around the world?  Can you compare and interpret information so that you can understand patterns over space and time?”

Students conduct seven mathematics investigations in this activity:

1. Analyze temperature extremes data around the world including the temperature reading and the date.
2. Examine the relationship between the location (primarily: Altitude and latitude) of the extreme temperatures and the value of the temperature, and whether that temperature was a high or a low extreme.
3. Order and compare numbers in temperature data tables and on maps.
4. Round numbers in temperature data tables and maps.
5. Visually represent numbers in temperature data tables and maps.
6. Add and subtract whole numbers and decimals.
7. Compare temperature extremes over time by constructing graphs.

The activity begins by asking the students to describe the hottest and then the coldest day they have experienced, and what they did to cool down or warm up.  Next, using a map of temperatures plotted as points on a world map in ArcGIS Online, they describe the spatial pattern of global maximum and minimum temperature extremes.  Then, exploring the attribute table in tandem with the map, they answer the following questions:  ”What is the range of maximum temperatures shown on this map (between the lowest maximum and the highest maximum)? How many times hotter is the highest maximum temperature than the lowest maximum temperature? Round your final answer to the nearest degree. Show your work.”

Students then sort the table on latitude and graph the temperatures by latitude, and then create a histogram of temperature extremes by month of the year, using these graphs to make connections between the data, the map, climate, and seasons.   They zoom in to selected extreme temperature locations and examine the effect of local topography and proximity to oceans on extreme temperatures.   They also examine the temporal components of the data to determine the existence and length of heat waves and cold snaps.

What else could you do with this data or with other weather related data to connect science, geography, and mathematics using ArcGIS Online?

Examining global temperature extremes with ArcGIS Online.

Examining global temperature extremes with ArcGIS Online.

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Simple but Powerful Mathematics with ArcGIS Online

ArcGIS Online can be used for simple but powerful STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics) activities from primary school to university level.  These activities can involve measurement and fieldwork to foster understanding about geometric shapes, types of units, and numeric precision.  As a secondary school example, you could ask students to open this map in ArcGIS Online.  Use Bookmarks to zoom to one of the runways at the Abu Dhabi International Airport.  Select Basemaps and change the basemap to Imagery.  Find the longest runway at the airport—the one with the pushpin at one end. This runway is marked with the number “13” at one end and a “31” at the other end.

Measure from the white markings at the bottom of these numbers on each end of the runway, where the pavement begins.  What is the distance in kilometers of this longest runway from end to end? What is the distance in meters of this longest runway from end to end (and show your work!).

Next, find your school building in ArcGIS Online by using the search tool for your city and zoom to your school. Use the measurement tool to measure the perimeter of your main school building in meters.  Describe the shape of your school building using the concepts you have learned in mathematics class.  Zoom in to the most detailed scale possible so that you can see individual structures.  Next, at your school, get outside!  Measure the perimeter of your school building with a tape measure, GPS, phone, or another device. What is its perimeter as you measured it (in meters)?  What is the difference between the perimeter that you measured from the satellite image to the one you measured by hand? Why are the two numbers not exactly the same?

Use Bookmarks, access “Abu Dhabi area”, and change the basemap back to topographic. Zoom to the following shape in Abu Dhabi (shown below). What shape is it?  Measure each side, in kilometers, with the measure tool. How long is each side? Is the shape a perfect square?

Given the length of each side, predict how much area the shape would have if it were a perfect square.  Be sure to specify the square units that you are using.  Next, test your hypothesis by using the Measure Area tool in ArcGIS Online and measure the total area of the shape, clicking on each corner to draw the shape for your area calculation. The shape is a type of polygon.   What is the total area of the shape? Does the total area match the value that you predicted above?  What is the perimeter of the shape?

How have you used ArcGIS Online in your own mathematics instruction?  Do these notes spark additional ideas?
Using ArcGIS Online to measure geometric shapes in a mathematics lesson.

Using ArcGIS Online to measure geometric shapes in a mathematics lesson.

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Fun with GIS 174: Cool Heatmaps!

Heat maps are so cool! The latest update to ArcGIS Online allows users to symbolize large numbers of point features with a heatmap, generating a color pattern that clarifies concentrations. A really good example of this is Map#1 of Esri ConnectED sites, showing locations having an ArcGIS Online Organization via Esri’s participation in ConnectED.

Dot map of Esri ConnectED sites

In its default state, with a symbol for each site, the schools show up and a few blobs are obvious: Arkansas and the eastern seaboard. Without zooming in, there is no distinguishing detail along the east or across Arkansas. But switching to a heatmap allows concentrations to stand out: distinct pockets in Arkansas, the DC metro area (notably Loudoun County), and New Hampshire suddenly appears as a concentration, along with the Los Angeles area and a few others. (It’s even more pronounced when zoomed out, such as when viewing on a smartphone!)

Heatmap of Esri ConnectED sites

Check out the heatmap symbology and all the other cool new possibilities with ArcGIS Online. Tell the story you really want to tell!

Charlie Fitzpatrick, Esri Education Manager

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GIS Brings Value to Community Based Projects

One of the ways that spatial thinking with geotechnologies is being incorporated into teaching and learning is through relevant community-based projects and settings.  One of the most compelling ones I have seen recently is the South Platte River Project at Englewood Public Schools in Colorado.  As illustrated by the graphic below, the project brings together content and skills in mathematics, science, reading, writing, communications, and social studies.  It engages students in piecing together the geography and history of their own local watershed in order to better understand the political, scientific, economic, and social impacts of water.  The South Platte River runs through Englewood, but its small size makes it easily overlooked in the importance it has for the entire region.  Water is a relevant issue not only to Colorado and many other semi-arid regions, but water quality and quantity are critical topics for the 21st Century, globally.

Ten 21st Century skills will be intentionally taught and practiced through this project, including critical thinking and problem solving, initiative and self direction, communication, collaboration, creativity and innovation, productivity and accountability, managing complexity, social and cross-cultural skills, prioritizing, planning, and managing for results, and leadership and responsibility.  A motivation for the district in this effort is to replace the age old question asked by students, “Why do I need to know this?” with “How can I generate the information required to help me figure this out?”

The project is aligned to Colorado Academic Standards, and is designed to be used across all courses, grade levels, and content areas within the district’s schools.  GIS and GPS will be used as key tools with the spatial thinking framework to examine and map water rights, identification of river basins, credible sources for research, interactions of organisms in a riparian ecosystem, chemical energy transfer, claim, evidence, and reasoning, argumentative writing, modeling population growth, collecting, organizing, and interpreting data, sustainable uses of water, river morphology, and living organisms.  Students will be able to take advantage of new watershed and river trace data and tools in ArcGIS Online, but more importantly, consider economic, scientific, political, and geographic implications of water in their own community and around the world.

How might you use  a local physical feature or issue to foster interdisciplinary education using geotechnologies?

Disciplines and skills addressed by the South Platte River project, Englewood Public Schools.

Disciplines and skills addressed by the South Platte River project, Englewood Public Schools.

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Four Strategies for GIS Educators

A new article in ArcNews entitled Four Guidelines for the New GIS Professional not only offers insights for those new to the field of GIS, but also for educators who teach the subject and who use it as a tool to teach history, geography, earth science, and other subjects.

The article identifies four strategies that can ensure that a GIS professional remains at the forefront of this profession:  (1)  Build a strong platform; (2)  Extend the platform across the organization; (3) Leverage existing GIS investments; and (4)  Be active in the GIS community.  I believe that educators can use the “building and extending the platform” strategies as an encouragement to spread spatial thinking and GIS beyond their own classroom walls.  If you are at a university or community college, that might mean giving a few presentations each academic year to colleagues across campus, in history, language arts, biology, or another discipline that is maybe a bit outside your comfort zone.  Spatial thinking has a way of bringing diverse disciplines together around the “whys of where”, solving problems, and providing career pathways for students.  If you are at a primary or secondary school, it might mean a presentation at a faculty meeting where you discuss why you are using GIS in your instruction, or having your students discuss their work at a school assembly, or conducting a hands-on workshop for educators in another school or the neighboring school district.

Leveraging existing GIS investments implies that, like anything worthwhile in education, teaching with GIS requires time and effort. These efforts will be longer lasting and more impactful on students if they are conducted in collaboration with your education colleagues on your campus or in your school district, or with colleagues far away who share similar interests.  And finally, being active in the GIS community is important for geospatial educators, to garner support for your efforts from administrators, to share instructional practices, data, maps, and apps, and to share your stories so that others will be inspired to use these approaches and tools in their own instruction.

The article points out four ways that the “GIS technology ecosystem” is rapidly changing, including cloud-based GIS, the widespread use of web mapping, the increasing adoption of open data, and the app revolution.  What do these and other changes mean for the GIS educator?

The article reminds us that this is an exciting time in GIS.  New applications and a growing awareness of the power of GIS are accelerating the need for skilled people in this field. Web mapping and visualization have opened the world’s eyes to the power of the spatial visualization of information and are transforming how people understand the world.  You, as a GIS educator, are key in making this happen, by enabling students to visualize, question, analyze, and interpret our world.

Visualize, question, analyze, and interpret

Visualize, question, analyze, and interpret: Four key parts of teaching and learning with GIS.

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Fun with GIS 173: Governors

Governor after governor after governor said it: Our state’s economy depends on improved education. They said it in different ways, but one after another said it over the weekend, at the winter meeting of the National Governors Association in Washington, DC.

(image by NGA)

I had the privilege of attending this event, including this full-group session with special guest interviewer Maria Bartiromo. With education mentioned significantly in the first 38 minutes, Bartiromo asked each governor in turn “What’s the biggest economic issue that you face right now?” For many states, education was the lead concern; for most of the remainder, education was one of a few key factors.

What exactly do they seek? Skills of learning, thinking, solving problems, communicating, adapting, and collaborating. Students leaving high school with these abilities can go anywhere, in college or career — workers with the fundamental skills to meet both existing jobs and those not yet invented. These are the citizens and employees that businesses want, the schools and communities that governors crave. Economic growth, for these governors, depends on sound education.

Several sessions with governors included mention of STEM, social studies, English, language, arts, and even physical education. Schools need some special mix of content, skills, technology, teachers able to manage these multiple streams, and administrators working to help. This was exciting, of course, because GIS helps address every one of  their concerns. Talking between sessions with a handful of governors, each reinforced their interest in education, and each was pleased that schools could access professional web-based GIS for free, via Esri’s offer to the ConnectED Initiative.

Education matters hugely, and what governors really want is students who are hungry to learn, able to think, skilled at solving problems, and excited to put their skills to work. In all grades, and all subjects, GIS can help. It’s waiting for someone with the vision to try something new.

Charlie Fitzpatrick, Esri Education Manager

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