Fun with GIS 166: Pay it Forward

Who was the mentor who most affected your life? What did she say? What did he do? A good mentor builds a relationship, draws out existing capacity, and opens up new possibilities. A mentor finds out what you seek, and helps you consider important options. Everyone needs a mentor … even educators.

When Esri launched our effort through ConnectED, we also sought to rekindle the GeoMentor program. Hundreds of schools now have an ArcGIS Online Organization, but it’s new enough that few know how best to take advantage. See the story map of GIS in US K12 Education.

But only a very few educators have taken the bold step of saying “Yes, please, I could use a hand!” It doesn’t take long to seek a hand – visit a website, enter a login, zoom to your workplace, and enter some info so someone can find you. Then, you can go exploring as well.

Compare those few educators with the GeoMentor map. Almost ten times as many mentors as educators have said “Count me in!” Some parts of the country are rich in volunteers. Excellent odds for educators, and promise for the students!

Esri has provided a number of resources for educators with which to start using GIS even on their own, but having a mentor can turbo-charge this. See the GeoMentor page for ideas on how to engage in a relationship, as educator or as mentor … or both.

Put your dot on the map and seek out a partner. Esri has opened up tools for mapping and analyzing data anytime, anywhere, on any connected device. The youth of the country are familiar with tech and hungry to engage in activities that matter. But they need teachers and schools to permit and encourage it.

Educators, it’s time for you to halloo. GeoMentors, it’s time for you to pay forward the remarkable gift someone helped you discover. Our kids need us to come through for them.

Charlie Fitzpatrick, Esri Education Manager

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Education discount on ArcGIS Web Development e-book

We are pleased to announce that Esri has brokered a special 50% discount off the new ArcGIS Web Development book, written by Esri business partner Rene Rubalcava.

The book covers practical details on using the popular Javascript and REST APIs. These are precisely the details many students are searching for, and are the skills many employers are seeking.

To get the discount, one needs to Add to Cart the e-book, and then enter the promo code “esriup” and click Apply. The price will drop from $31.99 to $16.

We hope you enjoy and take advantage of this timely book.

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Compare 3 Time Periods with Topographic Maps in ArcGIS Online

I recently wrote about the availability of an absolutely fabulous resource, that more than 175,000 USGS topographic maps spanning the past century now exist in ArcGIS Online.  This week, to commemorate Earth Science Week, using the techniques I described in the essay “Web Maps, Web Apps, Story Maps,” I created a web app showing three maps.  The app starts at Burwell, Nebraska, one of my favorite places–the Nebraska Sand Hills, and shows a 1952 USGS 1:24,000-scale topographic map, a newer edition USGS topographic map from 1978, and the current Esri topographic map of the same area. The map is shown here; to see it, you need to log in to your ArcGIS Online organizational account, as the historical USGS topographic maps are part of the Esri Premium Content. Land cover changes observed on the map include the railroad becoming abandoned, a few blocks and houses constructed, and a curve added to the state highway northeast of town, but on the whole, these changes were small.  During that time, the town lost population, falling from 1,413 in 1950 to 1,210 in 2010.

Land Cover change in Burwell, Nebraska: Left:  1952.  Center:  1978.  Right:  2014.

Land Cover change in Burwell, Nebraska: Left: 1952. Center: 1978. Right: 2014.

Now, zoom out, pan to Texas, and zoom in to Plano, Texas, until you see the 1:24,000-scale maps in the left and center panel.  The magnitude of land cover change in Plano versus that in Burwell is immediately evident.  Plano was affected by the rapidly urbanizing Dallas metroplex to the south:  The north-south highway became a freeway, an east-west freeway was added, the railroad became part of the Dallas Area Rapid Transit, and streets filled in the entire map frame.  Using either the USGS Map Store index or just clicking in the map on the left side, it can be determined that the left map dates from 1960, the center map with purple tint dates from 1973, and the right is a current (2014) topographic map.  Plano’s population grew from 3,695 in 1960 to 269,776 in 2010, becoming the 9th most populous city in all of Texas.

Land cover change in Plano, Texas:  Left:  1960.  Center:  1973.  Right:  2014.

Land cover change in Plano, Texas: Left: 1960. Center: 1973. Right: 2014.

Use this map to examine other places, including your own community.  What changes do you and your students observe, and what local, regional, national, and international forces were responsible for these changes?  What will your community look like in the future, and why?

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Creating a Bright Future for All Kids through Digital Learning

Just 25 years ago, life was very different for US residents. Few people used e-mail, “the web” was about spiders, and “portable phones” generated more derision than envy. Schools had some Apple IIs, Macs, PCs, or labs, but no school had hundreds of kids with constant access. How things have changed. Now digital learning helps kids whenever, wherever—at least, some kids. In 2013, President Barack Obama launched ConnectED, challenging businesses to help get all US schools into digital learning with more devices, more connectivity, more digital content, and more training for teachers.

In late May 2014, the White House announced Esri’s contribution to ConnectED: ArcGIS Online organizational subscriptions for any K–12 school in the United States. With major support from Amazon Web Services, kids in any US school can make maps and analyze data using powerful, professional web-based GIS, connected anytime and anywhere—on a computer, tablet, or smartphone.

Since the announcement, three main messages have reached me. First, “You actually expect this to have any impact?” Second, “Sign me up!” Third, “Really? A billion?”

Absolutely, we expect an impact. From Esri president Jack Dangermond on down, my colleagues at Esri are excited about how kids have already used ArcGIS Online, as seen at recent Esri conferences and schools across the country. When educators and education influencers see how powerful it is for kids doing projects, it has an impact.

Hence the “Sign me up!” message. Schools have already requested, received, and started working with ArcGIS Online. More important, GIS users and education leaders in every state have said, “I’m telling my friends and my local schools!” The GIS Certification Institute, in particular, is encouraging geographic information system professionals (GISP) to be GeoMentors for local schools. Educators can build capacity with ArcGIS Online easily, and students even more so. It is important not to set sights too high too quickly nor stay too low for too long (see model), but good teachers know this.

So we hope every school uses ArcGIS Online. But . . . a billion? Really? When asked, I have replied, “You tell me, what’s the dollar value of enticing kids to stay in school? Helping them build skills they will carry for a lifetime? Helping them see and think geographically and influence their friends and family to do the same? Helping them make sound decisions on the basis of a holistic view of a unique and complex situation? Supporting the work of millions of kids as they move into countless careers? And then, what’s the value of a community that does not get built in a disaster-prone area? Or a police force allocating critical resources where they are needed most? Or epidemiologists who can recognize transmission patterns sooner and ward off a pandemic? Or businesses that understand optimizing routes? Or a billion other situations large and small, across the land, and over the years?”

A word about projects. Education Week publishes an annual high school graduation analysis, looking at rates across the USA. Graduation rates are improving, but a huge issue remains. The magazine’s theme this year is “Motivation Matters.” Teachers everywhere report that using GIS motivates kids to engage more deeply in school, especially in projects. Projects are like educational Velcro. Wrestling with complex topics, using varied data in custom situations that are often deeply personal, students work on innumerable little puzzles—countless little hooks. GIS is science, technology, engineering, mathematics (STEM) science, technology, engineering, mathematics (STEM) and more—communication, collaboration, creativity, and countless topics. When kids use GIS to explore problems, they often show up in the room before school, reappear during lunch, and sometimes must be shooed out the door after the last bell. I’ve seen it in every kind of school with kids of all backgrounds, including technophobes, kids with various learning challenges, social butterflies, invisibles, and even those expected to have been mired in “senior slump.”

Kids today being taught like students were 25 years ago are dying of boredom, and worse. Let’s unleash the energy and creativity of youth on the big challenges of our communities, country, and planet. All kids today deserve this, not just “the haves.” Let’s help all schools, teachers, and kids become connected learners, with ArcGIS Online!

- Charlie Fitzpatrick, Esri K–12 Manager

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Fun with GIS 165: Earth Science and Humans

Earth Science Week for 2014 arrived with the release of two fascinating story maps: The Age of Megacities and The Age of Humans. Earth science is fascinating in its own right for many students and adults, but others need to see its relationship to humans in order to pay attention. These two story maps use the powerful new “map journal” template to tell the stories, and this new template shows nicely on computers, tablets, and even smartphones.

Major cities have have expanded dramatically over time. Around the world, already 28 urban centers exceed 10 million people, with more expected in years ahead. A number of these face earth science-related challenges: earthquakes, volcanoes, floods, drought, hurricanes, sea level rise, and shifting conditions from a changing climate.

So many people in a concentrated space also makes one ponder the notion of humans as shapers of the planet. Adding another billion people, and another, and another … consuming resources and generating waste. Food, forests, biodiversity, climate, clean air and water, and our many support systems all sustain and depend on us. All are subject to the forces that shape our planet. But earth science shows that not all forces are titanic events of colossal power; some are slow but steady influences that accumulate and generate huge impact. Humans have become fundamental shapers of the atmosphere, biosphere, and hydrosphere, and tap increasingly into the lithosphere.

We are subjects of our host planet, and cannot avoid its conditions, but we also influence things far more than we might care to admit. Our survival depends on a holistic understanding of the dramatic forces that affect us, and the massive but uncontrolled power humans also wield.

Charlie Fitzpatrick, Esri Education Manager

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Earth Science Week 2014

Celebrate Earth Science Week with the American Geosciences Institute, Esri, and other ESW partners all week at

Focus days this year include Earth Science Week logo

  • Earthcache day
  • No Child Left Inside Day
  • National Fossil Day
  • Geoscience for Everyone Day
  • Geologic Map Day

Explore the database of classroom Earth science activities or request the Earth Science Week toolkit for teachers.

Don’t forget to explore the November feature, using ArcGIS Online to explore hurricanes around Latin America!  Learn more about GIS and Earth Science at

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Teaching Geography in the 21st Century: An Online Course: Offering 2

An exciting new 5-week online course will be offered beginning 15 October 2014 entitled Teaching Geography in the 21st Century. Teaching Geography in the 21st Century: An Online Course.

Geography is usually considered as the world’s oldest discipline, pioneered by Eratosthenes in 250 BC, and has a rich tradition of scholarship and innovation. Yet geography has always embraced new technologies, research practices, instructional methods, skills, and content. How can geography be taught in the 21st Century, embracing its rich heritage and yet looking forward to emerging and exciting tools and perspectives? What content should be included? What skills should be developed? Furthermore, why should geography be taught in the 21st Century? Why is it relevant to the understanding of and decision-making in 21st Century society, the environment, and current events?

I will teach this course through eNet Learning, whose mission is to provide high-quality professional development, content, and resources that support educators and student learning. I created this video to describe the course in a friendly, personal way.

This course is designed to build geographic concepts, perspectives, and skills for those teaching geography and those teaching other disciplines who seek to use the geographic framework.  The goal is to enable and equip educators to teach the subject of geography in engaging and informed ways; to help educators and their students to understand why and how geography is relevant to 21st Century life. Population, land use, urban, economic, health, hazards, and other themes will be addressed. A focus will be on scale, systems thinking, critical thinking, time and space, and place, through an inquiry-driven, hands-on, problem-based format. The course includes pedagogical strategies and technological tools to teach conceptual foundations, skills, and geographic perspectives. Hands-on activities will offer deep immersion in several tools, including ArcGIS Online, which provides an easy-to-use, powerful platform for analysis and investigation.  If you are already thinking spatially and wondering about the photographs, I took the top image in the vertical panel at the right in Savannah, Georgia, and the bottom on the shoreline at the UCSB campus in Santa Barbara, California.

Participants will be equipped to: 1) Identify, describe, and discuss urban, economic, land use, natural hazards, health, and population issues foundational to geography at different geographical and temporal scales. 2) Apply geographic principles to effectively teach geography with the geographic perspective, and 3) Understand how to incorporate geospatial technologies, including dynamic web maps, charts, and data, to teach geography. If you missed the first opportunity to take this course (September), now is your chance!  You can register here.  If you have colleagues in education that you are trying to “nudge” into spatial thinking and the use of geotechnologies, please let them know about the opportunity.

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Storymap with a Cause: Race for the Cure

Recently, I and 30,000 others walked in Race for the Cure in Denver, Colorado.  The Denver event is one of the largest of the Komen Foundation’s events to raise awareness, education, and fundraising for breast cancer research.   Our Esri Denver region team, named “Mapping the Cure”, was also there to support the event.  The event raised more than $2 million, according to Komen spokesperson Amarilis Viera.  It was a great but bittersweet day as my family and I were walking in memory of a dear friend who has passed away from the disease, leaving a husband, two wonderful daughters, and a classroom of students missing their great teacher.  We walked with one of the daughters.

I decided to map the route of the Race for the Cure using Esri Storymaps. Storymaps provide an excellent means of telling a story through live maps and multimedia.  I took pictures and video on the 5 kilometer route with an ordinary smartphone, added them to my storymap, and added my track from a fitness app (RunKeeper).  See if you can find the two loops we walked that, from above, look like the ribbon that the Komen Foundation is noted for.

I used the same procedures I wrote about in my “The 15 minute story map” essay.  That is, I uploaded my geotagged photos from my phone (an iPhone in this case) to an online publicly accessible folder (Picasaweb in this case).  In ArcGIS Online, I uploaded my GPX track file.  After one more simple but important step–adding some documentation (metadata) to the map, the map was done.

Had I wanted to engage some analysis, I might have added a land use layer and determined how much of the route crossed each type of land use.  I could have recorded the temperature as the sun rose to warm our walk, or the noise from the cheering crowd, and mapped how these or other variables changed along our route.

Each year when I walk the Race, I make a story map.  If you look at my story map from the 2011 race, you can see how quickly the Esri cloud GIS technology has evolved in just a few years.

This is another example of an event, issue, or phenomenon that you and your students could easily create a story map from.  And in this case, one that brings many memories.

Race for the Cure Storymap

Race for the Cure Storymap.

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Esri EdUC 2015 Call for Proposals: Learning and leading through service

You’re invited to exchange ideas and best practices with fellow GIS educators and administrators at the 2015 Esri Education GIS Conference in San Diego, California. Participating in the conference will connect you with others who share your professional interests, making it the premier thought-leadership event for those involved in GIS education. Technical sessions and hands-on workshops help you keep your edge.

The conference theme is “Learning and leading through service.” Service learning is an increasingly common element of formal and informal instruction. GIS empowers students to design and produce meaningful place-based projects that benefit communities while developing 21st-century skills. The conference will include special sessions that highlight inspiring examples of learners using GIS for social good.

Discussion at Plenary Session

Saturday and Sunday July 18-19 will include plenary sessions, lightning talks, featured user presentations, and facilitated panel discussions related to the conference theme and other topics. You’re welcome to propose your contribution by October 31, 2014.

The Education GIS Conference will continue on Tuesday, July 21 with a third plenary session followed by a series of self-organized “unconference” sessions. Proposals for the unconference sessions will be accepted at the event.

To submit your proposal, visit

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Fun with GIS 164: Web AppBuilder

What do you like: construction tools or a finished product? For education, it depends on the situation. Sometimes, it’s best to give people a “finished product” with which to explore content; this helps build certain kinds of knowledge and skills. Other times, people need a construction zone, which fosters learning too, though not necessarily the same. Still other times, it’s good to have the user build a “finished product” for others, so s/he can grapple with how others may think about information. Part of the magic of learning is that it happens via many channels. Part of the magic of GIS is that it can support all channels.

The new Web AppBuilder is a “tool for building finished products.” Usable from within an ArcGIS Online subscription, Web AppBuilder gives the user an erector set for converting a saved ArcGIS Online map into a sleek, focused app, with only the widgets the designer wants to provide. A bank of powerful choices is available, and a programmer can create even more. But with just the default set, it’s easy to build a custom experience in minutes, one which adapts well to use on devices of all shapes and sizes. So I decided to try it.

For several years, educators and students have used the “USA Demographics for Schools” map to explore patterns and relationships among people across the US. A second version added state and county boundaries to provide easy references as scale changed. I chose to convert this second version into a “USA Demographic for Schools” app, using the Web AppBuilder. It has easy to use bookmarks, measuring, and drawing tools, plus a quick “query a state’s counties” tool. And I tested this one app on my Mac, Windows, Chromebook, iPad, Android tablet, iPhone, and Android phone … all worked alike.

With powerful pre-built widgets and options to craft even more, the process for building apps is easy and fun using the simple but flexible wizard, and a good challenge to help users think about how others might want to explore data. It is another way in which educators can challenge students to learn background content and skills at the same time. And, for learners challenged by a blizzard of tools, Web AppBuilder makes it easy to create “one-trick ponies” — apps that do one or two main things and nothing else.

Esri’s support of ConnectED makes powerful mapping and analysis tools available to any US K12 school. The release of Web AppBuilder opens up yet another channel for the creative tinkerers of all ages who want in on the exploding world of geotechnology. Hold on to your hats!

Charlie Fitzpatrick, Esri Education Manager

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