Share Your View!

Esri has launched a “Share Your View!” crowd-sourcing initiative.  You are invited to participate!  The theme, “Share Your View!”, focuses on a seemingly local experience – the view from your window (or door).  However, by placing these locations on the map, the application puts things in a broader perspective — presenting a tapestry of views from all over the world.  Visit the live web map to submit your view and see entries that others have submitted.

What can you do with “Share Your View”?   You can use it as a starting point for discussing geotechnologies, crowdsourcing, citizen science, story mapping, and location privacy.  By examining the submitted photographs, you can compare vegetation, building types, land use, language, weather, climate, presence or absence of water, population density, and other aspects of the physical and cultural geography from a wide variety of locations around the world that your students observe in this map and photographs.

In what other ways can you use this resource for teaching and learning?

Share Your View crowdsourcing app and map

Share Your View crowdsourcing app and map.  This the lovely view of the Colorado Rocky Mountains from my office at Esri Denver.

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GIS and Educational REsearch: The Goldilocks Zone of School District Size

Does the size of a school district matter? Specifically, does the size of the school district (as measured by the Average Daily Attendance – ADA) affect school academic performance? In California, elementary serving school districts range from an ADA of just over 5 (Panoche Elementary School District – located in San Benito County about 13 miles south of Hollister) to well over half a million (Los Angeles Unified School District).

Because municipalities arguably contribute resources to educational achievement, accounting for the location of schools in municipalities is essential in assessing school performance. However, school district and municipal boundaries do not often coincide in California, resulting in a “crazy quilt” of overlapping jurisdiction lines. ArcGIS was crucial in constructing the dataset used in this study because schools needed to be geocoded and then located both within their school district and within their municipality.

Regression analysis – a statistical technique that allows one to test various hypothesized causal relationships – was used to determine the strength and significance of the ADA of the school district in explaining the API of the school. The analysis controlled for a large number of other variables related to school outcomes, like parents’ educational attainment, demographic variables, district spending per ADA, population density, enrollment growth in the school, and enrollment growth in the district. The study also accounted for whether the school was a charter school. As suggested by previous literature, many of these variables accounted for a significant part of school API.

Looking at the effect that ADA has on API, however, provided some new insight. To capture potential scale effects, two terms associated with ADA were used in the regression analysis – ADA and ADA squared; the effect of ADA was modeled as if it were a quadratic equation – a form that allows the effect of the impact to change direction – for example, to first rise and then fall. The estimated coefficients of the quadratic equation give an “ADA Impact Factor” as represented in Fig. 1.

Fig. 1 Estimated ADA Impact Factor

The estimated ADA Impact Factor suggests that an ADA of approximately 71,200 is the optimal school district size. The regression allows one to estimate the “API bump” that a school district imparts to its schools by virtue of being closer to the right size. One hundred of the eight hundred elementary serving districts had an ADA Impact Factor greater than or equal to 15.

The “Goldilocks Zone” of school district size is not just a statistical curiosity. It correlates with significant fiscal and governance features. School districts with a high ADA Impact Factor are predominantly unified school districts. School districts with a low ADA Impact Factor are predominantly elementary school districts. The average spending per ADA of high ADA Impact Factor districts was more than 6% lower than the average spending per ADA of low ADA Impact Factor districts. This suggests that the unified school district may have advantages in both fiscal terms and in terms of school quality. Indeed, it suggests that there are economies of scope – efficiencies associated with producing many kinds of education as unified school districts do.

Fig. 2 is a choropleth map of elementary serving school districts by their API Impact Factor

- J. M. Pogodzinski, Guest Contributor
Department of Economics
San Jose State University

1. Elementary serving districts are either elementary school districts or unified school districts.
2. First, some adjustments were made to the data. I excluded the Los Angeles Unified School District from the statewide sample because LA was an extreme outlier in ADA, and its inclusion materially affected the results. Second, I excluded a few very small districts because their expenditures per ADA were more than three standard deviations above the mean. These appear to be very small districts that have high fixed costs, so their spending patterns are abnormal.

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A GPS Track on a Running Track: Reflections on GPS Accuracy

Recently, while at the Applied Geography Conference in Atlanta, I decided to test the spatial accuracy of my smartphone’s GPS in a challenging environment–a rooftop running track.  Although on a roof, the track was surrounded by buildings far taller, and in downtown Atlanta, to boot, a location with many other buildings impeding signals from GPS, wi-fi hotspots, and cell phone towers.  Another challenge was that each lap on the track was only 0.10 miles, and therefore, I would not travel very far across the Earth’s surface.

After an hour of walking, and collecting the track on my smartphone with a fitness app (Runkeeper), I uploaded my track as a GPX file and created a web map of it in ArcGIS Online.  As I expected, the track’s position was compromised by the tall buildings–I only had a view of about half the sky during my time on the roof.  As you can measure for yourself on the map linked above, the track lines formed a band about 15 meters wide, but interestingly, were more spatially precise along the eastern side of the track, where the signal was better, as you can see in my video that I recorded at the same time.

Also, as I have encountered numerous times in the past, a line about 100 meters long stretches to the north.  Rest assured that I did not leap off  the building, but rather, the first point that the GPS app laid down as I opened the doors to walk outside was about a block away.  Then, as I remained outside, the points became more accurate.  When you collect data with students, the more time you have on the point you are collecting, typically the more accurate that point is spatially.

ArcGIS Online map of my rooftop walk

ArcGIS Online map of my rooftop walk.

Another interesting aspect of this study is that if the basemap is changed to satellite imagery, it appears that the track overlaps the tall building to the west.  Try it!  However, a closer investigation reveals that this is a result of the orthocorrection that was done to the imagery; the buildings do not appear from “straight overhead”, but rather, “fall away” to the east.  Turn this into another teachable moment:  Images, like maps, are not perfect. However, both are very useful and we can learn to manage error and imperfection through critical thinking and through the use of geotechnologies.

To dig deeper into issues of GPS track accuracy, see my related post on errors and teachable moments in collecting data, and on comparing the accuracy of GPS receivers and smartphones and mapping field collected data in ArcGIS Online here and here.

Despite these challenges, overall, I was quite pleased with my track’s spatial accuracy, even more so considering that I had the phone in my pocket most of the time I was walking.

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Fun with GIS 168: The Only Constant

In November 1989, the Berlin Wall was coming down. The world was changing, dramatically, and quickly. A decade into teaching high school social studies, I told my students “Remember this. You will be able to tell your kids ‘I remember when…’ And get used to change. Be ready to adapt.” Later, a colleague reported hearing at a teacher conference “I wish things hadn’t changed. I had all my lectures in place. Now I have to have all new material, and nobody has written the new books yet.”

Twenty-five years later, the pace of change has only quickened, whether in politics, society, or technology. An employment analyst recently noted (I’m paraphrasing here) “What young people today need is not so much a specific bank of skills. They need the ability, and the drive, to learn new things constantly. New information, skills, and technologies. Constantly.”

This is true even with GIS. New tools, capacities, and data appear with dizzying speed. Each new technology opens new doors. GIS has leapt from mainframe to workstation to laptop, tablet, and smartphone. The ecosystem of tools is vastly more powerful now together than the sum of its isolated parts. The user who can integrate knowledge and cross-fertilize capacities, the better to address questions, is leaps ahead.

I still hear educators “missing the days, even just a few years ago, when things were simpler, and there weren’t so many tools and options. It’s hard now to know what to teach.” I disagree. One teaches students — and oneself — about the world, problem-solving, learning. Whether about the Berlin Wall, privacy, big data, or buttons on a smartphone app, the mission is “learning.” Learning to learn, learning to adapt, to the constantly changing world.

Charlie Fitzpatrick, Esri Education Manager

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Primary School Spatial Thinking and GIS Activities

We receive many inquiries about how GIS and spatial thinking can be used with primary (elementary) aged students.  In honor of GIS Day and Geography Awareness Week being upon us, I thought it would be the perfect time to highlight a few ideas and resources that you could use to develop and apply spatial thinking skills.

We have always advocated (1) that the most appropriate tool be used for the objective at hand; and (2) spatial thinking skills are developed through a variety of means, methods, settings, and media.  These include the appropriate use of ArcGIS Online, for example, to examine world biomes, the locations and growth of cities, land use and demography of their local community, population change by country, the frequency and distribution of earthquakes and other natural hazards, the shape and size of watersheds, and so on.  A selective use of the ArcGIS Online presentation mode, for example, to foster students as “map detectives” can be used effectively, as I have done with this “Name That Place” presentation and with another entitled “Weird Earth.”

However, fostering spatial thinking at young ages in particular needs to use all five senses, and needs to include outdoor experiences.  Using globes, mapping trees on campus, watching videos about scale coupled with measuring objects around school and the perimeter of the school building are just a few activities that can be effectively used.  I am a firm believer in fostering spatial thinking using tactile-based activities such as this lesson I developed that asks students to create a thematic map on a translucent sheet of paper based on ArcGIS Online imagery, described here and in video form here.   Another tried-and-true lesson is to ask students to draw a map of their classroom, and, depending on the students’ age, incorporating map scale.  Another simple but powerful activity I have used during hundreds of school visits over the past 20 years is to ask the students to draw an outline of the school building, as it would look from above, orienting it according to cardinal directions, and labeling the different sections of the building and school grounds.  Then, I ask students to check their maps against the imagery in ArcGIS Online and discuss differences and similarities and the reasons for them.

Creating a thematic map from a satellite image

Creating a thematic map from a satellite image.

Our colleagues in education and industry continue to create a rich body of resources.  For example, Barbaree Duke created a series of language-arts based activities, some of which can be used in primary school.  The 20 Minute GIS for Young Explorers curriculum from GISetc spans multiple disciplines and though rich in content, each can truly be taught in 20 minutes.

Finally, exploring history, geography, art, science, mathematics, and other disciplines can be easily done through studying the gallery of storymaps or … having the students make their own storymap.  Other ideas exist on the GIS Day website.  I’ve run out of space.  What are your ideas for fostering spatial thinking at young ages?

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New Galleries of Geography and Mathematics Maps and Lessons in ArcGIS Online

I have created 5 new geography-based lessons and 5 new mathematics-based lessons and placed them in 2 galleries in ArcGIS Online.  All 10 lessons are geared toward Grade 6, but can be modified for primary or for upper secondary school.  All are based on ArcGIS Online and can be used without logging in; they are designed to introduce students to spatial thinking while focusing on core geography and mathematics standards and content.

The geography lessons include investigations of volcanoes, rivers, oceans, cities, and agriculture, while the mathematics lessons ask students to study demographics, temperature extremes, earthquakes, the shape of the Earth, and latitude-longitude. Each lesson is grounded in educational content standards, and takes advantage of the ArcGIS Online live web mapping environment to foster critical thinking, problem-based learning, and inquiry.

For example, the earthquake activity’s introductory questions include, “Can you apply the principles of probability to real-world events and data?  Can you compare and interpret information using maps, databases, and timelines so that you can better understand earthquakes over space and time?”  Mathematics standards embedded in this activity include:  (1)  Describe and order simple events using familiar language, and describe and compare the likelihood of future real-life events using 0, less than ½, ½, more than ½, 1. (2)  Understand, explain, and use the probability of earthquakes at the global, regional, and local scale.  (3) Describe and compare the likelihood of future real-life events (earthquakes) at the global, regional, and local scale.  (4)  Understand, explain, and use the place value of positive numbers of any size.  (5)  Round numbers to the nearest 10, 100, and 1000 and justify rounding in terms of closeness to the number.  (6)  Order and compare whole numbers of any size in ascending and descending order.  (7)  Select and apply an appropriate numeracy strategy to solve addition, subtraction, multiplication, and division problems and justify the choice of strategy.  (8)  Add and subtract decimal numbers with the same and different number of decimal places.  (9) Investigate the units for time and convert between them, and (10)  Draw and interpret timelines to record events.

The other activities are similarly grounded in solid content, and foster key skills and the spatial perspective.

I encourage you to try the lessons, but also to consider using galleries in ArcGIS Online to serve your own activities.  The gallery presents students with a convenient “one-stop shop” to access content.  Galleries point to a group containing the content that you wish to show, and are easy to set up, as this video explains.  And as you can see from the two galleries I set up here, they can point to more than just web maps. In the case of my galleries, I point to PDFs of the lessons, and in each PDF is a link to the web map that the students are to open to begin their investigations.  Try it!

Gallery of Mathematics Lessons in ArcGIS Online.  A new Geography gallery exists too.

Gallery of Mathematics Lessons in ArcGIS Online. A new Geography gallery exists as well.

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Fun with GIS 167: T3G 2015

Day by day, maps help us cope with an increasingly complex and interconnected world. They help businesses, government agencies, and non-profit orgs, vast and tiny alike, solve problems. Each new technology opens doors for those who can work with tools, analyze data, and present it intelligibly. Careers blossom for those who can both think and do with geographic info and tools.

Esri’s annual Teachers Teaching Teachers GIS Institute is for educators and education influencers who know enough about GIS to grab hold, engage, and carry the technology to other educators. Back for a 7th year, the 2015 T3G seeks 100 educators willing to focus for a week on changing lives by bringing GIS into education more powerfully.

Educators from grade school to grad school, formal to informal, and education influencers at all levels from local, state, and even national positions, learn to help others think and work more capably with online maps and apps, on computers, tablets, and smartphones. New friends and colleagues share and learn from each other in a tidal wave of maps, apps, ideas, and opportunities.

Join the GIS-PD team at T3G! Check out the movies, see the application, take the online course, and consider if you too are ready to help others learn with GIS. June 14-19, 2015, at Esri in Redlands, CA. See

Charlie Fitzpatrick, Esri Education Manager

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10 Skills the Future Workforce will Need: Connections to GIS

I was intrigued by a recent article by a director at Teach for All, Nicholas Enna, who listed 10 skills the workforce of the future will need.  As I was reading the article, I could not help but see the connections between the 10 skills and the tenets that we in the GIS education community hold dear.

The first skill identified is that “They will need to know how to create new worlds.”  Modeling the real world’s complexities has been a mainstay of GIS, and more recently, GIS has been used to envision and plan the future, such as in the emerging field of geodesign.  The second skill identified is that “They will need to think holistically.”  By seeing the spatial and temporal connections to such things as watersheds, human settlement, natural hazards, soils, weather patterns, landforms, and land use, students using GIS are required to think holistically about communities, regions, and the planet.

The fourth skill, that “they will turn information into matter and matter into base information on the fly,” is also relevant to teaching and learning with GIS.  Students turn data from text, tables, images, videos, and spatial data layers into information to make a decision, whether it is for the optimal site for a new wind farm or library, or areas of unstable slopes near a ski area.  They become critical thinkers about the data and information that they create.

Skill number 8, that “They will all be data analysts,” is at the heart of working with GIS.  As my colleague Charlie Fitzpatrick wrote, GIS is a “thinker’s tool.”  It requires analyzing data from a variety of sources, time periods, scales, and themes to make sense of a problem and begin to address its pertinent issues.   Data is messy and unpredictable, but the students who are not afraid to dig into and analyze data will be well positioned for the workplace.

The number 9 skill identified by the author is that, “The ability to tell a good story will be valued over spreadsheets, graphs, and data points.”  For thousands of years, maps have been used to tell stories because of their compact nature but rich content.  Digital maps offer all of the advantages of paper maps and much more.  Students can create presentations in ArcGIS Online, story maps, embed multimedia into their maps, and embed the maps into web pages.

Finally, the author’s number 10 skill identified that “Our future workforce must be ready to become “shallow experts” very quickly on many different types of software, platforms, and services” in some ways connects very well to GIS.  While I do believe that an immersion in GIS cannot be shallow if one wants to use it effectively, I have observed countless times that GIS is a holistic set of skills.  Using GIS requires that students have skills in a wide variety of computer and non-computer skills, as identified by the Geospatial Technology Competency Model and others.

How could you use this list of 10 skills to make the case for the use of GIS in education?

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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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