Lakota Wicowoyake Canku owapi: Lakota Language Story Map

My colleague James Rattling Leaf and I created a story map on the Lakota language.   Our reasons for doing so are several.  We have long been interested in and collaborated on projects involving education, maps, and GIS, and wanted to illustrate how the story maps platform can be used to learn and teach about Native Languages, beginning with Lakota. When you access the story map, and step through its contents, you will be able to hear audio of a dozen words that are in both Lakota and English, a photograph of each spoken feature, and what that feature looks like on a satellite image map.  By coupling visual cues with audio, we hope to inspire others living on the Lakota lands, those working with projects such as Recovering Voices, at the WoLakota Project, at the Language Conservancy, and others, to take these ideas and do even more with the story maps platform.  For example, you could embed these story maps in web pages; you could add video to the maps (as we illustrated with the word “lake”), you could create different types of story maps, and much more.  For learning about language, place, biology, history, geography, and many other themes, integrating audio and video with maps is becoming a powerful and yet easy-to-understand medium.

Second, we are interested in the issue for reasons deeper than our affinity for languages, geography, and GIS.  As noted on, “Native languages in the United States are in the throes of a prolonged and deadly crisis. For the past 400 years, Native Peoples and their languages have been steadily and undeniably disappearing. Though the historical fate of Native Peoples has been reluctantly acknowledged, less is publicly known about the associated fate of their languages.”  And furthermore, “Lakota is dangerously close to extinction. Recent linguistic surveys and anecdotal evidence reveal that Lakota speakers of all abilities, on and around the reservations of North Dakota and South Dakota, amounted to fewer than 6,000 persons, representing just 14% of the total Lakota population. Today, the average Lakota speaker is near 65 years old.”

Furthermore, geography, place, location, and culture are reflected in the Lakota and other Native languages, making story maps an excellent tool for teaching and learning.  For example, according to, “Nature is used as the primary source for the metaphor models,” and “Lakota is also very good at emphasizing the finer attributes of travel. A person can be considered to be coming or going to or from specific places in many levels detail. Lakota greetings themselves reflect this tendency, where in English “welcome” is literally Lakota – “Good that you came,” And “goodbye,” is “Travel well.” The language also closely linked the land to the people through geographical names and stories.  [] A word like woímnayankel, expresses notions of awe, humility, and interconnectedness. A Lakota speaker might use this when describing the experience of the northern lights (aurora borealis). The word expresses the humility that a person feels when confronted by the awesomeness of nature while also feeling intimately connected with it.”

How might you use story maps, and the ideas presented through this Lakota language story map, in your own work?

Lakota Wicowoyake Canku owapi:  Lakota Language Story Map

Lakota Wicowoyake Canku owapi: Lakota Language Story Map

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Fun with GIS 175: Styling Data

“Style my data?” That’s the verb; it connotes more than just basic classification and symbolization. The March release of ArcGIS Online gave great new options for styling data: heat maps, continuous colors, manual classification, transparency tweaks, and more.

Some of us struggled with the new choices. A popular tactic had been to ramp symbols of a feature set (e.g. stores by dollars, or counties by median age) and use a particularly striking symbol for the most extreme, making it even more prominent. Some had trouble finding that among all the new options. It’s still there and more powerful than ever, but a quick guide might help. And it’s usable even without logging in.

See this “Recent Earthquakes” map. It has a single layer drawn twice, symbolized once by depth, once by magnitude. This is a good practice map with enough features, and you can just refresh the map to do it all again. Turn off the “depth” layer and choose to change style for the magnitude layer, choosing “counts and amounts (size)”, and click options.

The default is a nicely ramped approach, with a modest histogram to guide your choices. It can look like this is your only option. But notice that you can scroll down to more options. (Larger screen size helps you see these more quickly; tablets, notebooks, and projectors can make this harder to notice.)

By scrolling down, I can now choose “Classify”, and control the characteristics of a finite symbol set. Set the number of classes and scheme. (I love manual breaks.)

NOW, you can click individual symbols and employ unlimited options, on whichever symbols are desired. The key was scrolling down to be able to classify first.

With all symbols tweakable, you can create just the look you want. After mastering the magnitude layer, try it on depth. Look carefully at what you can do with the “Symbols”, “Classes”, and “Legend” buttons in the upper right — they are clickable and yield more power.

Evolving software requires exploration with each new iteration. Read the “What’s new?” columns, and practice with a map you know well. Enjoy the expanding powers of ArcGIS Online!

Charlie Fitzpatrick, Esri Schools Program Manager

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The Choro-Quiz

Which answer below identifies the correct theme of this map?

Choro-quiz question 1:  Farms, small towns, or soybeans?

Choro-quiz question 1: Farms, small towns, or soybeans?

The answer:  Soybean acreage.  Too easy?  Well, then, see if you can identify the correct theme of his map:

Choropleth Map Quiz #2:  Mobile homes, divorced people, or never married people?

Choropleth Map Quiz #2: Mobile homes, divorced people, or never married people?

The answer?  Percent of housing units that are mobile homes.

For many of us, the word “quizzes” or “tests”, conjures up memories of stress or drudgery. For the educators reading these words, who deal with quizzes and tests on a daily basis, you know very well that creating quizzes that allow you to truly assess your students’ progress, that engage your students, and that provide a way for them to reflect upon their learning and at the same time, move forward with content and skills is no easy task.

But how would you feel if some of the quizzes were of the type that you just took above?   The above choropleth map quiz, or “choro-quiz”, which I provide in its entirety here,  invites students to think spatially about patterns, relationships, and trends.  Ask them to defend their answer with data.  Investigate each incorrect answer as well the correct answers and the reasons for the patterns that are shown. In the first example above, you could investigate satellite imagery or land use, determining why “land in farms” and “small rural communities” extends to a greater area than does the “soybean belt” above.  In the second example above, students may have read about the higher divorce rate in Nevada, making that answer seem plausible, except when you investigate the area south of Hoover Dam and realize that you are looking at the mobile population along the Colorado River.

This type of quiz is easy to create in ArcGIS Desktop, which I used above, or ArcGIS Online. You could use static screen shots or in the case of ArcGIS Online, create a presentation, embed the quiz in a web page, or create a storymap for your quiz. Depending on the background or educational level of the students, you can change the scale from countries to states or provinces, and smaller units down to the neighborhood level, if you have the data.  You can also make the correct answer fairly obvious, or create one or more choices that seem plausible.  You can use different techniques as well, such as my Weird Earth or Name That Place ideas here and here.

Stuck?  Would you like to see an answer key?  I provide an answer key here.

How might you be able to use this technique in your own instruction?

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Walking on Water? Revisiting Reflections on Resolution and Scale

A few years ago, I walked on the pier at Manitowoc, Wisconsin, and after mapping my route, reflected on issues of resolution of scale in this blog.  After recording my track on my smartphone in an application called RunKeeper, it appeared on the map as though I had been walking on the water!  This, of course, was because the basemap did not show the pier.  Recently, following the annual meeting of the Association of American Geographers, I had the opportunity to retrace my steps and revisit my study.  What has changed in the past 2 1/2 years?  Much.

As shown below, the basemap used by RunKeeper  has vastly improved in that short amount of time.  The pier is now on the map, and note the other difference between the new map and the one from 2012 below it–schools, trails, contour lines, and other features are now available.  A 3-D profile is available now as well.  Why?  The continued improvement of maps and geospatial data from local, regional, federal, and international government agencies plays a role.  We have a plethora of data sources to choose from, as is evident in Dr Karen Payne’s list of geospatial data and the development of Esri’s Living Atlas of the World.  The variety and resolution of base maps in ArcGIS Online continues to expand and improve at an rapid pace.  Equally significant, and some might argue more significant, is the role that crowdsourcing is having on the improvement of maps and services (such as traffic and weather feeds).  In fact, even in this example, note the “improve this map” text that appears in the lower right of the map, allowing everyday fitness app users the ability to submit changes that will be reviewed and added to RunKeeper’s basemap.

What does all of this mean for the educator and student using geospatial technologies? Maps are improving due to efforts by government agencies, nonprofit organizations, academia, private companies, and the ordinary citizen.  Yet, scale and resolution still matter.  Critically thinking about data and where it comes from still matters.  Fieldwork with ordinary apps can serve as an effective teaching technique.  It is indeed an exciting time to be in the field of geotechnologies.

Walking on Water?  Reflections on Resolution and Scale, Part 2

Walking on Water? Reflections on Resolution and Scale, Part 2. My walk on the north pier at Manitowoc, Wisconsin.

The map from 2012 is below.

Map from 2012 of my same route on the pier.

Map from 2012 of my same route on the pier.

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Exploring 600 of the World’s Largest Urban Areas

A new map in ArcGIS Online on the world’s largest urban areas invites exploration into the size and distribution of these important places.  This map shows the distribution of over 600 of the world’s largest urban areas, based on United Nations data.

Examine the map cartographically with your students.  How does the dark gray canvas basemap help make the blue city symbols stand out and the distribution become understandable?

Click on specific cities and compare their growth rates and total size.  Discuss some reasons for the wide variation.  The city attribute table lists population in 5 year increments from 1950 onward, projecting into the future to 2025.  How has the growth rate and size for each changed since 1950?  How will it change over the next few years, and …why?

Try filtering the layer to select only those cities above 10 million. How many cities meet the criterion?  What were the geographic advantages for these cities to be founded where they were, and what were the main reasons historically and geographically that fostered their growth?  How many cities are near coastlines, and why does proximity to coastlines matter?  How many urban areas are in what you would consider to be fragile ecosystems?

Open the table and sort on population.  How does the city in which you live or the city to which you are nearest compare to others in your region in terms of size and growth rate?

The urban areas layer can be added to any map constructed within ArcGIS Online. Taking advantage of the capability of using the map as a data layer means that you can add it to any map that you are working with, so that you can examine the relationship of these cities to, say, country birth rates and life expectancy, to land use, climate, natural hazard occurrence, or any other variables or themes.

How might you be able to use this map to foster inquiry in teaching and learning?

Map of world's largest urban areas.

Map of world’s largest urban areas.

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Call for Manuscripts: CITE 2016 Geospatial Technology Special Issue

Call for Manuscripts
CITE 2016 Geospatial Technology Special Issue
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Guest editors of Contemporary Issues in Technology and Teacher Education (CITE Journal),  Elizabeth Langran and Tom Baker, invite the submission of manuscripts reporting innovative uses and original research on the use of geospatial technology in teacher education (preservice, in-service, or in other professional development venues).

Geospatial technologies are an emerging family of tools with significant implications for preK-16 teaching. Geospatial technologies include geo-location devices (e.g., handheld GPS units and GPS-enabled mobile technologies), dynamic web maps and digital globes, analysis tools such as geographic information systems, remotely sensed data, and more. Standing alone, they can supplement instruction, such as integrating digital globes into science or social studies lessons or using educational geocaching. Geospatial technologies can also be used in conjunction with other instructional technologies and approaches.  For example, digital storytelling and social media can be greatly enhanced with  geotagged media and maps.  Using location-aware digital cameras and cellphones, students can integrate latitude and longitude coordinates in the project’s metadata, display, or even analysis. All of these uses can create exciting new possibilities for teaching and learning as students analyze, create, and communicate their experiences in the world.

See CITE Journal’s About page for more information on the scope and aim of the CITE Journal. Manuscripts must address the intersection of geospatial technology and teacher education. Papers about research on geospatial technologies in K-12 classrooms should include a thorough discussion of the implications for teacher education. Manuscripts will be reviewed on a blind review basis, and should adhere to the Author Guidelines. The editors strongly encourage submissions related to geospatial technology in Science Education, Mathematics Education, Social Studies Education, English Education, and Educational Technology.

Potential authors may contact the issue editors with questions or express their interest . Please upload complete manuscripts by October 15, 2015  at CITE Journal’s online submission site.

Elizabeth Langran, Ph.D.

Thomas R Baker, Ph.D.

  • Education Outreach, Esri
  • Center for STEM Learning, University of Kansas
  • Kansas City, MO, USA
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A Research Agenda for Geospatial Technologies and Learning

For the past few years, eight educational researchers have been working to produce the first pre-collegiate agenda for guiding research in geospatial technology education and learning.  The product of that labor has recently been published in the Journal of Geography from the National Council for Geographic Education.

Abstract:  Knowledge around geospatial technologies and learning remains sparse, inconsistent, and overly anecdotal. Studies are needed that are better structured; more systematic and replicable; attentive to progress and findings in the cognate fields of science, technology, engineering, and math education; and coordinated for multidisciplinary approaches. A proposed agenda is designed to frame the next generation of research in this field, organized around four foci: (1) connections between GST and geospatial thinking; (2) learning GST; (3) curriculum and student learning through GST; and (4) educators’ professional development with GST. Recommendations for advancing this agenda are included.

Author information, metadata, and sample information can be found online  at:

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Explore recent issues of Esri News for Education

Esri News for Education features case studies of students, educators, and administrators doing amazing things with GIS, curricular ideas, tips on implementation, map and data sources, and much more.  In case you missed reading one of the last few issues, they are linked to this blog below.  To subscribe, go to the subscription page, then “more newsletters”, then select “Education.”

The Spring 2012 issue features Stanford University’s GIS initiatives, The Los Angeles County Unified School District’s smartphone maintenance app, Palm Beach County Florida’s GIS-based curriculum, Kuwait University’s campus development, students in a native village in Alaska mapping climate change, GIS work at the Tufts University library, and a college student winning a prize for a mobile phone app.

The Fall 2012 issue features GIS integration into Career and Technical Education, school bus routing, smart mapping in ArcGIS Online, advancing STEM education, preserving history at Stanford University, Young Scholar awardees, mapping geology in New Zealand, the Geospatial Semester in Virginia, and more.

The Fall 2013 issue features web mapping with students from Ireland, extending GIS education beyond the classroom, story maps, GIS at 4H, the ArcGIS platform in higher education, the Teachers Teaching Teachers GIS (T3G) institute, GIS in careers, and other stories.

The Spring 2013 issue features the mobile application at Harvard University’s arboretum, GIS education in Africa, work from the first Esri education ambassador, a new Our Digital Earth course, Murray State University’s online business-oriented GIS modules, leveraging social media, community analyst, and more.

The Spring 2014 issue includes distance education at Penn State, converging global trends in GIS education, livening up the classroom with the “undead”, educational heroes, apps in education in Australia, grappling with school district growth, spatial thinking, and other information.

The Winter 2014 issue features creating a bright future for students, Abu Dhabi GIS education initiatives, improving school management with GIS, interior mapping at the University of Washington, returning to college, innovations at Kenyatta University, and other stories.

The Spring 2015 issue features new initiatives in Abu Dhabi and at the University of Redlands, an update on the ConnectEd STEM and GeoMentor programs, crowdsourcing, new approaches to teaching geography with GIS, and more.

Esri News for Education

Esri News for Education.

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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 do 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, with 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 – locations and heatmap.

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