New GPS and Fieldwork Resources Online

A new group in the Esri K12 ArcGIS Online organization invites investigation into fieldwork, GPS, geocaching, and related topics.  The group is open to everyone, and contains a variety of activities, recommendations, videos, and other resources that have been tested with students and educators in a wide variety of settings, disciplines, and levels.

These 32 resources are organized in four sections.  Section A contains core content items such as a GPS primer, ways to map your field data, GPS to GIS videos, waypoints and tracks, and other items to develop skills and content knowledge. Section B focuses on activities, from “Get outside with GPS!” to mapping everyday routes, to setting up citizen science maps, and crowdsourcing your photographs.  Section C’s focus is on geocaching–how to set up a geocaching route, how to effectively use geocaching in instruction, and samples of geocaching courses with creative themes, such as zombies, historical transportation, and more.  Section D digs into technical issues such as comparing the spatial accuracy of GPS data to that collected with smartphones, and teaching about accuracy, precision, and critical thinking with these devices.

Give these resources a try and I invite you to share your results with the community by commenting below.

GPS group in Esri K12 ArcGIS Online Organization

GPS group in Esri K12 ArcGIS Online Organization.

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Using historical USGS topographic maps in ArcGIS Online

Recently, I wrote about a wonderful new resource called the USGS Historical Map Explorer, which provides an easy way to examine change over time using USGS maps for any area of the USA.  But let’s say you want to add these historical maps to other data layers that you are investigating in ArcGIS Online.  The way to accomplish this is via the method that my colleague Charlie Fitzpatrick recently described–by using the Esri Map Layers through your ArcGIS Online organizational subscription.

To access these maps, use the Add Data function and Browse Esri Map Layers.  Select Basemaps, and then Historical Maps, as shown below.

Adding historical USGS maps from Esri Map Layers

Adding historical USGS maps from Esri Map Layers.

I selected the 1:24,000 scale USGS layer and zoomed to Morrison, Colorado, as shown below.

1957 USGS map of Morrison, Colorado

1957 USGS map of Morrison, Colorado.

The most current USGS maps are available through the “USA Topo” layer.  I searched for this layer in ArcGIS Online and added it, as shown below:

1995 USGS map of Morrison, Colorado

1995 USGS map of Morrison, Colorado.

But as this “most current” map is from 1995, you have yet another option:  You can compare all of these USGS maps to the up-to-date topographic basemap in ArcGIS Online, which is no more than a few months old.  At your fingertips you now have a wonderful library of tens of thousands of historical USGS topographic maps and current basemaps with which you can study physical and cultural changes on the landscape.  You can also do this with the historical USGS topographic map explorer that I previously wrote about.

Each of these two methods has its advantages.  The USGS topographic map explorer is an app, and like all apps, it does only a few things, but it does them very well.  It is best if all you want to do is investigate land use change over time with historical maps.  The method that this blog focuses on–accessing the historical maps via ArcGIS Online’s Esri map layers–gives you much more flexibility and power.  Using this method, you can add other layers to your investigation, such as historical aerial photographs, population change, zoning, watersheds, and much more.

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On a mission to inspire – empowering girls to pursue STEM careers

Guest blog by Julia Guard, Esri Tech Support Analyst

As a woman with a career in software, I was excited to learn about Esri’s involvement in WhizGirls, and honored by the opportunity to work directly with the program.  The California based WhizGirls Academy aims to inspire young girls to explore STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) through fun, hands-on learning initiatives. The project-based gaming approach follows a “detective” theme, encouraging the growth of analytical skills and teamwork as the girls work together on “missions” as “secret agents.” At Esri, we support their mission by presenting workshops that foster spatial thinking and introduce career paths available in GIS and programming.

“WhizGirls are empowered. Empowered to learn, empowered to explore, empowered to be themselves.”
Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia, WhizGirls Academy Founder

WhizGirls Academy

The WhizGirls Academy empowers young women to learn, to explore, and to be themselves.

WhizGirls also aims to connect with inner-city, low-income, and alternative students. On my most recent trip to work with the WhizGirls, I was initially taken aback by the environment. I sat among young women ages 15-18, several of whom are raising themselves without the security of parents or a safe home. Many of these girls know a thing or two about hardship, opportunities lost, and the value of a dollar. What they may not know is just how much education will determine their future.

Less than ten years ago, I too was a teenage girl, and just as unsure of myself. For me, discovering geography was a turning point. It was the educational investment I made in myself that gave me the confidence to feel like a “whiz girl”. The education I received enables me to tell a story of success, opportunities gained, and the value of a career. Working with the WhizGirls program, I got to share the benefit I reaped from my education. So, while the girls were busy missioning to “crack the code,” I missioned to show them both the fun and opportunities available in a career based in STEM.

As the technological focus for WhizGirls is front-end web development, I was able to collaborate with colleagues in order to demonstrate some basic ways that HTML & CSS are integrated in Esri products. Using ArcGIS Online, we helped the girls design webmaps using data that was meaningful to them. We also showed them how to use tools to measure, search, and perform analysis to interact with their maps. The workshop allowed us to introduce some fundamental GIS concepts as well as discuss how code is used to build each application.

The result was outstanding: we filled a room with laughter, learning and an infectious energy for exploration.  The girls seemed to really enjoy interacting with maps, discovering different geographies, and dabbling with a little HTML. Sharing the joy of a new discovery is a wonderful experience; however, what struck me the most was the feeling of empowerment we shared as we learned together and inspired one another.

WhizGirls provides more than an introduction to programming; it provides an introduction to empowerment through STEM education. The program is hard at work to develop a space where girls are encouraged to be themselves and to take pride in truly being a “whiz girl”.

For more information about WhizGirls, contact Shirin Salemnia.

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Free webinar tonight: ArcGIS Online, ConnectED and GeoMentors

Free webinar through the NCGE Webinar series.

ArcGIS Online, ConnectED and GeoMentors – A Beautiful Friendship

Join us for a webinar on Sep 10, 2014 at 8:00 PM EDT.

Register now!

The best things in life ARE free. Webinars, tools, programs, and mentors. Will you grab opportunity when it knocks? To support ConnectED, Esri offers every US K12 school a free, powerful, professional, web-based GIS. GeoMentors are anxious to help all HS/MS/elementary educators use it. And a free webinar puts it all together. Join us! Free!

After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the webinar.

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Fun with GIS 163: Any Connected Device, Anytime, Anywhere

Tablets are surging in K12 schools and US home. As a test, I’m writing this blog on my iPad while flying across the country, battling for the modest bandwidth with other device users among the 170 passengers. I want to use the special “Browse Esri Map Layers” option in ArcGIS Online to inspect some premium content. My flight goes near where I grew up, and I want to see some changes over time.

I was raised where woods, farm, and town mingled. I walked out the driveway and 100 yards down a dirt road to the school bus stop; across the paved road was a pig farm. Before I hit age 20, though, the area had become an exclusive suburb. Today, the region battles typical pressures on land use, water, and waste management, caused by population change and economic development. The pond where we chased turtles in summer and played hockey in winter is now a fen; hillsides of oaks and berry patches have sprouted houses and driveways.

I signed into my ArcGIS Online subscription, made a map, and chose “Browse Esri Map Layers” (an option available only for subscriptions). This curated content has a mix of optimized and categorized layers. I added and explored 2014-2019 USA Population Growth Rate, USA Development Risk, USA Hazardous Waste Sites, and USA NLCD Landscape. Content in the curated zone is all carefully documented, so I can tap and read underlying info, then tap and return to the map.

Though my internet connection is not fast, focusing on a specific region and minimizing redraw uses content cached in the browser, yielding reasonable performance. The iPad allows me to do all the exploration I would do on a full computer, and to swipe back and forth between map, screenshots, and document. I have even made a presentation, saved it, and iteratively revised it.

The magic of education is opening a mind to endless opportunity and fostering the disposition to explore. The magic of technology is not gadgets per se but rather what one can do with what is available; it’s vastly more thrilling to see students doing powerful things with modest tools than modest things with powerful tools. The magic of GIS is layers of data in the hands of a thinking explorer. The magic of Esri’s ConnectED offer of an ArcGIS Online subscription to any US K12 school is “any connected device, any time, anywhere.”

Charlie Fitzpatrick, Esri Education Manager

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Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning and GIS

In their wonderful book about the science of successful learning, Make It StickPeter Brown, Henry Roediger, and Mark McDaniel spell out some truths that I believe are instructive as to how we should approach teaching with GIS.

First, the authors claim that ”learning is deeper and more durable when it’s effortful. Learning that’s easy is like writing in sand, here today and gone tomorrow.”   Despite the fact that teaching and learning with GIS is far easier than it was a decade ago, I think we as educators do a disservice to our colleagues in education or to students when we say, “it’s easy.”  First of all, teaching and learning are difficult tasks–neither is for the fainthearted.  Second, think of everything that goes into teaching with GIS–a balance between content knowledge, skills, and the geographic perspective.  Yes, it may be easier technically to bring in a CSV file into ArcGIS Online than it was to bring in a spreadsheet into ArcInfo back in the 1990s, but even this skill relies on some key foundations.  A few of these are:  What is a database and how can I create one?  How can locations be mapped?  How can I work with latitude and longitude pairs, or street addresses? What are the pros and cons of choosing a certain map projection over another?

Furthermore, recall a time when working in GIS when you tenaciously stuck to a problem you were grappling with and finally figured it out.  That shouldn’t take long–you are not likely to forget those times, nor the skills that you gained by doing so, either.  If everything was easy, according to these authors, and confirmed by our own experiences in using GIS, we certainly wouldn’t remember it as well.  And by implication, we wouldn’t be building a foundation for new knowledge, as I will expand below.

Second, the authors claim that “all new learning requires a foundation of prior knowledge.”  How often do we as educators, or we as students, want to skip right to an advanced task without understanding the knowledge and skills that need to be in place first?  For example, when teaching a recent workshop on mapping field data, many of the workshop participants wanted to skip to the last item on the agenda–citizen science mapping with live web mapping services–before understanding how data can be mapped and what a mapping service is in the first place.

Third, “putting new knowledge into a larger context helps learning.”  One of the purposes of this blog, the EdCommunity resources, webinars, the T3G institute, ConnectEd, and other initiatives is to ground the use of GIS in the larger context of educational best practice, within specific disciplines’ content, within the context of other geospatial skills.  Even the tried-and-true lesson of using GIS to teach about plate tectonics should take place in a larger context of the physical processes of the Earth and the relationship between earthquakes, volcanoes, and plate boundaries.

There are other instructive gems for teaching and learning with GIS, such as “learning is an acquired skill, and the most effective strategies are often counterintuitive”, but I’ve run out of space in this essay.  I leave it to you to read this book, reflections by my colleague Charlie Fitzpatrick, and an article in Education Week about “grit”, and to share your comments here.

Make It Stick - Book

Make It Stick – Book.

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Extended to Sept 30! Call for Chapters: STEM and GIS in Higher Education

[Update: The chapter proposal deadline has been extended to September 30, 2014.]

This ebook will provide compelling stories of innovative ways faculty are incorporating GIS to advance STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) related activities in higher education. As a successor to the existing publication Advancing STEM Education with GIS, the eBook will explore how faculty, staff and students are successfully using GIS to analyze and better understand data in their specific STEM fields.  The target audience for this book is university STEM faculty who may know little about GIS or spatial analysis.  The objectives are to provide thought provoking stories, describe innovative approaches to the collection, analysis and display of spatial data, and identify the unique benefits of applying GIS methods.  Ideally, the book will become a major resource in the development of spatially oriented teaching or research models within STEM disciplines.

The eBook will demonstrate the value of using a spatial perspective to organize and analyze data from many disciplines. An emphasis will be placed on STEM-GIS methods and tools that investigate real world problems.  Examples may include:

  • a biology faculty member, who uses GIS to document speciation of particular salamander around a valley, or
  • a civil engineering professor who uses ArcGIS to extend her CAD models of bridges with students, or
  •  the statistics professor who integrates R-based programming with ArcGIS to extend geospatial correlations within a mathematical model of migratory paths.

Chapter proposals due to editor Dr. David Cowen: September 30, 2014

(Editor’s note: This blog was originally published July 23, 2014. It was republished on September 4, 2014 for the extended chapter proposal deadline.)

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Beyond Mapping: Compilation of 25 Years of Essays and Activities about GIS

The Beyond Mapping Compilation Series of the 25-year run of the “Beyond Mapping” column by Dr. Joseph K. Berry in GeoWorld is finally “soup.”  The nearly 1000 pages and more than 750 figures in the Series provide a comprehensive and longitudinal perspective of the underlying concepts, considerations, issues and evolutionary development of modern geotechnology, including remote sensing, GIS, and GPS.

Beyond Mapping Compilation

Beyond Mapping: Compilation of Essays and Activities in Geotechnologies.

The Series is organized into four online books (with hard copy options), each containing an Introduction, Ten Topics, Epilogue, and Further Readings with links to online support materials including additional online readings, color graphics files, instructor materials, and software for “hands-on” exercises that are cross-referenced to the topics.

Book IV — GIS Modeling: Applying Map Analysis Tools and Techniques (columns from 2007 to 2014).  This compilation extends earlier discussions of map analysis concepts, procedures, approaches, applications and issues affecting contemporary relevance and future potential.

Book III — Map Analysis: Understanding Spatial Patterns and Relationships (columns from 1996 to 2007).  This compilation develops a structured view of the important concepts, considerations and procedures involved in grid-based map analysis.

Book II — Spatial Reasoning for Effective GIS (columns from 1993 to 1996).  This compilation encourages the reader to extend the historic role of maps telling us “Where is what?” to “So what?”

Book I — Beyond Mapping: Concepts, Algorithms and Issues in GIS (columns from 1989 to 1993).  This compilation describes an emerging technology that goes beyond traditional mapping and spatial database management to new concepts and procedures for modeling the complex interrelations among spatial data of all kinds.

The resource is available here, and permission to use portions of the Beyond Mapping Compilation Series collection of columns for educational and non-commercial purposes is granted (and encouraged).   Navigation within this tsunami of information is aided by five separate organizational listings of the individual Beyond Mapping columns, including a Chronological Listing of the nearly 300 individual Beyond Mapping columns (.html and .pdf), an Application Listing that organizes the columns by application areas (.html and .pdf), an Operations Listing that organizes the columns by operational topic/theme discussed (.html and .pdf), an Interactive Listing that can be searched/sorted by any word or phrase, topic, theme and application area (Word .doc), and a soon-to-be-published Combined Index of keywords and phrases covering all four books (.html; in progress; planned for Fall 2014).

–Joseph K. Berry

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Fun with GIS 162: Connected Fields and Dreams

A new school year starts, filled with promise and hope. Few professions exceed teaching for demonstrating faith on a daily basis. Teachers deserve every gram of support we can muster. Through the ConnectED initiative, Esri offers to any US K12 school a powerful instructional resource: an ArcGIS Online Organization account, plus guidance on use, and links to growing numbers of mentors.

ArcGIS Online itself is maturing, getting stronger. Users in Organization accounts now have the capacity to add data fields in owned feature services and do calculations. I decided to explore this with data from the Annie E. Casey Foundation’s “KIDS COUNT Data Center”, going straight to their data tables. A wealth of powerful data awaits there, but I chose just four fields: “Population less than 18 (2012)”, “Population 18 and over (2012)”, “Median family income among households with children (2012)” and “Per-pupil educational expenditures adjusted for regional cost differences (2011).” I created a spreadsheet with just those four fields.

A previous blog (Fun with GIS 93) showed an external process for enhancing data, and provided a shapefile of the US 50 states. I followed that exact process (carefully!) to add the four fields to “states.dbf”, then re-zipped and published the shapefile into my Organization account.

To test adding fields and creating calculations in ArcGIS Online, I made a field for total population, then another for percent in each age group, and used the calculate process to populate each. After setting the popup and map, the result shows some of the challenges faced by some educators.

Educators cannot control who walks into their room, nor dollars available, but they have huge influence on what gets taught and, more importantly, how. Using the powerful web-based mapping and analysis tools of ArcGIS Online Organizations, on multiple platforms, even if only via a single cheap computer or tablet projected onto a bare wall, can engage kids endlessly, build content knowledge and skills, and help kids dream of and work toward a better future for all.

Charlie Fitzpatrick, Esri Education Manager

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Creating Quizzes Using Esri Story Maps

Esri Story Maps are useful for many things in education, for students and educators alike.  These uses include giving presentation, exploring historical and current topics from local to global scale, for assessing student work, and much more, as my colleagues and I have been writing in this blog and elsewhere.

They can also be useful for quickly setting up and giving quizzes to test student content knowledge, spatial thinking, geotechnology skills, perspectives, and so much more.  As a simple example, I created a quiz about the physical and cultural geography of Wyoming, shown below and accessible here.  In this quiz, I provide two photographs that I have taken at two different locations in Wyoming.  I ask students to match the photograph with the correct location.  Four pairs of photographs are included, and to solve the quiz successfully, students must think about landforms, rainfall, land use, and human impact of the landscape, using the map, their own content knowledge, and by thinking spatially.  I like this kind of quiz because the students get to play “detective” and look for clues, but also draw on their own knowledge.

I used the new Story Map Journal template to create this quiz, and was able to quickly post it online.  Give it a try to see how well you do on your Wyoming geography!  You can create your own storymap quiz here.

Wyoming Map Quiz Story Map

Wyoming Map Quiz Story Map.

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