Tag Archives: Curriculum
There are plenty of reasons why spatial thinking and geospatial technologies have yet to fulfill their transformative potential in higher education. However, it’s likely that concerted efforts by a few key institutions could have a dramatic impact. Mindful of this, it is apparent that there are five characteristics of “The Spatial University” ….
What would you do in 75 minutes to introduce your colleagues to spatial thinking and analysis? Recently I had the opportunity to do just that, when my Esri colleague Laura Bowden and I conducted a spatial thinking technical workshop at the 2012 Esri International User Conference. I share our outline and reflections in the hopes that it will be of assistance as you plan your own workshops and classes.
First, we were greatly encouraged by the inclusion of such a workshop in the conference for what we believe was the first time. Second, we decided to structure the workshop by introducing how several scholars have defined spatial thinking, plus our own reflections from the standpoint of GIS in education, and followed this with demonstrations of how to use spatial thinking in grappling with real world situations and data using several different tools. In essence, then, we sought to demonstrate “research into practice.”
We started the workshop by posing the following question to the attendees, “Are not all people in the GIS profession, by definition, spatial thinkers?” One could argue that they are indeed, but our purpose for the workshop was to make spatial thinking more purposeful. By employing spatial thinking, we sought to show this excellent group of GIS professionals that they could be more efficient on the job, ask better questions, discover new problems and investigate solutions, and have the opportunity to investigate new tools and build new GIS skills.
We began the workshop by defining spatial thinking as seen through the eyes of research from Joe Berry, Phil and Carol Gersmehl, and the National Academy of Sciences. We discussed our view that GIS relies on three legs of a stool—content knowledge, skills, and the geographic perspective. We then conducted investigations involving the analysis of different images around the world, showed thematic choropleth maps and asked the attendees to identify the “mystery variables,” studied historical tornadoes of the USA, modeled boundaries simple and complex with vector and raster data, mapped the patterns of local and regional businesses, tracked the mean center of the population over space and time, and studied real-time earthquakes. We used the most appropriate tool for each job, and therefore used a variety of tools, including ArcGIS Online, Community Analyst, and ArcGIS for Desktop, and our investigations covered all scales from local to global.
Distribution of two regional convenience store chains using Spatial Analyst. Can you guess which two are shown?
Did we leave something out that you would consider critical? How might you structure a workshop that you are requested to conduct on spatial thinking?
- Joseph Kerski, Esri Education Manager
Updated 9:45 am Pacific
The Saturday plenary for the Esri Education GIS Conference featured online mapping platforms, open educational resources, and STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math).
Online Mapping Platform links: Tom Baker & Danny Edelson (National Geographic)
- ArcGIS Online
- Community Analyst
- Business Analyst Online
- Map Gallery templates
- Esri Story Maps templates
- Esri Maps for Office Public Beta
Open Educational Resources: Joseph Kerski & Diana Sinton (University of Redlands)
- Esri Education Community
- Esri EdTeam YouTube Channel
- ArcGIS Online
- Our World GIS Education
- Esri Training
- International Perspectives on Teaching and Learning with GIS in Secondary Schools
- The GIS Guide to Public Domain Data
- Esri SpatiaLabs
- Spatial Programs at the University of Redlands
- Digital Earth EU
- Spatial Roundtable
- EdCommunity blog
STEM resources: Esther Worker & Richard Serby (GeoSearch)
Those of us on the Esri Education Team have dedicated our careers to promoting and supporting the use of GIS and spatial thinking in education to enhance teaching and learning and to have a positive impact on society. We believe that Esri GIS tools are some of the best means available to fostering spatial thinking and prepare students for 21st Century decision making. Yet we are frequently asked what non-software activities are effective in fostering spatial thinking. Thousands indoor and outdoor activities, games, and lessons serve as excellent resources to prepare students to use GIS and also are excellent where no access to the Internet or software exists. Indeed, one of my favorite stories from the recent International Perspectives on Teaching and Learning with GIS in Secondary Schools book I co-edited came from South Africa, where students studied issues in their community and country using paper maps. I really like what my colleague David DiBiase said to the United Nations in a recent address: “The digital divide is no excuse to ignore geography.” Space doesn’t permit me to expand on the many activities based on paper maps and aerials that are suitable that I and others in the community have used for years, so let me describe just one in this essay. I have used this activity many times from age 6 to university level.
- Before you teach the lesson, access ArcGIS Online and change the base map to imagery or Bing aerial (whichever is higher resolution) and zoom the map to focus on school where you will teach this lesson. Make sure the school and the school grounds take up most of the image, but include some of the surrounding neighborhood as well.
- Print one of the aerials for each student, leaving space on the right and top for the title, legend, and other information.
- Obtain one piece of translucent paper for each aerial, and some clear tape.
- Go to the class where you are teaching with your papers and printed aerials.
- Ask the students what they think the school looks like from above. Have the students sketch the school on the white board or on paper, noting which way is north. Can they identify the cardinal directions by standing up in the classroom and pointing?
- Hand out the aerials and translucent paper. Discuss how well the aerial matches the students’ drawings on the board. What matches, and what doesn’t match, and why?
- Have the students tape the paper to the aerial along the top edge only.
- Get out colored pencils or markers. Discuss elements that are important for a good map, such as TODALSIGS – Title, orientation, date, author, legend, scale, index, grid, and source. Add name, orientation, title, scale, and source to start with.
- Discuss map themes (trees, school building, street, playground, soils, lakes and streams, and so on). Have the students choose one color for each theme for the translucent paper. Trace each theme from the aerial photo onto the translucent paper, lifting up the paper when necessary to have a clearer view of the aerial.
- Add each theme to the legend using the same color used for the theme.
- Ask students to remove the translucent paper from the aerial photo: Now they have a map! How is the map the same as the aerial image? How is it different?
What paper-based activities have you used to foster spatial thinking?
- Joseph Kerski, Esri Education Manager
In my last blog post, I mentioned that universities are increasingly thinking about implementing courses entitled “Introduction to Spatial Thinking”. I described a few existing excellent models for such courses, inviting comments from the community. Development of such courses would be hastened by community dialog so that each faculty member does not feel like he or she has to develop such a course from scratch. In this essay, I would like to share components that would valuable in such a course.
I believe such a course should include a mix of reflections on readings and videos, and hands-on work with GIS and GPS technologies. An active discussion on the theoretical underpinnings of spatial thinking is necessary, because most students entering such a course most likely have had minimal exposure to geography in the past, and most likely have not purposely thought about the applicability of spatial thinking to their education, career, or life. I would begin with selected videos and essays to foster discussion, including the Geospatial Revolution, GIS Touches our everyday lives, my ArcWatch article Spatial Thinking: Habits of Mind, and my video Why Geography Education Matters. I would access articles on the bibliography on the Esri Education Community from Diana Stuart Sinton, Sarah Bednarz, Reg Golledge, and Phil Gersmehl, among others.
Whether face to face or online, I would promote active engagement with geospatial technologies. Easy-to-implement yet powerful activities would use ArcGIS Online, including Earth Quiz: Name that Place, analyzing the distribution of bail bonds and car washes in a metropolitan area, Weird Earth (Using strange and unusual imagery to spark inquiry), Exploring 10 Landscapes (such as eskers, karst, and lava fields), analyzing 10 aspects of water, (including watersheds, wetlands, dams and reservoirs, and oceans), and analyzing demographic components and their implications (such as median age, income, diversity, population density, and population change over time). Over the course of the semester, I would gradually increase the analytical rigor, using ArcGIS for Desktop with selected lessons from the Our World GIS Education books, siting a ski area using GIS, and determining the mean center of population for the USA and for individual states, 1790-2010. I would frequently include getting students out onto the campus or in their own neighborhoods (if the course is online), collecting data, mapping data, hyperlinking text, video, and photographs, and analyzing resulting patterns within a GIS environment.
I would require frequent presentations from students, including a presentation at the end of the semester, asking each student: How do you use spatial thinking each day, how have you used spatial thinking to solve three problems in this course, and how will you use GIS in the future?
What would you include in a course on spatial thinking?
-Joseph Kerski, Esri Education Manager
A question that gets increasingly asked on listservs and forums these days is advice by those who are planning a course at their university that focuses on spatial thinking. These courses may be entitled “Introduction to Spatial Thinking” but there are numerous variations, depending on the goals of the university and hosting department. It is exciting to learn about these new courses and those who are planning them, because it shows that the message that we in the geospatial education community have been sharing for years is at last getting out beyond our own community. That message has consistently been that spatial thinking and spatial analysis are too valuable to be held by a single department, program, or school on campus, whether it is Geography, Natural Sciences, or anything else. Rather, spatial thinking and analysis, and the use of GIS technology and methods as an aid in teaching those concepts, are valuable to the student’s overall education, career skills, and to society. These concepts and skills therefore need to be embedded in all departments on campus as part of a rigorous and innovative 21st Century education. Such courses not only provide theoretical and practical background for GIS courses, but also for any discipline in which the “where” question is important—in business marketing, environmental design, wildlife biology, history, civil engineering, geology, epidemiology, geography, and beyond.
How should such a course be planned and built? Fortunately, some good models exist. For example, the course developed by the GeoTech Center provides a checklist vetted by numerous GIS education professionals on what might be included. Dr Bone at the University of Oregon is developing a freshman-level course entitled Our Digital Earth, which will provide hundreds of students annually with an appreciation of the ubiquity of geospatial data and technologies in their everyday lives, and how the geospatial revolution is shaping societies around the world. Dr Diana Stuart Sinton developed courses at the University of Redlands such as Foundations of Spatial Thinking. Other example courses can be found in the “case studies” section of the Esri EdCommunity and in the pages of Esri publications ArcWatch, Esri News for Education, and ArcNews. I will follow this post with my own thoughts about what might be included in such a course in future blog essays.
In the meantime, please share your thoughts: What would you include in a course on spatial thinking?
- Joseph Kerski, Esri Education Manager
Last week I, along with Esri UK, participated in the annual conference of the Geographical Association, an international organization supporting the teaching and learning of geography, headquartered in the UK. I was struck once again by the common bonds that educators around the world share. Whether going through struggles or successes, what excites them all is inquiry, having students ask deep questions, fieldwork, and new techniques, tools, and ideas. It is amazing to witness the enthusiasm they have for teaching, even though they may have taught topics such as coastal erosion, plate tectonics, or migration for many years. Perhaps part of the reason why is because educators are future-oriented: They love to introduce a new cohort of students to the wonders of the world around them. I can relate to this, as I have taught introduction to GIS for years for teachers and students and never tire of it.
Another set of common experiences are the positive reactions as ArcGIS Online has been becoming a viable platform for teaching and learning over the past year. First, educators are amazed at the wealth of content available from the platform, from historical and current maps and satellite imagery to stream gaging stations, weather and climate, natural hazards, geology and soils, energy, rivers and watersheds, and much more, from a local to global level. Second, the tools contained in the platform—from measurement to classification to transparency to adding multimedia, are both easy to use yet powerful. Third, the ability to add one’s own data from online tables to local spreadsheets to photographs and movies is one of the best features of all. Fourth, the ability to save and share data overcomes one of the traditional challenges with working with GIS. Fifth, since there is no software to install, it can be used anywhere—on tablets, laptops, and even on smartphones. Everyone who stopped by our exhibit and attended the hands-on workshops that Jason Sawle from Esri UK and I taught came away with the attitude of, “I can start using that tomorrow in the classroom!” Indeed.
What excites you most about teaching? What advantages do you see in ArcGIS Online that you can take advantage of to enhance teaching and learning?
-Joseph Kerski, Esri Education Manager
Just in time for Earth Day, but suitable for use throughout the year in geography, earth science, environmental science, chemistry, social studies, and in other disciplines is a new lesson that invites students to learn about water using ArcGIS Online.
Water is a spatial subject: It easily moves among its solid, liquid, or gas phases on our planet. It flows through oceans, rivers, wetlands, glaciers, and through the hydrologic cycle at different rates. It is affected by long-term climate, everyday weather, hurricanes, landforms, and air pressure. It has been channeled into settling ponds, water treatment plants, fields, irrigation ditches, drainage ditches, canals, reservoirs, and many other means by humans. It acts as a change agent above, on, and below the surface of the Earth, affecting crop yields, aquifers, erosion, floods, stream sediment, soil chemistry, weathering, and much more. Thus, the geographic perspective and GIS are useful to understanding water from local to global scales.
These activity use ArcGIS Online, a Web-based Geographic Information System (GIS). Students at the upper secondary/university level can use the lesson, but so can those at the lower secondary level, and the lesson can be modified for primary level. It can be used in formal or informal educational settings and in a whole-class format or in a lab. No previous experience with GIS is necessary but (1) the geographic perspective is important, and (2) a background discussion in the topic investigated will be helpful. For example: “What are watersheds and why are they important?”
Through the activities, students investigate major dams and reservoirs, cities along rivers, flood zones, food production, wetlands, and water quality. These include the following questions and assignments: What is the relationship between wind speed and direction to precipitation, current air pressure, temperature, and topography? Using USGS stream gages and weather stations, predict the height of the water in streams where significant precipitation has been occurring. What is the relationship between the location of the gaging station within the watershed and the height of the river? Go outside! Do current weather local conditions match the map you have been examining? Predict tomorrow’s conditions based on the maps you are examining.
How could you use ArcGIS Online to teach about water in your instruction?
- Joseph Kerski, Esri Education Manager
The educational value of Computational Thinking (CT) was first noted in 2006 and is now largely considered an emerging concept of magnitude from educational organizations like CSTA, ISTE, and AACE SITE. Other organizations with a focus broader than education, like the Center for Computational Thinking have signaled the importance of CT for STEM or the University of Colorado’s scalable game design effort.
“CT is an approach to solving a problem that empowers the integration of digital technologies with human ideas. It does not replace an emphasis on creativity, reasoning and critical thinking, but it re-emphasizes those skills while highlighting ways to organize a problem so that a computer can help” (p 8).
CT principles and methods span all academic areas in ways designed to amplify critical thinking and problem solving with technology. Students who use CT are creators, designers, and developers of solutions and systems that improve their lives and world around them by integrating technology into their thinking and action – with dramatically improved results.
CT isn’t just “Augmented Reality”, it’s more akin to “Augmented Problem Solving”.
The ISTE Leadership Toolkit offers more definition. CT is a problem-solving process that includes but is not limited to) the following characteristics:
- Formulating problems in a way that enables us to use a computer and other tools to help
- Logically organizing and analyzing data
- Representing data through abstractions, such as models and simulations
- Automating solutions through algorithmic thinking (a series of ordered steps)
- Identifying, analyzing, and implementing possible solutions with the goal of achieving the
- and effective combination of steps and resources
- Generalizing and transferring this problem-solving process to a wide variety of problems
GIS and geospatial technologies in classrooms completely embody the definition of Computational Thinking: gathering and analyzing data using a variety of models or tools in order to create solution representations to real world problems. The processes of solving problems with GIS or PBL-GIS are powerful approaches to education and creating technology-enabled lifelong problem solvers. GIS can be a critical tool in the efforts and approaches to teaching with technology – Computational Thinking.
- Tom Baker, Esri Education Manager
ISTE‘s Computational Thinking video on YouTube:
Two points in particular struck me as we talked with hundreds of science educators recently at our workshops and exhibit (video) at the National Science Teachers Association’s annual convention. First, ArcGIS Online offers a rich set of data, tools, and capabilities for educators and their students to begin using. And I think an important advantage of ArcGIS Online is that they could begin using it right away. Everyone we talked with could see a connection with what they are teaching, whether in earth science, biology, environmental science, chemistry, mathematics, or other subjects, and analyzing data spatially with ArcGIS Online.
That leads me to the second point: Sometimes, the thing that really resonates with an educator is something that might seem small. However, for that educator, it becomes a game-changer for a particular lesson or maybe for the entire course curriculum. It could be a tool, data set, or process that allows them to accomplish more efficiently with GIS than what they could do with paper maps or other physical objects. Using ArcGIS allows students to more quickly move to the analytical phase of a project, working with real data in real contexts.
One example of the small-but-big is a discussion I had with an educator from Shoshoni, Wyoming. In this arid part of the mountain west, watering dry fields to grow grass for livestock takes precious water resources. Ants are the one thing that is found in abundance. Ants cause a problem because their large colonies consume a tremendous amount of grass. Eradication with chemicals is ineffective due to the depth of the colonies. Students in the town’s high school routinely get out into the field to measure these ant colonies with GPS and tape measures. When the instructor saw that not only could he and his students use ArcGIS Online to visualize and measure the ant colonies from above, but also geotag and add field observations, audio, photographs, and video to the project, he was overjoyed. As additional fieldwork is conducted, the ArcGIS Online map becomes a living database over space and time.
What is the little thing that you learned to do with GIS that caused major changes in what and how you teach?
-Joseph Kerski, Esri Education Manager