Tag Archives: Curriculum
The combination of maps and stories, particularly those that show how a city or region has changed over time, is a powerful resource for educators and students of history and geography, researchers, planners, and the general public. Thanks to Esri’s web GIS technologies, these tools are rapidly multiplying, providing a rich set of data to investigate an expanding number of places around the world. One of these is the new Pittsburgh Mapping and Historical Site Viewer.
This resource shows how Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania evolved over time, from 22,433 people in 1835 to a major metropolitan area. Explore it at a small scale to get an overview of the metropolitan area. From which point did the city originally begin? Why was its river site simultaneously a blessing to the city but also a danger? What challenges did the local hilly topography pose, and how did the city grow to accommodate it? Explore the site at a large, detailed scale, studying how neighborhoods grow and expand, and how some were planned but never built. Can you find any street names that changed over time? Can you find empty lots that became buildings, schools and churches that opened and closed, and where urban renewal project s cleared neighborhoods, and then later were themselves reconstructed?
By browsing through the years via a convenient slider bar at any given location, you will find a cemetery that became a school, the arrival of rail yards and then sports stadiums, and other indicators of how the city has evolved around changes in transportation, industry, and population. You will find photographs linked to specific landmarks and buildings with links to additional information. What was demolished to make way for the Civic Arena in 1961? What sports teams played there? Now that demolition on the arena has begun in 2012, what do you think the neighborhood will look like once it is gone?
This resource is largely the result of diligent and careful work by my Esri colleague Chris Olsen. Digital maps were made by cutting and georeferencing hand-drawn paper maps, some more than 175 years old. Chris first examined the wealth of data from the Historic Pittsburgh project, including 46 volumes of Hopkins maps, which he digitally stitched together and compared it to what is on the ground today. He downloaded the raw map plates, cleaned up each image, clipped out the map data, and georeferenced each plate in ArcMap, saving each to the Web Mercator Aux Sphere projection. He then created mosaic datasets grouped by area and year, created MXD and MSD documents using the overlay map at small scales, and switched to the mosaics at large scales. Next, he cached the maps and created the web apps. The feature service on top of the maps was created from the National Registry of Historic Places and the Pittsburgh History & Landmarks Foundation. He is still adding additional content to these.
How can you use the Pittsburgh Mapping and Historical Site Viewer in your educational work?
- Joseph Kerski, Esri Education Manager
Dr. Jonathan Wai’s recent article in Psychology Today takes a frank look at the role and value of spatial thinking in mainstream education today. While he provides a consumer-level overview in “Why Don’t We Value Spatial Intelligence?” he and colleagues take a much deeper dive in their Journal of Educational Psychology longitudinal study of 400,00+ students, “Spatial Ability for STEM Domains”.
The punch line in both pieces is simply, “spatial ability plays a critical role in developing expertise in STEM and suggest[s], among other things, that including spatial ability in modern talent searches would identify many adolescents with potential for STEM who are currently being missed” (p 817).
Wai et al argue that there is still very little spatial thinking in educational curricula today, especially in STEM education, where it’s needed most – despite decades of findings and recommendations to overtly include spatial thinking in curricula and assessments.
A few years ago, the National Research Council set about formalizing its recommendations for spatial thinking in education. The volume, “Learning to think spatially” advocated strongly for the use of GIS across subject areas to strengthen spatial thinking skills in all students. While several recommendations emerged from this report, the underlying message was loud and clear “GIS dramatically fosters spatial thinking in students”.
It seems pretty straight-forward to me.
GIS can be a powerful tool for developing spatial thinking and spatial thinking is a critical skill to be identified and nurtured for STEM students and future STEM careers. GIS can help STEM students become successful STEM professionals, not only through continued development of spatial thinking skills but also by supporting critical thinking, curiosity, collaboration, and communication!
- Tom Baker, Esri Education Manager
David Jonassen (1995) described seven qualities of meaningful learning with technology. They are: active, constructive, collaborative, intentional, conversational, contextualized, and reflective. These are valuable not only to keep in mind when teaching with GIS, but to be purposeful, asking before each class, “How can I be active in my teaching with GIS today?” “How can I be conversational?” and so on.
Those I know who teach with GIS are good examples of putting these qualities into practice. Their teaching is never just for the technology’s sake, even when it is with the goal of increasing the students’ GIS skills for career readiness. They teach in context and with a purpose, asking students to reflect on problem-solving, data, scale, critical thinking, and more. Jonassen and others make a strong case for the value of situated learning, or learning in context, which is exactly what teaching with GIS entails.
Jonassen’s three assumptions about technology are also instructive. These include the following:
- Technology is more than hardware; it consists of the designs that engage learners.
- Learning technology is any environment of a definable set of activities that engages learners in knowledge construction.
- Knowledge construction is not supported by technologies used as conveyors of instruction that prescribe and control all learner interactions. Rather, technologies support knowledge construction better when they are need-driven or talk-driven, learner-initiated, and when interactions with the technologies are conceptually and intellectually engaging.
Technologies as toolkits enable learners to build more meaningful personal interpretations and representations of the world.
According to Jonassen, learners and technologies should be “intellectual partners”, an intriguing concept in which the cognitive responsibilities for performing are distributed by the part of the partnership that performs it best. Let’s say you are studying the relationship between elevation and rainfall on the windward and leeward sides of mountains. Calculating how much rainfall occurs at different elevations and on the western versus the eastern sides of the mountains through overlay would be something you would let the GIS software do. But your final assessment that incorporates multimedia and a presentation relies more heavily on your own input and reflection—not something that the software can do. This is one of my favorite things about teaching and learning with GIS. The software is the enabler and the GIS user provides the solution.
How are you incorporating elements of Jonassen’s seven qualities in your own GIS-based instruction?
- Joseph Kerski, Esri Education Manager
Jonassen, David H. 1995. Supporting communities of learners with technology: A vision for integrating technology with learning in schools. Educational Technology. July-August, pp. 60-63.
A few years ago a couple of Colorado chemistry teachers realized that they were spending incredible amounts of time preparing make-up work and documenting the day’s instruction for students who were out sick. To help curb this time problem, they began recording their instruction and placing instructional video (e.g. narrated PowerPoint), class exercises, interactive simulations and other materials online every day – as a regular component of their instructional preparations. What they found was that not only did the resources help the absent student but also students who attended class leveraged the online materials as an opportunity to review. Today, the art and practice of the flipped classroom has evolved. With the day’s instruction shifted to an online format for evening study by students, the 45-minute class period has opened up, allowing time for collaborative projects, deeper, open-ended investigations, or concentrated study of a particularly sticky topic. The Kahn Academy is one popular implementation of pre-built materials, potentially useful for a flipped learning environment.
With the advent of a variety of web GIS tools (like ArcGIS Online) and an explosion of existing instructional video on basic GIS activities (YouTube or ArcGIS videos), the flipped classroom may be a great approach.
While creating new instructional video can be very time-consuming, carefully plotting out the best way to explain a concept, the best examples, and the right formative assessment, the payoffs can be huge (best practices: meta-analysis and practical tips). Teachers using flipped models of instruction report having more time to spend directly responding to students, stronger levels of student engagement, and more time for projects. What a great opportunity to use GIS to launch a class wide investigation of any number of environmental issues or sociological studies. ArcGIS Online can be used to both teach basic concepts in the evening and serve as the collaborative focal point during the day. So whether you’re teaching a STEM subject, geography, or anything else, consider trying a flipped classroom – even for part of the instructional period and explore where you and GIS can take your students.
- Tom Baker, Esri Education Manager
I recently wrote about the connections between ePortfolios, innovative technologies, and the use of GIS in education, beginning with an interview with English professor and Executive Director of the Association for Authentic, Experiential, and Evidence-Based Learning (AAEEBL), Dr. Trent Batson. Besides believing in innovative technology as a vehicle for transforming how education is designed, Dr. Batson had these intriguing things to say about pedagogy:
“Pedagogy is the wrong term for educators to be using regarding higher education for two reasons: it refers to teaching and therefore implies a teaching-centered approach to education, and, secondly, it refers to teaching children, not adults. It’s also a loaded term, associated with the behaviorist model that education has unwittingly perpetuated long after it fell out of favor with learning researchers.“
Behaviorism is a developmental theory that measures observable behaviors produced by a learner’s response to stimuli, and one reason for Batson’s statement may be that behaviorism is often associated with rote memorization and drill-and-practice. While these methods have some utility in education, they are often cited as the least effective ways to teach and learn. By contrast, learner-centered approaches to education have gained favor following pioneering work from Rogers, Vygotsky, Piaget, and Bloom, who showed that students actively construct their own learning.
Because GIS was created to be a problem-solving toolkit, it meshes well with problem-based learning and experiential learning that adhere to the learner-centered model. How can we foster this in the GIS based curricula that we develop through such venues as Esri Press, ArcLessons, YouTube Channel, and in our blog posts? We seek to provide hands-on, engaging, sound content that fosters skills, that addresses important issues, and that adheres to curricular content standards at the primary and secondary level and the Geospatial Technology Competency Model and to other vetted higher education models. However, none of these curricular pieces are intended to be the final destination. Rather, we always aim for these curricular pieces to spark ideas, to foster inquiry, to spur further investigations. To be sure, it is often valuable to start one’s journey in GIS education or with a particular task such as geocoding with a lesson that someone else has written. However, don’t get stuck there. If you as the instructor or one of your students wants to change scales, regions, classification, variables, or analytical techniques in these lessons, by all means, change them. Because GIS is an open-ended tool, it would be a shame if the lessons or activities were looked upon as closed!
One of my all-time favorite moments as an educator came while I was examining ethnicity, median age, and other demographic variables by neighborhood in Denver with a classroom of middle school students using GIS. After a few students said, “what if we looked at New Mexico?” for the rest of the class period, the students were totally driving the inquiry, changing the location and next, even changing the variables! Curiously, since the students weren’t quite used to “driving”, they at first glanced at me often for approval. After I made certain that this was welcomed, the students blazed new ground. We were in terra incognita, outside the “box” of the lesson.
What are ways that you typically modify existing GIS-based curricula? What can we do on the Esri education team to provide you with the curricular pieces that would best foster a learner-centered approach?
-Joseph Kerski, Esri Education Manager
Over the past year, several articles were written and presentations were given about the “education bubble.” Definitions of the bubble vary, but the articles made the case that unlike in the past, many of today’s students are not seeing a sufficient return on their university investment in terms of relevant workforce skills, to the extent that they were not being able to secure a job upon graduation or even to repay their student loans. One of the articles I found particularly interesting was an interview with English professor and Executive Director of the Association for Authentic, Experiential, and Evidence-Based Learning (AAEEBL), Dr. Trent Batson.
Dr. Batson has designed, implemented, and promoted instructional technology at the University of Rhode Island and at MIT. He believes that innovative uses of educational technology, such as electronic portfolios, or “ePortfolios” can contribute to the learning experience, may help students to consider the higher education investment worthwhile, and will help “keep education relevant.”
All of us on the Esri education team believe that teaching and learning with GIS is an innovative use of a technology that has already transformed decision-making and entire organizations over the past 40 years. GIS provides a context for critical thinking, problem-solving skills, and in-demand technical, discipline-specific, and organizational competencies recognized by the U.S. Department of Labor. Moreover, it also fits in well with Dr. Batson’s notions of effective ePortfolios. Batson states that ePortfolios contribute nothing by themselves—they only are worthwhile if their capabilities help faculty redesign their courses so that students can become active learners. Over the years, I have observed that it is very difficult to remain passive when using GIS in an educational setting. Furthermore, consider the following image, taken from a recent presentation I gave using ArcGIS Explorer Online:
Presentations using ArcGIS and ArcGIS Explorer Online help students tell stories, investigate, and explain. ArcGIS Explorer Online presentations can be saved, shared, and returned to later, taking advantage of the “elapsed” time that Dr. Batson claims is valuable. ArcGIS Online presentations are not static; if peers or the instructor ask questions during the presentation, the student can change symbology, scale, region, add or subtract variables, reclassify, and perform other tasks that make the presentation a learning experience for everyone. Indeed, the whole notion of presentation is transformed, becoming an interactive and creative experience, throwing into question even the appropriateness of the term “presentation.” These interactive experiences are therefore a redesign of instruction favored by Batson and others.
Do you agree that teaching and learning with GIS aligns well with innovative uses of technology as defined by Batson? Do you believe that educational GIS provides critically-needed skills for students while in school and upon graduation? How can we as a GIS community leverage research by Batson and others to promote and expand GIS throughout all levels of education?
- Joseph Kerski, Esri Education Manager
Seymour Papert, considered by many to be one of the leading figures in the field of educational technology, outlined what he named “The Eight Big Ideas Behind the Constructionist Learning Laboratory.” This technology-rich center was housed at The Maine Youth Center.
The first big idea is learning by doing. Papert says, “We all learn better when learning is part of doing something we find really interesting, and when we learn to make something we really want.” That’s one of the things I like most about teaching and learning with GIS—it is action-oriented by its very nature. One has to sort, select, organize, digitize, add fields, overlay, run spatial statistics, investigate, symbolize, and a myriad of other activities, when using GIS. Take a look at this video of the activity in a typical GIS lab as evidence of the active nature of using this technology.
The second big idea is “technology as building material.” Papert says, “If you can use technology to make things you can make a lot more interesting things.” I think of the countless times that educators and students have beamed when pointing at their GIS output—it is a map that they made, and they are rightly proud of it! But they don’t rest there—they are usually soon building on that map to make others, or to apply what they learned to another problem.
The third big idea is “hard fun.” “We learn best and we work best if we enjoy what we are doing. But fun and enjoying doesn’t mean “easy.” The best fun is hard fun.” None of us in the GIS education field sugar-coat GIS by saying every part of spatial analysis is easy. It often is quite difficult. We say to educators, “allow yourself to walk before you run” when learning GIS. That’s one reason the network of people in the GIS field is so important—we need each other to help us through the difficulties of grappling with putting what we want to do into the language that a GIS can understand.
I will reflect on the connections to GIS of the rest of Papert’s ideas in my next blog entry.
Do you model these ideas in your own GIS instruction?
- Joseph Kerski, Esri Education Manager
A series of five new curricular activities use the spatial perspective and GIS to delve into wind and wind energy from a continental to a local scale. Four of the activities use ArcGIS Online and one uses ArcGIS desktop version 10, and all of them reside on the ArcLessons library. One might say these activities are “wind-driven!”
Analyzing Current Wind Speed and Direction in North America uses ArcGIS Online as a tool for examining the spatial or geographic dimensions of current wind speed and direction in North America. Compare your own data gathered at your location to the online current wind speed and direction. Consider why and where winds blow.
Siting a Wind Farm in Indiana uses ArcGIS Online for siting a wind farm in Indiana. Use variables such as proximity to existing powerlines, population density, and other criteria to determine the ideal site for a wind farm.
Exploring the San Gorgonio Wind Farm uses ArcGIS Online for exploring the famous, enormous San Gorgonio Wind Farm in California. Consider why terrain, wind speed and direction, and population base make this the ideal place for a wind farm through analyzing local maps and a video filmed on site. The activity ends by inviting you to investigate a different wind farm and create a map, telling its story using ArcGIS Online.
Siting a Wind Turbine on Your School Campus uses ArcGIS Online as a tool for siting a wind turbine on a typical school campus. Consider relief, proximity to buildings, wind speed, local access, and other variables, first by examining Platte Valley High School in Colorado, and then your own campus.
Siting wind farms in Colorado with GIS
uses ArcGIS version 10 as your primary investigative tool, considering the location of cities, the Continental Divide, highways, rivers, counties, wind speed and power, land use, and elevation. Data layers are from Esri, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and the Colorado Department of Transportation.
How might you use these activities to encourage spatial thinking, to teach and learn about wind and wind energy, and to foster GIS skills?
- Joseph Kerski, Esri Education Manager
Investigating human-set fires, and determining optimal sites for expanding tea cultivation in Kenya are the topics of two new university level, ArcGIS 10, Africa-focused GIS activities in the ArcLessons library. Search for the two activities using terms “Africa fires” and “Kenya tea”.
You will gain skills in tabular and spatial data joining, query, analysis, symbolizing, and classifying data, and making a decision in a GIS environment. You should be familiar with computer file management and have some familiarity with ArcGIS. Both lessons emulate real decision making with GIS occurring daily around the world.
The goals of the fires activity include how to use GIS and spatial analysis to study the pattern of human-set fires in Africa and to understand the physical and cultural geography of Africa. The activity begins with this scenario: Hearing about your GIS skills, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has hired you to analyze the seasonal pattern of wildfires in Africa.
Consider that people set fires in Africa and elsewhere to create and maintain farmland and grazing areas. People use fire to keep less desirable plants from invading cropland or rangeland, to drive grazing animals away from areas more desirable for farming, to remove crop stubble and return nutrients to the soil, and to convert natural ecosystems to agricultural land. In Africa, the area burned shifts from north to south over the year in step with the rainy and dry seasons. Although fires are a part of the natural cycle of seasonally dry grasslands and savannas, some scientists and public health officials are concerned about Africa’s burning frequency. The frequency with which fires return to previously burned areas helps determine what species of plants (and therefore animals) can survive. When the fire-return interval is too short, the land may become degraded and unusable for farming or grazing. The massive amount of burning that occurs in Africa each year creates carbon dioxide, smoke, and aerosol particles, affecting climate and creating a public health hazard.
In the Kenya tea activity, you learn that tea is an important cash crop in the world and in Kenya. The Kenya Tea Development Company is the largest cooperative of growers, representing 28% of Kenya’s total export earnings. Its 400,000 growers cultivate land over 86,000 hectares in size, producing over 700 million kg of tea annually. Hearing about your GIS skills, the Kenya Tea Development Company has hired you to select additional lands that might be suitable for tea cultivation, as follows:
1. It must be grown on moderately high ground, between 914 meters and 2,133 meters above sea level.
2. It cannot be on any water-related land cover, including wetlands.
3. It cannot be in an urban area.
4. It cannot be within 500 meters of a populated place.
5. It cannot be within 2000 meters of a mine.
6. It must be within 5 km of a road, to reduce transport costs.
How might you use these activities to teach and learn about key geographic themes, physical and cultural characteristics of Africa, and gain fundamental GIS skills?
- Joseph Kerski, Esri Education Manager
Educational research shows that students can learn both about content and about thinking strategies by working through what are known as “ill-structured” problems. The ill-structured problem is fundamental to problem-based learning (PBL), where students probe deeply into issues, searching for connections, grappling with uncertainty, and using knowledge to fashion solutions. As Stepien and Gallagher (1993) state, “As with real problems, students encountering ill-structured problems will not have most of the relevant information needed to solve the problem at the outset. Nor will they know exactly what actions are required for resolution. After they tackle the problem, the definition of the problem may change. And even after they propose a solution, the students will never be sure they have made the right decision. They will have had the experience of having to make the best possible decision based on the information at hand. They will also have had a stake in the problem.”
In my work with educators and students over the years, I have found that GIS is very well suited to the ill-structured problem. In fact, oftentimes, the best GIS problems are those that fit at least a few of the “ill-structured” criteria above. GIS was created to solve complex problems at multiple scales and from multiple viewpoints. Data in a GIS are imperfect, and are full of uncertainties, and students who work with them become critical consumers of data, an important 21st Century skill.
Students are often so used to a single “right” answer, and are initially baffled by PBL-based strategies and tools that engage those strategies such as GIS. Typically when I work with students using GIS, they ask me, “Is my map right?” In response, I ask them a question: “Does your map help you understand the problem or issue, and help you answer the questions being asked?” But, given time, they begin to understand that the issues they are grappling with are complex, and there might not be a single correct answer. Certainly, their final set of maps is not the end goal, but a means to an end in their inquiry-driven investigation.
For example, in the lesson that I created on analyzing the Hungary toxic flood of 2010 using ArcGIS Explorer, the environmental consequences of the flood are numerous, long-lasting, and occur at multiple scales. I ask the students to compare this incident with other toxic spills around the world, ending the lesson with asking students to analyze sources of toxins in their own community. Student answers will vary depending on where they live and how they judge the severity of different toxic spills around the world. If they can justify their answers, and back up their answers with data, including spatial data analyzed with their GIS tools, then I believe that their answers deserve high marks.
How can you design ill-structured problems using spatial analysis and GIS?
- Joseph Kerski, Esri Education Manager