Tag Archives: problem solving
The world has lost a reluctant hero, Neil Armstrong, the first human to walk on the moon, a man who proclaimed “I am, and ever will be a white socks, pocket protector, nerdy engineer.”
I was four years old at the time of Sputnik, and grew up during “the space race,” at the height of the Cold War. When the world heard “the Eagle has landed,” I was canoeing in the wilderness between Minnesota and Canada. As Armstrong made his small step that signaled a giant leap, I was lakeside in twilight, listening to loons, and wondering how long such healthy environments might remain, with water safe to drink, and air sweet to breathe.
Missions into space generated important knowledge that brought benefits to those on earth. But we face today challenges that Armstrong the engineer would understand: systems can break down, and changes too severe or too rapid can be brutal. As the lunar module carrying Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin approached the moon’s surface, systems were being overtaxed. Armstrong took control of the descent. Solid grasp of conditions and priorities, and decades of practice in handling problems, helped him land the Eagle safely. Today, we too need to act. With now twice as many human mouths as in 1969, biodiversity shrinking and climate warming day by day, and social fabrics fraying, we must grasp the powerful principles and interwoven patterns that support us. We, too, have no safety net.
There is today one less eagle among us. But we can collectively salute Armstrong, the untold millions who supported that effort with brain, shoulder, or wallet, and the billions before and yet to come, by recognizing and meeting our most profound challenge: understanding and sustaining our world.
- Charlie Fitzpatrick, Esri Education Manager
Last week’s blog was about five favorite ArcGIS Online maps of US data. This week I offer five favorite ArcGIS Online maps using world data. Like the US maps, these work on Mac or PC, tablet or smartphone. Each of these can be experienced by clicking on the map or using the short url.
1. Lat-Long Finder Tool, http://esriurl.com/latlongfinder
Many times, you just need a quick latitude and longitude. Use this app to zoom in to anywhere around the world, even plan out a field trip around in your community.
2. Elevation Profile, http://esriurl.com/elevation2
Use this app to draw a path in the neighborhood or across the world, and get a sideways look at the elevation, even out in the ocean, and trace to see the correspondence.
3. Recent Earthquakes, http://esriurl.com/recentquakes
Explore the last three months of earthquakes, classified by magnitude and containing attributes of date and depth. Watch local concentrations, identify global patterns.
4. World Climate, http://esriurl.com/climate
Characteristics of climate, presented in time series data, with anticipated shifts as projected through models.
5. World Bank Age & Population, http://esriurl.com/worldbankpop
This is a complex data set with multiple layers and multiple time slices, plus pop-ups spelling out info from the last half-century.
Again, innumerable lessons await teachers of science, social studies, math, and the holistically-minded educator. As with last week’s maps of the US, customize these maps, mix and match the data, seek out a project, focus on your specialarea of study. Examine the patterns and relationships that describe and influence all our lives.
- Charlie Fitzpatrick, Esri Education Manager
PD approaches! With the sun heading to the Tropic of Cancer, educators across USA are planning what to learn over the summer. For ye non-teachers, know that most educators will seek massive infusions to brain, heart, and soul in the few short weeks between graduation and the return to classes. Like humpback whales gorging on the summer herring, many teachers seek day-long, week-long, even month-long absorption in new ways of seeing, thinking, and doing. With that in mind, this week I offer my five favorite maps based on USA data using ArcGIS Online. They work on Mac or PC, tablet or smartphone. Each of these can be experienced by clicking on the map or using the short url.
5. USA Ecological Subregions.
The integration of landform, climate, soil, and biogeography. Types diverge or merge hierarchically, and influence massively how people can live within them: http://esriurl.com/usaecoregions
Vast numbers of lessons await teachers of science, social studies, math, and the holistically-minded educator. Customize these maps, mix and match the data, seek out a project, focus on your area. Examine the patterns and relationships that describe and influence all our lives.
- Charlie Fitzpatrick, Esri Education Manager
Visiting schools is a rush! Last week, I watched students in three schools in two states use geospatial technology. Without exception, the students were anxious to explore, diving headlong into the maps, comparing here to there. A few showed projects they had created in the last month. The catch? All these students were from grades 3-6 (age 8-12). I worked with the TravelWise program at two schools in Utah, and Waterville (WA) school’s “Literate About Biodiversity” program built in conjunction with NatureMapping.
I’m often asked “When can kids use GIS?” I’ve watched many young learners work with GIS tools and demonstrate more interest and intellectual capacity than shown by older learners. Working with ArcGIS Online and starting with a view of their immediate neighborhood, students in third grade have been able to point to parts of an image and translate them into elements and directions out the window. I’ve walked with third and even second graders as they held a GPS unit, told me how the devices record numbers, that these mean a specific place on earth that can be put on a map, and that they can then connect on the map things they see out in the field. I’ve watched as kids defined paths and measured distances, zoomed in and out for detail or context, and compared their paths with those of neighbors.
I’ve also watched learners in high school and beyond (including even teachers!) who were hard pressed to do the same. My view: “With an appropriate introduction to concepts and skills, learners of almost any age can use GIS in tasks that require spatial thinking and technological skill.” There may be a base of life experience and cognitive capacity required, and I’ve not spent as much time with second grade and younger, but third graders are definitely capable of doing serious tasks with GIS and GPS, grasping what they are doing, and articulating it.
So why are some older students and even teachers unable to do the same? Sadly, I suspect many have had their curiosity and creativity regulated into submission. Many of these older learners have been willing to follow prescribed steps to reach a supposed “correct response,” but, absent steps, were unable to generate a relevant question themselves or connect the exercise with any real meaning.
Of the many learning examples I get to watch, the most powerful emphasize personal interest. The best educators I watch are able to introduce topics and help students of all backgrounds see quickly how these relate to their lives. Then, students pursue short customized studies that build an expanding lattice of principles, facts, concepts, and skills with personal relevance. Students are encouraged to mix and match, stretch and discover, and even risk failure, as long as they keep looking.
Life doesn’t come with a handbook. Few jobs come with an absolute instruction set, finite facts to memorize, and no decisions to make. Few events in life require no grasp of relationships or capacity to note differences between things here and things over there. Kids need to build these frameworks, and can do so starting from a young age, with geotech. Young kids love critters, they understand the basics of their neighborhood, and they are naturally curious. As one of my mentors described it, “Educators need to reach in and grab students through their doors.” Young kids have substantial capacity for doing and learning; we plant the seeds of STEM early. If we can foster those, we will help the youth, our schools, our communities, and the planet alike, in the best way possible. But educators and — more important — the people who monitor and regulate them can also vaporize curiosity, creativity, and craftsmanship with frightening speed, if we let it happen.
- Charlie Fitzpatrick, Esri Education Manager
In the past few days, I’ve sat in on big meetings looking at problems and solutions — Esri’s Federal GIS Conference, followed immediately by the National Governors Association. Speakers at both affirmed the need to solve problems, provide good jobs, save money, help communities, and ensure that young people are well prepared for college and career. At the first meeting, the path was clear: GIS helps people across the board in security, health, resources, commerce, and services. At the second, experienced governors, supported by learned specialists, wrestled a challenging tangle of issues.
GIS allows many viewers to see, interpret, and compare. Sharing democratizes processes, improves information, and leads to common ground. GIS users integrate content background knowledge and skills across disciplines. But GIS holds no stored bank of answers like factoids for every conceivable situation or question. Instead it beckons the user to explore and analyze, iteratively. Users need to think carefully about data that “make sense,” ask good questions that can expose obvious patterns and hidden relationships, and engage ideas from multiple sources to get the best perspectives.
The FedCon plenary closed with a quick profile of a high school using GIS. The kids work through complex situations, tackling multi-faceted projects of their own choice. They need to find appropriate data, integrate knowledge, ask questions, collaborate, and iterate. They tackle ill-structured problems and work on solutions with GIS, just like the professionals. There are in fact a few dozen schools in this program, and more schools across the country using GIS, but still not enough … still too many focused on factoids, isolated learning, working solo.
Despite the governors’ desires, there is no silver bullet in this world, no magic wand which, with a single wave, can clean up a room, rebuild a community, or save a planet. Like all technologies, GIS requires thoughtful application. But it is a powerful, enabling, disruptive technology, just what the world needs — along with thinkers who know how to engage it — to solve the many problems before us. We need to unleash the vitality and ambition of our youth to address these.
- Charlie Fitzpatrick, Esri Schools Program Manager
This year, beginning on New Year’s Day, as president of the National Council for Geographic Education, I wrote one tweet everyday beginning with “What is Geography? 1 of 365” and posted them to my Twitter page [All Esri Education Twitter pages]. Today I am already up to “What is Geography 340 of 365” and will soon finish the year’s series. OK, I confess that I actually posted multiple posts every day, sometimes up to 10. There is just so much on this topic to write about!
My goals in the series were several. First, I sought to point out as organization president how the NCGE serves the geography education community, and has been doing so since 1915. Through its webinars, book and journal publications, annual conference, curriculum, research, partnerships, and networking opportunities, the NCGE supports excellence in teaching and learning geography. Second, I wanted to provide evidence of the diversity of geography. Those outside the geographic community might have an incomplete or even erroneous view of geography as a discipline. I wanted to nudge people beyond thinking of geography only as the location of things, to provide an idea what geographers study and what they care about. I explored themes of scale, patterns, and relationships, topics such as watersheds, energy, ecoregions, climate, and population density, and discussed different regions while on work travel to Salzburg Austria, San Francisco, New York City, San Diego, Minneapolis, and elsewhere. Geography is diversity in people, landscapes, issues, skills, and themes.
Third, I aimed to show that geography is a high-tech and rigorous discipline that uses everything from scientific probes that measure soil moisture, weather conditions, or water quality, to surveying equipment, to GPS, to remote sensing imagery, to GIS, and much more. I created numerous videos that demonstrated how GIS can be used for teaching and research. Geography uses quantitative techniques such as through spatial statistics as well as qualitative methods. Fourth, I wanted to show that geography is fun. I included links to videos of me discussing geography while skiing down a ski slope, in the middle of a wind farm, on a street median in Manhattan, kayaking on the St Croix River, touching the K-T boundary in Red Rocks Park, and in other fascinating places. Fifth, I sought to show that geography is a rich body of content, a specific set of skills and abilities, and a way of seeing the world—a spatial perspective.
Sixth, above everything else, I sought to show that geography matters. As we must grapple with complex global issues that increasingly affect our everyday lives, such as sustainable development, energy, water, natural hazards, political instability, and food security, the study and application of geography is more relevant to our world than ever before. GIS is a fundamental tool that can help us understand and solve problems related to these issues. Those applying the geographic perspective can and are making a positive impact on people and the planet.
I hope my postings were helpful to educators and even to the general public. How might you use these postings, and your own postings and activities, to demonstrate to the wider community that geography matters?
- Joseph Kerski, Esri Education Manager
On November 26 NASA launched our next expedition to the Red Planet—the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) with its car-sized rover named Curiosity. The spacecraft is expected to land on Mars in August 2012 inside the Gale Crater (NASA’s projected landing location: lon/x 137.4, lat/y -4.5).
The mission is projected to last 23 months after touchdown with numerous scientific examinations of geology, atmosphere, and the local environment the craft will explore. The NASA press kit provides great detail about a variety of aspects of the mission including the goal of assessing the former habitability for Martian life in the geography Curiosity will travel.
In addition to the various NASA resources available to learn about Mars and the mission, a rich scientific data and map environment exists to explore the planet and some its attributes—the USGS’s PIGWAD (Planetary Interactive GIS on the Web Analyzable Database) site and viewer. As a key part of the USGS Astrogeology unit’s work in Flagstaff, Arizona, PIGWAD helps the team serve the science community with its expertise in the application of GIS to terrestrial and other planetary settings.
Given the primary audience for this set of resources is the science community, much of the content available via the map viewer carries with it nomenclature and acronyms not immediately known to the average person, but the site does provide pathways for learning more. Despite these snags, I was able to map and discover a number of things about the planet such as its topography, surface geology, and feature names, and pinpoint the intended landing location. Here are a couple of screenshots of my investigation.
What I’ve presented here is but a small sampling of what’s available. Exploration and some study of the many PIGWAD layers presented will help you and your students shed more light on a planetary neighbor well over 100 million miles away.
On a different note, the MSL rover has been christened with a great name—Curiosity—offered by a 14-year-old girl from Kansas. While its moniker seems to be in the same lineage as the Spirit and Opportunity rovers, to me, Curiosity carries with it meaning and symbolism of something deeper and necessary, and so much a part of being human. Our inquisitive nature leads to discoveries and creations large and small. They have led to the creation of this mission and its attendant components, but it’s important to remember that Curiosity is simply a machine that will be guided by inquiring humans. And, when the craft sets off on its mission of discovery and research in an unknown world, it’s vital to recognize that we need to spark equal if not greater levels of curiosity here on our world, Earth.
For an added dose, here’s a link to an earlier blog post on why I am so passionate about curiosity and why I believe it is vital for our future.
- George Dailey, Co-Manager, Esri Education Program 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
In a few weeks, I am giving a webinar entitled “The Top 5 Skills you need to be successful in a GIS career.” Because this is a topic that has been covered by dozens of articles in GIS journals and magazines over the past 20 years, I aim to do something different that stems from my educational work with the GIS community over that time.
I argue that the first skill is curiosity. Successful GIS people are curious not just about geospatial technologies, but they are also curious about the world. They ponder spatial relationships at work in phenomena from the local to global scale, ranging from demographics, land use, and traffic patterns in their own community to natural hazards, biodiversity, and climate around the world. This curiosity fuels the tenacity that is often necessary to solve problems using GIS. This curiosity is also essential because it helps frame geographic questions, and asking the right kind of questions is the first step in the geographic inquiry process that is key to successful work in GIS.
The second skill is the ability to work with data. Those successful in GIS have developed critical thinking skills regarding data. They not only know where to find data, but understand metadata so well that they know the benefits and limitations of working with each type of data. They know the most effective means to gather, analyze, and display geographic data through a GIS.
The third skill is understanding geographic foundations. Successful GIS practitioners know the fundamentals behind all spatial phenomena, including map projections, datums, topological relationships, spatial data models, database theory and methods, ways to classify data, how to effectively use spatial statistics and geoprocessing methods, and more.
Adaptability is the fourth skill essential for success in the GIS field. Now more than ever, as the field of GIScience is evolving rapidly in terms of its consumer audience, sensor network, functionality, the platforms by which it can be accessed on the desktop, mobile devices, and cloud, and in many more ways, successful GIS professionals need to be adaptable and flexible. They need to be not only willing to change but accept and embrace change as an essential and necessary part of the field. They are lifelong learners.
The fifth skill is good communications. Those successful in GIS know how to use GIS and other presentation tools to communicate their results to a wide variety of audiences. They know how to effectively employ cartographic elements, but they also know how to clearly communicate the results of their analysis in oral and written reports, video, face to face, online, and via other means.
Do you suppose these skills will become more important or less important as geospatial technologies grow in their impact on society in the years ahead? Do you agree with this list? If not, which five skills do you believe are the most important? How can the Geospatial Technology Competency Model inform such a list?
- Joseph Kerski, Esri Education Manager