Tag Archives: Projects

Fun with GIS #100: Getting Started

“How do I start?” That’s what people ask before beginning to take pictures, play a musical instrument, drive a new type of vehicle, swim, or use GIS in education. For the latter, my advice is simple: ArcGIS Online. Students and teachers alike can begin making interesting maps in seconds with ArcGIS Online. New options can be discovered and practiced easily, building thinking skills, technical capacity, and background knowledge.

When making a map, one’s first instinct is usually “Let me see where I live.” Imagery is a useful starting point, because it looks familiar, and ArcGIS Online offers two different imagery basemaps so, right away, one can explore and ask questions about differences in “look.” But imagery alone is insufficient; one needs to add landmarks, labels, and “thematic descriptors.” With ArcGIS Online, it is easy to engage professionally prepared reference and analytical data with which to enhance contemplation of a broad range of topics and questions.

Such mapmaking builds the most essential capacities for understanding the world: locational awareness, pattern recognition, and a sense of data. Being an effective baseball player is not simply a matter of throwing, catching, and hitting a round object; it requires a sense of the game, the landscape, the rules. Using GIS requires a sense of the world local to global, a grasp of diverse elements in different places, the ways these can be represented and melded, and how the data can be analyzed. But using GIS doesn’t just require these, it also fosters them. With ArcGIS Online, learners from elementary school on up can quickly merge basemaps, operational layers, and personal data to represent and analyze phenomena. The concepts supported by these skills are essential for doing any more technologically complex geographic analysis, such as working with ArcGIS Desktop.

Educators getting started have a special opportunity — a free short online class designed just for you! You can do it in an evening and have time left over to figure out how to modify the next day’s class. See “Teaching with GIS: Intro to Using GIS in the Classroom.”

For educators and mentors who want to help students use GIS, start with ArcGIS Online. Emphasize maps of personal relevance, and encourage analysis — classification, symbolization by attribute, selection by rule — to clarify patterns and relationships. Promote investment with projects requiring research; foster critical thinking via frequent construction and analysis of one’s own data; maximize feedback with collaborative work; and use presentation to peers and others for both instruction and inspiration.

When students — or educators — grasp the power of geographic thinking and careful analysis of spatial data, they have the fundamentals in place to support a move into more robust technologies. Getting a good start, with an appropriate first step, goes a long way to making any mission a success.

- Charlie Fitzpatrick, Esri Education Manager

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Fun with GIS #96: See the Power

Kids get GIS. Even young kids can grasp the power of maps if they get to use them for projects. In the last week or so, I’ve had the delight and honor of visiting an elementary school and a high school where both use GIS in project-based learning.

At the elementary school, I watched and listened to students as young as third grade give reports using ArcGIS Explorer Online. Students and teachers learned together and shared learning constantly. The school works with the Nature Mapping program, and students shared maps about things in their community and beyond. Mapping, they said, was easy and fun. Younger kids talked about looking forward to making maps.

Charlie learns from third grader about phenomena in the community.
(Photo courtesy of NatureMapping Foundation.)

At the high school, I watched and listened to teachers and students again mapping data they had gathered. A series of projects were underway, integrating handhelds and ArcPad, desktops and ArcMap, and laptops and ArcGIS Online. They were documenting lake depths to support wetland restoration projects; tracking various species to study environments, ranges, and behaviors; and mapping students to explore improvements to transportation routes.

Teacher and students work to interpret the location of a creature
based on triangulation data gathered by students.

In both schools, multiple educators rely on the power of projects that the students can sink their teeth into. They talk about how mapping the data helps students understand and integrate concepts and skills from all their classwork. In each case, the students take greater ownership of their learning, and build the critical foundational skills of describing a challenge, analyzing data, and working to solve a problem that may not be easily tackled.

If we want young people to build those critical thinking skills on which our collective future will rely, we need to give them practice in meaningful ways, from a young age onward. They can handle it, and indeed crave it.

- Charlie Fitzpatrick, Esri Education Manager

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Using Mobile GIS with Girl Scout Cookie Sales

I’m always looking for good opportunities to teach my kids about GIS. Recently I was presented with a great opportunity to do just this when my daughter, Sarah, was selling Girl Scout cookies. Sarah was very excited to sell lots of cookies so we headed out in our coats to sell to our neighborhood. The first day we had some sales, some “no’s”, and many folks not home. The next day we were excited to get selling again but we had a problem. What if my wife was going to take Sarah out to sell cookies? How would I easily communicate to her which people declined and which were not home? This would get even more difficult if we didn’t get to everyone the next day. All we needed was a simple map where we could draw all the houses where people either bought or declined. I decided to see if we could use ArcGIS to solve this problem and teach Sarah a bit along the way.

Sarah helped by reading off the cookie names while I added them as fields to a geodatabase feature class. Each field would store a count of the number of cookies purchased at that location. I added a couple more fields for information like the sales girl (Sarah), customer name, total boxes sold, etc. I then created a simple map that showed sales in red and “no’s” in gray. Then I published the map with feature access to ArcGIS Server and added the resulting map services to a new web map in ArcGIS.com. Together we used the find feature in the ArcGIS.com map to find all the addresses from the day before and add all our sales to the map. The resulting map looked like this.

At this point Sarah started to understand how the places we walked the day before related to the map.

Before we headed out to sell cookies again I loaded this web map on my iPhone using the ArcGIS for iOS application. I showed Sarah how she could tap on any of the existing sales to see what was purchased there.

Then whenever we left a house, we took an extra minute to enter the new data. We used the data collection feature of the ArcGIS for iOS application to enter the GPS and sales information. I was really surprised at how quickly my seven year old daughter picked this up.

I showed her how to enter the first location and she basically took it from there. That is until her fingers got cold, then she delegated data entry to her father.
So Sarah got a good understanding of how to collect the data and how it could help her quickly find the houses that we still needed to visit. After all the orders came in, we used ArcGIS again to help deliver the cookies. We loaded the wagon and Sarah used the iPhone to tell us where to go and what to deliver.

Once we delivered cookies and received payment, she would take care of marking the customer as paid in the GIS. Since everyone wasn’t home the first time we went out, we then needed an easy way to quickly show where we needed to deliver cookies. To make this easy I opened the ArcGIS.com map in ArcGIS Explorer Online and built a query called “Needs Delivery”.

Sarah could then use the query in the ArcGIS for iOS application to see where we needed to go. This was a great teaching opportunity. Sarah learned that a GIS lets you ask the map questions.

Using ArcGIS.com and ArcGIS for iOS was a great way to teach my daughter about GIS. For Sarah I think her favorite part was the arrow that showed up on our GPS location showing our current direction on the map. For me I it was a fun use of the technology and a fun time with Sarah.

Editor’s Note: Additional resources have been posted that may be of interest to readers:
Girl Scout Cookie Information Model -
Mapping Girl Scout Cookies Presentation (pptx)

- Tom Brenneman, Esri Solution Engineer

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GIS and the Ill-Structured Problem

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.

Stepien, William, and Shelagh Gallagher. 1993. Problem-based learning: As authentic as it gets. Authentic Learning 50(7): 25-28.

How can you design ill-structured problems using spatial analysis and GIS?

- Joseph Kerski, Esri Education Manager

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Fun with GIS #76: If EAST Were Everywhere

If kids in Arkansas ran our schools, EAST would head in all directions. “EAST” (originally “Environmental And Spatial Technologies”) is an educational project in about 180 schools in Arkansas, plus another handful beyond. It’s a high-tech, service-oriented, student-driven, interdisciplinary, project-based learning operation. It’s where school and life merge. It’s STEM plus social studies, CTE plus English/arts, service plus gym, all rolled into one, on steroids. And at EAST Conference last week, students from grades 4-12 showed what they can do when permitted to grab the reins. (See also the 2010 column, “Fun With GIS #40: GIS and EdReform.”)

Every year, looking at their projects, and watching the students during conference, I see how much kids want to learn, be involved in the community, be helpful, and make the world a better place. Students are charged with conceiving, designing, conducting, trouble-shooting, and assessing projects of significance, and presenting their work to the world. Juggling a buffet of technology, they need to figure out what questions to ask in order to learn what they need, and do what they must to accomplish their task. The adults are “facilitators”, in title and behavior; they monitor and ask questions, offer counsel and point out opportunities, but let each student “drive his or her own bus.” Kids get the chance to try, stumble, grapple, explore new routes, research and study online, seek help from other students over the Internet or even -gasp!- adults out in the real world, problem-solve, create, and innovate. Since all work aims to benefit others – in the school, the community, or halfway around the world – students push hard to succeed and help out.

Many students work with GIS … full ArcInfo 10 and extensions. They don’t know they “can’t do it;” they just learn it. They build and gather data, wrestle with the complexity of the world, manage a blizzard of toolbars and buttons with aplomb, and focus constantly on what will help them move down the road toward their goal. They learn uncommon volumes of life lessons which, independent research has shown, helps them both feel responsible for their own learning and seek extraordinarily to enhance it. In GIS projects, their methods can be haphazard, their strategies a bit unorthodox, their processes circuitous, and “operational efficiency” erratic, but they pursue their goals with unbridled zest and passion, building banks of related knowledge even at a young age.

I judged projects cataloguing local land use change, improving school bus routes, and constructing trail maps for the public. I listened to students new to GIS puzzle thru spatial queries to determine voting patterns when a local millage vote failed. I saw parcel maps highlighting irregularities in local funding. Students spoke of staying hours late to collaborate with peers from other classes, grades, and schools, or work solo in the wee hours before school. And I talked with EAST alums, including young men and women who had earned full-ride scholarships to college on the basis of their demonstrated competency, and heard them describe with maturity their studies, work, and life plans.

With a few minutes to speak at opening assembly, I told the 2000 students that I had spent the previous weekend listening to the nation’s governors struggling with how to “fix education” in their states. But these youth knew the answer. At the final banquet, Arkansas Commissioner of Education Dr. Tom Kimbrell asked the crowd “How many of you would like to see your other classes operate like EAST does?” The thunderous reply declared in no uncertain terms, that if students from Arkansas ran US schools, the light from EAST would shine out in all directions, developing strong kids, building communities, serving the country, and making the world a better place.

- Charlie Fitzpatrick, Co-Manager, Esri Schools Program

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The Amazing Around the World Flight of the Pacific Clipper During World War II

The spatial perspective through GIS has been shown in research and in classroom application as enhancing student understanding of hundreds of processes, patterns, and phenomena from local to global. A new lesson in the ArcLessons library provides another means of incorporating spatial thinking and analysis in teaching and learning—in this case, applied to a historical event.

The problem that students face when opening the lesson is as follows: Getting set to land in New Zealand in December 1941, the crew of a Pan American Airways seaplane learned about the attacks at Pearl Harbor and had to make a fateful decision: Since it was now impossible to fly back across the Pacific Ocean given the unfolding war, could they return to the United States by flying west instead of east? No commercial airliner had ever flown around the world before. Could they make it? Your task is to use spatial analysis and GIS to analyze every detail of this epic event.

Skills developed include analyzing a nonfictional historical story using the spatial perspective, analyzing patterns and spatial relationships within 2-D (ArcMap) and 3-D (ArcGIS Explorer) GIS, creating an ArcGIS Explorer presentation, performing spatial and attribute queries, creating a map layout, and presenting findings to an audience.

Students investigate the story in popup boxes along the route and perform spatial and attribute queries. For a short account of the journey, read John Marshall’s story on http://www.radiocom.net/Clipper/, and for the full story, read Ed Dover’s book The Long Way Home available from: http://www.longwayhome.com/.

Lessons such as this show the value of GIS and the spatial perspective in enhancing understanding of literature and history. These lessons are well connected to educational content standards in social studies and English language arts that explain what students should know and be able to do. Using GIS in this way makes it clear that GIS is a critical thinking tool. The understanding of any story—fiction or nonfiction—can be enhanced by maps and spatial analysis. What story do you want to investigate?

-Joseph Kerski, ESRI Education Manager

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The Grand Challenges of GIS in Instruction

Last week I wrote about what several geographers consider to be the “grand challenges of Geographic Information Sciences.” But to grapple with these grand challenges, we need to have people moving into the field of GIScience in the first place. To do that, we must engage students in thinking about their community, region, country, and world in a geospatial context, beginning at young ages. How can we help students to see that every major current issue—from natural hazards, biodiversity, agriculture, energy, water quality and availability, human health, social justice, politics, migration, climate, crime, and many more—are inextricably linked to geographic processes that occur over space and time? Using GIS is one powerful way of seeing these patterns, processes, and connections.

Students using GIS apply scientific inquiry—ask a question, gather data, understand data, analyze data, draw conclusions, and develop a fuller understanding about a particular issue. One of my favorite aspects of using GIS in instruction is that it helps to understand change. Changes from human and natural causes occur all around us, and if students analyze why and how things change, then they can begin thinking on a deeper level: Should the Earth be changing in these ways? Is there anything that I could or should be doing about it? This captures not only the heart of spatial thinking, inquiry and problem-based learning, but also empowers students as they become decision-makers to make a difference in this changing world of ours. GIS has ties to many disciplines, but a natural home for GIS in education is in geography, which has not seen consistent and high support over the past century in American education. How can we change this?

I stated above that we must engage students in thinking spatially. But before that can happen, we must engage students, period. Too often, students are bored, viewing education as something that ends as soon as they graduate, instead of being a lifelong learning experience. We must allow them the freedom, support, and tools so that they can discover and pursue their interests. This may be the grandest challenge of all.

All of the topics raised here can be debated and expanded. I look forward to your thoughts.

- Joseph Kerski, ESRI Education Manager.

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Fun with GIS #48: GIS, STEM, and the Future

Last week, I participated in a meeting of businesses looking at STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering & Math) education. It’s not simply a STEM-savvy workforce that businesses seek, but a STEM-literate
populace: citizens who see or can build meaning in the array of numbers in the news, embrace and extend technology, live and vote with an understanding of scientific thinking, and have a disposition for breaking problems into relevant components and designing strategies with which to address them.

Geographic information systems (GIS) technology is a perfect fit for STEM. GIS users display, sift, disaggregate, integrate, and analyze information in infinite combinations. The vast sweep of industries using GIS (see www.esri.com/industries), and the broad spectrum of applications within any individual industry (see www.esri.com/mapmuseum), show that adults in all walks of life rely on GIS to understand the world and make informed decisions, about the nature of places (from cellular to galactic scale) and effective use of resources (money, tools, time, people).

How can we help students, schools, and communities in these troubled times? Engage GIS, as early, often, and powerfully as possible. Students who build their own data tables about family members can fathom the power of data and distinguish proper from inappropriate. Kids who map the room from an overhead view can build similar displays of their larger world, find meaning in symbols, and grasp displays that extend the world beyond their personal experience. By anchoring learning in the familiar then launching into the foreign, we help students establish a flexible framework for knowledge, engage the boundless inquisitiveness and creativity of youth, and foster a disposition for seeking appropriate information. From mapping ant colonies in the school playground to earthquakes around the world, or the flow of bodies in a school building to traffic in a city, or temperature patterns around the school grounds to global climate patterns, the stretch is small, but vital.

And, wherever I go across the US, employers say to me “Test scores and diplomas are fine, but what I really need is people who can find and integrate information, analyze data, and make informed decisions; collaborate and work independently; and learn, adapt, solve problems, and communicate effectively. Show me kids like that and they’ve got a job. We can’t find enough inside our state, so we’re stealing them from other states.”

- Charlie Fitzpatrick, Co-Manager, ESRI Schools Program

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Fun with GIS #47: GeoTech in the Community

I spent last week on vacation in a small town along the Pacific coast of Costa Rica. Along with assorted outdoor activities, I assisted our friends from GIS ETC and Holbrook Travel in conducting some GIS and GPS instruction. The townsfolk recognize that their future is tied intimately to their extraordinary natural heritage. In order to preserve and manage their precious lands and waters, they need to map it … all of it … the trails and roads, the buildings and networks, the natural and manmade waters, the lands both developed and not, and the creatures great and small, including both local and migratory … everything. It’s a daunting task, and the technical infrastructure is modest, but the spirit is strong. In a region of under 1000 people, more than 50 have the vision of why they need this and how to do it. They are collaborating, across organizations, across data interests, and across ages, with both young and old learning geospatial tech.

The town is a microcosm, a lesson for us all. In the face of accelerating and compounding environmental and economic challenges, communities everywhere need to map their character. Regardless of the local economic base, communities need to document what exists in order to make good decisions about scarce resources. This simple process is the common life ring that communities everywhere need in these increasingly troubled times. By documenting what’s where, and sharing tasks and resources between stakeholders, seeking common ground while acknowledging differences, communities can make more informed decisions affecting their collective future.

Children are, of course, a part of this, and need to play a part within it. In fact, if allowed, they can be a tremendous resource, facilitating the process while also building their own knowledge bank and personal future. Their natural inquisitiveness, creativity, and capacity for learning are enormous assets, and communities that engage these effectively will be far better off than those who see youth simply as extraneous, or worse.

In this little Costa Rican town, there is a new level of excitement and mission after just one week. They know that they hold the key to their future, and they recognize that time is short. Middle-aged workers who had never touched a computer and bright young children full of life are embarking on a mission, together, to document, preserve, manage, and build their present and future, with geospatial technology.

It was one of my most inspiring vacations ever.

- Charlie Fitzpatrick, Co-Manager, ESRI Schools Program

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Fun with GIS #46: Club GIS

Last week I visited an after-school club that has been doing GIS. This is a club in Montana, with a story that will be visible in the soon-to-be-released Winter 2010 edition of GIS Educator. (Check back soon if it’s not posted yet.)

The club idea is great! While it’s nice to see people using GIS in school for instructional and administrative purposes, club activities are, by definition, for the fun of it! This club has been mapping caves, analyzing their data, and coming up with some recommendations for the National Park Service about management of the caves.

L: On the way to a cave, the teacher/club leader points out some neat geology.
R: The cave zone, in oblique view, using ArcGIS Explorer‘s “Topo” base map.

The team’s geomentor is a GIS analyst for the county, and got the teacher started with GIS about two years ago. The team has put together some unique data, gathered through some pretty exciting trips. One of the seniors said “I used to do sports after school, but when the club began, this combination of outside and inside, trips and computers, was just more fun, and useful. So I do this now.”

Several of us talked with the students that day, and they drank in everything we presented about GIS. Meanwhile, the work the club is doing is making a difference, to the community, the park staff, and the team itself. Sometimes, I have to write about disheartening subjects. But this was truly a day for me to have fun with GIS!

- Charlie Fitzpatrick, Co-Manager, ESRI Schools Program

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