Alexander Von Humboldt’s Biographer Andrea Wulf to Keynote Esri User Conference

Each year I look forward to the Esri User Conference, and the day of the plenary is always one of my favorite days there.  This year I have particular interest in hearing our keynote speaker, Andrea Wulf, because I just finished reading her magnificent biography of Alexander Von Humboldt, entitled The Invention of Nature:  Alexander Von Humboldt’s New World.  A historian and master storyteller, Wulf is the author of five books and has written articles for many well-known publications. Her latest book about Von Humboldt was a New York Times bestseller and recently won the 2016 Los Angeles Times Book Prize in the science and technology category. It is listed as one of the “10 Best Books of 2015” by the New York Times.

Nowadays, we take for granted discussions and investigations into human impact on the environment, climate change, and the interconnections between Earth systems such as the atmosphere, hydrosphere, and lithosphere.  We make maps of the variation of vegetation by elevation.  We weave together the sense of place and the description of flora, fauna, weather, landforms, and people.  But it wasn’t always this way:  Von Humboldt (1769-1859) was a pioneer in all of these areas, and more:  He was really the first to integrate the arts into STEM education, which sounds strikingly 21st Century!

One of the things I like about Wulf’s book is that she takes the time to investigate those who Von Humboldt influenced, such as Thoreau, Emerson, Bolivar, Darwin, and Muir, just to name a few.  Von Humboldt frequently met with the poet, writer, and statesman Goethe.  I would have loved to sit in that room or tag along on one of their many walks together, as they discussed art, science, and literature.

As a geographer, I knew about Von Humboldt before I read Wulf’s book, but I wasn’t aware until after I read the book that he really only made two epic treks in his lifetime:  To South America (with some time in Central and North America as well), and to Russia, all the way to China and Mongolia.  In fact, he walked all the way to China when he was 59 years old.  While he also traveled extensively throughout Europe, it is even more amazing that he accomplished what he did with these two trips:  It shows that he listened to others, read widely and gathered as much data as he could.  He was meticulous in his mapping, drawing, and research.  But my favorite thing about him is something we are always mentioning in our workshops with students–Be curious, and ask lots of questions.  

I won’t say any more – you need to read this book for yourself!  Then I encourage you to use Wulf’s book in your own instruction, discussing the above geographic themes that Von Humboldt pioneered and why they mattered in the 19th Century and why they matter now.  You could examine his traits in career focused discussions.  In addition, your students could create a story map about Von Humboldt, or those who he influenced, highlighting where they traveled, what they discovered, and what they thought about.

I look forward to seeing Ms. Wulf and all of you at the Esri User Conference and the Esri GIS Education conference as well.

The Invention of Nature, book by Andrea Wulf about Alexander Von Humboldt

The Invention of Nature, book by Andrea Wulf about Alexander Von Humboldt.

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New GeoInquiry collection: Grade 4 Interdisciplinary

The public field testing of the fourth geoinquiry collection, GeoInquiries for Grade 4 Interdisciplinary is now open.  This collection is targeted at upper elementary classrooms and includes 15 cross-curricular activities supporting integrated science, social studies, math, and language arts with ArcGIS Online.

The authoring team includes: Mellissa Thom, Michael Wagner, and Anita Palmer.  Maps were created by authors and

You can explore the collection here:

A short story map for easy review of the collection is available at:

If a teacher chooses to field test an activity, they need only submit their comments to the URL at the bottom of page two (on each geoinquiry). That URL is:

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Fun with GIS 198: Two ConnectED Years

Dateline Washington DC, The White House, May 27, 2014: President Obama welcomes Esri to the ConnectED Initiative, a partnership with private industry to help all US K12 students engage in digital learning. Of the four needs (devices, connectivity, educational resources, teacher support), Esri pledges educational resources and teacher support.

GeoInquiries: Sets of 15 lessons, each only 15 mins long, await educators in US history, human geography, earth science, environmental science, or elementary school. These are “choose and use” — no login required, no download, no install, just click and begin working through an activity with a custom-designed ArcGIS Online map. Designed for educators new to GIS, these address standard content with gentle nudges toward exploration, inquiry, and deeper investigation. The bank gets tens of thousands of views each month, as more educators find new ways to teach with online maps, and students experience new ways to understand their world.

ArcGIS Online Organization accounts: Any US K12 school can request a free school-wide account for instruction. Over 3000 accounts now serve K12 across USA. (Amazon Web Services works with Esri to support these.) Organization accounts are ideal where teachers present custom content or, even better, want their students to do their own projects, from 5-minute creations to contest entries to weeks-long research. Guidance and resources about instruction, Org design, data and maps, careers, and coding await those anxious to help students build capacity.

Professional Development: Esri’s “Teachers Teaching Teachers GIS Institute” began in 2009, but ConnectED intensified the mission to share GIS with K12 educators. The 2016 institute will add another 100 to those sharing vision and skills (see Map#5), with presentations to local departments and peers across the land. Esri also supported a bank of educator workshops in 2015, and is supporting another series in 2016.

GeoMentors: Galvanized by the ConnectED commitment, the Association of American Geographers has joined Esri to help professional GIS users engage with educators as GeoMentors. AAG has promoted the idea through professional publications and events, registered mentors, sought stories, and shared guidance. With over 1000 GeoMentors on the map (see Map#4), many educators now have a key human resource to assist with unfamiliar concepts, give technology support, point to data, and present career pathways for students.

At the 2014 launch, focus was on the potential “billion dollar commitment.” With now thousands of ArcGIS Online accounts in place, and tens of thousands of resource views per month, and more educators jumping in every week, and thus many thousands of students working with GIS each day, it’s exciting to consider how many lives have been changed, and how much more impact can come from engaging the rest! Click any link above and jump on in!

Charlie Fitzpatrick, Esri Education Manager

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New Resources about GIS Careers

Many of us attended graduation ceremonies this month; some of us have our own students graduating.  Amid these joyful events, I wanted to share several new resources about careers in GIS that are now available that I believe will be useful to students, educators, career counselors, and others.

First, the folks at the career and employment resource, The Muse, created a fascinating node on Esri with interviews of young people working here!

I created several new videos on my YouTube channel under “Career” such as a new series of 4 “career pathways in geotechnologies” videos, beginning here.  I also created a “Top 5 skills you need to be successful in GIS” series beginning here, a Geographer is a Green job video, and others.

The career development zone on the Esri EdCommunity page includes Esri career posters, a summary of the blog essays we have written on careers, links to industries that use GIS, some GIS heroes, videos of those who use GIS on the job as firefighter, city manager, and in other fields, and much more.

I also tell students to frequently check the job openings on, and our own Esri openings on as they think about their future.

Esri also maintains an interesting  student opportunity page and a jobs zone on GeoNet is useful too.  Interested in talking with our staff about career opportunities?   See this page for upcoming events where our university recruitment team will be.  Feel free to contact the university recruitment folks on university @  Read this blog and the Esri Higher Education Facebook community to find out where the education outreach team will be speaking in the near future.

Processing and analyzing topographic data on the job.

Processing and analyzing topographic data on the job.

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Mapping Livability’s 100 Best Small Towns as a Story Map

What are the best small towns in the USA?  To investigate these towns and their spatial distribution, I created a Story Map of the Top 100 Best Small Towns in the USA according to  I created it in part to show how easy it is to create a story map based on a news feature, current event, or something interesting that has a location component.  I also wanted to demonstrate a different method of creating a story map than those I have described in the past.

After deciding that the map tour story map was the type I wanted, I downloaded the map tour CSV template, and then once I populated the template with the Livability 100 towns data, I imported the CSV using the map tour app:

Downloading and importing CSV file to build story map

Downloading and importing a CSV file to build a story map.

The CSV populated the Map Tour captions from my spreadsheet.  If you would like to see what the CSV looks like, click here.  After uploading the CSV, I did make some small aesthetic updates in the story map app, but my work was essentially done. My resulting story map looks like this, below – click on the map to see it live:

The 100 Best Small Towns according to Livability - Story Map

The 100 Best Small Towns according to Livability as a Story Map.

My underlying ArcGIS Online map in “My Content” looks like this, below.  Later, I can add layers to this map that will be reflected in the story map, such as median age, median income, or other variables.

The 100 Best Small Towns according to Livability - ArcGIS Online Map.

The 100 Best Small Towns according to Livability – ArcGIS Online Map.

Another reason I created this map is that it provides a number of teachable moments.  In creating the story map, I made sure I practiced what I am always preaching to students: Cite your sources, including your photographs.

Furthermore, in teaching with the web, we as educators frequently tell students to check the methodology used.  Unlike some other sites that “rank” things but the “ranking” may represent only the opinion of the person writing the article rather than any sort of rigorous or scientific method, Livability clearly explains how they developed their ranking.  They work with the Martin Prosperity Institute, examining more than 40 data points for more than 12,000 towns with populations between 1,000 and 20,000: “These scores were weighted based on an exclusive survey conducted for Livability by the leading global market research firm, Ipsos Public Affairs. These cities and towns allow for the tight-knit communities key to small-town living coupled with the amenities you’d expect in larger cities,” says Livability.  They used economic, health, housing, social and civic capital, education, amenities, demographics, and infrastructure as eight categories of “livability”.  They used a national survey so that it is in part based on what people most value in communities, and also added some thoughtful considerations of their own.  They followed four guiding principles:  Access, affordability, choice, and utilization, and used Esri’s lifestyle variables that allowed them to see which residents were making the most of opportunities in their cities.

Despite these well-documented and rigorous measures, you could use the map and the above discussion to ask the students questions such as:   “What variables are missing?  Several communities in western Washington and Oregon are on the map:  Are rainy winters a problem for you?  Or the cold winters that would be experienced in Bemidji, Houghton, or Bar Harbor? Or the occasional hurricane in St Augustine?  How important is being near to or far from a metropolitan area or a major airport to you?  Are there regions of the USA that are under-represented by the “100 best” towns, or over-represented?  What would your list of, say, 100, or 10 best, be?  Make a story map of your list! What would your list of 10 best in your own state be, and why?  What about a list of 10 best outside the USA?”

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Fun with GIS 197: Learning with Technology

Growing up in the country, my three older brothers introduced me to two mind-blowing tools: binoculars and a magnifying glass. From first grasp of each, the world was never the same. Distant birds were intricately detailed, and even the tiniest of ants were marvelously sculpted. Size and scale became essential concepts for comprehending the world, and tools facilitated this.

A steady progression of wood block puzzles, globes, solar system mobiles, paper maps, atlases, and other books helped me slowly assemble a framework of places and spaces, regions of crisp or hazy nature, features on the land and their characteristics. Again, a bank of tools facilitated this, right through college.

It was not until the arrival of digital tools midway into my teaching career that the means by which to explore any given topic or place exploded. But after just one titanic evolution of my digital tools over a two-year span, I realized that, while knowing the specifics of any one tool was important, the essential elements for my students would be (a) learning to recognize the inherent capacities of any given tool, (b) understanding that mixing and matching tools yields logarithmic options, and (c) since tools evolve faster than mastery, persistence and attending to task matter.

Tools help us accomplish tasks, great and small. The sooner we work with tools that provide a different but fathomable view of our world, the more we can cope with its galactic and fractal complexity. Parents and teachers ask me “What tools do my kids need? When should they start?” I reply “They need tools which help them grasp their world, one tool after another, as soon as they start asking questions.” And they need to build over time those three concepts above — design, compounding, and evolution.

ArcGIS Online can be as simple as an aerial image of the school yard viewed on a smartphone held by a first grader … and there is no upper limit. With the challenges facing us individually, as a community, and as a planet, we need students to build their grasp of the world, learn to identify and analyze problems, and generate and present ideas. Anyone can start with one click at, and any US K12 school can have a powerful and flexible school account for free at

Charlie Fitzpatrick, Esri Education Manager

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GIS in Archaeology Woven Throughout New Book

As we have frequently noted in this blog, GIS is rapidly becoming a key tool for research and instruction in an increasing variety of disciplines.  These include business, mathematics, health, and sociology, just to name just a few.  Equally encouraging is that in disciplines where GIS has long been used, such as geography, environmental science, urban planning, and wildlife biology, GIS is now being used in deeper and more meaningful ways.  One of these disciplines–archaeology–is featured in a new book from Texas A&M University Press entitled The Archaeology of Engagement:  Conflict and Revolution in the United States, edited by Dr. Dana L. Pertermann who teaches at Western Wyoming College, and Dr. Holly Kathryn Norton,  who is the State Archaeologist for Colorado.   Conflicts in the book include the 1836 San Jacinto battle in Texas, Robert E. Lee’s mid-1850s campaign along the Concho River, the battles of the River Raisin during the War of 1812, and others.

The book focuses somewhat on the physical artifacts that archaeologists uncover, but even more so on the human side–the people involved in conflicts and their social mores and understanding of power.  It is a significant step forward as I believe it represents a weaving of cultural geography and spatial thinking into archaeology.

Readers of this blog will find Chapter 7 particularly interesting:  This chapter, Georeferencing Maps and Aerial Photos for the San Jacinto Battlefield Analysis, by Peter E. Price and Douglas G. Mangum, goes into great detail, but in understandable language, about how to bring geospatial data and analysis to archaeological studies.  While the chapter is focused on how to bring historical aerial photographs and maps for the San Jacinto battle near Houston Texas, the methodology they describe will be helpful for others preparing data sets for their own instruction and research.  Educators can use this and other San Jacinto chapters in conjunction with the story maps gallery of historical maps, which include Civil War and other historical battles.

The Archaeology of Engagement book.

The Archaeology of Engagement book.

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Sharing Data through Story Maps

Many methods of sharing mapped data are now available and easy to use. Using these methods can foster critical and spatial thinking by engaging the ArcGIS platform.  We have written about a variety of ways to share mapped data in this blog.  One method is to create a spreadsheet, publish it to ArcGIS Online, and making it editable in the field to enable your students to do citizen science-based mapping.  Another idea we wrote about is to crowdsource your photographs that can be used in multimedia maps.  We have also written about the many ways that you and your students can map their field data.  With increasing interest in story maps, how can data from more than one student be shown in a story map?

Several methods exist for educators and students to create data in the field or in the classroom and map it via a story map, with more on the way.  One way is to create a map in ArcGIS Online that includes an editable feature service, as shown in this example where I invite educators to map tree species on their campuses.  You can then create a story map, such as the one shown below.  Here, I chose the “basic story map” when I shared my map to a web mapping application.  The story map updates each time tree data is added.  Data can be added in the field using the Collector for ArcGIS app if the map has been shared with a group and the user has been invited to that group.  Data can also be added via a web browser on a laptop or tablet computer, and if the map has been shared publicly, with no log in required.

While you cannot have multiple editors work on a single story map, one method for instruction is to designate a person in your class whose ArcGIS Online account keeps the “master” story map.  Other students develop content in ArcGIS Desktop, Pro, or Online that they upload and share that content with their peers within their Group in ArcGIS Online.  Then, the person responsible for the master map searches for that content and adds it to their ArcGIS Online map.   The story map, as in the example I show below, automatically updates because it is pointing to the original editable map.

I mentioned above that “more methods are on the way.”  These include the upcoming crowdsourcing story map application, so keep an eye on this blog for further updates.

Crowdsourced Tree Mapping Project in a Story Map.

Crowdsourced Tree Mapping Project in a Story Map.

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Using GeoTech Clubs in Geomentoring

At the recent annual meeting of the American Association of Geographers, several of us had a conversation focused on running GeoTech Clubs–clubs focused on geotechnologies, mapping, fieldwork, and related topics, at schools.  Over the past 15 years, I have had the opportunity to run these types of clubs in elementary, middle, and high schools, and have participated in career panel presentations sponsored by geography, environmental, and GIS clubs at universities as well. With the launch of the GeoMentors program last year, I think the time has come to revisit this topic.  As an update to what I wrote a few years ago with a video I created at the same time, I would like to invite the community to discuss your experiences below with the club approach to promoting GIS at educational institutions.

Flyer promoting a GeoTech Club at a school.

Flyer promoting a GeoTech Club at a school.

An after-school club such as GeoTech provides an excellent way for students to engage in tools and experiences.  A club environment provides the freedom to experiment with different approaches and techniques.  I encourage anyone thinking of starting and running a club to make the activities fun and engaging.  I distribute maps, satellite images, and other mapping related items.  Choose a wide variety of topics and scales, including current events and relevant 21st Century topics such as energy, water, population change, natural hazards, open space trails, local businesses, weather, and the environment using GIS.

Bring in real job ads requiring GIS skills in the local area and discuss career decisions and work environments.  Make sure the club gets students out into the field, even if the field is just the school campus, gathering data about litter, trees and shrubs, social zones, cell phone reception, and infrastructure using GPS receivers and smartphone apps.  Map your field collected data in ArcGIS Online. Ask students what they are interested in examining.   After the students get familiar with some mapping tools, let the students pursue an independent project of their own choosing.  One student I had in a GeoTech Club created an ArcGIS Online map with data points and photographs to support the field trip the Earth Science teacher was conducting. Another made a map-based project comparing all of the local lunch spots that students in his school frequented. Another made a map with all of the major league baseball stadiums complete with team logos used as point symbols.

Since there is so much competition for students’ time after school, make sure that you not only advertise the club via school newsletters, announcements, and web sites, but also (1) Encourage the students in the club to tell and bring their friends, (2)  Ensure that the club is well supported by the school’s teachers and administrators, and (3) Build connections between what you are doing in the club to the school’s focus areas.

Career academies are an important part of the high school housing the GeoTech Club I facilitated most recently.  The themes of geotechnologies, inquiry, and critical thinking have become an important part of the school’s STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics) academy and soon in their Business and Global Studies academy.  The STEM academy’s pathway on computer technology and its “Earth, Energy, and the Environment” theme were particularly well aligned with the GeoTech Club.

I would also like to see examples where students are directing the activities of their own club.  A GeoTech Club is also an excellent way for you to bring in other geomentors in your community to give presentations and lead activities.

If you are already running a GeoTech Club at a school, what activities do you include in it?  If you are not running such a club, I encourage you to look into it, or encourage others to do so.

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Fun With GIS 196: Esri ConnectED Showcase

Esri joined President Obama’s ConnectED Initiative in May 2014, offering a billion dollars worth of learning resources and teacher support. Two years later, one school district stands out as a model of implementation: Loudoun County (VA) Public Schools.

Since 2005, LCPS had participated in the Geospatial Semester program (through James Madison University), teaching GIS to hundreds of high school seniors (and even juniors) through a project-based approach. Lead GIS teacher Mike Wagner attended Esri’s 2013 Teachers Teaching Teachers GIS institute, and science coordinator Odette Scovel in 2014, building strategies for helping others use GIS. ConnectED opened new horizons.

Agreeing that all 89 LCPS schools needed their own ArcGIS Online Organization, Scovel released Wagner from some classroom duties with “Get them up and running.” Now, every school has an Org underway, with students and teachers logging in. The district is more convinced than ever that ArcGIS Online opens doors for student learning, engagement, and opportunities.

Some LCPS schools use GIS more vigorously than others, according to their needs and culture. But 35 elementary schools fed data to the district’s Project Daffodil, examining relationships between weather and plants. Some first graders worked with high school honors students to map kindness. Middle school students use pre-crafted story maps to learn standard classroom content in science and social studies. High school students create story maps to deepen their own learning and help others, in history, science, and even English literature. Some special needs students use GIS to help them understand and document tasks in their day.

This summer, Wagner will lead two days of ArcGIS Online training for elementary teachers, and a week of activities for middle school and high school teachers. Such investment positions LCPS well for the huge market of GIS jobs in the region and beyond. This vision and action earned LCPS a Special Achievements in GIS Award in 2015, and already yields benefits in student learning. Kudos to LCPS for recognizing opportunity and rising to meet it! (For more info, contact Mike Wagner.)

Charlie Fitzpatrick, Esri Education Manager

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