Monthly Archives: November 2007

What is Spatial Thinking?

Spatial thinking has received increased attention in the past several years.  One reason is the National Research Council’s report, Learning To Think Spatially-The Incorporation of GIS Across the K-12 Curriculum served to help more people consider ‘graphicacy” to be equally important as teaching about numeracy and literacy.  Those who have been teaching with GIS for the past few decades have long been advocating spatial thinking as the foundation for success in problem-solving with GIS.  Further back in time, geographers and geography teachers have been promoting spatial thinking for centuries.  Many welcome this new attention on spatial thinking and are hopeful for the future.   Without spatial thinking, a person can be proficient in working with GIS software tools, but that person will likely have difficulty in thinking outside the software box, considering problems holistically, and examining problems from a spatial perspective, whether they use GIS or other tools. 

There are many ways to conceptualize spatial thinking.  The National Research Council stated that to think spatially entails knowing about: 

(1) Space-Different ways of calculating distance, coordinate systems, the nature of spaces in two and three dimensions.  Space can be thought about as absolute location-such as latitude/longitude, UTM, or the British National Grid.  Space also includes relative location, the concepts of adjacency, intersections, and regions. 

(2) Representation-including the relationship among views, orthogonal versus perspective maps, the effect of map projections, and the how features can be displayed cartographically as images, points, lines, and polygons.

(3)  Reasoning-including different ways of thinking about distances (great circle routes versus straight-line mapped routes, for example), the ability to extrapolate and interpolate, projecting a relationship on a graph into the future, estimating the slope of a hillside from a contour map, selecting a detour, and so on. 

This is just one way of conceptualizing spatial thinking.  Keep reading this blog as we illustrate other ways.

- Joseph Kerski, ESRI Education Manager

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Using Multiple Maps in AEJEE

One of the cool capacities of ArcGIS is the option to “swipe” layers back and forth, allowing the user to see different patterns in consistent places. As a free, downloadable, lightweight GIS tool, ArcExplorer Java Edition for Education (AEJEE) does not have a “swipe” capacity, but you can still do some nice comparisons by engaging a couple of different strategies:

It’s easy to create multiple map windows in AEJEE. By loading the same project in a second window and turning on different layers, users can do some nice comparisons. Engaging images (from the hard drive or from ArcIMS-delivered content) and setting their transparency permits more integration. By manually setting the scale of the second window to match that of the first, and closing the Table of Contents window, users can compare maps easily, even with only moderate screen real estate.

- Charlie Fitzpatrick, ESRI Education Manager

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Where does your Thanksgiving Dinner come from?

Linda Zellmer at Indiana University has created a series of maps showing where several foods eaten for Thanksgiving are produced.   A poster showing all the maps together is also available.  Visit

- Angela Lee, ESRI Education Manager

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Tenets of the Spatial Thinking and Education Community

The message that many in the field of GIS education have been espousing for years is beginning to bear more fruit.  In the research community, it is evidenced by books, book chapters, articles, and conference themes, and elsewhere, by a public that is increasingly engaged in using online maps and other spatial tools, and beginning to advocate that spatial skills be taught in all levels of education.  The central messages of the education community are not limited to the following but usually include these central tenets:

(1)  Spatial thinking is an important part of everyday life. 

(2)  Spatial thinking is not confined to geography, but is an essential part of hundreds of fields, from astronomy to zoology, history, economics, geochemistry, and more, and applies to all scales.  Dr. Reg Golledge of the University of California Santa Barbara states that geographers are well known for “spatializing” data and processes to understand our world, but also that “virtually every knowledge domain contains spatial metaphor.”  His examples include beauty, love, and emotion as spatialization in the arts through sculpture, painting, and dance, word pictures of places in literature, mapping genetics in biology, forces in physics, mathematics’ geometry and topology, and organizing online and print libraries in library science.

(3)  Spatial thinking can be learned both inside and outside of formal educational settings.

(4)  Spatial thinking should be taught at all levels of education.

(5)  Geotechnologies are some of the best tools to promote, teach, and learn spatial thinking and analysis.

(6)  Spatial thinking and analysis through geotechnologies are an important combination in education and in society as we grapple with critical local, regional, national, and international issues facing our world today, including biodiversity loss, urban sprawl, energy needs, water availability and quality, climate change, natural hazards, and other key issues.

What exactly is spatial thinking?  Read future blog postings for more on this topic, but in the meantime, the GIS Education bibliography ( provides some starting points. 


Golledge, Reginald.  2003.  Thinking spatially.  Directions Magazine.

- Joseph Kerski, ESRI Education Manager

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Bringing GPS Data into AEJEE

Lot of folks work with GPS units to gather data, then wonder how to make a map with it. ArcExplorer Java Edition for Education (AEJEE), a free downloadable intro GIS package for Windows and MacOSX, is able to convert text files (either tab-delimited (.txt) files or comma-delimited (.csv)) with X and Y data into point shapefiles, just by following the directions in the built-in tutorial (Lesson 4).

But there is another way to deal with these data, especially if you use a Garmin GPS with a cable, and have a lot of points, or ones that represent line or area vertices. The Minnesota Department of Natural Resources has created a slick little application that educators have found extremely useful. “MNDNR-Garmin” can be downloaded for free.

It includes extensions for ArcView, but also can be run as a stand-alone application for Windows. It works great! You can create point, line, and polygon shapefiles that work perfectly in AEJEE.

- Charlie Fitzpatrick, ESRI Education Manager

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Tough Choices or Tough Times

I sense a strong desire that most people in the field of educational GIS want to change the educational system.  While some seek to include more fieldwork or inquiry-based learning, others want nothing less than grand reform.   Each year, most of us read articles or books recommending change, written by those in the GIS education community or by our colleagues in other fields.  I recently read the National Center on Education and the Economy’s (NCEE) report Tough Choices Or Tough Times, December 2006.  NCEE created the New Commission on the Skills of the American Workforce to chart a course for the USA in today’s complex global economy.   The book’s tone and recommendations remind me of Thomas Friedman’s book that I read this year that many of you may have read as well entitled The World Is Flat.

The commission makes a case that America’s economic preeminence hinges on the preeminence of our educational system.  Unfortunately, America has been lagging behind on key educational indicators for quite some time, and the commission believes that nothing short of radical change will turn the situation around.  The final report proposes a restructuring of educational priorities that will have a major impact on all levels of education – from preschool to college and beyond. 

The recommendations include a state board qualifying examination, recruitment of a teaching force from the top third of high school graduates going on to university, providing for disadvantaged students, curriculum, standards, and assessment development, operating schools by independent contractors, improving continuing education for adults, bolstering early childhood education, and more.   The book’s information about workforce training and international perspectives make me think that the GIS work that many of you are engaged in is a part of these important reform efforts.

The full report may be ordered from or from Amazon.

I encourage you to read at least the executive summary, and I look forward to discussion on the EdCommunity portal about it.  What is your reaction to the report?

- Joseph Kerski, ESRI Education Manager

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Happy GIS Day!

GIS Day 2007 is here!  Find out what’s going on near you at or explore ESRI’s Geography Awareness Week resources at

Since 1888, National Geographic has worked to build and spread geographic knowledge. Geography Awareness Week began in 1987 as celebration of the importance of geography in our lives. In 2006, National Geographic began a five-year campaign called My Wonderful World, to help people experience the power of geography.

Open the GIS Day video, Layers of Asia: A GIS Journey Through our World [WMV Video]

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New 21st Century Technology Education Report Offers Vision and Actions

Last week I had the pleasure of participating in the State Educational Technology Directors Association‘s (SETDA) fall Leadership Summit and Education Forum. This organization brings together the technology leaders of each state and a body of public, corporate, and associational sponsors, partners, and supporters to share ideas, best practices, and plans for elevating the importance of technology in the classroom and in student success and preparedness. Two of these partners-the Partnership for 21st Century Skills and the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) joined with SETDA to produce and release a new report on the importance of technology in 21st century education. A synopsis and a downloadable copy of the 15-page report, Maximizing the Impact: The Pivotal Role of Technology in a 21st Century Education System is available at the SETDA site.

The report is exciting in its content and inspirational in its provision of a cogent vision of what 21st century education should be: “To be ‘educated’ today, students must master core subjects, 21st century themes, and 21st century skills.”  Likewise, student actions do not happen in a vacuum: Educators need a support system that helps them strengthen their own skills and capacities to aid students and colleagues. The Framework for 21st Century Learning graphic provides a window into the report’s various aspects.

A review of these subjects, themes, and skills has strong resonance with the very things we seek in espousing the importance of GIS and geospatial technology to the areas of personal scholarship, citizenship, and artisanship as well as global and societal stewardship and interdependency. During last week’s presentation that launched the report, I found myself thinking of a slide from a recent presentation I gave to a group of European geographers: Similar themes, issues, and imperatives.

We need to greedily consume and cite this report’s content and recommendations and utilize it and them as part of the messages we deliver.

- George Dailey, ESRI Education Manager

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Discovering Asia During Geography Awareness Week 2007, Using AEJEE

Geography Awareness Week began 20 years ago as a way to draw attention to the importance of geography in our lives. GIS Day began in 1998, on Wednesday of GAW, to underscore the importance of geographic literacy and show how GIS helps geographically literate people solve problems large and small. In 2006, National Geographic Society and a coalition of partners began the “My Wonderful World” campaign to help everyone catch the power and excitement of geography. ESRI is proud to support Geography Awareness Week, My Wonderful World, and GIS Day.

For 2007, the GAW theme is Asia. ESRI has created a set of resources for GAW 2007 (and beyond) to help people explore Asia. Two of these are new activities using ArcExplorer-Java Edition for Education (AEJEE) , free GIS software for Windows and Macintosh.

In “Asia’s Big Rivers and Cities”, users work with two projects built into AEJEE to explore Asia’s major rivers and cities, but also to see the power of GIS for doing analysis. In “Asia’s Population”, users need to deposit the included AEJEE project into their AEJEE/DATA folder before exploring the population densities of Asia; underneath, this activity shows the power of GIS to work in different projections.

The problems we face, locally and globally, can only be solved through education. See what you can do to help others see the world with a geographic eye. Help learners of all ages understand the countless ways in which geography matters.

- Charlie Fitzpatrick, ESRI Education Manager

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GIS Day 2007

GIS Day is only a few days away. If you haven’t planned your event, don’t worry – there is still time! Follow these easy steps and join the GIS Day community.

Register your event. Registering your event is a great way to gain publicity for your GIS Day celebration and automatically makes your event searchable to those who visit the GIS Day 2007 Web site.

Plan your event. Not sure how you should celebrate? Take a look at some GIS Day materials.

Have fun. Take a break from your everyday responsibilities and celebrate what you and others in the GIS industry work so hard for.

Share your story. Recognize yourself and your organization by submitting success stories and nominating GIS Day heroes.

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