Monthly Archives: April 2009

Analyzing the Spatial Distribution of Class Participants

When beginning any new class, you seek to encourage the students to get to know each other so that they can start building learning relationships. An increasing number of GIS tools can help make this “getting to know” activity even more fun and geospatial at the same time.

One tool I rely on is ArcGIS Explorer ( to map the workplaces of teachers in the GIS professional development classes that I teach. While participants are introducing themselves, they enter the workplace and birthplace into an Excel spreadsheet. The first column in the first row is populated with the name, while the second and third columns are designated city and state, respectively, one person per row. They save and export it as a text file, which will look similar to the following:


Name workplace_city state
Adam Oskaloosa IA
Beth Dubuque IA
Carmen Des Moines IA
Devynn Council Bluffs IA


…and so on.

In ArcGIS Explorer, use Tools, Import File, find the file you wish to map, and indicate that it is a tab-delimited text file, with city and state for the geocoding fields. Choose a symbol and map the data points.

The image above represents the workplace location of participants in a recent GIS institute that I conducted in Iowa. I added state boundaries and cities from ArcGIS Online. While a few outlying points exist (including me out in Colorado), the concentration in southeastern Iowa is evident. Based on the spatial pattern displayed, can you guess where the institute was held?

If students attending your school are mapped, street addresses should be used for finer detail. How would the spatial pattern and extent of students be different for a middle school versus a high school, versus a magnet school, or a university? Extensions of this lesson include the mapping of birthplaces, mapping of parents’ birthplaces, and mapping other data from newspapers or other sources.

This is a simple yet powerful activity that I encourage you to try with the next class that you teach.

- Joseph Kerski, ESRI Education Manager

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Great library reference tools: BusinessDecision demographic mapping service highlighted by LibraryJournal

BusinessDecision, a demographic mapping and reporting service from CivicTechnologies, was named a “Best Reference” tool by Library Journal. BusinessDecision provides access to ESRI demographics, consumer spending, and Tapestry data through an easy-to-use Web service, and is available for both public and academic libraries.

BusinessDecision provides market research tools to small business owners and students, helping them understand the value of a geographic approach to decision making without requiring extensive GIS training.

- Angela Lee, ESRI Education Manager

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Technology Trends in GIS—Climate

GIS technology supports many crucial aspects of scientific research and analysis. While many GIS applications have traditionally focused on creating inventories of the natural and cultural environment, GIS is increasingly being used to create new knowledge and insight based on spatial analysis and modeling. Of particular value to practitioners in the social, biological, and earth science communities, GIS has the ability to bring together multiple datasets and help us understand complex systems that have a significant spatial component.

Learn more about GIS and Global Climate Change or GIS in Science Trends

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Analyzing State Population Change Across the USA with GIS: 1790-2005

A new lesson on the ArcLessons ( library invites investigation into how and why state populations have changed from 1790 to the present. The 67 questions in the lesson include work with maps, graphs, and geodatabases in a GIS environment with a rich data set of cities, states, federal lands, highways, rivers, and other features for spatial and temporal analysis.

The two main focal points of the lesson are: (1) What is the spatial pattern of population totals and rates of change by state in the USA from 1790 to 2005? (2) What factors account for the variation in time and region? Learners begin the lesson by making thematic maps of age, ethnicity, and other variables to uncover key reasons for population change, examining not only the raw numbers, but also the rate of change. They create new variables, compare different classification methods, and experiment with different types of graphs. Learners also calculate the mean center of population and investigate the movement of this mean center over time. Why and how has the mean center moved, and where might it move in the future? What impact did the development of large cities have on state population growth and change? Metadata about the dozens of variables available for analysis is included in the lesson. The lesson provides step-by-step guidelines but leaves room for much further investigation.

Through these investigations, learners use GIS to reconstruct the settlement of the USA for the past 220 years. Learners perform tabular and spatial data query and analysis and dig deep into spatial analysis. Thus, the lesson is a mixture of GIS skills with solid content rooted in geography, history, and social studies, suitable for the secondary or undergraduate classroom.

We invite you to investigate this rich data set and uncover the “whys of where” in a historical and spatial context.

- Joseph Kerski, ESRI Education Manager

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School District GIS Applications Now on the Web

Davis Demographic and Planning (DDP) is an ESRI business partner focusing on key functions that all school districts need to do: demographic forecasting, facility planning, attendance zones, and school locators. DDP has created SchoolSite, a family of ArcGIS extensions, to tackle the heavy work of redistricting and enrollment forecasting. These have also now been converted to Web-based applications using ArcGIS Server, giving small- to medium-enrollment districts the power of GIS without software installation, extensive training, or up-front data development. See SchoolSite Online.

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ESRI (UK) boosts Education support with acquisition of Digital Worlds

ESRI (United Kingdom) 
has acquired Digital Worlds International (DWI) Ltd, a leader in the development and delivery of
GIS as a teaching tool for UK schools. The deal will enable ESRI (UK) to increase its existing work within the education sector and further
support the teaching of Geography and other school subjects using its GIS technology. DWI will benefit
from the depth of ESRI (UK)’s resources to develop and support products and applications for schools.

More information.

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ArcUser Online

The Spring 2009 issue of ArcUser is now online in an exciting new format – a flipbookVisit the ArcUser site for more information.

What is ArcUser Magazine?

ArcUser magazine is an award-winning quarterly publication that helps readers keep up with the rapidly growing GIS industry. It provides practical, technical information on how GIS is used and how to use ESRI software most effectively. In addition to tutorials and articles on emerging and converging technologies, the magazine includes stories about GIS use in various industries and directs readers to educational resources.  More nifo.

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The Vision of Wangari Maathai

There is an upcoming PBS broadcast of “Taking Root: The Vision of Wangari Maathai”, the Nobel Peace Prize winning keynote of the 2007 ESRI User Conference.

See the award-winning film “Taking Root: The Vision of Wangari Maathai” Tuesday, April 14, 2009 on the PBS series, Independent Lens.

Check for local listings for more information.

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SkillsUSA National Geospatial Technology Competition

ESRI, Digital Quest Inc., and SkillsUSA are pleased to announce the Fourth Annual SkillsUSA National Geospatial Technology Competition. This contest was created to provide postsecondary students an opportunity to showcase their skills and compete for the SkillsUSA title of Best in the U.S. The competition is being held in Kansas City, Missouri, June 22 – June 24, 2009. Registration information for the contest—including details on the registration time frame and the requirements for entry—can be found at SkillsUSA is also looking to establish secondary contests in individual state-level geospatial competitions. To get your school involved, contact Austin Smith ( at Digital Quest.

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Investigating the Earth Using Current Weather

One might think about using GIS in three powerful ways. First, running GIS software on a local computer with local data dominated much of the first 30 years of GIS through the late 1990s. While some of the “local” data and even software may have been running on a server, the server and data was by and large connected with the user’s own organization. This model continues to meet much of the needs of the day-to-day work that many educational and other organizations use today.

Second, beginning in the late 1990s with the Geography Network (, the National Atlas (, and other services, some spatial analysis could be done online with nothing but a web browser. These tools have greatly expanded since then, offering the educator and the general GIS user a plethora of tools and layers including everything from agriculture to zebra mussels. We highlight some of the best on the ESRI EdCommunity’s web mapping resource list ( and on ArcLessons (

The third method in which GIS can be used combines the first and second method by using desktop GIS software together with live data services, or “feeds” from GIS servers.

Using ArcGIS desktop with ArcGIS Online is one example of this third method. The latest addition to ArcGIS Online is NASA JPL’s daily image, which provides the most current, near-global image available for the planet. The satellite image is a mosaic continuously updated from the global MODIS TERRA satellite ( This data, served by the OnEarth server (, updates as soon as scenes are available (6-24 hours old), with a resolution of 250 meters per pixel in the swath’s center. A US weather satellite imagery layer is also available on ArcGIS Online that updates every 15 minutes.

I added cities and countries from my local computer to the satellite image so that I could ask students the effect of the Andes on weather, and to predict and analyze local weather via on-the-ground webcams in specific cities.

Try these new services in your classroom!

Joseph Kerski, ESRI Education Manager

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