Monthly Archives: September 2009

My National Parks and ArcGIS Explorer (Part 2)

On September 27, 2009, the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) launched its video series, The National Parks: America’s Best Idea. The series has inspired this sequence of blog postings about aspects of my personal park explorations over the years via ArcGIS Explorer (AGX) (Tweeting @ArcGISExplorer :: ArcGIS Explorer Blog :: ArcGIS Explorer Add-ins).

The first blog post was basically about setting the stage: Building some geographic data and getting the national parks on my AGX map. Next, I want to really personalize it: Of the 58 national parks, which ones have I visited and when?

One way of doing this might be to go back to the parks CSV file and manipulate it. Discarding parks I’ve not been to, adding a field that gives a date of my first visit, saving the file under a different name, adding that new file to my AGX map, etc.

Or, I can do that work inside AGX in a different way.

Regardless, I need to identify “my parks” and traipse down memory lane to get a best estimate of when I first visited. With this information in mind, I was ready to go back to my parks NMF.

In a nutshell, what I need to do in AGX is select “my parks” from the list, put them into a “my parks” folder, add some date info to my parks, and save my work.

Holding down the Ctrl key, I go down the park list selecting “my parks” (and see others I long to visit like Yosemite.) Once complete, I right click one of the selected, choose Export, give my subset a name, My_US_National_Parks, and Save. The “my parks” file is now a permanent piece of AGX content I can add to this or any other project.

Back in my map, I do a little housekeeping. I turn off the main park list by clicking the folder tick box, and close the US National Parks folder.

Time to add “my parks” to the map. In the Add Content menu, I select Map Content Files, find my file, and open. Like the big list of parks, I want “my parks” to be in a collapsible folder. To do this, I right click one of “my parks,” select Move to Folder, click New Folder, and name it. I modify the symbology of these parks to reflect these as ones I have visited.

Using my date of first visit memories, I decide to modify the names of each park and order them in date sequence, e.g., 1966, Saguaro….2007, Virgin Islands. With that I save my map. Here’s a look at the 23 national parks I have “explored” across 40 years.

Stay tuned for the next installment.

- George Dailey, ESRI Education Program Manager

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My National Parks and ArcGIS Explorer (Part 1)

On Sunday September 27, 2009, the Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) began a new video series, The National Parks: America’s Best Idea. The series, by filmmaker Ken Burns and writer Dayton Duncan (great geohistory author too), explores the birth, growth, and continued evolution of national parks in the United States. From various trailers on the PBS site, it promises to provide inspiration and a call to action for all of us: Participate in and steward these American jewels.

As I explored the Web site I noticed an area where you can share your story and also collect park badges. Working through the little app, I tagged and dated “my parks.” Result? I discovered that to date I have experienced 92 of the 391 “park units” in the National Park Service (NPS) system beginning in 1966 with the most recent in 2007. Nice map app, but I wanted more: What about mapping “my parks” in a richer way with ArcGIS Explorer (AGX)?

As it turns out only 58 of the 391 units are designated as national parks, so I decided to start there. First order of business was searching for data for the parks. Finding bits and pieces, I ended up creating my own database using sources found at Wikipedia and the NPS. (Download nps_parks.csv.)

Launching AGX, I selected the Streets Basemap and then selected “Text Files” in Add Content.

In adding the CSV file, I was prompted to make some setting choices—including Title and Description Fields.

The parks were now on my map.

From there I wanted to do three more things: Modify the symbol and its size, rename the park folder (right click), and save my work.

By holding down the Shift key and selecting all of the parks, I changed the Appearance of all locations at once.

I chose an appropriate icon and increased the size of the symbol for continental viewing.

Before going any further I saved my work (Save As: ArcGIS Explorer Map) with a name like USparks.nmf.

Ready for a little exploration, I moved my cursor over the symbols showing the names of each, and a click on one launched the NPS URL.

Stay tuned: In the next installment we’ll create a subset of the total park list just showing the parks I have explored, and more.

- George Dailey, ESRI Education Program Manager

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GIS, Geography Education, and the NCGE

Teaching with GIS fits well in many disciplines, but one of its “homes” is in geography education. One might argue that for a geography educator not to use maps is like a chemistry teacher not using the periodic table. And the spatial analysis possible with GIS today extends maps beyond tools that help students find where things are located to analyzing patterns, relationships, and trends across multiple scales and themes.

One way that ESRI decided to support geography educators back in the early 1990s was through one of the world’s chief professional associations for geography educators, the National Council for Geographic Education ( Ever since then, we have served on the NCGE’s publications, administrative, external relations, and research planning committees, by writing the geography map skill set with the Partnership for 21st Century Skills, and by creating the CDs for the Birds Eye Remote Sensing curriculum set for Grades 4 through 6. The NCGE has served to strengthen geography education at all levels since its founding in 1915 through professional development, awards, curriculum, partnerships, and networking.
Last week, ESRI supported the NCGE annual conference.

The NCGE conference was held in Puerto Rico this year, a place of stunning diversity in its physical and cultural geography.

Through a series of hands-on workshops, an exhibit where we feature software, curriculum, literature, and real people to talk with, writing journal articles, and by contributing to the poster session, we hoped to demonstrate our support for NCGE, geography education, and GIS. Our hands-on workshops were taught by ESRI education staff as well as our partners and friends in geography education. The diversity of topics well represented the diversity of GIS as an instructional tool. These included such topics as geotagging images with latitude-longitude values, investigations with ArcGIS Explorer, web GIS, exploring the Caribbean with ArcMap, seeking and discovering spatial data, remote sensing image analysis, Civil War investigations with AEJEE, using PDF maps, and more.

We encourage you to join the NCGE and consider using GIS in your classroom teaching or in your research project.

- Joseph Kerski, ESRI Education Team

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NCGE 2009 National Distinguished Teaching Achievement Award, Stuart Ritchie

Congratulations to the National Council of Geographic Education Winner of
the 2009 National Distinguished Teaching Achievement Award, Stuart Ritchie
of Denver Public Schools

Denver Public School’s Montbello High School Geography teacher Stuart Ritchie will be presented with the 2009 National
Distinguished Teaching Achievement award at the National Council for Geographic Education (NCGE)
conference in San Juan, Puerto Rico in September ( . The award is the Council’s highest honor for teachers.

Before his teaching career, Mr. Ritchie was an
international high altitude mountain climbing
guide for ten years. During that time he traveled
to many of the high ranges of the world including
the Himalaya, Andes, Alps, and Alaska Range. It
was out of interactions with indigenous peoples
of the world that he chose teaching geography as
a career path.

Mr. Ritchie is a graduate of the University of
Denver, and received his Masters degree in
Secondary Instruction and Curriculum Design
from the University of Colorado. An Advanced
Placement human geography teacher in Denver
Public Schools, Stuart serves on both the
geography redesign and assessment committees.

Stuart has participated in a GIS Symposium and
Community Mapping project, and was awarded a
$5,000 grant from the technology department of
Denver Public Schools. The purpose of the grant
was to implement a GIS project in his AP Human
Geography class. The class chose to study the
school pattern of discipline issues within the
building, and once the data was collected, with
the help of school security, the data was loaded
into a geographic information system that was
analyzed to discern patterns of incidents and
recommend changes in the use of the school
security resources.

Stuart Ritche has also served for a number of years on the Colorado Geographic Alliance (COGA) Steering
Committee. Recently, Stuart participated in the COGA-sponsored Teacher Leadership Institute at Denver
Public Schools and is often called upon to present workshops on standards-based geography instruction and
assessment for other teachers in his district.

- Marianne Kenney
Colorado Geographic Alliance Summer 2009 newsletter

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Fun with GIS#28: Visualization AND Analysis

Seeing is believing. Recent innovations in visualizing basic information through maps has made more of the public aware of the power of geography. Seeing spatial patterns is still truly eye-opening for many, which is at the same time exciting to see and yet disconcerting that it can have lain “hidden in plain sight” for so many for so long. But the really important element is combining visualization with analysis. “What’s where?” is important, but multiplied many times over if you know also “What’s it like in relation to other things and other places?” That’s analysis. I wanted to write this week’s blog about one favorite topic — oceans — and wound up instead coming back to a different one — the power of analysis.

This past weekend marked the 24th Annual International Coastal Cleanup — an effort lead by Ocean Conservancy to collect trash from and along the waters of the world, and educate people about the need to be more responsible for our impact on the planet. It’s a very important mission, and people have been engaged in many places. Ocean Conservancy’s 2008 report on ICC and 2007 report on the National Marine Debris Monitoring Program have important content, but the data must be scoured to “get it.” The reports lack the impact that comes from even a single analytical map.

Earlier this year, there was attention in the news to a report about the level of plastic debris in the ocean. Algalita Marine Research Foundation has been doing analysis, and reporting their findings through analytical maps. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) released a report this week showing that global sea-surface temperatures for August and northern summer were the warmest on record. (See also my “Exploring Climate Change” blog entry from last week.) Visualizing a robust analysis can be done swiftly with a well-constructed map.

Global Surface Temperature Anomalies (image from NOAA)

The power of GIS is the combination of two elements: visualization AND analysis. Processing and classifying a large volume of data, making decisions about what constitute sensible divisions, and symbolizing them in ways that communicate a message … that’s the power of GIS.

In 1989, I was flying home from Washington DC, sitting in my usual window seat. The next seat was occupied by a US Congressman from my state. Halfway through the trip, he put away his work and looked up. I took that opportunity to introduce myself and hand him a newsletter I’d written for our state geography alliance. He flipped in just a few seconds through 11 of the 12 pages, but spent five full minutes studying a full-page thematic map. That’s impact.

Visualization is good. Visualization PLUS analysis is infinitely better. To see a final, simple, interactive example, go to and look at the map on the right. It’s dynamic, so you can move the map around, and shift the slider bars, and even change the topic. Visualization PLUS analysis … that’s where it’s at!

- Charlie Fitzpatrick, ESRI Education Programs

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Mapping The Greenest Universities

The Sierra Club just released its 2009 “cool schools” ranking—colleges and universities judged to be doing the most to help the planet. The judging criteria included efficiency, energy, food usage, academics, purchasing, transportation, waste, and administration. More and more college applicants say that a university’s environmental stewardship could influence their decision to enroll there. The spatial thinker always wants to map things to determine if a pattern exists, so we built a geodatabase to analyze the 135 universities included in the study.

Only six colleges and universities earned the top grade of “A+”. The pattern of these universities spanned the breadth of the country (green dots), as did the universities scoring an “F” (blue dots). As is often the case once data is analyzed spatially, some preconceived notions were shattered. California universities appeared 3 times among the 10 most green and also the 10 least green universities. Vermont contained some very green universities, but also colleges scoring D’s. Along the same lines, the mean population of the cities containing the 10 greenest universities was 437,000, but the population of the cities containing the 10 least green universities was 144,985. Green universities can and do thrive even in urban settings. As always one should look critically at the data. What is the mission of the Sierra Club, and how did it generate its data? What criteria did they not collect that you wish they had? How does this list compare to the Princeton Review’s Green Honor Roll? Explore the data for yourself in ArcGIS Desktop on ArcLessons.

GIS is a green technology [PDF] because it provides the technological and scientific support necessary for processes such as GeoDesign, for returning our planet to more sustainable practices. This includes everything from planning wind farms to studying climate change to planting urban forests, and much more. Universities are using GIS to manage their facilities, in instruction, and in environmental research. In fact, 19 of the greenest 20 universities in the Sierra Club’s listing have a site license for ArcGIS software!

- Joseph Kerski and Mike Gould, ESRI Education Team.

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2010 ESRI Education User Conference: Call for Presentations

Knowledge-Sharing is What this Event is All About

Whatever your field, position, or GIS experience, be part of the knowledge-sharing and submit an abstract for possible presentation at the event. Communicate to your peers about your best practices, successes, and innovative GIS applications. User presentations enrich the experience of both attendees and presenters. The sharing of insights, tips, and lessons learned, as well as the networking these sessions lead to, is unbeatable. We can’t wait to hear your GIS story.

Call for Presentations Deadline: October 16, 2009
Learn more now at:

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Traveling with Henry Hudson: A GIS Starter on the 400th Anniversary

Over a week ago, I discovered that this year is the 400th anniversary of Henry Hudson’s landing at Manhattan and exploration of the river that now bears his name. More specifically, I learned that in the early weeks of September 1609 Hudson and his crew in the Dutch East India Company commissioned ship Half Moon explored and entered New York Bay and ultimately anchored off Manhattan Island—marking the beginning of the Dutch presence in North America.

The voyage and this event screamed, “Map me!” As a result, I began a hunt for mappable data and more information about what unfolded then. The result was feast, famine, and seemingly endless possibilities. So, I offer this blog post as a GIS “starter” with the prospect that others will evolve the story more fully.

Two basic questions that I thought would be interesting to answer were: Where did Hudson go on this his third voyage of exploration? What other European interests were already on the North American scene with permanent settlements? But with those and bit of Web research a flood of other questions crept in: What did Manhattan look like at the time? What geographies were known then? Why did Hudson effectively hijack his own expedition in mid-voyage and head for North America? Would the Dutch be keen on having a presence in North America? And, what about..? You get the picture: A growing set of related questions that are the stuff for a series great student georesearch projects. So, let’s settle on the first two—the voyage and other European presence.

I put myself back on the trail of finding data I could bring into ArcGIS Explorer (AGX). I uncovered a KML source (Download 4 kb) produced by faculty at Hamagrael Elementary School in Delmar, NY (near the site of Hudson’s farthest northward navigation).

Launching AGX, I decided to set the “Basemap” to physical geography and then I navigated to the location where I had stored the school’s KML file and added it to my map using the “Add Content” menu.

Here’s my new map project so far: The school’s KML came in beautifully, complete with their symbology, labeling, and embedded links (e.g., September 11, 1609). (NOTE: From other Web research, especially at the Henry Hudson 400 and the Hudson River Maritime Museum sites, it seems that there is some difference of opinion in the data presented by the school. Regardless of the particulars, the important aspects of the voyage are validated by all…Another great opportunity for further geohistorical research!)

So, we have an answer to Question 1: Where did Hudson go? What about Question 2: What other European settlements were present? The English, French, and Spanish had already planted flags and settlements when the Dutch (via Hudson) arrived. The active settlements on the East Coast were: St. Augustine, FL (Spain, 1565), Jamestown, VA (England, 1607), and Quebec (France 1608). Using the “Find” function, I pinpointed those places as well as New Amsterdam, future New York City.

Create your own Henry Hudson AGX project and consider sharing your results at ArcGIS Online.

George Dailey, ESRI Education Program Manager

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Fun with GIS #27: Exploring Climate Change

One cool thing about being an educator is that there’s no end of subjects that matter. One cool thing about being a geographer is seeing the ways in which all things are related. And one cool thing about being a techie in the 21st century is that there is unlimited opportunity for exploration.

In preparation for Earth Science Week, I built a lesson using ArcGIS Explorer, in order to do some quick examination of one indicator of climate change — sea surface temperature. The lesson relies on data in KML format from the NASA Earth Observation web site. You can find the lesson at ArcLessons. Just do a search on “Climate”.

Despite the fun exploring with cool tools, it’s a little discouraging to look down the road at the implications. The lesson asks the user to “act” by creating a presentation. I hope users will consider other actions as well.

- Charlie Fitzpatrick, Co-Manager, ESRI Schools Program

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GIS Workshops at the National Conference on Geography Education

Investigate the Caribbean, GeoTag Your Photographs, Analyze Hurricanes, and More in the GIS Workshops at the National Conference on Geography Education

Come explore your community, region, and world using GIS in a series of hands-on workshops at the upcoming annual National Conference on Geography Education ( The setting of this year’s conference—San Juan Puerto Rico—is the perfect place to analyze the climate, economics, natural hazards, and demographics of the Caribbean region. The workshops will also illustrate how GIS can be incorporated into geography instruction across all levels of formal education, in informal educational settings, and in all regions. My colleagues and I are teaching a series of workshops that are each one hour long that you can mix and match to meet your needs. These include: Mapping History Using GIS, Exploring the Caribbean With GIS, Gathering GPS Coordinates and Field Data and Modeling It Within A GIS Environment, A Birds Eye View, GeoTagging Ground Photographs, Mapping Patterns in ArcGIS Explorer, Remote Sensing Applications, Seeking and Finding Spatial Data, Analyzing Ocean Surface Temperatures, and Making GIS Accessible to All Using PDF Maps.

These workshops are part of a larger geospatial strand organized by Lyn Malone and Anita Palmer, which includes papers and posters on geospatial technologies of all kinds. Nearly 500 people will be gathering at this year’s NCGE conference and I hope you will take advantage of the field trips, exhibits, and networking opportunities there. The NCGE has been enhancing and supporting geography education since 1915, and its members include an international group of professors, teachers, students, businesses, and others who support and believe in geography education. This year, NCGE members have been involved in creating the geography map for the Partnership for 21st Century Skills, updating the national geography standards, publishing journals including the Journal of Geography and the Geography Teacher, creating curricular materials, and a variety of other exciting projects.

For more information, visit and navigate to the 2009 annual meeting. Hope to see you there. Buen viaje!

-Joseph Kerski, Education Manager, ESRI

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