Monthly Archives: November 2009

Application Deadline Extended – 2010 ESRI T3G Institute

The application deadline for the 2010 Teachers Teaching Teachers GIS (T3G) institute has been extended to: 4:00 pm Pacific Time, Friday 4 December 2009.

T3G – Teachers Teaching Teachers GIS

Teachers Teaching Teachers June 13-18, 2010
ESRI, Inc. Headquarters
Redlands, California

Second annual “train the trainer” institute at ESRI
The 2010 ESRI T3G Institute has the dual mission of helping educators use GIS in their own educational program and, more important, building their capacity to help other educators do the same.

Learn more.

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Holiday Traditions

In what has become a Thanksgiving tradition, Linda Zellmer, Librarian at Western Illinois University, has created a poster showing where Thanksgiving dinner items are grown. Both the maps and the data are available for download.

Updated with the 2007 Census of Agriculture data, the maps reveal some changes in the agricultural landscape. What are possible causes of those shifts? Which states grow all of your favorite foods? Which foods have the most concentrated production?

- Angela Lee, ESRI Education Programs Manager

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Spatial Analysis as the Framework for GIS in Education

I recently served in a bingo hall as part of a fundraiser for a local high school’s marching band. I was trained on tasks focused on selling the many types of bingo cards for the participants. As I had never played bingo, nor set foot in a bingo hall, I experienced an immersion in an entirely unfamiliar set of terms, procedures, and even an entirely new culture. This might have been a better learning experience if I had understood some of the strategies for why people purchased certain types of cards over others, but I had no framework to build on. Because even the language was full of terms and concepts I did not understand, the whole experience felt mechanical, “going through the motions,” and less than enjoyable. Without an understanding of the strategies of bingo, and without one-on-one time with people fascinated by the game, it will never captivate me, and I will not have the incentive to learn on my own.

What is the ideal framework needed to make the most effective use of GIS in education? I would argue, based on my own classroom experience and examining research written by colleagues, that the spatial perspective is the most essential component of this framework. Just as I could, with time, make a competent worker in a bingo hall, it is certainly possible to use GIS software in a competent manner by learning terms and concepts. However, the people I have observed that truly excel with GIS in education are those who do more than “go through the motions”, but are fascinated by examining spatial patterns from local to global scales. This leads them to further inquiry and enjoyment, which drives them still forward. I believe that those of us involved in GIS in education need to first (1) instill the love of spatial inquiry; (2) stress the importance of spatial inquiry in helping us grapple with the most vexing, complex issues of our century, and (3) avoid over-reliance on jargon until the persons we are training gain the conceptual framework.

- Joseph Kerski, ESRI Education Manager

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Investigating Current Hazard Events in ArcGIS Explorer: Landslides

One of the earliest topics that researchers and educators tackled with GIS was natural hazards, because of their multi-disciplinary nature, and because hazards data were readily available in formats easily ingested by GIS software. Fifteen years later, hazards data are more easily used immediately after a hazardous event than ever before.

On 11 October 2009, a landslide in Washington occurred, burying a state highway at least 20 feet deep for one-half mile, diverting a river, and damaging homes in Nile. Later that same week, my colleagues and I used the event in a multi-day GIS workshop for attendees at the Geological Society of America conference not far away, in Portland, Oregon. My colleague georegistered a landslide map from the Washington State Department of Natural Resources (DNR), I uploaded it to ArcGIS Online, and our class brought the layer package into ArcGIS Explorer to analyze it in 3-D.

An article in the Seattle Times stated that the Washington DNR warned the gravel pit operators four years earlier that the operation might be destabilizing a portion of the slope. However, a Yakima geotechnical engineer, who conducted a slope analysis for the gravel pit operators, said the gravel mine was too small to have triggered the massive slides. We used the event to set up a classroom debate, and spatial analysis and GIS were used as evidence by those on both sides of the debate. After further examination, my colleague, a geologist by training, noticed that landslide scars seemed to be located along the valley to the northwest of the current slide. Did a fault underlie this entire valley, the route of Highway 410? As a class, we visited the Washington DNR web site, downloaded the faults layer, and overlaid it in ArcGIS Explorer, which confirmed our hypothesis about the fault’s existence. I packaged up these layers and saved them to ArcLessons so that you can use them right away.

This simple but effective project illustrates that GIS is perfectly suited to investigate current events and foster inquiry.

–Joseph Kerski, ESRI Education Manager.

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K-12 Students in Arkansas Get Access to ESRI GIS Technology

With the recent signing of a statewide license, all 266 school districts in Arkansas now have access to ESRI’s full complement of geographic information system (GIS) technology. The software is available for both administrative and classroom use.

Jim Boardman, assistant commissioner for research and technology at the Arkansas Department of Education, says, “This is an important step in providing educational opportunities for our students to meet the challenges of the twenty-first century. Learning GIS gives students important skills that can be applied in a wide range of occupations.”

For the past several years, high school students in Arkansas have had the chance to use GIS through the EAST Initiative, an independent, secondary school program that encourages the use of advanced technologies to develop solutions for community-related service projects. EAST originated in Arkansas more than 10 years ago, and the program has spread to other states.

“Through our longtime support of GIS projects in Arkansas high schools, we have developed a close relationship with the Arkansas Department of Education. We will be working with the department to help facilitate its implementation of the technology in schools across the state,” says Matt Dozier, president of the EAST Initiative.

The Arkansas Department of Education plans a comprehensive program to introduce GIS to the state’s students, teachers, and administrators. A Web site will be set up to exchange information, post announcements, answer questions, and manage GIS software distribution. ESRI’s Virtual Campus will be used extensively to introduce students to GIS concepts and applications, and the EAST Initiative will provide administrative, instructional, and technical support.

Press Release.

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Fun with GIS #32: It's All in the Questions

My last two blogs have been about GIS as a “powertool for STEM [Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics] education” or GIS as an analytical tool for STEM. As exciting as it is to work with powerful tools and skilled users, it’s even more enjoyable to watch a good teacher in action, and see how students dive in when given a good opportunity. For GIS Day, I have had the privilege of visiting some classes participating in the Virginia Geospatial Semester. I watched one teacher work with two different classes. (I’ll call the teacher “Jane.”)

Jane’s task for the students was pretty straight-forward: “You’re trying to help a doctor who is moving into a nearby state (Pennsylvania), working with two age groups: 5-17 and 65 and over. You need to find the counties with the ‘optimal number’ of potential patients. You need to make two maps that engage ratios, make your decisions, generate a layout, post it electronically, and write a paragraph explaining your choices and selection.” That was about as much instruction as Jane gave.

It was fabulous! The students had enough just skills to tackle each part of this, on their own, but it was still a stretch. In making the maps and doing the analyses, they wrestled with different combinations of fields. They employed different strategies for evaluating “optimal” — queries, manual selection and comparison, and swiping to seek most glaring color schemes.

Working in pairs — and being 12th graders — they talked, and posed questions, to each other and to Jane. Jane, in turn, asked them questions, luring them to explore, explain, analyze, and synthesize. She listened, sometimes providing a bit of info, sometimes asking a specific question. At the end, a handful of teams got up to present their selections and strategies.


Almost everyone was intensely engaged throughout. (With seniors, there’s often “that 5-10%.”) They wrestled with the content, a raft of skills, and some pretty compelling math, then communicated their findings. And all the way thru, the simple questions led them further, step by step, different questions for different students.

Good tools like GIS are fun to work with. Good teachers can take even basic ideas, present them enticingly like a jungle gym or ropes course, give some general guidance, and let the students wrestle with the content. This affords individual attention and customized assistance. But it tests a teacher’s ability to “cope with divergence.” And, since the tools, skills, and content are truly infinite in scope, the questions never end, so it provides a chance to model the lifelong learner. It doesn’t have to be rocket science, either … it’s just incredibly powerful, in the right hands.

- Charlie Fitzpatrick, Co-Manager, ESRI Schools Program

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European Capital Cities and ArcGIS Explorer

In honor of Geography Awareness Week and its European theme, I built a small ArcGIS Explorer (AGX) project focused on European capital cities….and best of all it’s here for you to download.

In a nutshell, I did the following:

1. A little Web research to track down the names of all European capital cities (yes, I knew most but…)

2. To preserve my research sources, I created a folder in my AGX project and created a couple of Links to the CIA Factbook and Nations Online.

3. I created a folder into which I placed my city locations.

4. Using the Find function, I pinpointed the array of Eurocapitals, adding each of them to the map, placing them into my cities folder, and arranging them in alphabetic sequence.

5. Selecting all of the cities, I changed their appearance—a new symbol and symbol size.

6. For each city, I modified the associated Note by editing the Popup title as desired and adding a Wikipedia link for each.

7. I added another folder to my project called “Places to See” where I can drop interesting locations within these cities that I might like to visit. So far, I’ve only added one location in the city of Lisbon.

8. I saved my map and have now shared it with you.

Here’s a snapshot of my work.

Things for you to do:

1. Download and launch the Europe.nmf using AGX.

2. Learn about these important places by clicking on their symbols and examining the Wikipedia content.

3. Change the Basemap to Streets and zoom into individual city locations, explore, and potentially create point notes of places to see like “Greenwich Park” just outside London and spot the imaginary line feature (Prime Meridian) passing through it.

4. Add hi-resolution city imagery by using Add Content > ArcGIS Online > Search = “World Ikonos” > Select the July 9 entry > Click Open in ArcGIS > Open.

5. Now, zoom to the city of choice and explore more. Here is a special place I saw in Lisbon last April. The screenshot also plays between the Streets layer and the new high-res imagery using the Swipe tool.

6. Be sure to save your project. It’s yours now.

Continue growing your geographic capabilities and use of GIS. Happy Geography Awareness Week and GIS Day…which, by the way, is any day.

- George Dailey, ESRI Education Program Manager

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Fun with GIS #31: GIS = Analyzing STEM

My blog last week was about GIS as a “powertool for STEM education.” In preparing for GIS Day, Geography Awareness Week, and the Virginia STEM Education Conference, and bearing in mind the recently released federal funds for education known as “Race to the Top“, I decided to explore Virginia’s school districts.

The general challenge in STEM education is for students to be problem solvers using technology … to see a situation, identify a question, explore it scientifically, analyze it mathematically, and develop a model that explains the topic or solves a question. My question was a simple one: What is the population covered by the different school districts in Virginia?

With a question established, I sought a relevant data set and evaluated it for trustworthiness. I decided on Census tract population density from 2008, in ESRI’s Data & Maps for ArcGIS 9.3.1. I chose a classification scheme and symbology, projected the display to reduce spatial distortion, and added a background context layer from ArcGIS Online. Finally, I overlaid the map with school district boundaries, after selecting Virginia’s from a national set and clipping off the water areas.

In less than a second, even with a flash glimpse of a re-sampled image, you should be able to see a pretty striking pattern. There are pockets of high density and broad swatches of lower, even minimal density. This leads instantly to a whole set of new questions: Does the school-age density map look the same? Which areas are expected to grow the most? What issues vary in significance for districts with higher versus lower population density? What differences in opportunities exist for students, or educators, because of population? Does graduation rate vary with population? What environmental characteristics affect students in one zone versus another?

Students sometimes struggle to generate questions about a topic. When I was teaching, it seemed to me that, if they couldn’t ask a good question, they just didn’t have a context within which to fit the subject. When we pulled out maps and began exploring, and especially when we began working with data and analyzing it, the questions flowed in a torrent. Class periods spent exploring and analyzing these questions led to a strong grasp of content.

Educators who use GIS well have been doing “STEM education” for a long time, even in classes that may not have had one of the STEM words in the title. Think of how much STEM education could happen if educators were to engage GIS across the grade levels and subject areas. Think how engaged and prepared our students could be!

- Charlie Fitzpatrick, Co-Manager, ESRI Schools Program

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Geography Awareness Week 2009!

Since 1888, the National Geographic Society has worked to build and
spread geographic knowledge. Geography Awareness Week began in 1987 as
a celebration of the importance of geography in our lives. Every year,
National Geographic creates a set of activities for teachers to use
with their students and their families to celebrate geography. These
activities can be found on the Geography Action Web site. In 2006, National Geographic began a five-year campaign, entitled My Wonderful World, to help people experience the power of geography.

What can I do this week to celebrate Geography?

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ArcGIS Server in Higher Education videos

How do you learn best? Some of us sit down and start reading at the beginning of a detailed manual and make our way slowly through the details until we reach the end of the documentation having achieved expertise in that topic. Some of us prefer to get a higher level, conceptual view of the rough outline before we delve into the details. If you are a member of the latter group of learners, consider checking out some videos I made about ArcGIS Server in Higher Education. Three short videos have been posted on the Instructional Materials Tab under GIS Video Tutorials that are meant to assist faculty in teaching with ArcGIS Server.

ArcGIS Server provides a way to access and share your GIS data beyond the desktop. Check out the extensive possibilities that Server can provide to enhance your teaching and assist your students in learning with and about GIS.

- Toni Fisher, Higher Education Manager, ESRI


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