Monthly Archives: March 2010

District Solves Address-to-School Assignments with ArcGIS Server Application

As each new school year approaches, Kings Canyon Unified School District (KCUSD) located in Reedley, California fields hundreds of telephone calls to direct new parents to their child’s school location along with handling all the other requirements for starting a successful school year. Answering these calls consumes many hours of staff time that could be spent doing other necessary and more valuable tasks.

Kings Canyon USD is a steadily growing district, serving nearly 10,000 students and 20 schools in a 599 square mile area of California’s vast central valley comprised of rich farmland, national forests and various small towns. Due to the district’s immense geographic size and rural landscape, as well as the fact that the district spans two counties, it was always difficult for the district to acquire accurate street data to assist in address to school assignments. The staff resorted to flipping through numerous paper maps as best they could, and answering many lengthy phone calls.

In the summer of 2009, KCUSD decided to reinvent their website as a way to better communicate with parents and the community. The district decided to address the issue of providing school assignment information in a more efficient manner as part of the redesign. In house, KCUSD was already using ArcGIS and was interested in a web-based GIS solution. After careful research, the school district contacted Davis Demographics and Planning (DDP), a 20+ year ESRI business partner, which had developed an Internet mapping application built on ArcGIS Server. Using up-to-date street data from one county and only address points from another, DDP was able to seamlessly merge the two datasets into a composite address locator and provide the district with a simple yet powerful address lookup tool called SchoolSite Locator™. The application was available to the district in less than 2 weeks. DDP hosts the district’s map data including the addresses, attendance boundaries, school locations, and provides a unique web address directing users from the district’s homepage to the KCUSD SchoolSite Locator web application.

The application has greatly reduced the number of phone calls and those still received are now handled quickly and easily as the application is bookmarked in staff web browsers. Some of the additional features that have proven popular include the ability to:

  • Print attendance boundary maps
  • Link directly to each school’s webpage
  • Measure walking distances or areas on the map
  • Identify school information by clicking on the map

The district is planning to take advantage of additional SchoolSite Locator capabilities such as displaying customized map layers (i.e. board trustee areas) and aerial imagery in the future. SchoolSite Locator also can access a variety of map layers available through ArcGIS Online.

Commenting on the usefulness of this web application, John Clements, Director of Transportation said, “Our district has faced challenges with multiple data sources and being able to use that information for locating neighborhood schools. SchoolSite Locator is a welcome solution! Our district street data has finally been cleaned-up and organized…the data is finally useful, which is all we ever wanted. SchoolSite Locator has proven to be a great asset to our transportation staff and a wonderful addition to our district website”.

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Fun with GIS #43: ESRI Developer Summit

Last week, I attended the ESRI Developer Summit. (No, I’m not a “developer,” but I work with some.) This is a gathering of people who work with ESRI’s GIS technology (for desktop, server, or mobile platforms), creating new products or custom solutions in response to challenges faced by people and organizations in all walks of life. Here is a lesson for education to consider.

Developers must construct solutions to problems that evolve constantly. Software changes, operating systems change, hardware changes, the world changes. Solutions that worked yesterday do not adequately meet the needs of today. The developers need to keep learning and creating … or they simply become obsolete.

The world is fundamentally different from that of 50, 25, or even 10 years ago. Are the activities in today’s classrooms effective responses to these shifts? (Some classrooms clearly are different; see my blogs from March 15 and March 8, and look here again in coming weeks, as I check out more school stories.) Education today needs to prepare student for increasingly rapid change. Many jobs that will exist in 10 or even 5 years have not been invented yet. Lectures, worksheets, and activities of yesteryear have little appeal for today’s digital natives — tomorrow’s workforce. Preparing for days gone by does not help a planet at once more interconnected and strained.

Click the screenshot to see videos from the ESRI Developer Summit. See the first two minutes of the opening plenary for a glimpse of solving problems with GIS.

More and more educators are realizing that GIS offers an opportunity to redesign instruction. As we noted in a 1995 document called “Exploring Common Ground“, GIS is a technology that can help change how we do school. Merging diverse data to engineer different views of conditions and challenges is exquisite practice for today as well as tomorrow. Integrating systems, understanding context, rejecting simplistic thinking for holistic design, coping with diversity, planning for evolution, working toward informed decisions about scarce resources … these are hallmarks of life with GIS, and critical tasks for education in the 21st century.

- Charlie Fitzpatrick, Co-Manager, ESRI Schools Program


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Bridging GIS and Mathematics Education

GIS provides an excellent way to teach mathematical concepts and skills. The value of visualizing numbers is affirmed throughout the US Principles and Standards for School Mathematics, designed by the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics (NCTM). Representing numbers, understanding patterns, relationships, and function, 2-D and 3-D geometric and spatial relationships, probability, statistics, change, models, measurements, problem solving, reasoning, connections, and communications are critical concepts. Every one of these can be explored using GIS tools and methods. Comparing graphs and maps of birth and death rates over time and region, analyzing the response of a stream to a recent storm through a real-time hydrograph, and creating cross-sections of terrain are three common activities in geography instruction, easily done in a GIS environment. All of them—and thousands more geographic activities—involve analyzing numbers. One might say that GIS is visualizing numbers, since its basis is representing numbers as cells, points, lines, or polygons on a map.

NCTM’s curricular “focal points” also connect well with GIS. A focal point must pass three rigorous tests: Is it mathematically important, both in mathematics and for use in applications in and outside of school? Does it “fit” with what is known about learning mathematics? Does it connect logically with the mathematics in earlier and later grade levels? When we connect latitude and longitude to the Cartesian coordinate system, when we measure area, shape, size, and distance in different map projections, when we compare geometric to exponential growth rates of agricultural output, even when we explain the Earth’s shape, rotation, and revolution, we are applying geographic and mathematical concepts and can use GIS to teach it.

Why should we build bridges with mathematics educators? Mathematics is funded, assessed, and is strong in all levels of primary, secondary, and university education. The more that GIS is seen as indispensable to the teaching of mathematics, the more likely it will be that spatial analysis will be taught in schools and universities. In addition, our own curriculum and professional development will be enriched by what we learn from our colleagues in mathematics.

Joseph Kerski, ESRI Education Manager

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Fun with GIS #42: Using the iPhone to Collect Data for GIS

Like most iPhone users, I delight in picking up “new” uses for it. When away from home, I use my phone’s built-in GPS to track my morning run and get me back safely. Last week, I rode the train from DC to Philadelphia to exhibit at a conference for science teachers. As I sat down on the train, I decided to follow our progress.

I engaged the app and began recording the track. Upon reaching Baltimore (at impressive speed!), I decided that was enough data, so I stopped and saved the track, then emailed it to myself. After downloading the track in my email, I opened up the new ArcGIS Explorer and jumped in. It was a simple process of “Add Content // GPS Data Files” and point to my new .gpx file. Next, of course, I wanted to play with the different base maps and 3D perspectives afforded by ArcGIS Explorer.

I only needed the track, and so hadn’t bothered to collect specific waypoints, characteristics, or photos. I could have used ArcView to analyze the existing data and classify sections by speed. But students and educators can use common tools to gather data, display it, and integrate it with other data in ArcGIS Explorer, very easily. Even kids in elementary school comprehend the critical parts of the process and the results. For teachers struggling to find a way in to GIS, this is an effective strategy — “Where did I go on my trip?” It’s a great way to introduce kids to the many STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics) activities that can be engaged within GIS.

- Charlie Fitzpatrick, ESRI Schools Program

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Reflections on ESRI-Colorado Geographic Alliance Collaboration on Five Professional Development Opportunities

During this academic year, ESRI and the Colorado Geographic Alliance (COGA) collaborated to conduct five professional development institutes for educators focused on the integration of GIS and GPS technology and methods in primary and secondary education. The collaboration was a natural one, as both COGA and ESRI have a keen interest in inquiry-based learning and the use of geotechnologies to enhance the acquisition of rich

content and 21st Century skills. COGA, one of the original state-based geographic alliances established by National Geographic during the 1980s, is coordinated by two professors from the University of Colorado-Colorado Springs, Dr Steve Jennings and Dr Rebecca Theobald. Esther Worker and I from the Denver ESRI office have been working with COGA for over a decade. Joining the four of us was John Martin, a secondary school teacher and consultant who has been using GIS and GPS in his classrooms for many years.

Each institute was one day in length and was conducted in five different schools around Colorado. The first institute focused on Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) in collaboration with the Colorado Community College System, attracting 55 participants and guest speakers. The institutes provided hands-on experience with the tools, as well as opportunity to discuss how and why to teach with and teach about GIS and GPS. Each morning session included an introduction to geographic analysis, an introduction to COGA, a set of activities with GIS on the web (ESRI’s Mapping for Everyone, National Atlas, WorldMapper, This Dynamic Planet) and with GIS on the desktop (plate tectonics, sea level changes, and demographic analysis). Each afternoon included data collection with GPS, mapping and analysis of the field data using ArcGIS desktop and ArcGIS Explorer, and a discussion of standards and next steps.

The participants valued the combination of discussion and hands-on experience, and the fact that the workshops were nearby, as many districts lack travel funds. We found that tailoring the data and lessons to the locations where we taught, such as ski area site selection and studying local community demography, was worth the effort. ArcGIS Online was easily used for local base maps. Conducting the institutes in schools and the diversity of grade levels and disciplines represented sent an affirming message that GIS can be easily used in schools and modeled collaboration and interdisciplinary learning. The COGA coordinators will be publishing a research study based on the results of the pre- and post-institute surveys filled out by the participants. The combination of secondary education, higher education, and industry represented by the teaching team proved to be effective and we look forward to future collaboration.

- Joseph Kerski, ESRI Education Manager

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The Urban Tree Project

Classroom science teachers – be sure to catch “The Urban Tree Project” in the February issue of The Science Teacher by Michael Barnett, Meredith Houle, Elizabeth Hufnagel, Alexander Pancic, Mike Lehman, and Emily Hoffman.

“Geospatial technologies have emerged over the last 15 years as one of
the key tools used by environmental scientists (NRC 2006). In fact,
educators have recognized that coupling geospatial technologies with
environmental science topics and scientific data sets opens the door to
local and regional scientific investigations (McInerney 2006). In this
article, the authors describe the use of geographic information system
(GIS) technologies and computer modeling to engage students in
determining the economic and ecological value of trees in their
neighborhoods while participating in the Urban Tree Project.”

Details available from the National Science Teachers’ Association

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Fun with GIS #41: GIS, Standards, and a Tiny Example

A new set of draft standards has been released. The Common Core Standards are a result of work by the Council of Chief State School Officers and the National Governors Association. The vision has been to identify a set of capacities that almost all states can agree to. Forty-eight states plus DC and a few territories have contributed to this effort. Rather than lists of discipline-specific content, the emphasis is on skills that contribute to “college and career readiness.” It is an important effort, and the public is encouraged to comment, at

Meanwhile, last week I visited a tiny school that is already doing its part to get its students ready for college and career. In Augusta, Wisconsin, ten miles east of Eau Clair, the three educators at Wildlands School serve about 45 students in grades 7-12. Project-based learning is the model, all day long, with both individual and group projects. Many of these engage GIS.

During my visit, I saw a group project in which students had mapped squirrel nests by location, tree species, tree height and diameter, and surroundings; students used math to determine the tree height and nest height, and looked at densities of nests in different densities of different tree species. A ninth-grade student was doing solo work mapping farm fields, in advance of a local wetland reclamation study by a group. Another student showed his maps of individual fish that had been tagged and were being followed from above, by boat in the fall, and thru the ice over winter. The lake was being affected by the quality of the water flowing off the fields, which were affected by the little micro-environments.

Projects gave rise to other projects, and students had an endless array of fascinating content to handle. Under the eyes of skilled, knowledgeable, and committed educators, these students are already doing school in the manner sought by many promoting education reform. The students are productive, in groups and independently. They seek data, combine it into information, explore it in different ways, and act on it. The atmosphere is comfortable, but focused, and on task. They weave constantly back and forth between subjects, working with the staff to ensure they meet state goals, but zeroing in on elements of school that are of greatest importance to them. Graduates of the program, who learned they control their future, have headed off to college, and to jobs, and have done well.

It is heartening to see examples where school is a place of instruction and discovery, hands-on and minds-on, all day long, and that GIS plays a powerful role in providing challenge, opportunity, and context for learning, in readying youth for both college and career.

- Charlie Fitzpatrick, Co-Manager, ESRI Schools Program

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Examining the Spatial Pattern of Travel Time To Major Cities

Have you ever wanted to get away from it all?  Recent research by the European Commission and the World Bank on travel time to major cities of the world yields fascinating patterns when used in a GIS environment. The resulting map shows “out of the way” places—far from cities of 50,000 or more people.

Use this data to explore remoteness (according to the data, only 10% of the land area is remote in terms of being more than 48 hours from a large city) and density (95% of the people live on 10% of the land). Discuss the concept of accessibility—economic, physical, and social, manifested in access to markets, schools, hospitals, energy, or water. How is accessibility a precondition for the satisfaction of needs? Consider accessibility from the scale of local development to global trade.

As with any map, you should examine how and why it was made. The website describes the spatial data layers and cost-distance model used to create it. The model not only includes cities, but also roads, railways, shipping lanes, national boundaries, slope, elevation, land cover, water bodies, and rivers in calculating how fast one could move over the Earth’s surface.

I downloaded the accessibility grid and the major cities layer from the website and brought it into ArcMap. I added roadways, the 30 degree grid, and country boundaries for context and projected everything to Robinson. I created and posted a lesson and the base data to ArcLessons. Cell values show minutes of travel time to major cities. Conversion from minutes to days provides an excellent math connection.

Northern Canada, northern Russia, and Greenland stand out as expected as being far from major cities, but the contrast between Amazonian vs. coastal Brazil, Tibet vs. India, and Outback vs. east-coast Australia is striking.

At least a half day in central Colorado is required to reach Denver or other major city from a mountainside, but the same is true of reaching Omaha or Wichita after spending time in the Nebraska Sand Hills or other Great Plains locations.

I encourage you to investigate this unusual, well-researched, fascinating data set.

- Joseph Kerski, ESRI Education Manager

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ArcGIS Server App Helps Bring Southern Forests into Focus

Peter Eredics, ESRI Forestry Program Manager, just alerted us to a very interesting and useful ArcGIS Server application by the World Resources Institute. The application is part of WRI’s Southern Forests for the Future Program. The new Web mapping app provides a new way to learn about and protect forests of the southern United States.

For a quick tutorial, watch the YouTube map viewer demonstration video they have created. It highlights some very compelling components tied to the data services the app presents (e.g., the 1940-2030 suburbanization layer and its time line slider), map tools (including mark up and sharing), and valuable text and multimedia items linked to various Forest Features, Drivers of Change, and Solutions.

Not interested in watching the video, simply charge ahead and discover what the site has to offer and the begin imagining what you can be teaching with it via your Web browser.

For more about the site, see WRI’s press release and Matt Artz’s blog post about it.

- George Dailey, ESRI Education Program Manager

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A new version of ArcGIS Explorer is now available

from the ArcGIS Explorer blog:

A new version of ArcGIS Explorer (build 1200) is now available for download at:

If you’ve not installed ArcGIS Explorer before, you can run the system check utility or review the platform requirements
before you install. If you are already using ArcGIS Explorer on the
same machine as ArcGIS Desktop, please note that the uninstall may take
a few minutes…

Read more from the ArcGIS Explorer blog.



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