Monthly Archives: July 2010

Fun With GIS #53: A One-Foot High Jump into GIS

No question about it, maps are fascinating … captivating
views of the world, large or small. Whether it’s a paper version world map from
National Geographic, or a web-based map looking at the Gulf oil spill in
relation to storms, wave heights, and U.S. congressional districts (see, maps
allow users to explore, ponder, focus on the elements of one’s choosing, and
think about patterns and relationships.

Consider for instance the Gulf Oil Spill map above. This was
built using ArcGIS Online (
and its free browser-based tool. As we pass the two-month mark since the tragic
explosion at the oil drilling platform in the Gulf, and listen to preparations
for both hurricanes and elections, what things will emerge from the integration
of these disparate phenomena? Getting students to consider patterns and
relationships helps them prepare for the challenges they will encounter as
adults. The world is messy. Political boundaries, cultural zones, and physical
regions don’t line up well, which leads to constant challenges. What’s in
abundance here is scarce over there, meaning there are opportunities for trade,
yes, but also issues because of the side effects of transportation, inequality,
and competing priorities and values.


Some folks today seek “an easy way into using
GIS.” ArcGIS Online is a splendid starting point, what I call a
“one-foot high jump” – something nearly everyone can do. With nothing
but a web browser and an internet connection, users have a banquet of data to
explore. Nothing to install, and it can be done on Mac or PC, even iPad,
smartphone, or wifi-capable handheld device. Head to and click “Make a
map.” Type in “oil spill,” choose the “3 day
forecast,” and click “add”. This is updated daily; the way you
see it will be different from how I created the above map. (Yes, this is a bit
of “good news and other.” Remember, things change, so the world is a
little “messy.”)

To learn more tricks for using this powerful, free tool,
click the question mark in the upper right corner, and read thru the help file.
It will help you learn to access different basemaps, add multiple layers, look
at legends, engage transparency, use external data servers, and so on. See if
you can replicate the map I linked above.

But that’s just the technology. GIS is more than simply
tools and data. It’s about a mindset, thinking about patterns and
relationships, about layers of information that might have bearing on the
condition or future of another. This is what geographic analysis is all about.
I used to tell my students “Geography is about three questions: What’s
where? Why is it there? So what?” Many people get fixated on just the
first question, but we need students to get beyond that, look for the patterns
and relationships, and seek a holistic understanding to make good decisions.
This is why people in STEM education (Science, Technology, Engineering,
Mathematics) can benefit from GIS: thinking analytically, identifying a problem
or challenge, exploring mathematically a banquet of data about the physical and
social realms, in order to design a solution.

GIS technology by itself won’t make critical thinkers out of
people who want simple solutions and quick fixes. But it can give people
opportunities to practice. Working with data in ArcGIS
– getting in and really messing with data – can help you explore the
power of maps, and it is a good “one-foot high jump” into the world
of GIS. Users good at thinking about the patterns and relationships of data can
graduate to the “two-foot high jump” of ArcGIS Explorer Online (another free
tool for both Windows and Macintosh), and then the “three-foot high
jump” of ArcGIS Explorer
, before moving into the “four-foot high jump” of ArcView.

- Charlie Fitzpatrick, Co-Manager, Esri Schools Program

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Creating and Teaching a Web GIS Institute

In a new entry in the ArcLessons library, I have posted a syllabus for a 3-day Web GIS course that I designed and taught this summer. While not professing this to be the epitome of courses and content, I posted it for several reasons. First, at ESRI, we frequently receive requests for syllabi and designs for short courses, workshops, institutes, semester-long courses, and complete GIS programs that people can mine for ideas to create their own curriculum and courses. Second, I hope it sparks dialogue among the GIS education community on how to best design courses to achieve intended objectives and to meet specific needs.

One of the interesting things about the needs for this course was that the participants, who were primary and secondary geography teachers, wanted a course that took advantage of the newly emerging Web GIS tools that provide easy-to-use introductions to geotechnologies and also those that nudged educators and students forward into spatial thinking and spatial analysis. The resources I chose also focused on some rich geographic content, not only through base data such as satellite imagery and topographic maps, but through core topics in geography such as agriculture, land use, land survey systems, biodiversity, urban forms, seismic and weather hazards, river systems, and energy. To that end, I led activities in such tools as ArcGIS Explorer, ArcGIS Explorer Online, and ArcGIS Online, and sites such as National Atlas,,,, and NASA Earth Observations. Also important to this and to most institutes was a field component, which I provided on all three days: Geocaching on Day 1, collecting field data on Day 2, and measuring the circumference of the Earth on Day 3. I made it a point to vary instructional styles, and included independent work, gallery walks, instructor-led activities, and peer-mentoring, both in the field and in the laboratory. I showed short videos throughout the course, provided materials and activities for the instructors to use after the course ended, and set up a Google Group to foster discussion and networking before and after the course.

I look forward to reading your comments and seeing your syllabi for your own courses.

- Joseph Kerski, ESRI Education Manager

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Fun With GIS #52: On Stage at ESRI UC 2010

The ESRI 2010 Education User Conference (“EdUC”) and International User Conference (“UC”) are done, but if you missed out on these events, you can still see, learn, and enjoy some highlights. Videos from the Monday UC Plenary are up online, and two have direct relevance for schools.

From the second segment of the morning, watch from 75:20-86:20 as the City of Frisco, TX, receives the ESRI President’s Award, with an astonishing display of what a well-designed GIS can mean when an emergency strikes at a school. This is a tremendous example of why schools must be thought of as part of the community, rather than apart from it.

From the third segment of the day, watch from 31:20-43:20 as two members of the Cave Club from Bigfork High School in Bigfork, Montana, demonstrate how they studied outside of school, and how GIS brought extra meaning to their work.

GIS is a powerful tool for supporting the process of doing school, both in and out of the classroom. The EdUC and UC both had lots of highlights illustrating that point. For more info, check out all the stories online. But be sure to share the power of both stories with students, educators, administrators, and GIS users in your area.

- Charlie Fitzpatrick,
ESRI Schools Program Co-manager

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4H Youth Map Invasives, Help Endangered

On Friday, July 9, the National 4-H GIS Team
assembled at the Tijuana Slough National Wildlife Refuge for a day of service learning, prior to the ESRI Education User Conference. The refuge consists of about 1,000 acres of costal wetlands with a host of endangered plant and animal species. The 4-Her’s were tasked with locating and mapping two invasive plant species that U.S. Fish and Wildlife work to control in the refuge: Fennel and Rumex.

To accomplish the task, 4-H youth used GPS receivers to mark locations around the refuge where they located Fennel or Rumex. In cases where the invasives had grown over a larger area, the 4-Hers added some dimension comments to the waypoint, taken from the center of the growth. Using DNR Garmin, they loaded the data onto the computer, cleaned it, and brought it into ArcGIS. The resulting map shows identified Fennel and Rumex locations across the refuge.

Learn more about GIS in 4-H efforts and the ESRI 4-H Grants Program.

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Get Outside With GPS!

Need a short GPS activity that is packed full of a wide variety of interesting tasks and questions? In a new lesson in the ArcLessons library, I have created a “Get Outside With GPS” activity that is designed to do just that. The activity can be used with any model of recreational-grade GPS receiver. The activity gets students out on the landscape, even if the “landscape” is simply the school campus. Based on key science, math, and geography content standards and aligned with initiatives such as “No Child Left Inside” and Earth Science Week, this set of 22 questions is most suitable for upper secondary students and university students, and family events.

However, I tested the activity last week with middle school students and after a short introductory discussion that I led about how GPS works and the meaning behind the different GPS screens, they did just fine. In fact, they had a great time competing with each other to determine who could run the fastest and who could most quickly find the virtual geocaches that I set up. They also began to think spatially when they were drawing their names as tracks with their GPS. They used math and science to determine the circumference of the Earth and how long it would take to walk around it based on their average speed as given by the GPS receiver. They considered seasonal differences when computing the amount of daylight hours at this latitude and at this time of year based on the sunrise and sunset as provided by the GPS receivers.

The activity is designed to be tackled in one to two class periods, but many extensions are possible. An easy next step is to map the student-collected tracks, drawings, and waypoints in ArcGIS Explorer or in ArcMap.

I love seeing students engaged with and excited by geotechnologies, getting outside, and asking questions. What I like most about activities such as this is that, like those activities using GIS, they force students to use the best tool of all—their brains.

- Joseph Kerski, ESRI Education Manager

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ArcGIS Is Now Online

Visit for fast and easy access to geographic content via the Web. As an ESRI software user, you can find, share, organize, and use maps, apps, and other resources published by ESRI and the user community. You can also build communities with other users around common interests and share maps with them. Read the article.

ArcGIS Explorer now has an online version available via Online content can be accessed directly from within ArcGIS Explorer Online to create maps that you can use and share, including with Apple’s iPhone. Learn more.

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Coming Soon: Business Analyst Online for iOS

This free application will allow you to instantly get the demographics for any location or address, compare locations, or score them to see if they meet your needs.

Learn more about this new application.

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GIS: The Road Ahead

Geographic knowledge will soon become pervasive on the Web, letting everyone harness the power of GIS, says ESRI president Jack Dangermond in this insightful video interview. Web GIS will let farmers in Africa easily get data about soil and weather conditions. GIS technology already is helping government be more transparent for citizens.

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Video Series of a GIS Institute for Educators

How should a geotechnology-based institute for educators be conducted? With the plethora of GIS tools and curricula available, it may be challenging to decide what to include in a short course or workshop. It seems like there is never enough time to cover all that you as the instructor feel needs to be covered. However, keeping focused on effective strategies will help your participants get the most out of an institute, whether it is a few hours, a day, a few days, or a week or more, online or face to face.

Some of these strategies include making the institute as hands-on as possible with GIS software, including GPS and fieldwork, exposing the attendees to a short but powerful set of tools covering web-based and desktop GIS, including both 2D and 3D, and ensuring that the institute is content-rich, covering local-to-global issues that focus on a variety of disciplines. Make sure that much of the content can be tied to a variety of national and state educational content standards, the Partnership for 21st Century skills, and workforce development, and be prepared to point out those linkages during the session as well as the instructional strategies you are using.

Because these strategies are better understood after watching videos of a sample institute, a series of videos have been filmed at a recent one-day GIS-GPS institute conducted by ESRI and the Colorado Geographic Alliance, and are served on the ESRI EdTeam’s YouTube channel.

The institute is organized as a series of 15 videos of 10 minutes or less that together cover about 100 minutes. Beginning with an introduction , the videos continue with a short narrative of “why GIS in education?”  and then cover geography and technology, web GIS activities, desktop GIS activities, GPS activities, integration of GPS and GIS, standards, and even “outtakes.” Search on “Geotechnologies in Education: Workshop” to find all 15 videos. We recognize that this institute does not represent a “one size fits all” but hope it plants some ideas for conducting your own institutes and classes.

More strategies can be found in a document entitled “core tenets for GIS in education”, in the ArcLessons library.

We welcome your feedback and encourage you to create and post your own videos on your own channels, and share your best practices.

-Joseph Kerski, ESRI Education Manager.

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