Monthly Archives: October 2010

Examining Current Steamflow Conditions in ArcGIS Online

One of the consistently valuable concepts in inquiry-based education is cause-and-effect. GIS is an excellent tool to illustrate cause and effect because phenomena on our dynamic planet occur at different scales and over different time periods, and thus can be examined spatially. One of the very first scientific monitoring networks to go online was the data from USGS stream gaging stations. I remember looking up some of these reports on microfiche when I first started working at the USGS in 1989; the data was valuable but already “historical” by the time it was published. Today, ArcGIS Online provides the ability to analyze how current and recent weather affect streamflow in real time.

To do this, visit ArcGIS Online and do a search on “water watch.” Open the US Water Watch in ArcGIS Online in your web browser. You can select from thousands of gaging stations that are broadcasting current flow conditions, including some with real-time data on several water quality variables. I searched and added “US Current Radar” and today I see that the upper Midwest is experiencing some significant areas of precipitation. How does this impact river conditions in the area? I identified a gaging station on the West Fork of the Vermillion River near Parker, South Dakota, station 06478690, and pulled up its information, below.

The identify window allows me to examine hydrographs and tabular data for the stream gage at this location. It reveals that the river is running at over 20 cubic feet per second, far above the mean of 0.7 cubic feet per second. The gate height of 1.5 feet in the lower graph helps students understand how much water this represents. They could wade across the river at this height, although caution near rivers is always a good idea. Students examining other rivers running over 20 times their normal discharge will find that it would be impossible to wade across many of these rivers.

What other phenomena influence streamflow? How could you ask students to uncover the relationship of snowmelt, floods, or hurricanes to streamflow using ArcGIS Online?

- Joseph Kerski, Esri Education Manager

Posted in Education | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Fun with GIS #63: Power Tool for STEM Education Can Save an Ocean Planet

Last week, I attended a conference on STEM Education – Science, Technology, Engineering, Mathematics. It’s a critical need, for sure; many see STEM ed as the only way for the US to remain globally competitive. I see it as part of a system of holistic education and decision-making that is necessary for planetary survival.

At the end of Day One, there was a discussion about how the political landscape influenced STEM education, nationally and locally, and how conferees could carry a message to legislators. It was interesting to see that even STEM cannot happen in a vacuum – it depends on a fundamental grasp of social studies and communication skills.

Users of GIS look at any topic in terms of layers, conscious of the impact that space and the uneven distribution of phenomena have on the world, large and small. This holistic view – with all things related, but to greater or lesser degrees – sometimes makes it hard for people to see how GIS fits in education, because it fits everywhere. The Esri Map Museum contains years of maps produced by GIS users in all industries. Each demonstrates use of technology to conduct scientific analyses of physical and social data, following specific mathematical processes, shown in particular fashion to communicate volumes of information and sometimes complex patterns and relationships, in order to help the viewer understand quickly what a situation is and how a specific challenge can be met. It’s science, technology, engineering, and mathematics to be sure, but relying in equal measure on social science and communication, often after both intense independent work and significant collaboration. GIS is indeed STEM, or STEAM (add “arts”), or STREAM (add “reading”) … it’s a power tool for school, just like it’s a tool for the adult world.

I hope people see this and embrace GIS in schools. This is my mission – to build problem solving and critical thinking, through geographic analysis, so more people will make good decisions, locally and globally. We can start even with “simple” tools and experiences.

A recent report by scientists in Australia describes a huge coral death in southeast Asia. Such phenomena have bearing on those of us even half a world away, even on those who don’t scuba dive. Using this shared “Ocean Planet” project, the viewer allows even geotech novices to investigate patterns and relationships, build skills with which to explore and analyze in more powerful ways, construct holistic knowledge, develop key career skills, and become an engaged citizen of the planet.

- Charlie Fitzpatrick, Co-Manager, Esri Schools Program

Posted in Education | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Call for Presentations: Special GIScience Research Track ESRI International Users Conference

ESRI invites you to present a peer-reviewed paper
presentation in a special joint GIScience
Research Track
for the 2011 ESRI International Users Conference and
Educational Users Conference. Papers in this special tract must focus on
cutting-edge research in GIScience. Full papers will be included in a special issue
of Transactions in GIS to be distributed
at the 2011 International Users and Education Users Conferences. Abstracts (500
words) must be submitted to Dr. John Wilson, University of Southern
California, by 1st December, 2010.

The Transactions in GIS editorial team will review abstracts
based on their GIScience content and select nine abstracts to become full
papers. Notice of acceptance will occur by 8th December, 2010. Full
papers (maximum 6,000 words plus figures, tables, and references in appropriate
format for publication) must be submitted to Dr. Wilson for independent review
by 1st February, 2011. Reviewed papers will be returned to authors
by 1st March, 2011 and final manuscripts must be returned by 15th
March, 2011, to be included in the special issue of Transactions in GIS.

For questions or guidelines on this special GIScience Research Track, please see:
or contact Michael Gould at

Abstracts should be submitted via e-mail with a subject line
“ESRI GIScience Abstract, Authors Last Name” no later than 1st December,
2010 to:

Dr. John Wilson,

Posted in Education | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Geography Education Matters (GEM) Video Contest

Are you passionate about geography education? The consider participating in the Geography Education Matters (GEM) Video Contest, sponsored by the National Council for Geographic Education (NCGE) ( The NCGE has been supporting geography education since 1915, through professional development, curriculum development, publications, research, scholarships, awards, and through other means. Esri has worked with NCGE for 20 years to promote the effective use of GIS technology and methods in geography education.

Consider the visual nature of analyzing spatial problems and issues within a GIS environment. Including GIS in your video might be very useful to show why geography education matters.

Prizes of $500 USD will be awarded to the top 5 entries as selected by the judging committee.

Need some ideas to get started? See this 10-minute video filled with ideas:

To participate, create a video, no more than 3 minutes in length that best explains why geography education matters. Your video can include footage of yourself explaining and illustrating the reason(s) why geography education matters, examples instructors teaching, students working on geography projects or lessons in the field, lab, or in the classroom, a narration of curricular pieces that you have created or a project you have worked on, for any age or educational level in formal or informal educational settings. Post your video on or and submit your application via a form on

This contest is open to people of any age but must be submitted by a person 18 years of age or older. This contest is open to people in any location except where prohibited by national, state, provincial, or any other governmental laws or regulations.

Entries can be submitted beginning 18 October 2010 and must be received no later than Midnight Eastern Time on 30 November 2010. Entries received before the start or after completion dates and times will not be considered. Entries are considered to be received when accepted by Sponsor. A committee of NCGE staff will vote for winners based on the following 4 criteria: originality, best practices, skill building, and sound content. Winners will be announced on 23 December 2010 by email.

What will you submit for the contest to show why geography education matters?

-Joseph Kerski, Esri Education Manager

Posted in Education | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Fun With GIS #62: Jumping into Bloom with ArcGIS Online

At the recent conference of the Minnesota Alliance for Geographic Education, I presented the power of the mapping applications on ArcGIS Online: Viewer and ArcGIS Explorer Online.

Because the Viewer is based on Javascript, it works nicely in any recent browser (even on cell phones) without requiring plugins, and provides an excellent starting point – a “one-foot high jump” with which to explore the power of GIS analysis. Using the “USA Demographics for Schools” example, teachers saw how students can do visual analysis, or use the identify tool and grasp the fundamental GIS concept of “features with attributes.” When people wonder “How do I explore the data more efficiently?”, they are ready to jump to the next level. But just being able to make analytical maps, save them, and share them with others via ArcGIS Online was a huge hit. Teachers heartily agreed that even non-techies could master the technology in just a few minutes, and use the data already available to build contextual background and lay the groundwork for deeper analysis.

With the “one-foot high jump” under their belt, participants graduated to the “two-foot high jump” of ArcGIS Explorer Online, which uses the Microsoft Silverlight plugin. Using the same data, we launched into constructing queries, a fundamental power of full GIS: “Please computer find for me, and highlight on the map, all those features in this specific layer of data which have the following characteristic/s.” This “simple” task is immensely powerful, enticing students into the upper register of Bloom’s taxonomy.

Getting students to conduct analyses and present them using ArcGIS Explorer Online’s presentation mode does precisely what I hear educators, politicians, and employers asking for: Students need to practice analytical thinking, integrate information to answer questions and solve problems, and communicate their results to others. This is what professional GIS users in every industry do, as you can see in the Esri Map Museum. This is why GIS is such a powerful technology for STEM education (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics), and why geography – the study of what’s where, why it’s there, and so what – is an essential discipline for integrated learning and problem solving.

The teachers in my workshop were excited that, in 45 minutes, with just a one-foot and two-foot high jump, they had learned to engage tools that can help students build essential background knowledge and skills for any number of careers.

- Charlie Fitzpatrick, Co- Manager, Esri Schools Program

Posted in Education | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Analyzing the Environment in a GIS with the North American Environmental Atlas

GIS users are always on the lookout for interesting spatial data. Those who use GIS in education seek data that can be used to teach core concepts in a variety of disciplines. One of the most useful continent-wide spatial data resources is from the North American Environmental Atlas ( It contains data on watersheds, ecoregions, human impact on protected areas, industrial pollution, wetlands, land cover, conservation areas, and base layers including transportation, waterways, and cities. It also contains layers on 17 species of common conservation concern, such as the Burrowing Owl, the Mountain Plover, and the American Black Bear. The atlas was born from collaboration among the national mapping agencies in Canada, the United States, and Mexico, and through the Commission for Environmental Cooperation. Its goal is to provide a foundation to analyze the status of environmental conditions and identify trends across the whole continent.

The atlas is useful because of its rich content, the fact that it is comprised of public domain data, and because you can use it in three different ways. First, you may order up to 5 free paper wall-sized maps from the link on the site. Second, the content is offered as a Web GIS, meaning that you can examine the data interactively with just a web browser, made possible by ArcGIS Server running behind the scenes. What is the relationship between grasslands, rainfall, and elevation? Third, the data from the site is offered as downloadable shapefiles, layer packages, and map documents, ready for ArcGIS desktop. Metadata files are readily available and you can use the web GIS viewer for previewing the data before downloading. Why download the data if you can analyze it online? Both methods are valid approaches to helping students think spatially, but by downloading the data and using it inside ArcGIS desktop, you can dig deeper, analyzing the patterns across space, time, and with spatial statistical techniques. For example, you can assess how much burrowing owl habitat is within 10 kilometers of a pollutant release facility. I also like the atlas because it does not ignore the oceans—marine ecoregions, protected areas, and marine vessel emissions are all included.

What types of analysis will you do with the North American Environmental Atlas?

-Joseph Kerski, Esri Education Manager

Posted in Education | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

Esri EdCommunity Webinar: Thursday, Oct 21

The Esri GIS Education Community is pleased to provide free GIS webinars for K-12 and informal educators. We invite you to register below for the next webinar.

Quick Start GIS: Free Web-based Mapping for Educators
Thursday 21 October 2010
Time: 9:00PM Eastern/8:00PM Central/7:00PM Mountain/6:00PM Pacific
Location: Included in confirmation email

Details: New to GIS? Discover how to use powerful online mapping tools in ArcGIS Online to examine local-to-global phenomena. Experienced with GIS and wondering how to tap into “the cloud”? Discover how to integrate desktop with web-based GIS to get the best of both worlds! Join Dr. Joseph Kerski as we investigate 3 hazards from 2010–the Gulf Oil Spill, the Eyjafjallajökull volcano in Iceland, and the Haiti earthquake, emphasizing how to teach and learn with web GIS and desktop GIS.

Learn more and register online today.

Posted in Education | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Fun With GIS #61: Energy, Politics, and Ignorance [#esw]

It’s Earth Science Week, and election time. What do these two have in common? Lots of people go “Eh. So what?” And that’s a problem.

Folks who ignore elections may discover to their irritation policies affecting their lives in ways unanticipated. Folks ignoring earth science may awake one day to discover energy costs soaring, or learn their home faces cataclysm, or hear news of political unrest stemming from large scale environmental change. It’s possible to ignore some subjects for a while, and pretend the world is a stable place … but certainly unwise and potentially perilous to do so.

The theme for Earth Science Week this year is energy. Esri has put together some resources for educators to use in exploring energy. It can even be as simple as searching for “energy” within ArcGIS Online. Any results that are “web mapping applications” can be viewed directly in their apps; any results listed as “web maps” ((such as the “Wind Energy” map, below)) can be viewed using the Viewer.

In both earth science and politics, ignorance is not bliss; it’s just ignorance. Part of the magic of GIS is that it helps people understand how seemingly disparate parts of the world relate to each other. As the drum beats loudly for STEM education across the US in preparation for careers, the role for GIS in education is ever more clear. Explore how energy, politics, and so many other aspects of the world affect your world today, using GIS.

- Charlie Fitzpatrick, Co-Manager, Esri Schools Program

Posted in Education | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment

Hands-on GIS Education: Learning by Creating

The September 2010 issue of GeoInformatics (p 40) features GIS in education through a short article entitled, “Learning by Creating”:

“When geospatial technology was identified by the U.S. Department of Labor as one of the
nation’s three fastest-growing workforce needs, Atlantic Cape set out to meet the demand.
The school won a Department of Labor grant to start a new program, and hired Luis Olivieri
to assist in the development and management of the project.”

Learn more online at:

Posted in Education | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Analyzing Water With GIS as the Investigative Toolkit

On 6 October 2010, youth from across the USA will participate in the third annual 4-H National Youth Science Day. This year’s experiment is called 4-H20, and as the name implies, focuses on water quality. The experiment, developed by the North Carolina State University’s cooperative extension and North Carolina A&T State University, can be downloaded from the 4-H website at, and invites participants to study the effects of an increasingly heated environment on living algae.

Water quality is a fitting theme for several reasons. First, water quality is something that people in many parts of the world take for granted, but is sorely lacking in many other parts of the world. Poor water quality is frequently identified as the world’s number one health risk. Investigating it leads into excellent discussions about the hydrologic cycle, watersheds, water use, human impacts on water, water-related recreation and hazards, and much more. Second, water quality is something easily investigated and helps students get out in the field. Third, because water quality measurements take place in specific locations, it can be mapped and analyzed using a GIS. How does water quality vary across a stream segment, a pond, a region, or a country, or between a lake versus tap water, and why? Fourth, students can continue their investigations by participating in the 2010 Geography Awareness Week next month, where the theme is fresh water.

GIS is the perfect tool for studying water quality. GIS can be used to map water quality variables that students have collected in the field. Water quality measures, such as conductivity, can be mapped as graduated symbols, as pie charts where each wedge is a different variable, and analyzed with geostatistical techniques. Numerous water-related lessons exist in the Our World series and in the ArcLessons library such as “water use analysis with GIS”, which invites analysis of county-level data about water and its impact on other variables using regression analysis, hot spot, scatterplot, and other techniques.

Since water quality is not just something to be concerned about for one day each year, how will you investigate water quality not only today, but beyond? How can you get involved in the Esri 4-H GIS program?

-Joseph Kerski, Esri Education Manager

Posted in Education | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment