Monthly Archives: January 2011

Fun with GIS #71: Comparing Maps

One of the cool capacities of ArcGIS Online is the ability to compare maps. We can use the content from a past column as a 10-layer web map viewable in three parallel windows. (See “Fun With GIS #55” to review the content.) As with many tasks on AGO, this will take only seconds to accomplish, and you don’t even need to be signed in to do it!

1. In any Javascript-capable Web browser, go to and type “USA demographics for schools” in the search box or just click here.

2. Click on the thumbnail map to open the project in the ArcGIS viewer. Look above the map for the word “Share” and click it.

3. There are several ways to share this, but click the bottom right, for making a “web application.”

4. On the first page of choices, click on “Compare maps.”

5. The package of maps appears in identical condition a new browser, in three parallel windows.

6. Look in the “Map Information” and “Synchronize Maps” section at the bottom. Switch from “Description” to “Content” to get a list of the layers. In the middle map, click on the top element in the description (“USA Population Density)to un-select it, then click on the second element (“USA Population Change 2000-2010″) to select it. In the right-hand map, unselect the top element again, and select a different element (“USA Diversity” is shown below). Under “Synchronize maps”, click “scale” and “location” to have the maps follow each other. Double-click on the map to zoom in (or use a mouse roller wheel), and hold-drag the map to go to a new area.

Such maps are easy to make, save, and share on ArcGIS Online, and comparing data like this is a powerful way to help students see patterns and explore relationships. Using the “identify” tool, students can examine key details of a feature. By getting students to construct, save, share, and compare their own maps, teachers can help students move beyond “just looking” and get them into generating assemblages which tell a story, build knowledge, and solve problems … just what we want citizens of all ages to be able to do.

- Charlie Fitzpatrick, Co-Manager, Esri Schools Program

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Population Drift: Analyzing the Drift of Mean Population Centers Over Time With GIS

The examination of mean centers of geographic phenomena is a powerful spatial analytical tool. The mean center is the point at which a given set of features can “balance” as on the point of a pencil. The mean center is constructed from average x and y values stored in feature centroids. The ability to apply weights makes the incorporation of mean centers even more useful in instruction and research.

The ability to study how the mean center of a certain phenomena changes over time adds value to mean center analysis. Perhaps the most common example of this is the movement of the population center of the United States from 1790 to the present, a map that appears in many geography textbooks. Computing mean center is easy to do in ArcGIS desktop’s Spatial Statistics tools.

With a lesson and a rich historical data set that I created and placed in the ArcLessons library, the movements of the US population center can be studied. The lesson can be used to analyze the causes and effects of population dynamics, including age structure, immigration, lifestyle, job growth and decline, rural to urban migration, sunbelt and retiree migration, and other factors. The lesson also considers the location of lakes, rivers, highways, and federal lands and how they may or may not influence population change.

On the map below, using a “case field,” the 1900 state centers are shown in blue, and the 2000 centers are shown in red.

What if a “median center” instead of mean center is used? Consider analyzing the mean population center for your community, at the census tract or block group level. Where would the mean center be? Mean center analysis would be useful for a wide variety of data as soil samples in a field, asthma patients in a city, or gas wells in a basin.

Through this lesson, students will understand the definition of a mean center, a weighted mean center, and a population weighted mean center, how to calculate mean population centers for the United States and for individual states using GIS, understand how and why the U.S. population center moved from 1790 to the present, and analyze how and why the population centers for individual states moved from 1900 to the present. GIS skills include the use of spatial statistics, selecting and exporting spatial and attribute data, symbolizing and labeling maps, and using GIS to make informed decisions.

My favorite part of the lesson is state-level analysis. Nevada is one fascinating example. The mean center of population’s southerly drift is due to the rise of Las Vegas as a major population nexus for the state and the country.

How might you be able to use this in your own research and teaching?

- Joseph Kerski, ESRI Education Manager

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Fun with GIS #70: Federal Users Conference

About 3000 users of GIS in federal programs got together last week. An alphabet soup of agencies and a great spectrum of uses were demonstrated. Folks interested in exploring how GIS relates to STEM education, or seeing some of the myriad tasks benefiting from GIS, should catch a few minutes of video from the conference. See the segment from 2:40-6:45 of the opening session, where Esri president Jack Dangermond highlights some of their work.

For a wonderful intro to the current and future capacity of ArcGIS Online — to see how easy it is to start using GIS with just a web browser — check out Bernie Szukalski’s demo from 39:15-61:00 of the same video.

The remaining videos are equally instructive and inspiring, showing how people use GIS to manage work from mundane to critical. As the many federal agencies demonstrate, the uses of GIS are legion, and youth developing skills and background can move into careers a host of areas.

- Charlie Fitzpatrick, Co-Manager, Esri Schools Program

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Change in GIS: Moving Forward Is Better Than The Alternative

Like using any technology, using GIS in education involves change. Do you sometimes feel that you are not keeping up well with hardware and software changes that inevitably are a part of our world? Two things have helped me in my GIS career to cope with change. First, one of the things that makes the GIS community special is the open way that everyone shares their knowledge. Even before we had online knowledge bases and Twitter posts, the community was active via telephone, in conferences, and through scholarship, sharing what they knew with others. Realizing that each of us cannot be an expert at everything, but knowing that the community is there to help takes much of the pressure off. Second, with each new version of ArcGIS, the tools are becoming more powerful, and easier to understand, to find, and to use. Yes, it does mean that all of us need to be flexible, but that keeps us moving forward, becoming lifelong learners.

Think of the alternative to moving forward in computer software and hardware. Moving backwards would be worse than the movie “Groundhog Day,” where every day was February 2. Each year, the software would become less powerful and so would my computer. I would lose the cloud. To find data, we would soon be back when all of the web pages were yellow text on a black background. We would then lose the web entirely and rely on gopher, ftp, Lynx, and Archie. Then we would be dependent on telephone calls, spanning floppies with zipping utilities, and 9-track magnetic tapes. At home I would eventually be back on my first PC, an IBM PS/2, using minicomputers and then mainframes at work, restricted to low-resolution imagery and then only vectors. Eventually, I would be sharpening my scribing needle again and unclogging my Rapidograph pen – not a task I would relish.

Image courtesy of USGS.

If time ran in reverse, I suppose it would have a few advantages. I would find those sunglasses I lost. But I would be back to the horrible sink I replaced in the bathroom. But much more importantly, GIS would not be as effective in education and society as it is today.

- Joseph Kerski, Esri Education Manager

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A preview release of was announced at the Esri FedUC on Wednesday. helps people find commonly used layers and maps for a better understanding of national issues and trends. Quick access to this authoritative geospatial information supports situational awareness and better decision making across the country.

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Is GIS in schools “standard” in your state?

State curriculum standards guide if not dictate what will or can be taught in many U.S. K-12 classrooms. As a result, concepts and topics, not appearing in the standards are often not taught by the majority of teachers. Once in a while a researcher takes it upon themselves to review the state of geospatial tools in state standards. It has been a few years since the question was last asked, “Where in your state’s K-12 curriculum standards does GIS or geospatial technology appear?” and it seems it may be time to ask once more.

The new Education Community forums are now asking, “Where is GIS in your state’s K-12 curriculum standards?” If you know GIS, GPS, or remote sensing is identified in any of your state’s curriculum standards, take a few moments and post a comment. In some states, GIS is appearing in geography and earth science. In other places, GIS is clearly called for in technical education and instructional technology programs. You certainly don’t need to know everywhere that GIS is present in your standards. However, if everyone reports what they know, our community will paint a pretty nice picture of where GIS in educational standards.

Join the conversation and post your thoughts to the new Education Community forums!

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Fun with GIS #69: Exploring Tragedy

Like everyone, I was stunned by the recent shooting in Tucson. The subsequent discussions about political discourse, and the proximity of this event to the day marking the birth of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., made me think about how I would handle this if I were still teaching. Of course, teaching social studies in grades 7-12 meant there was always content; the challenge was to include significant events within what we needed to do anyway, contextualizing and even amplifying learning.

Teaching 45-minute class periods, to as many as five sections of the same class each day, I did what many teachers do: I relied on student energy to get thru the day, channeling their prodigious capacity into activities fostering exploration, independent thought, and considerate sharing. (Since my last column used an iPad and ArcGIS Online to map physical phenomena, let’s continue, using content from a previous post about 10 layers of USA demographic data.)

After letting initial discussions erupt and flow, I would ask about the event’s location, characteristics there, and whether the same thing could happen in other places. Since geography is about “What’s where? Why is it there? So what?”, I would hope to steer past stereotype in search of data, interpretations, and possible actions. Students would engage their iPad (or other Internet-connected computer), go to ArcGIS Online, and search for “USA demographics school”. Receiving one reply, they would choose it and open it inside the viewer. (Being Javascript, it works fine on an iPad.)

The challenge would be to see if any of the layers present, at any scale, might in some way explain even part of the event and, if so, whether those conditions might exist around home or elsewhere. If they determined that no layers could explain even part of the event, what layers might exist elsewhere that could help, or what data not readily available might help. They would have to discuss their ideas with a classmate in preparation for summary presentation to the class near the end of the period. With time, perhaps in a second class period, they would write a paragraph summary of their ideas with a map, or we could go down a score of different channels worth investigation.

Teachers often need to help students cope with pain and tragedy. The challenge is that final step: helping them conceive actions that can make a positive difference. Whether for a specific event, a broader phenomenon (like flooding), or a long-term challenge (like the push for civil rights), geographic factors are always present. Helping students identify patterns and relationships and seek intelligent solutions to challenges will help them throughout their lives, and all of us too.

- Charlie Fitzpatrick, Co-Manager, Esri Schools Program

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Got Questions? Choosing GIS as a Career

Like many of you, we on the Esri education team continually give presentations and workshops on the topic of GIS as a career. A number of recurring themes resonate with students, educators, career counselors, administrators, and policymakers, and my attempt at encapsulating the most important of these themes is below.

• Do you want a career or just a job? Do you want to be paid for doing something you love to do or just collect a paycheck? A career where GIS is a fundamental part of your day allows you to be immersed in a field where you can continually grow and move forward in an environment of lifelong learning.

• Do you want to do something cool? GIS is an exciting, rapidly-changing, and cool technology that merges nicely with many other technologies that students may be interested in, such as video, web development, phone apps, and much more.

• Do you want to do something important? GIS is a green technology that is making a difference to our planet and its people every day for key decisions about wildlife habitat, human health, renewable energy, climate change, water quality and availability, wilderness areas, and much more.

• Do you love maps? For thousands of years, maps have been fascinating and powerful sources of information. GIS combines the best of visualization and technology. Today’s maps are not just reference sources, they are dynamic, and you can change them to suit whatever need you have or problem you are trying to solve.

• Do you like to get outside? GIS depends on data collected in the field. Your “field” could be atop a glacier, in a river, on a city street. There is no end to what needs to be mapped and analyzed.

• Do you want to empower people? The convergence of the web, GIS, and handheld devices make citizen science a reality—you can contribute to real scientific studies or build tools to enable citizens to make these contributions.

• Are you curious about your world? GIS allows you to investigate “what if” scenarios, to model, to ask questions, and to investigate possible outcomes.

• Do you care about the well-being of your local community? A career in GIS enables you to do something about issues in your own community, such as health, zoning, services, greenways, crime, trash, traffic, and more.

• Do you want to make sense of data? If you think that a mountain of data exists now, just wait until next year. GIS helps you make sense of all of that data, and to develop critical thinking skills to help you understand what data to use, and what not to use.

• Do you want to blaze new trails? Many if not most of the GIS-related jobs in the future have not even been invented yet, so market yourself! Propose a new position in an organization that you are interested in. Make your case that you are the one to staff that position!

Any such attempt of the “most important” themes is subject to discussion: I welcome your feedback!

- Joseph Kerski, Esri Education Manager

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Fun with GIS #68: ArcGIS Online on iPad

The iPad was the tech darling of 2010, and many schools are now exploring iPads for instruction. So what can a GIS user do with it? OK, I confess, I have an iPad, and love it. The “ArcGIS for iOS” app is free from Apple’s app store, and I’ve used it with good results. But I actually prefer the ArcGIS Online Viewer … the same Javascript-based tool that I use with a regular computer.

As I write, DC is talking about snow, so let’s make a weather map. The process is the same as on a regular computer, except for the on-screen keyboard and fingertip instead of mouse controls.

Just like with my regular computer, I typed “weather” and chose a precipitation layer, then added “temperature” to the search and found a nice temperature forecast to integrate.

I shifted out of “add data” and moved to the contents view, where I was able to make the temperature layer about 25% transparent, and then decided to move the precipitation layer on top.

Perfect! So let’s sign in, and save the map, as “Weather,” so I can call it up again tomorrow and see how it has changed. And then let’s zoom closer to the DC area, and maybe turn on the inset map (upper right) just … well, because I like them for education.

It’s really easy to create and share maps, and the iPad is a wonderful device for exploring data, whether environmental or social, and at a global scale or down to neighborhood level. Whether using the ArcGIS for iOS app or regular web app, teachers in STEM courses can provide a whole world of patterns and relationships for students to explore, with ArcGIS Online!

- Charlie Fitzpatrick, Co-Manager, Esri Schools Program

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Analyzing Unusual Imagery Around the World Using ArcGIS Explorer Online

The world is full of interesting and unusual places. An overhead perspective provides a fascinating way to explore these places. A new activity in the ArcLessons library invites you to analyze 24 unusual places. The activity uses a set of images on ArcGIS Online and therefore takes place entirely within a web browser, easy to teach with and learn from.

The “Happy Earth” image, just one of 24 unusual images that you will analyze in this lesson. Why is “will you marry me?” etched on top of a building? What does the Cadillac Ranch look like from above?

In working through this activity, you will begin to think spatially by making use of maps, satellite images, and the concepts of scale and measurement. You will consider human impacts on the landscape, and learn how to use GIS and maps as analytical tools.

No previous GIS skills are required for this lesson, and it can be used at the primary, secondary, or even the university undergraduate level, with different questions for each.

Because of the flexibility of the ArcGIS Online environment, you can easily add your own unusual images, or start over with your own theme. These maps are embedded inside ArcGIS Explorer Online, which allows for the presentation capabilities that you see in this activity. You can modify this one or create your own presentation.

Select five images that are of most interest to you and answer the following: What is unusual? Is this a natural feature or a human-made feature? What is its length, width, and area? In what country is the unusual feature found? What are the long-term implications of this feature? Which one of your features is in the least populated area? The most? Which feature is changing the fastest? Which one is changing the least? Why? Do you think that any of these features will exist in 100 years? If so, which ones? Which one of your features is nearest where you live? How far is it? Which one of your features would you most like to visit? Why?

- Joseph Kerski, Esri Education Manager

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