Monthly Archives: October 2011

Fun with GIS #95: Seven Billion

World population has hit 7 billion, according to the Population Reference Bureau. It’s a stunning figure, especially when you think about having added a billion in only 12 years, and the previous billion in only a dozen years before that, and we’re on track to add another billion in just another dozen years.

7 billion is so large that it’s hard to fathom. If you counted up from 1, adding one number each second, by the end of a year you wouldn’t even have 32 million; it would take over 2000 years to count to 7 billion at that pace. If you counted the number of inches around Earth at the Equator, it’s not quite 1.6 billion, meaning four trips around earth counting every inch still wouldn’t get you 7 billion.

Esri has published a powerful map story about this milestone. But even these maps can’t really do full justice to the situation, because a choropleth map makes the countries look uniform across their geography, and we know that population density varies.

Try this map, using a map service that CIESIN constructed from various sources.

View Larger Map in ArcGIS Online

Can your students construct a map or presentation that highlights the challenges coming from continued population growth? Which countries face the greatest challenges? Why? How far do your students expect any one country’s challenge to extend? Students need to think about the many challenges facing the planet, and begin thinking what they will do to help meet them.

- Charlie Fitzpatrick, Esri Education Manager

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Play Ball! Examining the World Series, Baseball, and Other Sports Using ArcGIS Online

I have created a new presentation using ArcGIS Online to invite exploration of the spatial aspects of baseball teams, players, stadiums, and the sport itself. The goal of the presentation is to use the familiar and interesting topic of baseball as a starting point for exploring spatial data at a variety of scales, to ask geographic questions, and to use WebGIS in the process.

Baseball is a spatial sport. The bases are a standard “space” or distance apart, the fielders are assigned certain locations on the field, the offense has a prescribed direction to tag and run the bases, and the players, umpires, coaches, and warm-up pitchers have prescribed areas in the stadium in which to work. Even the fans have certain areas in which they can sit, and the proximity to the field and other amenities determines the ticket price. Angles are of crucial importance as the ball is thrown, hit, and fielded.

In short, spatial considerations run throughout the sport of baseball. Baseball stadiums are constructed in certain locations and markets and affect local and regional transportation patterns, local economies, land use, and even local drainage and impervious surface. The birthplace of players and affiliated radio and TV stations also form regional and, these days, even international patterns.

The presentation includes discussion and data on the distribution of radio stations broadcasting major league baseball games, the distribution of the birthplaces of baseball players, population density and neighborhood characteristics, access to and proximity of stadiums, comparing stadiums in different cities, comparing different types of sports stadiums, and much more. A total of 7 videos linked to the presentation invite deeper reflection. Spatial questions are embedded throughout the presentation. Actually, the word “presentation” does not adequately fit the wonderful and powerful capabilities built into ArcGIS Online. This presentation includes 53 slides, but at any point, the user of these slides can exit the presentation mode, zoom and pan, add additional data, change symbology, change the base map, or examine a different issue. The presentation mode in ArcGIS Online can serve as an excellent storytelling tool for students studying biology, chemistry, geography, history, mathematics, as well as a convenient and authentic means for instructors to assess student work.

How might you use this activity, and ArcGIS Online, to promote spatial thinking through sports?

-Joseph Kerski, Esri Education Manager

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Free Webinar – Weird Earth

Weird Earth:  Analyzing the Unusual and Mysterious using ArcGIS Online

Wednesday, October 26, 2011
8pm Eastern/ 7pm Central/6pm Mountain/5pm Pacific

Joseph Kerski_infield

Joseph Kerski

NCGE 2011 President

Education Manager at Esri

world is full of fascinating places that can be explored in the context
of a “Map Mystery” in instruction.  Join Joseph Kerski for a
just-before-Halloween tour of the interesting, bizarre, funny, and just
plain weird imagery that you and your students can examine inside ArcGIS
Online.   These maps and images can help foster learning about
human-environment interactions, processes, scale, and other fundamental
principles in geography, as well as building critical thinking and
geotechnology skills.

This event has ended, however see the replay at the EdCommunity webinar archives.

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Fun with GIS #94: Comparing Data via ArcGIS Online

Want to compare places across USA? Looking to compare data layers in a web-based map? Try the ArcGIS Online MapViewer “Compare Maps” template. Use this example to see how powerful it is to view three maps in parallel:

(This blog is also available in the ArcLessons archive.)

1. At the front door of ArcGIS Online, search for and open the project “USA Demographics for Schools“. When the map opens, click the “Contents” button to see the 10 different layers. But don’t get distracted yet!

2. Such great data deserves exploration of more than one layer at a time. Above the map, click “Share,” then choose “Web Application.” You’ll get a bunch of choices. Find the “Compare Maps” template (currently page 1, second row, far right) and click it.

3. A new window appears with three identical maps. Below the three panels, click the boxes next to “Scale” and “Location”, to synchronize the maps; zoom or pan on one, and the others shift also. Then, click “Content” to expose the layer list, and leave the left map unchanged. In the center map, click the top line “USA Population Density” to turn off that layer, then click “USA Population Change 2000-2010″ to turn on that layer. In the right map, click the top line “USA Population Density” to turn off that layer, then click “Percentage of US Population Aged Younger than 18 Years” to turn on that layer.(Remember, the topmost layer that is “on” is the one you’ll see in the map.)

4. Zoom down to some local place, and click the blue circled “i” below the map to engage the Identify tool. Click on a feature, and the text below each map will show the data about that location for the displayed layer. (Scroll past the title info.)

5. Finally, click the “Legend” box below the map to see the legend for the displayed layers in each map.

Comparing data in this manner is hugely powerful, and an essential skill for students. They need to build the visual and mental acuity to recognize and distinguish coincident patterns across layers. Seeing different contents in parallel helps students visualize relationships between phenomena. Once that concept is established, students can more easily conceive the existence of less visible relationships that require deeper analysis to tease out. So the first step in this process is building the skill of recognizing and comparing patterns. It is an essential capacity in a broad range of jobs — improving farm production, understanding crime patterns, determining need for social services, finding environmental relationships, or grasping geopolitical situations.

- Charlie Fitzpatrick, Esri Education Manager

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Africa Fires and Tea GIS-Based Activities Online

Investigating human-set fires, and determining optimal sites for expanding tea cultivation in Kenya are the topics of two new university level, ArcGIS 10, Africa-focused GIS activities in the ArcLessons library. Search for the two activities using terms “Africa fires” and “Kenya tea”.

You will gain skills in tabular and spatial data joining, query, analysis, symbolizing, and classifying data, and making a decision in a GIS environment. You should be familiar with computer file management and have some familiarity with ArcGIS. Both lessons emulate real decision making with GIS occurring daily around the world.

The goals of the fires activity include how to use GIS and spatial analysis to study the pattern of human-set fires in Africa and to understand the physical and cultural geography of Africa. The activity begins with this scenario: Hearing about your GIS skills, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has hired you to analyze the seasonal pattern of wildfires in Africa.

Consider that people set fires in Africa and elsewhere to create and maintain farmland and grazing areas. People use fire to keep less desirable plants from invading cropland or rangeland, to drive grazing animals away from areas more desirable for farming, to remove crop stubble and return nutrients to the soil, and to convert natural ecosystems to agricultural land. In Africa, the area burned shifts from north to south over the year in step with the rainy and dry seasons. Although fires are a part of the natural cycle of seasonally dry grasslands and savannas, some scientists and public health officials are concerned about Africa’s burning frequency. The frequency with which fires return to previously burned areas helps determine what species of plants (and therefore animals) can survive. When the fire-return interval is too short, the land may become degraded and unusable for farming or grazing. The massive amount of burning that occurs in Africa each year creates carbon dioxide, smoke, and aerosol particles, affecting climate and creating a public health hazard.

In the Kenya tea activity, you learn that tea is an important cash crop in the world and in Kenya. The Kenya Tea Development Company is the largest cooperative of growers, representing 28% of Kenya’s total export earnings. Its 400,000 growers cultivate land over 86,000 hectares in size, producing over 700 million kg of tea annually. Hearing about your GIS skills, the Kenya Tea Development Company has hired you to select additional lands that might be suitable for tea cultivation, as follows:

1. It must be grown on moderately high ground, between 914 meters and 2,133 meters above sea level.
2. It cannot be on any water-related land cover, including wetlands.
3. It cannot be in an urban area.
4. It cannot be within 500 meters of a populated place.
5. It cannot be within 2000 meters of a mine.
6. It must be within 5 km of a road, to reduce transport costs.

How might you use these activities to teach and learn about key geographic themes, physical and cultural characteristics of Africa, and gain fundamental GIS skills?

- Joseph Kerski, Esri Education Manager

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Esri Education Conference Call for Papers (#esriEdUC)

Call for Presentations
Share Your Knowledge at the Esri Education Conference, the Ultimate Event for GIS Education

The Call for Papers form is now live at

The deadline is Jan 13, 2012.

As an educator using GIS, you know the benefits that this powerful technology brings to both formal and non-formal education. Whether you are an instructor or administrator, seize this opportunity to share your knowledge with colleagues and submit an abstract for the 2012 Esri EdUC. Presenting your work enriches our collective understanding of the benefits of GIS, stimulates discussion, and develops lasting bonds among participants. View the presentation topics and descriptions for additional information.

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Fun with GIS #93: Mapping External Data via ArcGIS Online

ArcGIS Online provides great maps easily. Teachers and students alike take only seconds to start making and saving their own maps. But is there any way to use interesting data from the morning paper, or an old data set from previous activities? You can engage these if (a) you understand enough about shapefile construction to change a database, and (b) you have a shapefile to which you can match your external data. You can do a lot even without having full desktop GIS tools or skills!

A new ArcLesson details the process: “Using External Data Tables with ArcGIS Online.” It walks through exploring the components of a shapefile, exploring the design of the database, editing the database (using Open Office), and testing the results. A sample shapefile of the 50 US states is provided for practice. The fundamentals are simple, and the results impressive.

Recently, the Joint Economic Committee of the US Congress released a report showing the impact of the economic downturn. But, instead of a map, they provided only a data table. Using the procedures in the lesson, I enhanced the database, zipped the shapefile, posted it to ArcGIS Online, and created a new interactive map.

Recognizing data in different forms and knowing how to work with it to understand the world better are key skills that students can practice even at a young age. It is essential as they think about college and career. We need to help students grasp why and how to integrate disparate data if we want them to see the world holistically and solve problems.

- Charlie Fitzpatrick, Esri Education Manager

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International Perspectives on Teaching and Learning with GIS in Secondary Schools

A book I co-edited with Dr. Andy Milson and Dr. Ali Demirci has just been published by Springer, entitled International Perspectives on Teaching and Learning with GIS in Secondary Schools. This is the first publication to collate a broad international perspective on the pedagogical value of GIS technology in classrooms, and offers an unprecedented range of expert views on the subject. For more information and to read sections of the book online, see the publisher’s site.
The authors created a series of five videos describing the book.

This book brings together authors from 33 countries who profile the current status of GIS in secondary school teaching and learning in their country. We have been honored to have worked with each of our authors and to hear their inspiring stories. Each chapter includes a summary of the country’s educational context, a case study illustrating how GIS is used in secondary schooling, and an assessment of the opportunities and challenges in teaching and learning with GIS now and in the future. We are honored that Roger Tomlinson wrote the Foreword. The editors wrote a synthesis chapter where we reflect on the progress made in teaching and learning with GIS over the past 20 years, the key trends for the remainder of this decade, and make heartfelt recommendations as to what needs to happen to meet the goal of engaging all students in thinking spatially. The book demonstrates that GIS is not only a technological tool to be used in the classroom, but also a catalyst for motivation, encouragement, and cooperation in understanding and solving global problems.

Geographic Information Systems (GISs) have revolutionized the way people explore and understand the world around them. The capability they confer allows us to capture, manage, analyze, and display geographic data in ways that were undreamt of a generation ago. GIS has enabled users to make decisions and solve problems as diverse as designing bus routes, locating new businesses, responding to emergencies, and researching climate change. GIS is also having a major impact in the classroom. Students and teachers around the world are using this significant emerging technology in the secondary school classroom to study social and scientific concepts and processes, to broaden their technical skills, and to engage in problem solving and decision making about local and global issues. We look forward to assembling a panel of the book’s authors at upcoming conferences, including that of the Association of American Geographers and the Esri Education Conference.

How might you use this book to make a case to your colleagues and administrators about the value of GIS in education?

- Joseph Kerski, Esri Education Manager

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Call for Presentations: Special GIScience Research Session

Call for Presentations:

Special GIScience Research Session
ESRI International Users Conference
23-27 July, 2012
San Diego, California

ESRI invites you to present a peer-reviewed paper in a special joint GIScience Research Session for the 2012 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 2012 International Users and Education Users Conferences. Abstracts (500 words) must be submitted to Dr. John Wilson, University of Southern California, by 15th November, 2011.

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 1st December, 2011. 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 8th January, 2012. Reviewed papers will be returned to authors by 1st February, 2012 and final manuscripts must be returned by 1st March, 2012, to be included in the special issue of Transactions in GIS.

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

Abstracts should be submitted via e-mail with a subject line “ESRI GIScience Abstract, Authors Last Name” no later than 15th November, 2011 to:

Dr. John Wilson,

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Fun with GIS #92: Changing Times

It’s Earth Science Week, and the theme is “Our Ever Changing Earth.” Change happens at many scales, and Esri’s Landsat application, “Change Matters,” helps users explore those that are football field size and up, since 1975. See this blog entry introducing the “Change Matters” app; it’s important to learn how to work with the app, and the introductory tour is a great start.

If you’ve gone through the earlier blog and tour, let’s try two different kinds of examples. For Example One, click this shortcut. Keeping the location and scale constant, just change the year, and try to spot changes from one period to the next. Next, turn on the “Overlay Change” layer, and check the three time periods 1975-1990, 1990-2000, and 2000-2005. There seems to be a huge increase of vegetation in the last stretch. Can you tell why? (Hint: Turn off the “Overlay Change” and, in the “Infrared” box at bottom, click “Click image to see Metadata”, and compare the 2000 and 2005 images.)

Click to enlarge

Lots of good things to explore in Example One. What sorts of processes might be leading to the changes that are visible?

For Example Two, click this shortcut. Again, keep the scale and location steady, and jump back in time from 2000 to 1990 and 1975. Go back to 2000 and turn on the “Overlay Change” layer, and check the three time periods again. The color changes are totally different pattern compared with Example One. What kinds of processes might be leading to the concentrated changes here?

Click to enlarge

The “Change Matters” application allows students and educators to see change on the macro scale, football field and above. Because of the changes that are visible at this scale, other changes are occurring in the regions pictured. What kinds of changes might those be, and at what scales would they be visible?

Our ever-changing Earth provides a number of fascinating studies, and the “Change Matters” application helps demonstrate the power of geospatial technology for cataloguing and analyzing change. These capacities relate to a vast number of STEM careers crucial to be filled, as we struggle to preserve our ways of life and our biodiversity.

- Charlie Fitzpatrick, Esri Education Manager

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