Monthly Archives: November 2011

Curiosity Headed to Mars, Needed on Earth Too


On November 26 NASA launched our next expedition to the Red Planet—the Mars Science Laboratory (MSL) with its car-sized rover named Curiosity. The spacecraft is expected to land on Mars in August 2012 inside the Gale Crater (NASA’s projected landing location: lon/x 137.4, lat/y -4.5).

The mission is projected to last 23 months after touchdown with numerous scientific examinations of geology, atmosphere, and the local environment the craft will explore. The NASA press kit provides great detail about a variety of aspects of the mission including the goal of assessing the former habitability for Martian life in the geography Curiosity will travel.

In addition to the various NASA resources available to learn about Mars and the mission, a rich scientific data and map environment exists to explore the planet and some its attributes—the USGS’s PIGWAD (Planetary Interactive GIS on the Web Analyzable Database) site and viewer. As a key part of the USGS Astrogeology unit’s work in Flagstaff, Arizona, PIGWAD helps the team serve the science community with its expertise in the application of GIS to terrestrial and other planetary settings.

Given the primary audience for this set of resources is the science community, much of the content available via the map viewer carries with it nomenclature and acronyms not immediately known to the average person, but the site does provide pathways for learning more. Despite these snags, I was able to map and discover a number of things about the planet such as its topography, surface geology, and feature names, and pinpoint the intended landing location. Here are a couple of screenshots of my investigation.





What I’ve presented here is but a small sampling of what’s available. Exploration and some study of the many PIGWAD layers presented will help you and your students shed more light on a planetary neighbor well over 100 million miles away.

On a different note, the MSL rover has been christened with a great name—Curiosity—offered by a 14-year-old girl from Kansas. While its moniker seems to be in the same lineage as the Spirit and Opportunity rovers, to me, Curiosity carries with it meaning and symbolism of something deeper and necessary, and so much a part of being human. Our inquisitive nature leads to discoveries and creations large and small. They have led to the creation of this mission and its attendant components, but it’s important to remember that Curiosity is simply a machine that will be guided by inquiring humans. And, when the craft sets off on its mission of discovery and research in an unknown world, it’s vital to recognize that we need to spark equal if not greater levels of curiosity here on our world, Earth.

For an added dose, here’s a link to an earlier blog post on why I am so passionate about curiosity and why I believe it is vital for our future.

- George Dailey, Co-Manager, Esri Education Program Manager

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Fun with GIS #99: Chaos Cave

GIS has hit literature! “Chaos Cave: A Revolutionary Adventure” by Lesley Downie takes young readers into a time-travel and geospatial tech adventure. Sister and brother Mattie and Josh get drawn into 1775 Boston. Wrap yourself (or any middle-grade oriented reader you know who likes adventure, history, mystery, and tech) in this story, in hard copy or e-book.

Arrival in children’s literature of a book that engages GIS and GPS as part of the storyline is an interesting milestone on the path to acceptance of geospatial technology. The Esri User Conference has featured kids as young as third grade on stage describing and demonstrating their activities with GIS and GPS. Both real-life kids and fictional characters know how to use these tools to solve problems. Perhaps this new milestone will help convince educators that the time for critical thinking with geospatial tools, across the instructional spectrum, is indeed at hand!

- Charlie Fitzpatrick, Esri Education Manager

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T3G 2012: Advance your GIS Professional Development for Educators

- Are you passionate about GIS and its potential benefits for students of all ages?
- Do you love sharing GIS with other educators, but wonder whether you are “doing it right”?
- Do you enjoy conducting teacher professional development with GIS or technology?
- Would you like to spend a week refining your GIS teaching techniques and sharing ideas with a group of peers with similar interests?


If these questions resonate with you, we encourage you to apply for the fourth annual Esri Teachers Teaching Teachers GIS Institute. The week-long workshop, limited to 30 participants, will be hosted at Esri headquarters in Redlands, California from June 17–22, 2012. The application deadline for T3G 2012 is November 30, 2011. Qualified applicants from the United States will receive priority.

Unlike other events, which focus on “learning how to do more with GIS,” the Esri T3G Institute focuses on “helping other educators use GIS effectively.” A group of nationally-known educators in geospatial technologies will model engaging instructional strategies and up-to-date GIS tools, and help you to plan and conduct GIS training events for educators with confidence.

T3G 2012 is sponsored in part by the National Geospatial Technology Center of Excellence (GeoTech Center), an organization that supports GIS learning initiatives among the higher education community. It is funded by a grant from the National Science Foundation.

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New GIS Career Video: GIS Analyst-Forester

The growth of GIS and other geospatial careers is more visible each day. Recently Esri, with the help of Career Corner Digital, has put a spotlight on one of these careers as seen via a “job shadow” of GIS analyst and forester, Chris “Fern” Ferner. The video highlights Fern’s work as she discusses the benefits of using GIS and related technologies in her position with the Colorado State Forest Service.

Fern’s interest in the outdoors began as a child when she accompanied her biologist father on some of his field trips. With her degrees in biology and forestry, strong skills in GIS and other geotechnologies, and a keen interest in the environment, she is following her passion and at the same time making a difference with far-reaching scope.

Fern’s story joins the ranks of other occupations highlighted via the Esri EdCommunity. The series includes a health geographer, a helicopter pilot–firefighter, a conservationist, and a GIS manager.

To learn more about GIS careers in general, the numerous industries and occupations where geospatial technology is being applied every day, and training and certification opportunities, visit the Esri EdCommunity careers page.

Bonus: You can explore some of the geographic content that is exposed in Fern’s video in an ArcGIS Online map, US Forests and Issues Affecting Them. Here’s a look at insect and disease risk coupled with land cover. The darker orange areas are the most affected and/or risk prone and they happen to be the forested lands of Colorado.

- George Dailey, Education Manager

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Fun with GIS #98: Tree Planters

It’s Thanksgiving. Seven miles above the Pacific Ocean, I’ve been flying for hours, with hours still to go. Taking off from Los Angeles, we were quickly out over the blue. At over 500 miles per hour, this miracle of aviation makes “short work” of a trip to Hawaii, but the time, distance, and implications are mind-bending.

Our collective impact on the world is staggering. Seven billion people, with more every minute. Despite the magical nature of such a trip (“Walking in the Air” from “The Snowman” plays in my head), I know I too have an impact. Our global quest for “more” consumes the valuable and multiplies waste.

Gazing over this expanse of soft blue, yet knowing that it grows warmer, more ravaged, more acidic, bigger, and less predictable, and what it means to us all, gives me pause. It is not always easy being a geographer, constantly seeing patterns and relationships, large and small.

Along these silver wings, I spy thousands of tiny rivets. Each plays a role. What would happen if one were lost? Or 25, at random sites, or concentrated? How many rivets are expendable?

So, in this special week, I offer my thanks to the tree-planters among us — those around the world who seek sustainable, long-term solutions, conscious of the present, but committed to a better collective future, knowing there is but one dinner table, and we are all together. The gardeners and educators, the scientists and engineers, the peacemakers and poets. We face enormous obstacles, and the path grows more arduous each day. We must all choose carefully.

- Charlie Fitzpatrick, Esri Education Manager

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While Visiting the University of Minnesota, Duluth

Esri’s Education Team aspires to be a trusted partner in education

By David DiBiase, Director of Education, Esri

One way I try to deliver on that promise is to advise colleges and universities that envision new degree and certificate programs and courses in which students learn about, or learn with, GIS.

Yesterday, November 17, I had the opportunity to confer with faculty members, administrators, and students at the Duluth campus of the University of Minnesota. Stacey Stark and Steve Graham of UMN-D’s GIS Laboratory were my hosts and organizers of the well-attended GIS Day event.


In the morning I met with most faculty members of UMN-D’s Department of Geography. To complement and “tie together” existing degrees in Urban and Regional Studies, Environmental Studies, and Geography, they are considering creating a new bachelor’s degree in GIS. Among other topics, we shared lively discussion about the distinction between professional and academically oriented programs.

Although at least one faculty member rejected the distinction, it seems to me that geography’s prevailing academic orientation (in the U.S., at least) has a lot to do with the paucity of bachelor’s degree programs with “GIS” in their titles. (The University of Texas at Dallas and American Sentinel University are the first exceptions that come to mind.) We also discussed the roles of advisory boards, and the Department’s emphasis on applications of GIDS in a variety of disciplines. Given their conviction that GIS skills should be paired with disciplinary knowledge, a “dual degree” structure might be fitting for the UMN-D geography. There’s a lot of administrative inertia to overcome to make that work, unfortunately.

After lunch with an associate dean, I met with a program planner in UMN-D’s office of continuing education. Roxanne is trying to fulfill a mandate to lever online delivery to realize new sources of tuition revenue from adult students away from campus who seek to advance or restart their careers. I confessed skepticism about the viability of non-credit courses and programs, given the extensive collection of low-cost, non-credit training products that Esri offers through its Virtual Campus. However, a partnership between continuing education and geography around the proposed GIS major seems potentially fruitful, as does continuing education’s association with Stacey’s entrepreneurial GIS Laboratory.

Most exciting for me, perhaps, was a talk with Paul Ranelli, a department need in UMN-D’s college of Pharmacy. Stacey arranged for Paul to talk to me about his vision of a new class in GIS for health professionals. It was a delight for me to describe Esri’s Community Analyst platform, and to disclose that it would be available to him and his students as part of their higher education sit license at no extra charge.
At the end of the day I offered a keynote presentation on “GIS and community.” Soon after that I drove back to Minneapolis for a similar event the next day. I’ll remember Duluth as a surprisingly vibrant community, and Stacey as a remarkable entrepreneurial GIS manager and educator.

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Field Science as the Geography in Your Community

On a cool fall day in November, Mr. Smith’s middle school science students are running around the school and community collecting data about a tiny, non-descript organism called a lichen. Lichens are actually two symbiotic organisms, a fungus and usually algae that live on trees, rocks, or even just the ground. It turns out, that frequently, lichens exhibit damage patterns when exposed to certain negative atmospheric conditions in the local community.
A crustose lichen

For many geographers this story gets more interesting when they think about the geographic distribution of characteristic damage in lichens across a town. The geographic patterns can be quite blatant or muted, depending on a host of environmental and other variables.

Mr. Smith and his students have used desktop GIS and digital globes for years with varying degrees of success, while trying to map the students’ data. Recently, Mr. Smith started using the ArcGIS.com map viewer and was able to map the data during class – in front of his students. Not only does the class engage in the map-making process, the classification of data, and the spotting of outliers, but the class also discusses geographic patterns as they are unfolding in the dataset.

Whether you’re mapping lichens or any other community data your students collect, a number of resources are at your disposal:

  
Mapping Data from Your Community with ArcGIS.com
  
Using the ArcGIS.com Map Viewer to Map Geotagged Images (from Flickr)
  
Esri EdCommunity’s Geography Awareness Week page


As this Geography Awareness Weeks draws to a close, take a moment to talk with a teaching colleague and remind them how much geography is in so many classroom topics. Whether the discipline is biology or economics, math or language arts opportunities are all around for collaborating and promoting geography and GIS across the campus and around the community.

The adventure in your community continues!

- Tom Baker, Esri Education Manager

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Collecting and Analyzing Field Data within a GIS Environment

So many map, image, video, and data sources exist along with GIS tools these days that it is tempting to think we can “get by” without doing any fieldwork. Indeed, in these days of educational funding constraints when fieldwork involves high costs, permissions, and effort, these technological resources are extremely welcome and valued as virtual field trip substitutes. But are they truly substitutes?

We on the Esri education team work closely with the education community to promote active fieldwork. Our collaboration with National Geographic on the 2011 Geography Awareness Week promotion is just one example. We have collaborated with the American Geosciences Institute on Earth Science Week and with those promoting “No Child Left Inside” initiatives; we make use of the resources from the Place Based Education Initiative, and we promote the use of probes, GPS, and even smartphones to gather primary data to map and analyze within a GIS environment. Watch my video to examine why fieldwork is important. Even if you cannot get away from campus, you can still collect data right on your own school grounds. Dr Herb Broda’s book SchoolYard Enhanced Learning provides excellent ideas on how to do just that.

One activity out of many that incorporates these elements is entitled “Get Outside With GPS”, where I use key science, math, and geography content standards in a series of 22 questions to get students racing to see who can log the fastest speed with GPS, who can find virtual geocaches, who can most quickly calculate the Earth’s circumference, how long it would take to walk around the Earth from one’s current location, and calculating sunrise and sunset times based on the current latitude and time of year.

There is no shortage of things on which to collect data in your local community—pH and conductivity in streams and ponds, tree height and species, litter type and quantity, building age and condition, or something else. Create a spreadsheet in text, CSV, or XLS format and map it with ArcGIS Online or ArcGIS Desktop. Hyperlink images, text, and videos that you create at each of these points, save your maps, share them, and analyze patterns. How does water quality compare between local streams and lakes? How does tree height and species vary across a mountainside? What is the distribution of litter or graffiti in your community? Equally important as the “what” and “how” questions are the “why” questions. The spatial perspective and GIS represent a powerful framework and toolkit in which to examine your local community through your own locally-collected data.

How can you incorporate fieldwork, spatial analysis, and GIS so that you are making every day of the year one of “Geography Awareness”?

- Joseph Kerski, Esri Education Manager

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What is so special about spatial? Games, Illusions, Thought, & LIfe

Did you ever stop to wonder how many times every day we, as humans, use spatial concepts to accomplish various tasks in our lives? If you are like most people, we don’t ever think about spatial concepts nor do we consciously process space on a regular basis. We learn spatial awareness and basic spatial concepts at an early age and it simply happens…

Wikipedia.org defines “spatial-temporal reasoning” as “…the ability to visualize spatial patterns and mentally manipulate them over a time-ordered sequence of spatial transformations…”
The site further goes on to say that “…This ability is important for generating and conceptualizing solutions to multi-step problems that arise in areas such as architecture, engineering, science, mathematics, art, games, and everyday life.”
(source)

So, spatial thinking is important is everyday life? But how? The best way is to show you, of course…

Try this simple game: JigBlocks. Maybe you are as good as this player

But perhaps not as good at this type of thing as this guy (not many are this spatially talented).

Ok, so spatial concepts are used in games and playing. Anything else?

Al Seckel, a cognitive neuroscientist, explores the perceptual illusions that fool our brains. Spatial eye tricks help him demonstrate that not only are we easily fooled, we kind of like it. Maybe “perception” should be 9/10 of the law?

Spatial awareness is a well thought-out awareness of things in the space around us, which is everywhere. It also deals with the awareness of our body’s position in space. Spatial awareness is a basic thing to have that can help solve the most complex of problems and the most elementary. Without having spatial awareness, we would not be able to scroll down this page. Without spatial awareness, we would not be able to walk up to the refrigerator, open up its door and gulp down a bottle of water (or any other beverage for that matter). Spatial awareness makes us distinguish between words in this page and see the letters in correct relation to each other.

Deficiencies in spatial awareness can keep people back from maximizing their true potential. I would argue that if young students are not made aware of spatial concepts, they are being deprived of basic human skill sets that can help them thrive in many disciplines including, but not limited to, mathematics, English, and of course, geography. Some of the strategies to improve one’s spatial awareness is to practice navigation (without cheating by using a GPS), trying a different route to a destination, giving directions to people, trying to write or brush your teeth with your left-hand (if you are a right-handed person or vice versa), completing jigsaw puzzles and playing 3D video games. If you ever really want to exercise your hippocampus (the part of your brain thought to be integral in spatial cognition) try this app on your iPhone or iPad.  For a mere 99 cents, you can keep your hippocampus and parietal cortex busy for hours.

Here’s a whole collection of exercises in spatial thinking abilities devoted to the geosciences.

W. R. Tobler (1970) said “…“All things are related, but nearby things are more related than distant things”. Ever stop to wonder why stoplights and traffic signals are located where they are? Or why speed limit signs are where they are located? Or why parking lots have yellow stripes to delineate the parking spaces? How about why there are signs above underpasses that note what the height of the tunnel is? Or, most importantly, how law enforcement sets up their speed traps?

Alright, spatial thinking is used in the geosciences and in driving on our highways and roads. Is that it?

Of course not…everything you do every day has some spatial connotation to it. Where do you put food in your refrigerator? Where do you put food in your pantry? Why put it in that location? Where are certain rooms located in your home or apartment? Why are golf courses located where they are located? Why are landfills located where they are located? Would you rather have your home next to a golf course or landfill? How might that affect the worth of your home? Your net worth as a person? Why are the keys on a keyboard located where they are? These are all spatial connections and issues. Right-handers and left-handers function a bit differently because of the spatial placing of objects. Maybe this is why left-handed folks are the only ones in their right minds?

You see…everything we see takes up space. Everything we do takes space into account. Remember that the next time you are driving, getting something from your refrigerator or looking to buy a new home. The real estate industry says it best: “The three most important things to real estate are location, location, and location”. Maybe the three most important aspects to life are spatial, spatial, and spatial…

- Dr. Rich Schultz, Department of Geography & Geosciences, Elmhurst College

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Explore Your Community: It’s Local to Global to Local…

As you celebrate Geography Awareness Week and its theme, “Geography: The Adventure in Your Community,” take time to recognize the scale associated with the term “community”—from the intimate geographies of your local neighborhood, and your favorite places to explore there, to the Earth and the treasures and issues it holds for the current 7 billion human inhabitants living on it, and the stories we all share.

Esri, through the lens of several of our colleagues, Allen Carroll (former chief cartographer at National Geographic) and others, has created a place on the Web where Map Stories covering the range of geographies are coming to life and light. These geostories seek to relate to important issues of the moment and others that speak to more enduring, and at times, dismaying topics.

One Map Story that communicates the beauty of our human experience and the planet upon which we depend invites you to explore UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The nearly 1,000 locations around the world are a mix of cultural and natural areas and features of outstanding value and importance to past, present, and future generations. While individual locations may be half-a-world away from where you are, others are near and dear to our hearts here in the United States such as the Olympic National Park that I explored with my wife this summer, or the Cahokia Mounds State Historic Site about 10 miles from where I grew up in Illinois.


Another way to explore the UNESCO data is by using the Web map in the ArcGIS Online Map Stories group that Allen and colleagues have set up. Using the Web map I can expand on the focused Map Story content, change basemaps, and begin to add my own data while highlighting UNESCO sites such as two I have had the opportunity to hike and be inspired by—Uluru and Kata Tjuta, southwest of Alice Springs, Australia.


It’s also important to recognize that these nearly 1,000 locations spread across the expanse of the Earth represent but a sliver of the numerous places that help describe and sustain us as a curious species. There are similarly endowed human-formed and natural locations closer to home for each of us. Consider exploring the UNESCO global representative sample and then identify and map sacred places of importance to you. Explore, protect, and share them with others in your community, whatever its size.

- George Dailey, Esri Education Manager

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