Monthly Archives: February 2012

Fun With GIS 110: Finding Answers

In the past few days, I’ve sat in on big meetings looking at problems and solutions — Esri’s Federal GIS Conference, followed immediately by the National Governors Association. Speakers at both affirmed the need to solve problems, provide good jobs, save money, help communities, and ensure that young people are well prepared for college and career. At the first meeting, the path was clear: GIS helps people across the board in security, health, resources, commerce, and services. At the second, experienced governors, supported by learned specialists, wrestled a challenging tangle of issues.

GIS allows many viewers to see, interpret, and compare. Sharing democratizes processes, improves information, and leads to common ground. GIS users integrate content background knowledge and skills across disciplines. But GIS holds no stored bank of answers like factoids for every conceivable situation or question. Instead it beckons the user to explore and analyze, iteratively. Users need to think carefully about data that “make sense,” ask good questions that can expose obvious patterns and hidden relationships, and engage ideas from multiple sources to get the best perspectives.

The FedCon plenary closed with a quick profile of a high school using GIS. The kids work through complex situations, tackling multi-faceted projects of their own choice. They need to find appropriate data, integrate knowledge, ask questions, collaborate, and iterate. They tackle ill-structured problems and work on solutions with GIS, just like the professionals. There are in fact a few dozen schools in this program, and more schools across the country using GIS, but still not enough … still too many focused on factoids, isolated learning, working solo.

Despite the governors’ desires, there is no silver bullet in this world, no magic wand which, with a single wave, can clean up a room, rebuild a community, or save a planet. Like all technologies, GIS requires thoughtful application. But it is a powerful, enabling, disruptive technology, just what the world needs — along with thinkers who know how to engage it — to solve the many problems before us. We need to unleash the vitality and ambition of our youth to address these.

- Charlie Fitzpatrick, Esri Schools Program Manager

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Weird Earth: Exploring the Earth With Interesting, Bizarre, and Odd Imagery


Take a look at this image. Where is Socotra? Why and how do these trees grow there? Where is the Richat Structure? Why are its origins still a bit mysterious? Why do people create drawings on the landscape that can … Continue reading

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Weird Earth: Exploring the Earth With Interesting, Bizarre, and Odd Imagery

Take a look at this image.

Where is Socotra? Why and how do these trees grow there?

Where is the Richat Structure? Why are its origins still a bit mysterious?

Why do people create drawings on the landscape that can only be fully appreciated from above? What do you notice about the language of the text, the street names, and the landscape that give clues about the location of this image?

Examining the Earth with imagery can be a powerful resource in geography, biology, environmental studies, earth science, and in other courses. Examining imagery can be easily done through the use of ArcGIS Online. The above images are included in an investigation I entitled “Weird Earth.” This investigation includes the images above, as well as a giant lizard, mazes, an erupting volcano, the walled city in the mist, and much more.

Why Weird Earth? First, fascinating patterns, places, and phenomena abound on our planet, and some are just plain weird. Examining the bizarre is an excellent way of sparking student interest. As images are examined, the door for inquiry is opened: What physical and environmental factors caused the land and vegetation to look as it does? What do human-created objects on the landscape say about the culture and language there? What will these images look like tomorrow, in 10 years, in 100 years? Second, I wanted to illustrate that the presentation mode in ArcGIS Explorer Online is an effective and easy-to-use technology to teach such concepts.

View the investigation in presentation mode.

The presentation is dynamic: You can change the scale and basemaps from satellite images to topographic maps, street maps, and much more, while posing questions, fostering deeper inquiry into places and the processes at work behind those places. For example, when you engage students in examining Socotra using the above slide, zoom in to examine hills versus valleys and the amount of tree cover on each. Zoom out until someone recognizes the island’s location. Then discuss the effect of isolation, latitude, and altitude on the vegetative cover, and why 1/3 of the species are endemic to the Socotra Islands. Change the basemap to topographic to determine the height of the mountains and the depth of the valleys. You can add ecoregions and climate map layers and discuss how these influence the bizarre trees and other species on the island. You can add a population layer and discuss the settlement pattern of the island. Thus, these are by no means static slides. Even calling them “slides” is really a misnomer.

Even better, create your own investigations focused on other processes, specific themes, specific regions, or your own community. What do you consider unique or “weird” about your own community?

How might you use the concept of Weird Earth in your own teaching and learning? How can you use ArcGIS Online to investigate what is strange and interesting about your own community?

- Joseph Kerski, Esri Education Manager

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Fun with GIS 109: Godspeed

I was four years old when Sputnik flew over our house out in the country. I remember my parents leading my three older brothers and me outside to look for it in the twilight.

Image by NASA

I was in third grade when our teacher said “This is a special day.” We had begun the school year with a television set in our room, a huge box with a modest black-and-white screen on a big wooden cabinet. It was rarely on but, on that special day — 50 years ago today — we watched as John Glenn orbited the earth. Our teacher looked at us and said “You remember this day. This is special. He is a hero, and you are watching history.” I was confused, having seen a book with drawings of people in funny suits living in a dome on the moon. Enamored as I was with the outdoors, particularly tangible fish and other aquatic critters, I was underwhelmed by an artist’s rendition of Glenn’s tiny capsule with a small window showing the moving earth below. It seemed forever over a plain grey space bearing the name of some ocean.

While others in my generation took inspiration from Sputnik and Glenn, veering into math and physics, I stayed with biology, then ecology, then geography. Only after the iconic shot of “spaceship earth” did the power of a macroscopic view and the value of remotely sensed data become clear to me.

Our world today needs inspiration and opportunity. Fortunately, young and old alike can explore the many layers that make up our complex realm. GIS generally, and ArcGIS Online in particular, allows learners of all ages to see the characteristics of places near and far, matching the unknown against the known, seeing the patterns and relationships that connect one to another. As never before, our world depends on our grasp of these connections, on our choosing to husband and sustain, rather than lay waste to our many precious resources, both known and inadequately cataloged.

A half century ago, many joined in praying “Godspeed, John Glenn.” U.S. residents then teamed up on a long-term geopolitical challenge supporting STEM education. Today’s classrooms are filled with the thinkers, decision-makers, creators, and caretakers of tomorrow. We must all recognize the bevy of challenges facing us, global to local; grasp the differences between data, information, knowledge, and wisdom; and work to understand and sustain our world. Godspeed for one is not enough to save us all.

- Charlie Fitzpatrick, Esri Education Manager

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Comparing the Spatial Distribution of Two Different Types of Businesses in a Metropolitan Area

Analyzing the location of businesses is a powerful way to foster spatial thinking and skills in GIS. A new activity in the ArcLessons library invites you to compare the distribution of two very different types of businesses—bail bonds and car washes, in the Oklahoma City metropolitan area.

Businesses are located in specific areas to reach specific customers locally, regionally, nationally, or internationally. They are located where they are because of physical or intangible local or regional benefits, such as a skilled labor force, the presence of or lack of competition, access to busy streets or regional transportation networks, or to take advantage of local suppliers or distributors. They are constrained in their location from local zoning laws and costs of doing business. Their locations may reveal specific patterns or exhibit no pattern at all.

This activity uses ArcGIS Online. A web browser is the only software required, with a broadband Internet connection. This lesson can be completed in 2 class periods, but additional investigations can cover multiple class periods. This lesson can be used with secondary or university level students with little or no GIS experience, but does rely upon spatial thinking and the geographic perspective.

To access the activity, visit ArcGIS Online. Search for “car wash owner:jjkerski”. Open the Oklahoma City bail bond and car wash map in the map viewer, or go directly to the map at this URL.

Compare the pattern of bail bonds and car washes and discuss the reasons these business locate where they do, and the patterns that exist. What influence does the location of the Oklahoma County detention center have on the location of the bail bond services?

Say you were establishing a new bail bonds service or car wash business. What are the three most important factors influencing your chosen location? Select the three best locations for your bail bonds and car wash businesses in Oklahoma City, and indicate the reasons why you have selected the locations you chose using the presentation mode in ArcGIS Online.

The data were gathered from an online directory, read into a comma-delimited database, and uploaded into ArcGIS Online. Using these techniques, map additional businesses in Oklahoma City, such as stores for flowers, home improvement, bicycles, boutique clothing, gas stations, and even schools or libraries. Compare and contrast the resulting patterns.

Compare the population of Oklahoma City to the population of three other cities and towns of your choosing. Conduct research into the types of businesses in those other towns. Determine how large a town has to be to support specific businesses, such as big box hardware stores, restaurant supply stores, or specific business names, such as Dairy Queen vs. Applebee’s, Ace vs. Home Depot, and the like. Why do certain businesses locate in certain sized communities? Compare bail bonds vs. car washes in different cities that have roughly the same number of people to the pattern and number you discovered in Oklahoma City. Compare the number and pattern of businesses in smaller cities and towns to that of Oklahoma City. Why do the differences exist?

Besides total population, the demographic makeup of the population is also important. These factors include household income, ethnicity, educational achievement, age, and other factors. Find and add some of these variables to your Oklahoma City map or map of another city you are investigating. What influence do these factors have on your investigated businesses? Why? Name a business, for example, where the median age of a city is important, and another business where age is not a factor. Do the same for other variables.

How has the spatial perspective and GIS helped you to understand the location of businesses?

- Joseph Kerski, Esri Education Manager

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Fun With GIS #108: Knees Bent!

“Just keep your knees bent and you’ll be fine,” my dad said. Growing up in Minnesota, my brothers and I learned to ski at a young age. His advice kept me safe over the bumps, twists, and spills I encountered on winter weekends, and has served remarkably well throughout life.

A key feature of online software is its timeline of evolution. Good news and bad news: things can change frequently. This may irk folks who want rock-solid stability and absolute consistency from one year to the next. But, like life, technology just isn’t static.

ArcGIS Online has evolved every few months since its initial release. New capacities and little improvements roll in regularly. You can see the latest changes by going to the Help menu and looking for “What’s new”.

New this week: users can define their own default map extent. This is great for people beyond the borders of the conterminous 48 US states, or folks who want to think globally by default. It takes just a tiny bit of tinkering with options to set this up.

(1) Make sure you are signed into your ArcGIS Online account, then click it to see your profile. (2) Choose “Edit my profile.” (3) Choose the region to be displayed in a default map.

A big advantage of online software in education is ease of administration. But users need to be flexible, especially with web-based mapping. Things change, and learners – of all ages – need to adapt. Take time to practice this, with all your technology. Use the help file to seek out customizations and opportunities. 21st century employers do not seek workers who will use only 20th century tools and skills. Seek out changes, look for opportunities, and figure out how to reach goals because of or despite changes. As Dad would say, “Just keep your knees bent, and you’ll be fine.”

- Charlie Fitzpatrick, Esri Schools Program Manager

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Fun with GIS #107: Terrain Profiles

Terrain profiles have teaching power! Draw a line on the map, and get a profile of the elevation change. Cool! The EdCommunity WebMapping page includes a link to a Flex-based tool that educators have used successfully for months. Click and hold to draw a line, let go … magic! It even works underwater! (Note Hawaii, below.) And if you wander your cursor along the profile, it shows your position on the map. Nifty! (Try mapping out a local run or bike ride!)

Now, there’s another version to explore. This is a Javascript-based tool, so it works on a tablet. Click the Measure tool, set measurement units, click to start, double-click to stop. (And — YAY! — this version draws lines in a Great Circle Route.) Here it is on an iPad.

These and the other apps on the EdCommunity WebMapping page are powerful tools for helping students of all ages understand a variety of concepts and skills. Many such apps are carefully documented and ready for others to modify as desired. For educators wondering about GIS and STEM, a quick stroll through the ArcGIS Galleries should prove that there are endless opportunities for people with GIS knowledge, contextual background, and technical skills.

- Charlie Fitzpatrick, Esri Education Manager

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Earth Quiz: 20 Questions about Our Planet Using ArcGIS Online

Take a look at this image. Which waterfall is shown in this image? What clues exist on the landscape to help you choose among the three options listed?

Where is this glaciated terrain located?

Examining maps and imagery seems to be an engaging activity for many people, young and old, all around the world. Consider the number of maps and images delivered daily by web GIS servers. I contend that the number requested for people who simply enjoy looking at the Earth compares favorably to the number served for wayfinding and research purposes. This interest can be effectively taken advantage in education by engaging students in a series of images or maps as a quiz or a contest. At the Esri User Conference each year, the “Where in the World” sets of imagery on display always attract a crowd.

For nearly 20 years, I have frequently used map and image quizzes in classes I have taught and presentations I have conducted for geography, environmental studies, earth science, and other classes. These quizzes can be easily created and effectively used through the use of ArcGIS Online. Using ArcGIS Online’s presentation mode, for example, I created a 20-question Earth quiz. This quiz includes the images shown above as well as waterfalls, glaciers, deserts, rainforests, volcanoes, cities, and much more.

You can view the quiz in presentation mode.

More importantly, you can also run it inside ArcGIS Explorer Online so that you will be able to change the scale and basemaps, posing and answering questions, and fostering deeper inquiry into places and the processes at work behind those places.

For example, when you engage your students in discussing glaciation using the above slide, you can zoom in to examine south versus north facing slopes and the amount of snow cover on each. You can zoom out until someone recognizes the location. Then you can discuss the effect of latitude and altitude on glaciation. You can change the basemap to topographic to determine the height of the mountains and the depth of the valleys and determine slopes. You can add land cover, climate, and population map layers and discuss how each is affected by the presence of these glaciated mountains along the west coast of this country. Thus, these are by no means static “slides” and calling them slides is really a misnomer.

Even better, instructors can create their own quizzes focused on other processes, specific themes, specific regions, or their own community. Consider a quiz-based presentation focused on a community issue such as an area proposed for rezoning, or a process such as river meanders, erosion, and sedimentation.

Well, how did you score on the 20-question Earth Quiz? How might you use the idea of an Earth Quiz in your own instruction? How might you use ArcGIS Online in your own instruction?

- Joseph Kerski, Esri Education Manager

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Flipping It: An Instructional Alternative for GIS in the Class

A few years ago a couple of Colorado chemistry teachers realized that they were spending incredible amounts of time preparing make-up work and documenting the day’s instruction for students who were out sick. To help curb this time problem, they began recording their instruction and placing instructional video (e.g. narrated PowerPoint), class exercises, interactive simulations and other materials online every day – as a regular component of their instructional preparations. What they found was that not only did the resources help the absent student but also students who attended class leveraged the online materials as an opportunity to review. Today, the art and practice of the flipped classroom has evolved. With the day’s instruction shifted to an online format for evening study by students, the 45-minute class period has opened up, allowing time for collaborative projects, deeper, open-ended investigations, or concentrated study of a particularly sticky topic. The Kahn Academy is one popular implementation of pre-built materials, potentially useful for a flipped learning environment.

With the advent of a variety of web GIS tools (like ArcGIS Online) and an explosion of existing instructional video on basic GIS activities (YouTube or ArcGIS videos), the flipped classroom may be a great approach.

While creating new instructional video can be very time-consuming, carefully plotting out the best way to explain a concept, the best examples, and the right formative assessment, the payoffs can be huge (best practices: meta-analysis and practical tips). Teachers using flipped models of instruction report having more time to spend directly responding to students, stronger levels of student engagement, and more time for projects. What a great opportunity to use GIS to launch a class wide investigation of any number of environmental issues or sociological studies. ArcGIS Online can be used to both teach basic concepts in the evening and serve as the collaborative focal point during the day. So whether you’re teaching a STEM subject, geography, or anything else, consider trying a flipped classroom – even for part of the instructional period and explore where you and GIS can take your students.

- Tom Baker, Esri Education Manager

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