Monthly Archives: January 2013

STEM, GIS and the Next Generation

STEM education is everywhere

STEM education and workforce development programs seem nearly ubiquitous across the United States.  Across industry, nearly every science and technology company of any stature has some form of STEM education initiative (from Raytheon and Microsoft to Bayer and Toyota) . Across government, most federal agencies (especially those with a science and technology focus) have a STEM initiative, like that of NASA, EPA, National Park Service, and many more. Non-profits from the 4-H and National Girls Collaborative Project to the National Institute of Building Sciences and the National Science Teachers Association are growing STEM across multiple facets of education.


Whether the data and analysis are rooted in a particular discipline of science or engineering, or students are learning about GIS technology itself, GIS drives STEM.  What’s more, the mathematics of GIS data and geoprocessing range from the straightforward to quite advanced, as colleagues are noting in a forthcoming spatial mathematics book.

The value of GIS as a tool for critical data analysis cannot be overstated.  In the forthcoming, Next Generation Science Standards, the emphasis on data analysis as a key part of “science and engineering practice” is central to the standards and to K12 science education in the US.  Mapping data is useful – but analyzing it is even more powerful for problem-based and inquiry learning at any level or discipline.

Learn more about how schools and clubs are already using GIS to advance STEM education.

- Tom Baker, Esri Education Manager

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Are we asking the wrong question?

A recent article in Canada’s National Post newspaper expressed dismay that despite the arrival of a globalized society, university students cannot locate the Atlantic Ocean on a world map.

Atlantic Ocean in ArcGIS Online

Atlantic Ocean shown in ArcGIS Online.

My colleague and chair of Canadian Geographic Education Connie Wyatt Anderson wrote a response to this article, stating that this lack of geographic content knowledge is the result of decades of “the erosion of geography  as a curriculum staple.”  She called on parents, curriculum developers, education authorities, and educators to be advocates to return geography to its rightful place throughout the educational system.

The National Post article reflects something that we in the geography and GIS education community have become used to and frankly, rather tired of.  We are now in the 30th year after the first of the dismal reports from National Geographic and the National Assessment of Educational Progress about geographic illiteracy.   While I salute the Post for caring about geography education, these types of articles and reports about students not knowing where Alberta or Addis Ababa are interesting and well-intentioned, but I think are asking the wrong question.

Yes, it is unfortunate that some students do not know the location of major oceans, continents, or countries, let alone the location of their own ecoregion, watershed, or neighborhood in their own city.  We can bemoan what we consider the lack of core content knowledge not only in geography but in any other discipline.   But now more than ever, students can look up that information in a flash.  Yes, they need to be critical consumers of that data when they look it up, most certainly.  However, in a book I recently read entitled Understanding the Digital Generationthe authors claim that the model of the educator dispensing facts for students is increasingly out of touch not only with societal needs, but out of touch with how students learn.  The results are increasing disengagement by students to their own education, and a tragic under-utilization of their talents and skills.

The  real tragedy is not that students don’t know where the Atlantic Ocean is, but how oceans function, why oceans are important to the health and climate of the planet, how oceans support economies, about coral reefs and other ocean life, about threats to the ocean, and so on.  The tragedy is that very little of what I consider to be true geoliteracy is  being rigorously taught and engaged with around the world:  Core geographic content (such as sustainability, biodiversity, climate, natural hazards, energy, and water), the spatial perspective (such as holistic, critical, and spatial thinking about scale, processes, and relationships) and geographic skills (such as working with imagery, GIS, GPS, databases, and mobile applications).   While there are many fine exceptions, we need a much greater global adoption, beginning with valuing geography and geospatial as fundamental to every student’s 21st Century education.

As a consequence, I am concerned that the the key issues of the 21st Century will not be well understood and be able to be grappled with graduating students as our future decision makers.  I firmly believe that geotechnologies have a key role to play to help enable effective teaching and learning of the above three pillars through inquiry.  And then along the way, students will also be learning core content; even the location of the Atlantic Ocean!

Do you think we are asking the wrong question?

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There’s More to Spatial Thinking Than You Think

“If you are a geography educator or GIS professional, you might say that “spatial thinking” is a way of reasoning about the world, facilitated by maps. However, if you are a science educator whose students need to make sense of 3-D molecular models or of cross-sections of a plant, “spatial thinking” is likely to mean something quite different. So too for clinical psychologists who employ experimental methods to understand how people learn.”

Read the full post at the Esri Insider.

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Fun with GIS 137: We the People

Every four years, the USA undergoes a bit of revolution. Some years are bigger than others. For the first time, I got to see it live. For friends and family around the world, I joined over a half-million to bear witness.

Along the way, I used my smartphone’s ArcGIS app to gather data and photos. The data proved not sufficiently useful; that’s sometimes the way it goes with science. But the practice was valuable. And the photos tell a story.

After taking the oath of office, President Obama talked about what we the people can do, and must do. Education was front and center. Liberty and equality, prosperity and happiness, present and future, all rely on collective action. We need to build understanding of complex phenomena, strengthen our capacity to solve problems, and can only do so together.

image of ArcGIS Online map

I looked around at the sea of people … all sizes, ages, races, and stations. I looked at the little device in my hand. With it, I had gathered data, captured images, transmitted content, and shared the experience. I had prepared for this mission by integrating multiple devices, considering various layers, learning different applications, and deciding on a plan.

This is what we can help young people do. Citizen science is the product of we the people. It depends on we the people valuing the principles and skills of science, the interwoven stories of both natural and human worlds, the integrative perspective of geography, and the immense capacity of technology. We the people can share these with each other, young and old alike, and build a better world, if we do it together. We have serious challenges ahead, for which our only hope is education. We the people must commit to building and sharing knowledge together.

- Charlie Fitzpatrick, Esri Education Manager

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GIS Day 2012—Diversity, Effort, and Fun Mark Global Celebration

GIS Day 2012 was a truly global celebration of GIS technology’s ability to change the world for the better. A total of 955 organizations held registered events in November, including nearly 500 outside the United States. The GIS Day activities attracted thousands of participants ranging from schoolchildren to senior citizens and from the curious to seasoned professional users.

First-Ever GIS Day in Palestine

Representatives from three Middle East countries participated in a GIS Day event in Jericho—the first time the Palestinian people had had an opportunity to join in the global GIS Day movement. Organized by Friends of the Earth Middle East (FoEME)/Water and Environmental Development Organisation (WEDO), GIS Day couldn’t have had a more scenic venue: the Auja Eco Center in the Jordan River Valley.

Participants got a chance to explore nature and the history of a civilization that’s more than 5,000 years old. GIS Day at Auja included an education trail tour around the Eco Center garden. Hikers could hear about environmental and ecopolitical issues now being faced in this locale, with discussions about water being predominant. Attendees from local communities and schools learned about and shared ideas on the practical uses of GIS. Workers and public officials from Auja, Jericho, Fasayel, Yatta, Battir, Tulkarem, and Al Jalama also participated.

Lectures and discussions focused on overseeing  water management projects. Possible applications in target areas and hazard mapping using GIS software for monitoring water contamination sources were presented.

“We hope all these activities advance global understanding of the presented issues and inspire participants about GIS applications at the local level in their everyday work and life,” organizer Marek Krajčuška, FoEME, wrote in a blog post.

Plans for 2013 call for making GIS Day a regional event involving FoEME offices in Bethlehem, Palestine; Tel Aviv, Israel; and Amman, Jordan, under both the Protecting Ground Water Project and the Good Water Neighbors Project, according to Malek Abulfailat, another FoEME organizer.

GIS Day Italian Style

Diversity was a hallmark of GIS Day across Italy, where municipal, university, high school, elementary, and middle school events highlighted the latest GIS technology and applications.

Esri Italia Sp.A. and Istituto Nazionale di Geofisica e Vulcanologia (INGV) sponsored an event called Earthquake How and Why for elementary and middle school classes in Rome that involved continuous interaction between the young audience of 120 and geological experts. Students and teachers learned about the causes of earthquakes and the protective measures to take before and after a temblor. They also learned about ArcGIS Online and how easy it is today to build a GIS.

  Experts from the GIS Office of the Union of Municipalities of Valdarno and Valdisieve in Tuscany presented new applications such as Cadastre of Wooded Areas and Meadows Crossed by Fire, born of a project called GIS Centres of the Tuscany Mountains.

The University of Naples Federico II held its GIS event in the Aula Magna of the Faculty of Architecture. Sixty GIS users—industry professionals, academics, and public employees—attended, while 300 participated in GIS Day at the High School Ciuffelli-Einaudi di Todi in the Middle Tiber Valley. Various speakers emphasized how GIS methodology has become essential for effectively dealing with problems in which a spatial component is critical.

Alabama Youngsters Discover Storytelling, “Mind Maps”

Sixth grade students at Ed White Middle School in Huntsville, Alabama, learned useful lessons on GIS Day—namely, the basics of GIS technology and how maps can tell stories—in activities led by employees of US Army Corps of Engineers Huntsville Engineering and Support Center.

Corps of Engineers staffers gave more than 150 youngsters a basic geography lesson using GIS technology. They discussed how the Corps of Engineers uses GIS daily and at project sites around the world during natural disasters.

Beverly Richey, a geographer and GIS specialist with the Corps of Engineers, led two 90-minute introductory discussions on geography that focused on spatial perspectives and how to use maps as stories.

“When you write a story, you need information,” explained Richey. “For example, your main character needs a name, or an age or a certain color hair. Well, it’s the same with maps, which need information—this is what makes GIS. G is a map front end or the [geographic] picture, and the I-S is the information [system], which is data, whether it is a road name or name of a neighborhood.”

“The GIS people showed me how we learn different things every day that help us to make our own ‘mind maps,’” said student Kayla Black. “I didn’t know we actually store these maps in our brain and use them to get around later. I want to learn more about how GIS works.”

“This is the age when students decide what science, technology, engineering, or mathematics [STEM] courses they’re going to take in high school,” said assistant principal Hovet Dixon. “We want our students to know about unique STEM careers like [being] geographers, geophysicists, and GIS professionals. We include some of this in their school curriculum. However, it’s always a plus when we can bring in outside resources to help reinforce this.”

Richey said the Huntsville Center employees were pleased to encourage the students to follow in their footsteps as GIS professionals. “I’m excited to join in on the worldwide celebration today, saluting geospatial technology and its power to better our lives,” she said. “GIS is for everyone.”

Hitting the Heritage Trail

GIS Day celebrants enjoyed a walk along the famed Valley Center Heritage Trail in San Diego County, California.

Students from Valley Center schools collaborated with the Valley Center Trails Association (VCTA) to devise a GIS method for informing the public about features along the way. The VCTA/schools team mapped the entire trail, identifying monuments and businesses in a web-based map. School kids, ranging from prekindergarten through high school, participated in data collection, transformation, and mapmaking.

The team presented the map to a Valley Center sixth grade geography class, talking to students about GIS technology, different types of maps, and how to create maps. This was “a great example of what can be accomplished by connecting Valley Center’s schools with our nonprofits and the latest and greatest in technology,” said Jessica Zichichi, a Valley Center resident and vice president of Innovate!, Inc., which led the project with its geospatial solutions team. “We used iPads, GPS receivers, iPhones, and laptops. The kids really had a lot of fun while learning new skills and creating something useful.”

Mark your calendars for the next GIS Day: November 20, 2013. For more information, visit

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Featured 2012 GIS Day Events in the United States: Loudoun County, Virginia, and Redlands, California

Hundreds of GIS Day organizers stuck to the annual celebration’s enduring themes, yet they managed to conduct events that expressed local issues and needs, with no two venues being exactly alike. On opposite coasts, Loudoun County, Virginia, and Redlands, California, ran distinctly different events that conveyed how GIS is changing the world for the better.

Public employees in Loudoun County took a quiz posted to the county’s intranet weeks prior to GIS Day that challenged their knowledge of county geography. The quiz was based on this year’s Geography Awareness Week theme, Declare Your Interconnectedness, according to David Torraca, GIS manager at the county Office of Mapping & Geographic Information.

On GIS Day, anyone doing business in the county government center could view a compelling lobby display of current GIS efforts, which came with an invitation to stop by the second-floor mapping office for its open house. Poster topics included landfill capacity; GIS in public safety, such as calling for help from a cell phone; and finding polling places, plus 3D modeling depictions.

“Several departments had to work together in a short amount of time to create a program that would expand the GIS knowledge of both the public and staff,” Torraca said.

A late-morning presentation gave GIS staff from the Mapping, Building and Development, Information Technology, General Services, and Planning Departments a rundown on numerous GIS-related projects currently under way. Fourteen short talks focusing on application development included topics such as the following:

  • Web services to aid citizens in finding their polling places and their local sheriff facility, as well as to assist staff in researching land development and permit applications
  • Mobile data collection efforts to enhance management of intersection improvements and support emergency operations
  • Updates on the computer-aided dispatch system replacement project and the National Capital Region Geospatial Data Exchange Hub
  • Application development for street routing and commuter bus tracking
  • Data analysis efforts in change detection, crime analysis, open-space easement monitoring, floodplain remapping, and 3D modeling

“The change detection model generated the most discussion because of its applications in so many areas,” said Torraca. “The model compares infrared data over two years to find changes in roads, buildings, and other features.”

An afternoon workshop for interested staff and the public reviewed county web mapping applications, including tools and functions users may not use regularly such as the aerial imagery gallery.

Staffers from the Loudoun County Public Schools Planning and Legislative Service Office and county Mapping Office personnel discussed GIS with twelfth graders enrolled in Loudoun County High School’s geospatial technology program. The talks included a brief history of geospatial thinking, resources available to the students locally, and geospatial technologies in the county government and school.

The county offers a program called the Geospatial Semester in partnership with James Madison University, a public university in Harrisonburg, Virginia. Participating high school students take classes at their home school while earning college credit in focused studies of geospatial technology.

“The students were shown practical applications of GIS technology in their own backyards,” said Torraca. “As they begin their exploration of spatial thinking, we hope to instill in them the wide range of subject matter that can be applied to this technology. Next year, we hope to hold a small forum to include local business speakers and applications.”


Esri hosted its first-ever hometown GIS Day in Redlands on November 14 in a three-hour event at the downtown A. K. Smiley Public Library. Local residents—including students, teens, seniors, and young children—came to see how GIS works and is employed to improve the community.

Organizations making presentations included Esri, the City of Redlands, the University of Redlands, Colton-Redlands-Yucaipa Regional Occupational Program (CRY-ROP), and Inland Valley Newspaper Group. A geography story time for youngsters was hosted in the library’s Children’s Room.

Chris LeSueur, of Esri technical marketing, provided examples of how GIS is employed and the types of professionals who use the technology, ranging from White House advisers, city planners, conservationists, and scientists to public works staff, search and rescue specialists, county assessors, and teachers.

“We use maps to tell stories and relate information,” LeSueur said. “You take a map, take your story and a little bit of technology, and you have some great results.”

Tom Resh, GIS administrator for the City of Redlands, discussed the many ways the city has incorporated GIS into its services, and demonstrated how local residents can access and use varied municipal map services.

“So far, I’ve learned that mapping is used in every single part of our lives—everywhere, for everyone,” said Kim Scolieri of Redlands, explaining how GIS fits into society. “I can’t think of anything it wouldn’t apply to.”

Irvine resident Roxanne Brooks came to the event after attending her daughter Amber’s master of science in GIS project presentation at the University of Redlands several hours earlier.

“I’m here this evening so I can keep up with her,” Brooks said, laughing. “I find it very interesting. It’s a wave, definitely an important part of the future here. And Amber is always talking about it. GIS may be widespread, but I’m not that familiar with it.”

Yui Shin, a teacher at CRY-ROP, introduced three Redlands High School students from his computer repair class.

“We originally started by teaching students how to become certified repair technicians,” said Shin. “Then we found that when circuit boards were dying and burning out, mapping could actually be used even on circuit boards.”

David Smith, a computer and mapping support specialist with the University of Redlands, said the school teaches students to think spatially in three ways: in space via navigating, way finding, and even sports and dance; about space by thinking about the physical world such as modeling ocean currents; and with space, or using space to look at patterns or to make concept maps.

“We’re trying to think of ways to use the technology in the classroom for teaching,” Smith said.

Also, Gina Dvorak, multimedia editor for Inland Valley Newspaper Group, gave a fascinating glimpse of how a newspaper employs GIS to augment news coverage.

“We learned a long time ago that location matters to our readers,” Dvorak said. 

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Featured GIS Day Global Events: GIS Day in Yaoundé, Cameroon, and Shabalala, South Africa

What better place to celebrate GIS Day, with its emphasis on creating an environmentally friendly planet for all creatures, than a wildlife preserve in Africa? In November, two nations—Cameroon, in central Africa, and South Africa—did just that, hosting successful events in locales surrounded by a diversity of exotic fauna.

As part of its outreach program, the Cameroon chapter of the Society for Conservation GIS (SCGIS) hosted GIS Day at the Mvog Betsi Zoological Garden in Yaoundé, the nation’s political capital.  More than 50 people attended, including students from secondary to university levels as well as practitioners from different specialties such as forestry, surveying, conservation, and geology, said organizer Buh Wung Gaston, a GIS and database officer for the World Wildlife Fund, Cameroon.  “Personally, I’ve been organizing GIS Day events since 2007 while working for the Limbe Botanic Garden in the southwest region of Cameroon,” said Gaston. “But under the banner of SCGIS, we’ve celebrated the event both last year and this year.”

The Cameroon SCGIS chapter considers GIS Day a great initiative for both young people and the general public to learn about applications of geography and uses of GIS, he said. Crowning this year’s theme—Discovering the World through GIS—were activities carefully geared toward stimulating spatial reasoning and discovering the power of GIS in everyday life. Videos, PowerPoint presentations, demonstrations, and an outdoor tour of the zoological garden permitted young participants to see the world beyond Cameroon’s triangular borders.

Moderated by SCGIS consultant Djeagou Achille, presentations were a mixture of simple introductions to GIS and advanced issues. Gaston gave the first talk, speaking on what GIS Day is, the initiative’s origin, and how it is now a global event. He defined GIS and related terminology, explained processes for obtaining GIS data, and described practical applications such as managing sustainable natural resources and providing decision makers with reliable information about land-use planning. He also demonstrated a day with GIS to stimulate spatial thinking.

Also discussed were GIS applications in everyday life, different ways to acquire training online, and opportunities for young people in this field. In a lively interactive session, participants raised questions such as where they can find online GIS courses and how GIS can be useful to Cameroonians on the street.

According to Gaston, Cameroon—which gained independence from the French in 1960 and recently celebrated its fiftieth anniversary as an independent republic—has a vision of becoming an emerging economic force by 2035.

“We will need to explore geospatial tools to accelerate sustainable development in the country,” he said. “Geospatial knowledge is therefore imperative for the younger generation.”

More than three-quarters of the students present had no previous knowledge of GIS and were quite excited about this opportunity, Gaston recalled.


A similar GIS Day celebration geared to youth unfolded in South Africa, where 72 seventh grade students gathered at the Mpunzana Combined School in Shabalala, Mpumalanga Province, just east of Kruger National Park.

“This was the first annual Kruger National Park GIS Day celebration,” said Sandra MacFadyen, geospatial analyst for the South African National Parks (SANParks) Scientific Services GIS-RS Lab, which helped organize the event. “We did it in the spirit of our SANParks vision statement: Connecting to Society.”

According to MacFadyen, the goal is to empower educators in neighboring communities to teach students how to build an environmentally aware future, using GIS as a tool and SANParks as an example.

The park’s GIS-RS Lab and Scientific Services Department had been asked in the past to hold GIS workshops for teachers and students in neighboring schools. However, that proved difficult: there are more than 200 schools within 10 kilometers of the park’s boundary, and the GIS-RS Lab’s core mandate is for ecological research and monitoring—not community engagement.

“That being said, I still felt that we have a social responsibility to help,” MacFadyen said. As a result, in July 2012, she presented a course to her People & Conservation (P&C) Department colleagues entitled An Introduction to GIS for Educators. The aim was to give P&C environmental educators basic information about GIS to empower them to fulfill requests like these from neighboring schools.

“An extension of this initiative was GIS Day, a collaborative project between ourselves and the P&C staff who attended this course,” MacFadyen explained.

On GIS Day, the program included an interactive seminar on the difference between geographic information systems and Global Positioning Systems (GPS). MacFadyen and the team asked students many questions and gave out prizes for correct answers. The class then was divided into groups that completed different activities with the help of team members.

“The Mpunzana students radiated boundless excitement and enthusiasm for learning despite the absence of conventional comforts like running water at the school,” said MacFadyen. “It truly was a humbling experience.”

Since Mpunzana has no computers, students, educators, and SANParks staff participated in group activities with paper maps, including Colour in the Continents, a South African province puzzle, and Know Your National Parks.

“It would be amazing if we could equip schools like Mpunzana with computers,” said MacFadyen. “Students can truly explore their planet without leaving the classroom and connect to the global community using GIS. Let’s see what we can do together for GIS Day 2013.”

MacFadyen said that SANParks is looking into acquiring PCs, laptops, or iPhones for schoolchildren in the near future. “But it’s not as simple as just getting them computers,” she said. “The training will be the shortfall.”

As for the Mpunzana students, they had a great time on GIS Day. Said one, “I’ve learned new things today that I have never experienced before.”

Requested another, “Please come back again and show us more about this exciting subject of GIS.”

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New Earth-Based Activities in the ArcLessons Library

A new set of activities about the Earth have been added to ArcLessons that promote geoliteracy through earth investigations as quizzes and matching activities.  Each of them model “What’s Where?”  “Why is it there?”, and “So what?”  The first was created by a colleague at the Ysleta del Sur Pueblo in Texas, entitled, “Where in Indian Country?”  In it, clues about physical and cultural geography are used to match satellite images with monuments, each of which is significant to Native Americans.  Monuments speak to history and landscape, representing wars, warriors, gods, and animals; some are natural wonders of spiritual significance.  A brief description of each of 15 monuments is included on the slides.  Through this activity, you are thinking spatially and considering geography, culture, climate, landforms, land use, and other factors.

I created an activity along similar lines that I call the “City and Country Ground Image Matching”.  Can you use physical and cultural geography clues to match the ground photograph provided with its correct city and country?  In so doing, you are thinking spatially and considering language, culture, climate, landforms, land use, transportation methods, and other factors to determine the correct answers.

I created an Earth Quiz using ArcGIS Explorer Online’s presentation mode.  The Earth Quiz asks you to think spatially and creatively about the “whys of where” using maps and imagery for famous waterfalls, cities, coastlines, and other physical and cultural features.  These include the famous “Earth eye” in Mauretania, the Dorset Coast in England, and other wonderful landscapes.

Along these same lines, my ArcGIS Explorer Online “Weird Earth” set, encourages the exploration of the planet using bizarre, unusual features.  Through their intriguing nature, they help students to think spatially using a variety of themes and scales.  One of my favorite things about “Weird Earth” is that not all of these mysteries can be explained!

Image from Earth Quiz: Name that Place

Image from Earth Quiz: Name that Place

These are only a sample of the earth-based activities that promote geoliteracy that are in the ArcLessons and that are on ArcGIS Online.  Keep checking this blog for additional resources that appear weekly.

How are you using these resources in your instruction?

-Joseph Kerski, Esri Education Manager

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Fun with GIS 136: Analysis Rocks!

“Please computer show me all features where…” I think this is the sweetest phrase in all of GIS. Why does GIS rock? Analysis!  It’s technology’s marvelous ability to sift through a bunch of data, and show the answer to a compelling question. The user has to provide the data and craft a clear and meaningful question that the computer can answer. For an educator, this is magic! It is a wonderfully simple, clear, and potent demonstration of problem-solving. The guts of GIS is features and their attributes, but the brain of GIS is analysis.

The latest upgrade to ArcGIS Online now makes it easy to see and practice analysis, allowing educators to build problem-solving skills from even a young age. Any feature service can now display a table of attributes, where users can sort and select and see relationships even more clearly. And properly formatted data can be filtered with queries, sifting out features that meet specific criteria.

To demo, I downloaded some data about US states – four years of 8th grade math scores in the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) test. In Excel, I collected summary scores from 2011, 2009, 2007, and 2005, and calculated the difference between 2005 and 2011. (For such a demo, I could have used as few as three features and three attributes, but making it realistic adds power.) I used Esri Maps for Office to convert the spreadsheet into a map layer, and then shared that layer through my ArcGIS Online organization.

Back in a classroom, students on computers or iPads could practice analysis, using the map, table, and filter tools! This is a fabulous workflow for educators – build a simple data set, publish it to ArcGIS Online, let your students bang away on it! In addition to the classification and symbolization that is a hallmark of GIS, now students can explore that table and select features of special interest.

Students can then filter out according to carefully crafted criteria, with simple queries about a single thing to very complex and even parameterized queries! And users don’t even need to be signed in if the data is shared with the public! This is awesome!

Education policy leaders are yearning for analytical thinking. Employers seek workers who can analyze information. The new geography standards and next generation science standards both call for students to demonstrate analysis. The Common Core State Standards call for analysis. STEM fields require constant analysis. This is why I’m so excited about the powerful combination of ArcGIS Online as a critical thinking arena, especially when used in conjunction with Esri Maps for Office. Opportunities for students to build analytical power are endless!

- Charlie Fitzpatrick, Esri Education Manager

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The Rise of Geographic Tools

In a recent essay, I asked “Is Everyone a Geographer?,”given the advent of easy-to-use geotechnologies that have enabled the general public to use many of the same tools and data that were formerly only used by GIS specialists and geographers.  I received some intriguing responses as did a book in which my colleagues and I asked this same question, entitled Practicing Geography.   In the essay I contended that geography is a three-legged stool, with supporting legs representing content knowledge, geographic skills, and the spatial perspective.

The advent of geotechnologies has elevated the importance of geography to a level unprecedented in the history of the discipline, reinvoking inherent tensions between the integrity of the field as a discrete academic discipline, on the one hand, and its generalist appeal on the other hand.  Although this tension within geography is not new—William Morris Davis reacted to it over one hundred years ago—some say that geography has never been more prominent within the everyday human experience than it is today.

Personally, I’m not so sure about that.  We spend so much time indoors these days.  At one time we were all directly depending on the landscape for food, water, and shelter, we were very much attuned to local geography—where to plant, where not to plant, where the safe drinking water was, where we could set animal traps or fishing lures, and other actions that our very lives depended on.  That has changed for many, though certainly not all, of the planet’s inhabitants.  In the past, the ability to use “geographic data” depended on one’s five senses.  I suppose we could have a lively debate on whether geography is more prominent in the human experience now or in the past.  What is clear that the 21st Century certainly has seen society’s valuing geographic tools in everyday life.  This is different in many ways from the previous 100 years, where the ability to use geographic data, in the form of increasingly sophisticated paper maps, and later, databases and software, did require extensive geographic training.  Now, many of these tools are as common as the smartphone or the Internet itself.

The rise of geographic tools such as web GIS, GPS, data collection via smartphone, and easy-to-use GIS software means that we now have the capability of making decisions more rapidly and more wisely than ever before, and most importantly, use the spatial perspective in making those decisions.   Geotechnologies have no curricular “home” in most educational systems at the present time.  Thus, one challenge in education is convincing educational authorities and organizations, and even individual educators and parents, that these geographic tools enhance teaching and learning at all levels.  They are valuable tools with which to learn history, earth and environmental science, biology, geography, mathematics, language arts, and many other subjects, encouraging holistic and critical thinking.   However, they are also valuable to learn for their own sake, as technologies for an ever-expanding array of careers, from medicine to marketing, from engineering to ecology, from business to biology, from public safety to planning.

How can we connect the rise of geographic tools to the need to be using these tools throughout the educational system?

-Joseph Kerski, Esri Education Manager

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