Monthly Archives: February 2013

A New Road Through the Serengeti?

To encourage students to think critically about two sides of an issue, to think spatially and geographically, and to use web-based GIS as a key part of analyzing an issue, I created a map and a lesson about a proposed new road through the Serengeti.

A new road in the Serengeti?

A new road in the Serengeti? Proposed routes shown in ArcGIS Online.

The lesson is inside the metadata for the map, which includes background information and readings, and 15 questions that invite students to critically assess the issue and its geographic implications.  These questions include describing the issue, the physical and cultural setting of the issue in Tanzania, analyzing the distance, ecoregions, and landforms that each of the proposed routes traverse, and assessing the merits and impacts of each.  Students are then asked to create an ArcGIS presentation to communicate what they have learned.

You and your students can use ArcGIS Online to analyze other issues that you choose or that they choose.  And from an instructional standpoint, embedding the lesson in the map’s metadata is an easy and quick way of creating a “one stop shop” for everything you need to teach about that issue.

How might you use this technique of coupling a web map with the map’s metadata for instruction?

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10 New Activities from Local to Global Scale Using Public Domain Data and GIS

Ten new hands-on activities that accompany the Esri Press book The GIS Guide to Public Domain Data book that Jill Clark and I  authored have been posted to the web, along with the data and the answer keys, on the Spatial Reserves site.

Look in the section “exercises and data for the book.”  The activities are available  through Scribd or through Google Docs.  The data for the exercises are stored on ArcGIS Online.   We contribute to the blog weekly, expanding on issues raised in the exercises and the book, such as data sources, data quality, data formats, fee vs. free, legal issues, volunteered geographic information, cloud GIS, and much more.

Exercises and Data for The GIS Guide to Public Domain Data

Exercises and Data for The GIS Guide to Public Domain Data

The activities cover a wide variety of scales, themes, and issues, and include:

Activity 1:  Assessing the Impacts of potential climate change on coasts, ecoregions, population, and land cover, globally.

Activity 2:  Siting an internet café in Orange County, California.

Activity 3:  Siting a fire tower in the Loess Hills, Nebraska.

Activity 4:  Analyzing floods and floodplains along the Front Range, Colorado.

Activity 5:  Assessing potential hurricane hazards in Texas.

Activity 6:  Analyzing land use and sustainability in Brazil.

Activity 7:  Creating a map for an ecotourism company in New Zealand.

Activity 8:  Assessing citizen science portals and analyzing citizen science data in invasive species.

Activity 9:  Investigating 3 hazards of 2010:  The Gulf of Mexico oil spill, Eyjafjallajokull volcano in Iceland, and the Haiti earthquake.

Activity 10:  Selecting the most suitable locations for tea cultivation in Kenya.

How might you use these activities, blog, and book in your teaching GIS and learning GIS?

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Fun with GIS 138: Community Analysis on a Mac

“Got anything for our Macs?” Many schools with collections of Macintosh computers still don’t know the powerful learning experiences available to them. GIS on the Mac is indeed doable, thanks to ArcGIS Online; its new tables and filters expand analytical capabilities for all users.

Additional power is available for Macs (and PCs) via Community Analyst, which includes access to thousands of variables about locations in the US. This app uses Flash technology and relies on a mouse, keyboard, and access to screen real estate, so it isn’t designed for tablets and smartphones. (Community Analyst also requires a subscription, available for instructional use in K12 education via state-wide, district-wide, and school-wide licenses.)

As a test, I did an analysis around a school I’m mentoring in Los Angeles. Community Analyst can import maps created in ArcGIS Online, so I imported a map of student locations, which had been built in Excel using Esri Maps for Office and published to ArcGIS Online. Focusing on these locations, I chose to map median household income, using an “index” (percent, where 100 = average) to classify income relative to US average. For a neutral background hiding location details, I switched to the grey basemap. Then I filtered out areas below 75% of the US average. Finally, I used the advanced capabilities of the “search for businesses” function and added locations of libraries and museums, to see what access low-income families might have to public education opportunities outside of schools.

Community Analyst screenshot

Computers running just web browsers with appropriate plugins can engage powerful analytical applications like Community Analyst, Business Analyst Online, ChangeMatters, or other focused applications that rely on the ArcGIS Online platform. (Check browser and screen size requirements; apps vary.) Regardless of hardware, the process of geographic analysis makes GIS a powertool for education. Users must grasp how to use technology to foster thinking scientifically about all manner of data, designing thoughtful questions which generate informative results, and communicating these effectively. They can do this starting even at a young age … and should. GIS can help students “STEAM (= science, technology, engineering, arts, mathematics) forward” to college and career, even on a Mac.

- Charlie Fitzpatrick, Esri Education Manager

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Using ArcGIS Online for Educational Geocaching

A number of educators in our community have long been using Geocaching to foster interest in fieldwork, to familiarize students with GPS and data collection devices, and simply to get students onto the landscape.  Geocaching is the high-tech treasure hunt that challenges participants to find an object that people have placed on the ground or one that naturally exists on the ground using latitude and longitude coordinates.  In education, I favor virtual geocaching such as Earthcaching to avoid placing objects on the ground and the associated risk of not having them available when I need them, and also to be more environmentally sensitive.  I have created numerous geocaching courses over the years at schools, along riverbanks, in parks, and at educational conferences, many of which are on the ArcLessons library.   Mine usually have a story woven through them, such as the Revolutionary War, “Aliens Land at City Park”, and “Then and Now: Historical and Current Transportation”.  I think the geocaching movement has done wonders in getting people re-connected with nature, learn geography and technology, and is a fun way to get in some exercise.

The advent of ArcGIS Online brings a platform that is very useful for geocaching in a number of ways.  First, you can use ArcGIS Online to plan your trip to existing geocaches, using the topographic and satellite image basemaps and the “measure point” function to pinpoint your desired destination.

Heil Ranch Geocaching Course, Boulder County Colorado

Heil Ranch Geocaching Course, Boulder County Colorado

Second, you can use it to lay out a course that you want others, such as your students or your colleagues to follow, as I have done at right, described in an ArcLesson and posted to ArcGIS Online as a map.  I used the metadata page attached to the map to describe the course.  By using the metadata page, the participants only have to go to the web map to get both the map and the course.  The course includes 23 questions along with a final challenge in a story called “The Case of the Missing Map.”  For example, question 13 is:  Continue to 40.15436 north, 105.29686 west.  What occurred on the slopes to the southwest in the past but its evidence can still be seen today? ___________.

Third, the ArcGIS Online app can be used on a smartphone to navigate to these points while out in the field.

For more activities that students can do with GPS, including geocaching, see the book Going Places with GPby Roger and Anita Palmer of GISetc.

Thus, ArcGIS Online extends the capabilities of geocaching, and any fieldwork.  How might you use ArcGIS Online to enhance what you are doing in the field?

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Are you a map geek?

What originally drew you to geospatial technologies?  It seems like nearly everyone I’ve talked with in this field has an affinity for maps that stemmed from childhood.  I confess that as a child, I was a map geek.  Like Ken Jennings described in his book MapHead, I too held the family atlas as we went on road trips, and also the trail map as we hiked.  However, maps were hard to come by back in those long-ago days, so I decided to make my own maps.  In primary school, I made double-lined street maps for my family members to trace a route through with a pencil.  As a teenager, I created detailed imaginary city street maps on poster board as a teenager (one  shown below).

Poster-sized city street map made by a teenager

One of the poster-sized city street maps I made as a teenager.

After running out of names of streets plucked from the last names of my friends, I searched the phone book.  After exhausting the interesting names there, I ordered phone books for other cities via interlibrary loan at my local public library.  My maps included urban renewal districts, docks and parks, address ranges, and an overabundance of freeways (perhaps because my home town did not have any).

Map enthusiasts don’t let the confines of the edge of the paper stop them.  For example, Jerry Gretzinger, as he explains in his video, started drawing a single map and 25 years later, is still expanding it!

While I did enjoy making those maps as labors of love, I would have loved to have access to ArcGIS Online as a child to create my own maps and share them with others.  But fortunately in my role on the Esri Education Team, I can foster and encourage modern-day students of all ages to enter into the exciting world of geospatial technology.  It’s fine if you are not a map geek.  If you are curious about our world, enjoy working with technology, and want to make a positive difference in our world, then why not give it a try?

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