Monthly Archives: May 2014

On Becoming a GISP

This year I completed a long time goal–I applied to the GIS Certification Institute and became a certified professional in GIS (GISP).  The GIS Certification Institute (GISCI) is a tax-exempt not-for-profit organization that provides the geographic information systems (GIS) community with an internationally-recognized, complete certification program.  The Institute is comprised of leading non-profit associations (AAG, NSGIC, UCGIS, GITA, URISA, and GLIS) focused on the application of GIS and geospatial technology. GISCI offers participants, from the first early years on the job until retirement, a positive method of developing value for professionals and employers in the GIS profession. GISP has a fascinating history and there are now over 5,500 active GISPs located throughout the world.  Not surprisingly, you can find a map of their locations on the website.

GIS Certification Institute

GIS Certification Institute.

A GISP is therefore a certified geographic information systems (GIS) professional.  A GISP has met the minimum standards for educational achievement, professional experience, and manner in which he or she contributes back to the profession. A GISP must abide by higher guidelines for ethical behavior.  A GISP continues to educate and reeducate him or herself while preparing for recertification.  A GISP has had their professional background scrutinized and reviewed by the GISCI, an independent, third party organization.   A GISP can reside anywhere in the world;  active GISPs are currently found in all 50 States and 25 foreign countries.  A GISP is more than a practitioner of GIS technology:  A GISP is a professional, engaged in the profession and networking with other professionals.

The current GISP Certification process consists of an application that describes an applicant’s background in (1) ethics, (2) education, (3) experience, and (4) contributions to the Profession.  Once that application, accompanying documentation, and payment are submitted, the review generally takes from 30 to 45 days for approval. An exam is now being developed, to be added to the current process by the first half pf 2015.   Selected GISPs are performing groundbreaking work in the process of creating the exam based on the Geospatial Technical Competency Model (GTCM) approved by the Department of Labor in 2010.

Are you a busy GIS professional and think this process will take a long time?  Not to worry.  Bill Hodge and the other staff at GISCI have labored long and hard on the application process to make it as straightforward as possible.  Although it takes awhile to assemble the necessary documentation and write the statements you need, (1) It took much less time than I had expected, particularly since I maintain an active curriculum vita.  (2) Becoming GISP was absolutely worth doing.  Upon receiving my acceptance letter and certificate, I was proud to have attained this achievement, and more importantly, to give back to my profession that has given so much to me.

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GeoPorter: GeoSpatial Community Empowerment

Humpback whales from northern and southern migrations in the Pacific Ocean travel every year to the breeding grounds near the equator. These humpback whales now have a breeding environment off the coast of Costa Rica that is less polluted than it was a few years ago. Why is this? Community residents and youth are learning to use GPS units and ArcGIS Online and ArcGIS Desktop to investigate their community in order to make a difference. Geoporter, a non-profit geospatial education organization, has worked in Bahia Ballena, Costa Rica for five years alongside residents, teaching them how to use GIS to map their community.

Bahia Ballena is a small coastal community with 3,000+ residents that has transitioned from a rural fishing village 20 years ago, to one today that brings in more than 20,000 tourists annually to see these magnificent creatures in their natural breeding grounds. Local guides and captains are taking the initiative to map the humpback whale sightings in the Marino Ballena National Park. To ensure that the whales return annually, youth from one of the local schools and adults have initiated the Clean Streets, Clean Waters project to map and classify trash along the streets and beaches in town. Thus, by preventing trash in the streets, less will runoff into the ocean waters during the annual heavy rains.

Students at the elementary school, La Flor de Bahia, are learning how to use GPS units to record trash location and then returning to school to download and map the data using ArcGIS Online. The youth combined with adult community members have used this data and placed brightly painted mini trash/recycling centers  around the community at the areas of high density trash locations. Now the community is analyzing the efficacy of the trash/recycling centers so they can take the next steps to abate the trash issue in the community.

Map link for the embedded map.

At Escuela Verde, another local elementary school, teachers and youth are using ArcGIS Desktop to understand soil types, boundary limits of their community, doing math geocaching, exploring ancient civilizations such as the Egyptians, Mayans or Nazcas, or understanding what causes earthquakes and where they occur (outside of Costa Rica). With youth learning these powerful technologies at a young age, they will grow up with a geospatial thought processes that will allow them to transform the community into one that will succeed in the changing world.

GeoPorter is teaching communities around the world to use powerful 21st century geospatial technologies to investigate and solve community issues. Bahia Ballena has become the first community to help develop the best practices, drawing national attention from the country of Costa Rica and other countries around the world.

Geoporter is a United States 501(c)3 based in Dallas, Texas.     

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Fun with GIS 159: ConnectED Learning

Just 25 years ago, life was very different for US residents. Few people used email, “the web” was about spiders, and “portable phones” generated more derision than envy. Schools had some Apple IIs or Macs or PCs, or labs, but nobody had hundreds of kids with constant access. How things have changed. Now, digital learning helps kids whenever, wherever. At least, “some kids.”

In 2013, President Obama launched ConnectED, challenging business to help get all US schools into digital learning, with more devices, more connectivity, more digital content, and more training for teachers. Today the White House announced Esri’s contribution to ConnectED: ArcGIS Online Organization subscriptions for any K12 school in the US. With major support from Amazon Web Services, kids in any US school can make maps and analyze data using powerful professional web-based GIS, anytime and anywhere connected, on computer, tablet, or smartphone.

These “Orgs” boost dramatically the already substantial power of public ArcGIS Online: more data, more tools, more control of sharing, more analyses, and integration with the full ArcGIS platform. But it’s still just as easy to get started. Across the US, hundreds of pilot schools have shown that high schools, middle schools, and even elementary schools can learn content, investigate topics, engage deeply, and build skills that will carry into college and career.

We have also assembled resources — the K12 GIS Org — to help educators and students start learning, quickly and easily, and build capacity. A new document — the ArcGIS Online SkillBuilder — can help users scan through fundamental capacities, check off the items they know, and see a path. The examples will boost learners by bits and chunks, building the scaffolding required to succeed with an Org.

And we are re-launching the call to existing users of GIS to be a GeoMentor and help local schools, educators, and students — including one’s peers — see and touch GIS. Help them get started. Kids today being taught like they were 25 years ago are dying of boredom, and worse. Let’s unleash the energy and creativity of youth on the big challenges of our communities, country, and planet. All kids today deserve this, not just “the have’s.” Let’s help all schools, teachers, and kids become connected learners, with ArcGIS Online!

Charlie Fitzpatrick, Esri Schools Program Manager

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Spatial Environmental Education: What are the Benefits? How can I get started?

Recently, I introduced the idea of spatial environmental education, using map-based analysis to teach and learn environmental studies, and then demonstrated how spatial analysis can foster learning about environmental content and relationships.  I would like to close this series of essays here by providing some key resources with which to get started in spatial environmental education or to deepen what you are already doing in this area.

Students who are well grounded in the spatial perspective through GIS are better able to, upon graduation, use data at a variety of scales, in a variety of contexts, think systematically and holistically, use the geographic inquiry process, and use quantitative and qualitative approaches to solve problems. In short, these graduates are better decision-makers.  In fact, GIS is used on a daily basis to benefit the environment, from protecting elephant habitat in Africa to planning urban greenways in the local community, and thousands of other ways–indeed, one of the original “green” tools.

GIS through environmental studies adheres to the tenet that learning is often most effective when it takes place outdoors. In a world where outdoor education is often cut due to budgetary constraints, and when a frighteningly large proportion of the population has almost no connection with the outdoors, it bears emphasizing. In the field, students gain additional insight about processes, scale, and the environment. They can record data, sketch, take video and photographs, use their senses, and map their results in ArcGIS Online.   Even if students cannot get away from campus, they can still engage in meaningful learning activities outside on their own school grounds.  Louv (Last Child in the Woods, 2006), the video entitled “Why is fieldwork important?”, and others show that if students do not receive repeated and deep immersion in natural places while young, they will not value or appreciate natural places or environmental issues as adult decision-makers. Given the widespread environmental concerns faced by the modern world, it is imperative that students study and understand these issues, not only to equip them for life in the 21st century, but also to ensure that we emerge at the end of the 21st century in a sustainable way.

Using a GPS to collect data in the field. Photograph by J. Kerski.

Using a GPS to collect data in the field. Photograph by J. Kerski.

The Esri EdCommunity helps enable educators to make effective use of GIS in environmental education and in other disciplines. For example, five activities invite investigation into wind and wind energy from a continental to a local scale are available online at One activity asks students to explore the San Gorgonio Wind Farm in California; another uses ArcGIS Online as a tool for siting a wind turbine on a school campus, considering relief, proximity to buildings, wind speed, local access, and other variables.  Another resource, the North American Environmental Atlas, invites exploration into watersheds, ecoregions, human impact on protected areas, industrial pollution, wetlands, land cover, conservation areas, and more.

At the beginning of this column, I mentioned that I would “close” this series with this column.  But like all worthy geotechnology education endeavors, there are always new pathways yet to discover.  What are your discoveries?

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Mapping Our World for ArcGIS Online Released!

The award-winning instructional materials collection Mapping Our World is now available for ArcGIS Online!  This latest edition requires no software or data installation and is available at no cost.  In addition, Mapping Our World for ArcGIS Online is standards-aligned and promotes 21st century skills for students.

First released in 2002, Mapping Our World provides a complete resource for any teacher seeking a way to bring GIS technology into the middle- or high-school classroom. This educational package is a comprehensive collection of world geography lessons, lesson plans, exercises, and assessment tools. Exploring seven geographic themes, students are able to investigate each theme using real data to create and analyze maps. The activities provide teachers with everything they need to begin incorporating GIS into a standard geography course or teaching a GIS course.

To evaluate or begin using the student and teacher materials, visit

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Spatial Environmental Education: Exploring Content and Relationships through Map-Based Analysis

In my last column, I introduced the idea of spatial environmental education, using map-based analysis to teach and learn environmental studies.  I hope to strengthen this idea in this column by showing how spatial analysis can foster learning about environmental content and relationships.  One of the central themes of environmental studies is examining the interaction between humans and the environment. How does the environment affect people, through such characteristics as daily weather and long-term climate, native plants and animals, landforms, the availability of water, local and regional natural hazards, and predominant soil type?  Conversely, how do humans affect their environment?

GIS can be used to teach and learn about environmental content and relationships.

GIS can be used to teach and learn about environmental content and relationships.  Photograph by Joseph Kerski, out on the landscape in Wyoming.

Another central environmental theme is change. The Earth is a dynamic planet. Comparing land cover change based on examining Landsat satellite imagery, comparing the variation in the frequency and intensity of hurricanes by year, or investigating population change in an urban area are three of the many ways in which change can be examined using maps within a Geographic Information Systems (GIS), starting with ArcGIS Online.

Because environmental phenomena interact, move, and change, it is not enough to know content only:  Relationships and processes are critical to understanding the environment.  GIS can foster each of the Center for Ecoliteracy’s six core ecological concepts: networks, nested systems, cycles, flows, development, and dynamic balance. GIS allows variables to be input, modeled, and modified so that the dynamics of environmental processes can be studied. Hungerford and Volk (1991) defined nine key ecological concepts that they said were necessary for environmental education programs, including (1) individuals and populations, (2) interactions and interdependence, (3) environmental influences and limiting factors, (4) energy flow and nutrient cycling, (5) community and ecosystem concepts, (6) homeostasis, (7) succession, (8) humans as members of ecosystems, and (9) the ecological implications of human activities and communities.  GIS can enhance the teaching of each of these concepts.

An NSF-funded project from the NAAEE resulted in a definition of environmental literacy that includes four interrelated components: (1) competencies, (2) knowledge, (3) dispositions, and (4) environmentally responsible behavior. By using the same tools used by scientists, GIS aids in the first two of these, and by investigating real issues in their communities and beyond, GIS aids in helping with the last two of these components.

Students who use GIS in tandem with environmental studies develop key critical thinking skills. These skills include understanding how to carefully evaluate and use data. This is especially critical in assessing environmental data, due to its increasing volume and diversity, and given its often sensitive and politically charged nature. Moreover, crowd-sourced data appears regularly from “citizen science” initiatives all over the world on pine beetle infestations, the appearance of monarch butterflies each spring, phenology, birds, and a host of other topics.  These data are more frequently being tied to real-world coordinates that are mapped and analyzed. Students and graduates using GIS and who are grounded in environmental studies will be in demand to help make sense of this deluge of incoming data.

Students using these tools can map phenomena and features such as ocean currents, ecoregions, and the locations of usable geothermal energy. They can use the tools to answer various questions. How does pH vary along this stretch of river, and why? How do tree species and tree height change depending on the slope angle and slope direction of the mountain, and why? Why do wind speed and direction vary across North America the way they do?

Are you using GIS to teach or learn about environmental content and relationships? If so, how?

Hungerford, Harold R., and Trudi L. Volk. Curriculum Development in Environmental Education for the Primary School: Challenges and Responsibilities. Invited paper for The International Training Seminar on Curriculum Development in Environmental Education for the Primary School.  May 1991.

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Fun with GIS 158: “Engage!”

Late in my teaching career, the head of the school and I watched each other teach a class. After watching mine, he said “Your class is very …{pregnant pause}… ‘active’ …” I smiled and said “Thank you.” I knew he was trying gently to communicate something less complimentary, and wanted him to know I thought it went as planned. He looked at me like I had clearly missed his most important message, then gave a 20-minute monologue on orderliness in instruction.

My practice had been to maximize involvement. These days, watching classrooms across the country, it remains my first yardstick. And for this reason, I am sold more than ever on ArcGIS Online as a platform for education. It has enough enticements to energize even young learners in seconds, and sustain them for long periods, day after day. It has true GIS power, enough built-in data to entice scholars on any topic, and enough flexibility to exemplify “infinite capacity.”

As humans struggle with challenges from macro to micro, we needs students to build background coping with complexity. They need to face multiple perspectives, diverse and incomplete data, contradictory objectives, and limited resources. They can start even at a young age, with a task as simple as “Let’s build a map together showing the ten best things in our community for a visitor to see.” Do restaurants count? Can there be multiple historic features? By what measures is the school better than the park? And just how big is “the community?” Students familiar with such challenges will find more and tougher ones on which to hone their skills: environment, economics, energy, hunger, disasters, preparedness, politics, power, equity, change …

Students walk in with different backgrounds and tendencies, capacities and desires, aptitudes and attitudes. Teachers have to customize. ArcGIS Online allows educators and students to explore, focus, steer, investigate, integrate, discover, build, “fail productively,” collaborate, communicate, and scaffold their knowledge, skills, and perspectives. And they can do this in all their subjects, in varied places on various devices, as long as they are connected.

It’s seldom an orderly process. At the speed things are moving now, “order” is slowing them down. These are the kids who will yank us forward. They just need permission to use the tools available that let them engage. That’s my nickname for ArcGIS Online – “Engage!”

Charlie Fitzpatrick, Esri Schools Program Manager

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Spatial Environmental Education

Zooming in to a satellite image to examine deforestation, visualizing the retreat of a glacier, and navigating a trail on a smartphone have become commonplace in the 21st century. For centuries, maps have stirred imaginations and inspired explorations of the unknown. Far from the static documents of the past, today’s maps can be manipulated and combined with other maps, charts, images, databases, videos, websites, and other data to help us understand spatial relationships. Geotechnologies make the maps and the everyday activities detailed above possible.  However, the technologies are effective because the people using them have cultivated a spatial way of looking at the world by examining patterns, relationships and trends through maps.  Decisions that use GIS include planning urban greenways, mitigating invasive weeds, locating optimal sites for wind energy, and studying the impact of groundwater withdrawal on aquifers, from a local to global scale.

Geotechnologies are more than cool tools; they provide a way of exploring a rich body of content, a framework for thinking about the world, helping develop key critical and holistic thinking skills in problem-based scenarios. Through GIS, students grapple with current, relevant, important issues in science, such as sustainable agriculture, natural hazards, water, energy, climate, and others.  GIS enables these issues to be analyzed spatially because they all have a geographic component. Spatial analysis through geotechnologies helps students solve problems. Students begin to see the big picture so that they can understand how different patterns and trends are related. Students become involved digital citizens that can use the technologies to ask the “what if” questions, test hypotheses, and model scenarios using a valuable 21st century tool.

Mt Kilimanjaro satellite image and ground photograph in ArcGIS Online

Mt Kilimanjaro satellite image and ground photograph in ArcGIS Online.

Today’s geotechnologies can be easily combined with multimedia, such as my field study at the base of Mount Kilimanjaro, Kenya, shown in ArcGIS Online. 

The central themes environmental scientists have studied for years, such as sustainable agriculture, climate change, and the impact of water and air pollution on health, have in recent decades become topics on daily newscasts and increasingly affect our everyday lives. Connecting students with their curriculum through real-world data and issues builds spatial bridges in students’ brains and appeals to multiple ways of learning. Students learn to transfer knowledge, to inquire strategically, to connect to their community, and to solve problems with real data.

Today’s geotechnologies can be used in a wide variety of ways in terms of devices, settings and instructional approaches. First, in terms of devices, like other technologies, GIS has seen a rapid migration into cloud-based computing. This means that GIS tools such as ArcGIS Online can be run via the Internet. Second, in terms of settings, this means GIS can be accessed in a classroom with one computer and a projector, in a lab with dedicated computers or under a “bring your own device” model, and in the field. Third, in terms of instructional approaches, GIS can be used in multiple disciplines and to analyze a myriad of issues. Every environmental issue occurs at a specific scale and sometimes at multiple scales. For example, climate change is a global phenomenon that also impacts local weather and crop yields, and GIS allows for the variables necessary in environmental analysis to be used as map layers, at many scales, and in two and three dimensions.

Not only does GIS enhance environmental studies, but also conversely, a firm grounding in environmental studies enhances the use of GIS. Asking questions is the first part of scientific inquiry, forming the basis for knowing what types of environmental data to collect, what data to analyze and what decisions to make. Geotechnologies do not ask the questions, rather, it is the user of geotechnologies that has a firm foundation in content, the spatial perspective, and spatial skills. Because the field of environmental studies has become more quantitative, experimental and analytical during the past century, GIS is the perfect tool in which to study environmental processes through databases, maps and spatial statistics.

Screenshot showing ArcGIS Examining changes in the Aral Sea using historical satellite imagery in ArcGIS Online. Image Credit:  Esri, with imagery from USGS and NASA.

Screenshot showing ArcGIS Examining changes in the Aral Sea using historical satellite imagery in ArcGIS Online. Image Credit: Esri, with imagery from USGS and NASA.

Examining changes in the Aral Sea using historical satellite imagery in ArcGIS Online.

How are you using GIS to teach and to study environmental issues?

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Azavea Summer of Maps 2014

Award-winning Esri business partner Azavea has named three new student Fellows for its 2014 Summer of Maps program.

Of 125 student applications that came from coast to coast, Azavea selected Tim St. Onge, Masters of Geographic Information Science for Development and Environment, Clark University; Amory Hillengas, Masters of Urban Spatial Analytics, Community and Economic Development, University of Pennsylvania; and Jenna Glat, B.A. in Geography and Spanish, Colgate University.

Each Fellow will receive a $5,000 stipend to perform pro bono geospatial analysis work for non-profit organizations during Summer 2014. The program is sponsored by Azavea with additional financial support from Esri and The University of Pennsylvania’s School of Design.

Summer of Maps serves the important role of providing free geospatial analysis to non-profits that might not otherwise have the resources for such work, while providing real professional experience to promising GIS students.  The program focuses on implementing geospatial data analysis projects that will have civic and social impact.  This unique national program organized and administered by a company is an important part of Azavea’s civic and social mission as a B Corporation.

Last summer, three students from Bryn Mawr College, Haverford College and Clark University worked on projects for the Delaware Valley Association for the Education of Young Children (DVAEYC), the Sunlight Foundation, the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, the Texas Trees Foundation, the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia, and the Greater Philadelphia Coalition Against Hunger.  One of these organizations, DVAEYC, used maps produced by 2013 Fellow, Lena Ferguson, to win $ 1 million in new funding from the Philadelphia City Council and the William Penn Foundation.

This summer, Tim St. Onge will be working with DataHaven to analyze the relationships between neighborhood indicators in the greater New Heaven and Valley Region; he will also work with the Community Design Collaborative at using spatial analysis to prioritize design grants in Philadelphia.

Amory Hillengas will conduct an analysis of funding resources and program adoption of GirlStart in Central Texas; she will also work with City Harvest at analyzing the retail food access in low income communities to measure the need for and impact of City Harvest’s programs.

Jenna Glat will conduct an analysis of land cover change in Los Angeles area for TreePeople and will measure energy efficiency of Philadelphia’s building stick for The Consortium for Building Energy Innovation.

From June to August 2014, the winning non-profit organizations will be able to:

  • Receive pro bono services from a skilled student GIS analyst to geographically analyze their data
  • Visualize their data in new ways
  • Combine their data with other demographic and geographic data
  • Receive high quality maps that can be used to support new initiatives or make a case to prospective funders

The Fellows will:

  • Work on spatial analysis projects that support the social missions of two non-profit organizations
  • Work with Azavea mentors to improve their GIS and project management skills
  • Receive a monthly stipend
  • Gain work experience implementing real-world GIS projects

For more information, please see

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Investigate Demographics with new Esri ZIP Code Mapping Tool

The ZIP Code mapping tool is back and better than ever for education and research!

To use, access the tool and enter the ZIP code you want to investigate.  It’s easy to do, but yet a wealth of information results.  The information includes an interactive map of the ZIP code boundaries that allows you to investigate adjacent ZIP codes. It also includes income, age, and population density data on that specific ZIP code, with comparisons of that data with the mean for the county, the state, and the entire USA.

As useful and fascinating as these statistics are, in my experience working with educators and students, it is the Lifestyle tab that generates the most interest and discussion.  The Lifestyle tab describes the tapestry segments that make up the ZIP code.  Tapestry classifies US neighborhoods into 65 market segments based on socioeconomic and demographic factors, then consolidates them into LifeMode and Urbanization Groups. This method was first used during the late 1980s with Michael Weiss’ study The Clustering of America, which I remember reading in graduate school.

In the case of 54241, Two Rivers Wisconsin, Rustbelt Traditions, Rustbelt Retirees, and Salt of the Earth make up 75% of the residents in that ZIP code.    Rustbelt Traditions are a mix of married-couple families, single parent families, and singles who live alone in older industrial states bordering the Great Lakes.  Those who are employed have service, manufacturing, and retail jobs; they hunt, fish, go to car races, country music shows, and ice hockey games.  More information is available on this and other Tapestry segments directly from the ZIP code lookup maps.

ZIP code map and data results for Two Rivers, Wisconsin

ZIP code map and data results for Two Rivers, Wisconsin.

Questions to ask when using this mapping tool in instruction include:  How closely does the ZIP code boundary match what you would consider to be your “neighborhood”?  Do you think the Tapestry segmentations accurately describe your ZIP code?  How similar or dissimilar is your household from the income, age, or Tapestry segmentations listed for your ZIP code?  Can you find an area where the Tapestry segment(s) listed encompass ALL of the residents of the ZIP code?  What does that say for diversity of your ZIP code?  What ZIP codes in your city, or in other regions, are most like the one in which you live or work?  Why?

How might you use the ZIP code mapping tool in your curriculum?

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