Monthly Archives: September 2014

Esri EdUC 2015 Call for Proposals: Learning and leading through service

You’re invited to exchange ideas and best practices with fellow GIS educators and administrators at the 2015 Esri Education GIS Conference in San Diego, California. Participating in the conference will connect you with others who share your professional interests, making it the premier thought-leadership event for those involved in GIS education. Technical sessions and hands-on workshops help you keep your edge.

The conference theme is “Learning and leading through service.” Service learning is an increasingly common element of formal and informal instruction. GIS empowers students to design and produce meaningful place-based projects that benefit communities while developing 21st-century skills. The conference will include special sessions that highlight inspiring examples of learners using GIS for social good.

Discussion at Plenary Session

Saturday and Sunday July 18-19 will include plenary sessions, lightning talks, featured user presentations, and facilitated panel discussions related to the conference theme and other topics. You’re welcome to propose your contribution by October 31, 2014.

The Education GIS Conference will continue on Tuesday, July 21 with a third plenary session followed by a series of self-organized “unconference” sessions. Proposals for the unconference sessions will be accepted at the event.

To submit your proposal, visit

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Fun with GIS 164: Web AppBuilder

What do you like: construction tools or a finished product? For education, it depends on the situation. Sometimes, it’s best to give people a “finished product” with which to explore content; this helps build certain kinds of knowledge and skills. Other times, people need a construction zone, which fosters learning too, though not necessarily the same. Still other times, it’s good to have the user build a “finished product” for others, so s/he can grapple with how others may think about information. Part of the magic of learning is that it happens via many channels. Part of the magic of GIS is that it can support all channels.

The new Web AppBuilder is a “tool for building finished products.” Usable from within an ArcGIS Online subscription, Web AppBuilder gives the user an erector set for converting a saved ArcGIS Online map into a sleek, focused app, with only the widgets the designer wants to provide. A bank of powerful choices is available, and a programmer can create even more. But with just the default set, it’s easy to build a custom experience in minutes, one which adapts well to use on devices of all shapes and sizes. So I decided to try it.

For several years, educators and students have used the “USA Demographics for Schools” map to explore patterns and relationships among people across the US. A second version added state and county boundaries to provide easy references as scale changed. I chose to convert this second version into a “USA Demographic for Schools” app, using the Web AppBuilder. It has easy to use bookmarks, measuring, and drawing tools, plus a quick “query a state’s counties” tool. And I tested this one app on my Mac, Windows, Chromebook, iPad, Android tablet, iPhone, and Android phone … all worked alike.

With powerful pre-built widgets and options to craft even more, the process for building apps is easy and fun using the simple but flexible wizard, and a good challenge to help users think about how others might want to explore data. It is another way in which educators can challenge students to learn background content and skills at the same time. And, for learners challenged by a blizzard of tools, Web AppBuilder makes it easy to create “one-trick ponies” — apps that do one or two main things and nothing else.

Esri’s support of ConnectED makes powerful mapping and analysis tools available to any US K12 school. The release of Web AppBuilder opens up yet another channel for the creative tinkerers of all ages who want in on the exploding world of geotechnology. Hold on to your hats!

Charlie Fitzpatrick, Esri Education Manager

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GIS as a Platform

No doubt you have read or seen presentations in which ArcGIS has been described as a “platform.”  I have been asked on several occasions as to how I would communicate this concept to the general public or to students, from a non-technical point of view.  Here is how I would respond:

The 21st Century issues we face, from water quality and quantity, land use pressure, sustainable agriculture and tourism, climate, urbanization, energy, human health, to natural hazards and others, are becoming more serious, and are global issues that increasingly affect our everyday lives.  These issues are too complex to be solved by a single tool.  Rather, the issues can only be grappled with using a common framework upon which we can build tools, models, and procedures that will help us make wiser decisions–a platform.  Maps within a GIS environment provide us with a common language that we can use to communicate our questions, frame our problems, and help us test and implement solutions.  A compelling example of this was included in the video I used to show often to students entitled “The World in a Box”.  The opening scene of the video showed how GIS brought the logging community and the spotted owl environmental community together, helping them realize that they both had a common goal:  A healthy forest.

Furthermore, these 21st Century issues are too pervasive to be addressed by a single organization or a single discipline. Rather, they must be grappled with by people who know how to think spatially across many organizations, scales, and disciplines.  Once again, GIS as a platform is what is required, because it offers an array of geospatial tools and an array of authoritative data originating from experts in those different fields.

GIS as a platform has enormous implications for what and how we teach.  But that is a topic for another essay.

How would you respond?  I look forward to hearing your thoughts.

Complex issues on our planet require platform-GIS to solve.

Complex issues on our planet require platform-GIS to solve.
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New GPS and Fieldwork Resources Online

A new group in the Esri K12 ArcGIS Online organization invites investigation into fieldwork, GPS, geocaching, and related topics.  The group is open to everyone, and contains a variety of activities, recommendations, videos, and other resources that have been tested with students and educators in a wide variety of settings, disciplines, and levels.

These 32 resources are organized in four sections.  Section A contains core content items such as a GPS primer, ways to map your field data, GPS to GIS videos, waypoints and tracks, and other items to develop skills and content knowledge. Section B focuses on activities, from “Get outside with GPS!” to mapping everyday routes, to setting up citizen science maps, and crowdsourcing your photographs.  Section C’s focus is on geocaching–how to set up a geocaching route, how to effectively use geocaching in instruction, and samples of geocaching courses with creative themes, such as zombies, historical transportation, and more.  Section D digs into technical issues such as comparing the spatial accuracy of GPS data to that collected with smartphones, and teaching about accuracy, precision, and critical thinking with these devices.

Give these resources a try and I invite you to share your results with the community by commenting below.

GPS group in Esri K12 ArcGIS Online Organization

GPS group in Esri K12 ArcGIS Online Organization.

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Using historical USGS topographic maps in ArcGIS Online

Recently, I wrote about a wonderful new resource called the USGS Historical Map Explorer, which provides an easy way to examine change over time using USGS maps for any area of the USA.  But let’s say you want to add these historical maps to other data layers that you are investigating in ArcGIS Online.  The way to accomplish this is via the method that my colleague Charlie Fitzpatrick recently described–by using the Esri Map Layers through your ArcGIS Online organizational subscription.

To access these maps, use the Add Data function and Browse Esri Map Layers.  Select Basemaps, and then Historical Maps, as shown below.

Adding historical USGS maps from Esri Map Layers

Adding historical USGS maps from Esri Map Layers.

I selected the 1:24,000 scale USGS layer and zoomed to Morrison, Colorado, as shown below.

1957 USGS map of Morrison, Colorado

1957 USGS map of Morrison, Colorado.

The most current USGS maps are available through the “USA Topo” layer.  I searched for this layer in ArcGIS Online and added it, as shown below:

1995 USGS map of Morrison, Colorado

1995 USGS map of Morrison, Colorado.

But as this “most current” map is from 1995, you have yet another option:  You can compare all of these USGS maps to the up-to-date topographic basemap in ArcGIS Online, which is no more than a few months old.  At your fingertips you now have a wonderful library of tens of thousands of historical USGS topographic maps and current basemaps with which you can study physical and cultural changes on the landscape.  You can also do this with the historical USGS topographic map explorer that I previously wrote about.

Each of these two methods has its advantages.  The USGS topographic map explorer is an app, and like all apps, it does only a few things, but it does them very well.  It is best if all you want to do is investigate land use change over time with historical maps.  The method that this blog focuses on–accessing the historical maps via ArcGIS Online’s Esri map layers–gives you much more flexibility and power.  Using this method, you can add other layers to your investigation, such as historical aerial photographs, population change, zoning, watersheds, and much more.

For a summary of ways you can use the historical USGS topographic maps in ArcGIS Online, see my Sway presentation here.

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On a mission to inspire – empowering girls to pursue STEM careers

Guest blog by Julia Guard, Esri Tech Support Analyst

As a woman with a career in software, I was excited to learn about Esri’s involvement in WhizGirls, and honored by the opportunity to work directly with the program.  The California based WhizGirls Academy aims to inspire young girls to explore STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) through fun, hands-on learning initiatives. The project-based gaming approach follows a “detective” theme, encouraging the growth of analytical skills and teamwork as the girls work together on “missions” as “secret agents.” At Esri, we support their mission by presenting workshops that foster spatial thinking and introduce career paths available in GIS and programming.

“WhizGirls are empowered. Empowered to learn, empowered to explore, empowered to be themselves.”
Shirin Laor-Raz Salemnia, WhizGirls Academy Founder

WhizGirls Academy

The WhizGirls Academy empowers young women to learn, to explore, and to be themselves.

WhizGirls also aims to connect with inner-city, low-income, and alternative students. On my most recent trip to work with the WhizGirls, I was initially taken aback by the environment. I sat among young women ages 15-18, several of whom are raising themselves without the security of parents or a safe home. Many of these girls know a thing or two about hardship, opportunities lost, and the value of a dollar. What they may not know is just how much education will determine their future.

Less than ten years ago, I too was a teenage girl, and just as unsure of myself. For me, discovering geography was a turning point. It was the educational investment I made in myself that gave me the confidence to feel like a “whiz girl”. The education I received enables me to tell a story of success, opportunities gained, and the value of a career. Working with the WhizGirls program, I got to share the benefit I reaped from my education. So, while the girls were busy missioning to “crack the code,” I missioned to show them both the fun and opportunities available in a career based in STEM.

As the technological focus for WhizGirls is front-end web development, I was able to collaborate with colleagues in order to demonstrate some basic ways that HTML & CSS are integrated in Esri products. Using ArcGIS Online, we helped the girls design webmaps using data that was meaningful to them. We also showed them how to use tools to measure, search, and perform analysis to interact with their maps. The workshop allowed us to introduce some fundamental GIS concepts as well as discuss how code is used to build each application.

The result was outstanding: we filled a room with laughter, learning and an infectious energy for exploration.  The girls seemed to really enjoy interacting with maps, discovering different geographies, and dabbling with a little HTML. Sharing the joy of a new discovery is a wonderful experience; however, what struck me the most was the feeling of empowerment we shared as we learned together and inspired one another.

WhizGirls provides more than an introduction to programming; it provides an introduction to empowerment through STEM education. The program is hard at work to develop a space where girls are encouraged to be themselves and to take pride in truly being a “whiz girl”.

For more information about WhizGirls, contact Shirin Salemnia.

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Free webinar tonight: ArcGIS Online, ConnectED and GeoMentors

Free webinar through the NCGE Webinar series.

ArcGIS Online, ConnectED and GeoMentors – A Beautiful Friendship

Join us for a webinar on Sep 10, 2014 at 8:00 PM EDT.

Register now!

The best things in life ARE free. Webinars, tools, programs, and mentors. Will you grab opportunity when it knocks? To support ConnectED, Esri offers every US K12 school a free, powerful, professional, web-based GIS. GeoMentors are anxious to help all HS/MS/elementary educators use it. And a free webinar puts it all together. Join us! Free!

After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the webinar.

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Fun with GIS 163: Any Connected Device, Anytime, Anywhere

Tablets are surging in K12 schools and US home. As a test, I’m writing this blog on my iPad while flying across the country, battling for the modest bandwidth with other device users among the 170 passengers. I want to use the special “Browse Esri Map Layers” option in ArcGIS Online to inspect some premium content. My flight goes near where I grew up, and I want to see some changes over time.

I was raised where woods, farm, and town mingled. I walked out the driveway and 100 yards down a dirt road to the school bus stop; across the paved road was a pig farm. Before I hit age 20, though, the area had become an exclusive suburb. Today, the region battles typical pressures on land use, water, and waste management, caused by population change and economic development. The pond where we chased turtles in summer and played hockey in winter is now a fen; hillsides of oaks and berry patches have sprouted houses and driveways.

I signed into my ArcGIS Online subscription, made a map, and chose “Browse Esri Map Layers” (an option available only for subscriptions). This curated content has a mix of optimized and categorized layers. I added and explored 2014-2019 USA Population Growth Rate, USA Development Risk, USA Hazardous Waste Sites, and USA NLCD Landscape. Content in the curated zone is all carefully documented, so I can tap and read underlying info, then tap and return to the map.

Though my internet connection is not fast, focusing on a specific region and minimizing redraw uses content cached in the browser, yielding reasonable performance. The iPad allows me to do all the exploration I would do on a full computer, and to swipe back and forth between map, screenshots, and document. I have even made a presentation, saved it, and iteratively revised it.

The magic of education is opening a mind to endless opportunity and fostering the disposition to explore. The magic of technology is not gadgets per se but rather what one can do with what is available; it’s vastly more thrilling to see students doing powerful things with modest tools than modest things with powerful tools. The magic of GIS is layers of data in the hands of a thinking explorer. The magic of Esri’s ConnectED offer of an ArcGIS Online subscription to any US K12 school is “any connected device, any time, anywhere.”

Charlie Fitzpatrick, Esri Education Manager

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Make It Stick: The Science of Successful Learning and GIS

In their wonderful book about the science of successful learning, Make It StickPeter Brown, Henry Roediger, and Mark McDaniel spell out some truths that I believe are instructive as to how we should approach teaching with GIS.

First, the authors claim that ”learning is deeper and more durable when it’s effortful. Learning that’s easy is like writing in sand, here today and gone tomorrow.”   Despite the fact that teaching and learning with GIS is far easier than it was a decade ago, I think we as educators do a disservice to our colleagues in education or to students when we say, “it’s easy.”  First of all, teaching and learning are difficult tasks–neither is for the fainthearted.  Second, think of everything that goes into teaching with GIS–a balance between content knowledge, skills, and the geographic perspective.  Yes, it may be easier technically to bring in a CSV file into ArcGIS Online than it was to bring in a spreadsheet into ArcInfo back in the 1990s, but even this skill relies on some key foundations.  A few of these are:  What is a database and how can I create one?  How can locations be mapped?  How can I work with latitude and longitude pairs, or street addresses? What are the pros and cons of choosing a certain map projection over another?

Furthermore, recall a time when working in GIS when you tenaciously stuck to a problem you were grappling with and finally figured it out.  That shouldn’t take long–you are not likely to forget those times, nor the skills that you gained by doing so, either.  If everything was easy, according to these authors, and confirmed by our own experiences in using GIS, we certainly wouldn’t remember it as well.  And by implication, we wouldn’t be building a foundation for new knowledge, as I will expand below.

Second, the authors claim that “all new learning requires a foundation of prior knowledge.”  How often do we as educators, or we as students, want to skip right to an advanced task without understanding the knowledge and skills that need to be in place first?  For example, when teaching a recent workshop on mapping field data, many of the workshop participants wanted to skip to the last item on the agenda–citizen science mapping with live web mapping services–before understanding how data can be mapped and what a mapping service is in the first place.

Third, “putting new knowledge into a larger context helps learning.”  One of the purposes of this blog, the EdCommunity resources, webinars, the T3G institute, ConnectEd, and other initiatives is to ground the use of GIS in the larger context of educational best practice, within specific disciplines’ content, within the context of other geospatial skills.  Even the tried-and-true lesson of using GIS to teach about plate tectonics should take place in a larger context of the physical processes of the Earth and the relationship between earthquakes, volcanoes, and plate boundaries.

There are other instructive gems for teaching and learning with GIS, such as “learning is an acquired skill, and the most effective strategies are often counterintuitive”, but I’ve run out of space in this essay.  I leave it to you to read this book, reflections by my colleague Charlie Fitzpatrick, and an article in Education Week about “grit”, and to share your comments here.

Make It Stick - Book

Make It Stick – Book.

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Extended to Sept 30! Call for Chapters: STEM and GIS in Higher Education

[Update: The chapter proposal deadline has been extended to September 30, 2014.]

This ebook will provide compelling stories of innovative ways faculty are incorporating GIS to advance STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) related activities in higher education. As a successor to the existing publication Advancing STEM Education with GIS, the eBook will explore how faculty, staff and students are successfully using GIS to analyze and better understand data in their specific STEM fields.  The target audience for this book is university STEM faculty who may know little about GIS or spatial analysis.  The objectives are to provide thought provoking stories, describe innovative approaches to the collection, analysis and display of spatial data, and identify the unique benefits of applying GIS methods.  Ideally, the book will become a major resource in the development of spatially oriented teaching or research models within STEM disciplines.

The eBook will demonstrate the value of using a spatial perspective to organize and analyze data from many disciplines. An emphasis will be placed on STEM-GIS methods and tools that investigate real world problems.  Examples may include:

  • a biology faculty member, who uses GIS to document speciation of particular salamander around a valley, or
  • a civil engineering professor who uses ArcGIS to extend her CAD models of bridges with students, or
  •  the statistics professor who integrates R-based programming with ArcGIS to extend geospatial correlations within a mathematical model of migratory paths.

Chapter proposals due to editor Dr. David Cowen: September 30, 2014

(Editor’s note: This blog was originally published July 23, 2014. It was republished on September 4, 2014 for the extended chapter proposal deadline.)

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