Simple but Powerful Mathematics with ArcGIS Online

ArcGIS Online can be used for simple but powerful STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics) activities from primary school to university level.  These activities can involve measurement and fieldwork to foster understanding about geometric shapes, types of units, and numeric precision.  As a secondary school example, you could ask students to open this map in ArcGIS Online.  Use Bookmarks to zoom to one of the runways at the Abu Dhabi International Airport.  Select Basemaps and change the basemap to Imagery.  Find the longest runway at the airport—the one with the pushpin at one end. This runway is marked with the number “13” at one end and a “31” at the other end.

Measure from the white markings at the bottom of these numbers on each end of the runway, where the pavement begins.  What is the distance in kilometers of this longest runway from end to end? What is the distance in meters of this longest runway from end to end (and show your work!).

Next, find your school building in ArcGIS Online by using the search tool for your city and zoom to your school. Use the measurement tool to measure the perimeter of your main school building in meters.  Describe the shape of your school building using the concepts you have learned in mathematics class.  Zoom in to the most detailed scale possible so that you can see individual structures.  Next, at your school, get outside!  Measure the perimeter of your school building with a tape measure, GPS, phone, or another device. What is its perimeter as you measured it (in meters)?  What is the difference between the perimeter that you measured from the satellite image to the one you measured by hand? Why are the two numbers not exactly the same?

Use Bookmarks, access “Abu Dhabi area”, and change the basemap back to topographic. Zoom to the following shape in Abu Dhabi (shown below). What shape is it?  Measure each side, in kilometers, with the measure tool. How long is each side? Is the shape a perfect square?

Given the length of each side, predict how much area the shape would have if it were a perfect square.  Be sure to specify the square units that you are using.  Next, test your hypothesis by using the Measure Area tool in ArcGIS Online and measure the total area of the shape, clicking on each corner to draw the shape for your area calculation. The shape is a type of polygon.   What is the total area of the shape? Does the total area match the value that you predicted above?  What is the perimeter of the shape?

How have you used ArcGIS Online in your own mathematics instruction?  Do these notes spark additional ideas?
Using ArcGIS Online to measure geometric shapes in a mathematics lesson.

Using ArcGIS Online to measure geometric shapes in a mathematics lesson.

Joseph Kerski

About Joseph Kerski

Joseph Kerski is a geographer who believes that spatial analysis through digital mapping can transform education and society through better decision-making using the geographic perspective. He serves on the Esri education team and is active in GIS communication and outreach, creates GIS-based curriculum, conducts research in the effectiveness of GIS in education, teaches online and face-to-face courses on spatial thinking and analysis, and fosters partnerships to support GIS in formal and informal education at all levels, internationally. He is the co-author of Spatial Mathematics, The Essentials of the Environment, The GIS Guide to Public Domain Data, and other books. Follow him on Twitter @josephkerski
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