Monthly Archives: May 2015

A Sale of Two Cities

“The grass is always greener on the other side.  But how much more ‘green’ does it take to live in San Francisco versus West Palm Beach?  Use this map to compare the cost of living in your dream city.”

So reads the description to one of the maps currently in the Esri “coolmaps” gallery, specifically, this map.  As shown in the example below, I used the map to compare San Francisco California to Las Vegas Nevada.  San Francisco is more expensive in housing, utilities, groceries, and health, while Las Vegas was more expensive only in transportation.  The mean cost of living among the 5 measures was 67% higher for San Francisco.  This makes sense, given the high cost of housing alone that San Francisco has long experienced.  San Francisco’s rapid transit and bus system, combined perhaps with more people living in closer proximity to their workplaces, made the transportation costs lower than in Las Vegas.

The stated goal of the coolmaps gallery is to stimulate ideas, these maps are perfect for teaching and learning.  Furthermore, the maps nudge people to think spatially and feature a wide variety of different topics at a variety of scales.  Frankly, they are cool, and because of that, are great conversation starters in class.  While it is stated that the data should be used for demonstration purposes only, students using them are using real-world data and grappling with real-world issues.  Students could hypothesize about which of two cities would be more expensive, based on research they have done, personal experiences, or based on the size and location of the cities.  Then, they could use the “Sale of Two Cities” map to prove or disprove their hypothesis.  How does your city compare?

The coolmaps gallery is updated as new cool maps are featured, so check back often!

Comparing the cost of living between 2 cities using Esri live web mapping tool.

Comparing the cost of living between 2 cities using Esri live web mapping tool.

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Lakota Wicowoyake Canku owapi: Lakota Language Story Map

My colleague James Rattling Leaf and I created a story map on the Lakota language.   Our reasons for doing so are several.  We have long been interested in and collaborated on projects involving education, maps, and GIS, and wanted to illustrate how the story maps platform can be used to learn and teach about Native Languages, beginning with Lakota. When you access the story map, and step through its contents, you will be able to hear audio of a dozen words that are in both Lakota and English, a photograph of each spoken feature, and what that feature looks like on a satellite image map.  By coupling visual cues with audio, we hope to inspire others living on the Lakota lands, those working with language projects such as Recovering Voices, at the WoLakota Project, at the Language Conservancy, and others, to take these ideas and do even more with the story maps platform.  For example, you could embed these story maps in web pages; you could add video to the maps (as we illustrated with the word “lake”), you could create different types of story maps, and much more.  For learning about language, place, biology, history, geography, and many other themes, integrating audio and video with maps is becoming a powerful and yet easy-to-understand medium.

Second, we are interested in the issue for reasons deeper than our affinity for languages, geography, and GIS.  As noted on, “Native languages in the United States are in the throes of a prolonged and deadly crisis. For the past 400 years, Native Peoples and their languages have been steadily and undeniably disappearing. Though the historical fate of Native Peoples has been reluctantly acknowledged, less is publicly known about the associated fate of their languages.”  And furthermore, “Lakota is dangerously close to extinction. Recent linguistic surveys and anecdotal evidence reveal that Lakota speakers of all abilities, on and around the reservations of North Dakota and South Dakota, amounted to fewer than 6,000 persons, representing just 14% of the total Lakota population. Today, the average Lakota speaker is near 65 years old.”

Furthermore, geography, place, location, and culture are reflected in the Lakota and other Native languages, making story maps an excellent tool for teaching and learning.  For example, according to, “Nature is used as the primary source for the metaphor models,” and “Lakota is also very good at emphasizing the finer attributes of travel. A person can be considered to be coming or going to or from specific places in many levels detail. Lakota greetings themselves reflect this tendency, where in English “welcome” is literally Lakota – “Good that you came,” And “goodbye,” is “Travel well.” The language also closely linked the land to the people through geographical names and stories.  [] A word like woímnayankel, expresses notions of awe, humility, and interconnectedness. A Lakota speaker might use this when describing the experience of the northern lights (aurora borealis). The word expresses the humility that a person feels when confronted by the awesomeness of nature while also feeling intimately connected with it.”

How might you use story maps, and the ideas presented through this Lakota language story map, in your own work?

Lakota Wicowoyake Canku owapi:  Lakota Language Story Map

Lakota Wicowoyake Canku owapi: Lakota Language Story Map

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Fun with GIS 175: Styling Data

“Style my data?” That’s the verb; it connotes more than just basic classification and symbolization. The March release of ArcGIS Online gave great new options for styling data: heat maps, continuous colors, manual classification, transparency tweaks, and more.

Some of us struggled with the new choices. A popular tactic had been to ramp symbols of a feature set (e.g. stores by dollars, or counties by median age) and use a particularly striking symbol for the most extreme, making it even more prominent. Some had trouble finding that among all the new options. It’s still there and more powerful than ever, but a quick guide might help. And it’s usable even without logging in.

See this “Recent Earthquakes” map. It has a single layer drawn twice, symbolized once by depth, once by magnitude. This is a good practice map with enough features, and you can just refresh the map to do it all again. Turn off the “depth” layer and choose to change style for the magnitude layer, choosing “counts and amounts (size)”, and click options.

The default is a nicely ramped approach, with a modest histogram to guide your choices. It can look like this is your only option. But notice that you can scroll down to more options. (Larger screen size helps you see these more quickly; tablets, notebooks, and projectors can make this harder to notice.)

By scrolling down, I can now choose “Classify”, and control the characteristics of a finite symbol set. Set the number of classes and scheme. (I love manual breaks.)

NOW, you can click individual symbols and employ unlimited options, on whichever symbols are desired. The key was scrolling down to be able to classify first.

With all symbols tweakable, you can create just the look you want. After mastering the magnitude layer, try it on depth. Look carefully at what you can do with the “Symbols”, “Classes”, and “Legend” buttons in the upper right — they are clickable and yield more power.

Evolving software requires exploration with each new iteration. Read the “What’s new?” columns, and practice with a map you know well. Enjoy the expanding powers of ArcGIS Online!

Charlie Fitzpatrick, Esri Schools Program Manager

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The Choro-Quiz

Which answer below identifies the correct theme of this map?

Choro-quiz question 1:  Farms, small towns, or soybeans?

Choro-quiz question 1: Farms, small towns, or soybeans?

The answer:  Soybean acreage.  Too easy?  Well, then, see if you can identify the correct theme of his map:

Choropleth Map Quiz #2:  Mobile homes, divorced people, or never married people?

Choropleth Map Quiz #2: Mobile homes, divorced people, or never married people?

The answer?  Percent of housing units that are mobile homes.

For many of us, the word “quizzes” or “tests”, conjures up memories of stress or drudgery. For the educators reading these words, who deal with quizzes and tests on a daily basis, you know very well that creating quizzes that allow you to truly assess your students’ progress, that engage your students, and that provide a way for them to reflect upon their learning and at the same time, move forward with content and skills is no easy task.

But how would you feel if some of the quizzes were of the type that you just took above?   The above choropleth map quiz, or “choro-quiz”, which I provide in its entirety here with 6 questions, invites students to think spatially about patterns, relationships, and trends.  Ask them to defend their answer with data.  Investigate each incorrect answer as well the correct answers and the reasons for the patterns that are shown. In the first example above, you could investigate satellite imagery or land use, determining why “land in farms” and “small rural communities” extends to a greater area than does the “soybean belt” above.  In the second example above, students may have read about the higher divorce rate in Nevada, making that answer seem plausible, except when you investigate the area south of Hoover Dam and realize that you are looking at the mobile population along the Colorado River.

This type of quiz is easy to create in ArcGIS Desktop, which I used above, or ArcGIS Online. You could use static screen shots or in the case of ArcGIS Online, create a presentation, embed the quiz in a web page, or create a storymap for your quiz. Depending on the background or educational level of the students, you can change the scale from countries to states or provinces, and smaller units down to the neighborhood level, if you have the data.  You can also make the correct answer fairly obvious, or create one or more choices that seem plausible.  You can use different techniques as well, such as my Weird Earth or Name That Place ideas here and here.

Stuck?  Would you like to see an answer key?  I provide an answer key here for all 6 questions.

How might you be able to use this technique in your own instruction?

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Walking on Water? Revisiting Reflections on Resolution and Scale

A few years ago, I walked on the pier at Manitowoc, Wisconsin, and after mapping my route, reflected on issues of resolution of scale in this blog.  After recording my track on my smartphone in an application called RunKeeper, it appeared on the map as though I had been walking on the water!  This, of course, was because the basemap did not show the pier.  Recently, following the annual meeting of the Association of American Geographers, I had the opportunity to retrace my steps and revisit my study.  What has changed in the past 2 1/2 years?  Much.

As shown below, the basemap used by RunKeeper  has vastly improved in that short amount of time.  The pier is now on the map, and note the other difference between the new map and the one from 2012 below it–schools, trails, contour lines, and other features are now available.  A 3-D profile is available now as well.  Why?  The continued improvement of maps and geospatial data from local, regional, federal, and international government agencies plays a role.  We have a plethora of data sources to choose from, as is evident in Dr Karen Payne’s list of geospatial data and the development of Esri’s Living Atlas of the World.  The variety and resolution of base maps in ArcGIS Online continues to expand and improve at an rapid pace.  Equally significant, and some might argue more significant, is the role that crowdsourcing is having on the improvement of maps and services (such as traffic and weather feeds).  In fact, even in this example, note the “improve this map” text that appears in the lower right of the map, allowing everyday fitness app users the ability to submit changes that will be reviewed and added to RunKeeper’s basemap.

What does all of this mean for the educator and student using geospatial technologies? Maps are improving due to efforts by government agencies, nonprofit organizations, academia, private companies, and the ordinary citizen.  Yet, scale and resolution still matter.  Critically thinking about data and where it comes from still matters.  Fieldwork with ordinary apps can serve as an effective teaching technique.  It is indeed an exciting time to be in the field of geotechnologies.

Walking on Water?  Reflections on Resolution and Scale, Part 2

Walking on Water? Reflections on Resolution and Scale, Part 2. My walk on the north pier at Manitowoc, Wisconsin.

The map from 2012 is below.

Map from 2012 of my same route on the pier.

Map from 2012 of my same route on the pier.

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Exploring 600 of the World’s Largest Urban Areas

A new map in ArcGIS Online on the world’s largest urban areas invites exploration into the size and distribution of these important places.  This map shows the distribution of over 600 of the world’s largest urban areas, based on United Nations data.

Examine the map cartographically with your students.  How does the dark gray canvas basemap help make the blue city symbols stand out and the distribution become understandable?

Click on specific cities and compare their growth rates and total size.  Discuss some reasons for the wide variation.  The city attribute table lists population in 5 year increments from 1950 onward, projecting into the future to 2025.  How has the growth rate and size for each changed since 1950?  How will it change over the next few years, and …why?

Try filtering the layer to select only those cities above 10 million. How many cities meet the criterion?  What were the geographic advantages for these cities to be founded where they were, and what were the main reasons historically and geographically that fostered their growth?  How many cities are near coastlines, and why does proximity to coastlines matter?  How many urban areas are in what you would consider to be fragile ecosystems?

Open the table and sort on population.  How does the city in which you live or the city to which you are nearest compare to others in your region in terms of size and growth rate?

The urban areas layer can be added to any map constructed within ArcGIS Online. Taking advantage of the capability of using the map as a data layer means that you can add it to any map that you are working with, so that you can examine the relationship of these cities to, say, country birth rates and life expectancy, to land use, climate, natural hazard occurrence, or any other variables or themes.

How might you be able to use this map to foster inquiry in teaching and learning?

Map of world's largest urban areas.

Map of world’s largest urban areas.

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