Monthly Archives: August 2015

Fun with GIS 179: Learn Quickly, Please!

Dear students: Spaceship alert! It is not fair, but our survival depends on your ability to grasp complex situations that are influenced by multiple factors. You cannot possibly know everything, because conditions change, and each day brings new discoveries. We cannot let you wait until all relevant knowledge is in place.

The situations are numerous: population, food, clean water, political stability, personal liberty, group identity, economic development, environmental sustainability … and more. You must grasp complex ideas and how they relate to us: space and time, proximity and scale, cause and effect, systems and feedback, power and competition, values and tradeoffs, science and passion, creativity and inspiration, predictability and variation, permanence and mortality, privacy and sharing, law and justice.

We offer a tool to help: GIS. It lets you combine layers of data, explore here and there, see change over time, integrate different factors, analyze patterns, visualize relationships. If you can move a mouse, imagine what a bird sees, pick out a pattern, group similar things together and represent them, and ask a relevant question, you can learn and help us all.

We need you to start practicing, today, with easy tasks. It can be fun, too, seeing what you know about your neighborhood, and can learn about the larger community. Harder tasks will come soon, so we need you to practice. You can start at Esri’s K12 GIS Org, and your school can start at Esri’s ConnectED page. We depend on you. Learn quickly, please!

Charlie Fitzpatrick, Esri Education Manager

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Over 2,600 videos on GIS and related topics online

One of the resources that I frequently use in instruction, and make publicly available in the hopes that it will be useful to other teachers and learners of GIS, remote sensing, geography, STEM, field methods, environmental studies, and related fields is my video channel, Geographyuberalles, or “geography is all”.  I started the channel in 2008, and due to its current size, the best way to find something on it is to use the channel’s search tool to search on terms such as Esri Maps for Office, ArcGIS Online, rivers, transportation, deserts, smartphones, geocaching, weather, population, professional development, or something else.  I also have provided an index of some of the most popular titles under categories such as “why geography matters”, “oceans”, and many more.

Another way to find categories of videos there is to browse the channel’s playlists.  The channel’s playlists include a series on GPS-to-GIS, several courses I teach such as GIS and Public Domain Data, Creating Story Maps for education, Scale Matters, A Day in the Life of a Spatial Thinker, and A Deeper Dive into ArcGIS Online. There is even a series of geo-related song parodies that are truly awful, just for fun.  Some of these videos are mirrored on the Esri Education Team’s video channel.  Keep in mind that a much more comprehensive and professional set of videos exists on the Esri Video Channel.  The Esri video channel includes new developments in Esri’s technologies, the complete plenary presentations at each year’s Esri User Conference, and much more.

Give some of these videos a try and let me know what has worked for your instructional goals.  Also, if there are videos that you are particularly in need of that I might be able to create, I am happy to consider doing so.

Over 2,600 GIS, GPS, STEM, Geography, Place, videos now online

Over 2,600 GIS, GPS, STEM, Geography, Place, videos now online.  This series of GPS to GIS is one of the many series’ of videos available on the channel Geographyuberalles.

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Fun with GIS 178: Mentors Matter

Sarah and Lily Jenkins, two sisters from the quiet Hawaiian island of Molokai, “stole the show” on Monday of the 2015 Esri Conference. At least that was the sentiment of the few dozen people who stopped me during the rest of the conference. “And they’ve inspired me to work with my local school,” most added. Outstanding!

For over 20 years, Esri has encouraged GIS users to work with schools. In 2009, Esri and National Geographic launched a formal GeoMentor program, encouraging mentors to work with educators. (See Maps 3&4.) In 2015, the Association of American Geographers added new structure and energy, making it easier than ever for educators and mentors to find each other, and then document collaborations. And, since 2000, every student group to appear on Esri’s stage has had a mentor.

The best situation is when an insatiable educator and a passionate GIS user collaborate over repeated interactions. A single experience is nice but, like one bite of a meal, inadequate. Good relationships take time, trust, and interaction — honest sharing of goals, information, and chances for both to benefit. Some schools let outside mentors work with students as well as educators; others restrict things to adult interactions only, mentor to educator.

But mentors can — and sometimes must — work outside of school with known kids in the community. That’s what happened with Sarah and Lily. A local conservation mentor “adopted” them when only 8 and 6 years old; they worked on a string of local science-related projects for 9 years … first a little, then a little more, and so on. Several years ago, a STEM education mentor from another island saw their potential and began offering additional opportunities and guidance. Then, as they embarked on their most challenging project to date in fall of 2014, a GIS mentor gave just enough guidance to overcome difficulties. The “March of the Molokai Mangroves” is a powerful analysis of an invasive species with huge impact on a small and fragile island. Sarah and Lily showed brilliance, passion, grit, and grace under fire, presenting to more people than live on their island. Their project earned international acclaim and attention from federal agencies and international scientists … but not at school. Sometimes it works that way.

Mentors can have a huge impact in kids’ lives. It might come thru a teacher, or alongside one, or via a club or youth group, or just by working with a kid you know, independently. Does it matter? Just watch Sarah and Lily, and think about the kids you know. You can make a difference. Mentors matter.

Charlie Fitzpatrick, Esri Education Manager

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Why Maps Still Matter: Geotechnologies for a Smarter Planet: Course

I am teaching a course this coming semester at the University of Denver entitled “Why Maps Still Matter–Geotechnologies for a Smarter Planet“.  I would like to describe the course here with a larger purpose:  To start a discussion on the best approaches for teaching spatial analysis, mapping, and GIS for the “non-GIS community.”

Because my course is a part of the university’s enrichment program, which is designed for the “love of learning” for the general public, I deliberately focused the title on something that everyone is familiar with–maps.  I also wanted to make a point about the relevancy of mapping, and that spatial analysis can help people make smarter decisions.  A partial version of the course description follows; the full description is here.

Have you ever used your smartphone to locate the nearest coffee shop? Do you wear a fitness tracker? Have you played with Google Earth? What’s the common element among these helpful (and fun!) tools? Geotechnologies, such as GIS, GPS, Remote Sensing—all examples of the growing field of mapmaking. The impact of these technologies goes way beyond locating your favorite retailer; today’s maps can actually help to make the world safer, healthier and smarter. Join geographer and educator Joseph Kerski for a journey through some of the major issues of our 21st-century world to discover how maps are changing the ways we understand our planet. From natural disasters to global warming, from immigration patterns to transportation, from agriculture to epidemics, today’s maps not only provide location information, but also trends, projections and analyses. How exactly do today’s maps work? Each class features animations, videos and live web-based maps to illustrate advanced capabilities. Why are scale, resolution, data quality, projections, datums and other fundamentals of mapping still important? What impact are crowdsourcing, cloud-based computing and privacy having on mapping? How are maps being used to create a smarter planet? Map everything from real-time airplane locations to your last hike, explore some of the major challenges facing our 21st-century world, and discover why maps still matter. Recommended but not required: Internet access outside of the classroom; laptop or tablet for use in class. To get psyched about the course, watch the video:  Why get excited about web maps?

What is the benefit of teaching mapping, spatial analysis, and/or GIS for the general public?  I know that many of us are quite passionate about sharing what we do and why it all matters to others, but, what are your goals in doing so?  Is it worth the effort? How have you taught these concepts and skills for the general public, or faculty or students outside your own discipline?  What are the approaches that you and your students have found to be the most helpful?  What activities have you included?  I will include a wide variety of topics and themes, including population change, water, lifestyles and demographics, business locations, energy, current events, natural hazards, and health, to name a few.   I will include a variety of tools, including ArcGIS Online, the Change Matters viewer, WorldMapper’s cartograms, Esri Maps for Office, and the Urban Observatory.  What is the most suitable length for a course like this?  In the above case, I am teaching for a total of 7.5 hours, over three Thursday evenings.   This one is face-to-face, but since ArcGIS Online is the main tool I will be using, it could easily be taught online.

Teaching "Why Maps Matter" for the General Public

Teaching “Why Maps Matter” for the General Public.

I look forward to hearing about your experiences in this area of teaching to an audience outside of your own community.

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Fun with GIS 177: The ArcGIS Book

ArcGIS is Esri’s platform — an integrated set of mapping and analysis tools, which work together, on desktop, server, mobile, and cloud. The ArcGIS Book is a “platform book” — pretty enough to be a coffee table book, enough prose, diagrams, and big ideas to be a textbook, enough online instruction to be a workbook, and available in both hardcopy and digital form (web or 40mbPDF).

ArcGIS Book

Both digital versions are readable on smartphone (landscape or portrait), tablet, laptop, or monitor. The chapters bob and weave through banks of examples and lessons that allow users either to read about or jump in and work with various tools. The text is awash in links to scores of online maps and apps, each its own launchpad for exploration. And through it all are key ideas about maps, mapping, analysis, representation, data, tools, people, and solving problems with GIS.

I spent several hours hopping back and forth between Mac and Windows computers, Chromebook (11″), iPad (10″), Android tablet (7″), and iPhone (4″). I could jump into the text and explore most of the web links even on my smallest devices. Larger screens made it easier and more absorbing, of course, and certain tasks require specific technologies. (For instance, it can be a challenge to add an external file to a map in iOS, ArcGIS Explorer needs a Mac or a mobile device, Operations Dashboard needs Windows, and ArcGIS Pro needs a strong Windows machine.) But there are so many things to see and do with any connected device that a viewer can explore and study for days on end without needing to create a thing. Still, the book invites (and helps) you to create a free 60-day account in an ArcGIS Online Organization, and will step you through a number of lessons.

devices for ArcGIS Book

So how can educators use this? First, explore it. Learn from it. Show your colleagues, friends, and family, and say “This is STEM, art, careers, news, history, nature, people, life, problems, discovery, solutions, the world … and what we do with GIS in education.” Second, share it with your students. Encourage downloading the PDF or bookmarking the website. Challenge them to summarize a key idea, identify what makes a certain map cool, or find an important external map at least one step away from a direct link from the book (requiring both investigation and ability to repeat the route). Third, check out the ConnectED segment in Chapter 10 (p.147), and help a school get into using GIS!

But, whatever you do, do not set this book aside for “some day”! Explore the digital version of The ArcGIS Book, which makes it easy for anyone to engage!

Charlie Fitzpatrick
Esri Education Manager

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Use Field Notes App to Explore the World on your Smartphone

What’s it like on Planet Earth at the spot where you are located right now?  Use the new Field Notes – Earth to find out.  The app, available on iOS and Android, uses the power of three new global maps to help answer important questions about the current and future conditions on Planet Earth.

The three maps in the app include people (world population), life (ecological land units), and oceans (world seafloor geomorphology).  The app is an example of some of the rich content available from the Esri Living Atlas of the World and was built using Esri’s AppStudio for ArcGIS.

To use the app, either choose your current location, or any place on the planet that you are interested in, and start learning.  I used the app last week in Washington DC while I was there for the National Conference on Geography Education, which I thought was the perfect venue for using it.  In that location, the climate is predicted to be much warmer by 2050; it is 1,038 miles to the nearest volcano, but it is only 74 miles to a location that experienced a recent earthquake.  I can find out about the terrain, the nearest available farmland and fresh water, and much more.  The best part:  I can also add a second location to compare and contrast the two locations side-by-side.

Using the Field Notes Earth app

Using the Field Notes Earth app–some screens and information that you will discover.

For another reflection on this app, see the article from Time magazine.

In instruction, you could use this app to spark meaningful conversations about physical geography, cultural geography, environmental science, and much more, with themes including change over time and space, human-environment interactions, and others.   Use it but also get outside and observe using your five senses.  I daresay that this is the type of tool that you could also use in your “elevator pitch” when you are asked in your everyday experience, “What is GIS?” or “Why does geography matter”?

I look forward to your reactions and comments.

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Exploring Demographics and Lifestyles with the Esri Tapestry Data

What is your neighborhood really like?  In 1988, Michael Weiss, in his fascinating book The Clustering of America, introduced the idea that neighborhoods can be grouped in terms of lifestyles, consumer spending, demographics, and socioeconomic variables. Part of a larger field of study known as Cluster Analysis, the descriptive names given to neighborhoods included “Furs and Station Wagons”, “Towns and Gowns” (college towns), and “Laptops and Lattes.” From this sprang geodemographics—the analysis of people based on where and how they live.  Some have argued that geodemographics had its roots in Charles Booth’s survey into life and labor in London during the 1890s.  However, it wasn’t until the 1990s when geodemographics became very important to businesses seeking to make wise decisions about where to locate.

I first wrote about the lifestyle cluster data available from Esri back in 2009, and since that time, the ways that the data can be accessed has become easier than ever.  In addition, the data itself has become more accurate and more detailed.  Tapestry segmentation provides an accurate, detailed description of America’s neighborhoods. U.S. residential areas are divided into 67 distinctive segments based on their socioeconomic and demographic composition, and then further classified into 14 LifeMode and Urbanization Groups.

If you are new to analyzing this type of data, I recommend starting with the introduction, reviewing the cluster segments, and examining the poster (you can even order your own paper copy of the poster here).

Now you’re ready for examining the data in live web maps.  Start by looking up the tapestry segments for your own zip code here.  Next, open the story map for a tour of the USA’s 14 LifeMode groups here.  You can also examine the data in an ArcGIS Online map, where at small scales, a single dot is shown for each ZIP Code, based on the predominant tapestry code.  As you zoom in, the map transitions to show dot density patterns for each tapestry segment found in the ZIP Code.  That’s not all!  You can also examine the tapestry data as a map layer, so that if you wanted to combine it with other data in ArcGIS Online, such as median household income, median age, the diversity index, or the growth rate, you could do so.

You can also examine the data inside two powerful applications–Community Analyst and Business Analyst (and its web counterpart, Business Analyst Online).  One advantage of using the tapestry data inside these applications is that you have the ability to easily create a wealth of maps and reports as well as attribute and location data on millions of business locations.

Space does not permit me to fully expand on the rich discussions that you can have with students with using the tapestry data, but they include discussing the differences between aggregated data and individual data, and whether you feel that the tapestry segment(s) for your neighborhood, region, or state accurately describe it, or why not.  Discussions could also include how your neighborhood compares with those adjacent to it, or to those across town, or to the neighborhood in which you grew up.  How do you believe your neighborhood is changing, and why?  What influence do specific industries, or natural resources, or universities or retirement communities have on your neighborhood?

Looking for this type of data outside the USA?  Some does exist; contact your local distributor for more information.

Please share in the comments section below how you are using this data in your instruction.

Tapestry data for a neighborhood in Washington DC

Tapestry data for a neighborhood in Washington DC.

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