Monthly Archives: October 2015

Investigating Land Use Change using Historical USGS Maps and Satellite Imagery in ArcGIS Online

An article I wrote in NASA’s Geographia invites exploration of land use change using USGS historical topographic maps and historical and current Landsat satellite imagery, beginning in Lake Havasu, Arizona.  Humans have modified the landscape of Planet Earth in many ways. This modification is nothing new—it began as the earliest humans began burning of local grasslands to encourage new growth, tilling the soil for the first agricultural experiments, and building small dams to ensure a water source. Yet today’s changes are more frequent and also larger in area, from the construction of cities, reservoirs, and tunnels, to widespread land use change through the conversion of the natural land cover to cropland, grazing pastures, mining sites, and other uses.

One of the ways that humans have modified the landscape is in their attempt to make parts of deserts more habitable. Some of the most famous examples include the transformation of coastal fishing villages in the United Arab Emirates into major world cities, and the creation of resort areas around the world in Australia’s outback, Namibia, Morocco, and in the USA, including the cities of Las Vegas, Palm Springs, and Lake Havasu City, shown on the series of topographic maps below.

Use the Esri USGS Historical Map viewer, the Change Matters Landsat viewer, and the Landsat Look viewer to examine land use change in your own area of interest!

1911 map

1911 USGS map at 1:125,000 scale of Parker.

Lake Havasu 1970 map

1970 map at 1:24,000 scale, Lake Havasu City South.

Lake Havasu map 1994

1994 map at 1:24,000 scale, Lake Havasu City South.

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Connections Between GIS Education and The Partnership for 21st Century Skills Exemplars

The Partnership for 21st Century Learning, P21, has teamed with the Pearson Foundation to capture and share exemplary 21st century learning practices that are improving schools, student learning and opportunities in classrooms and communities across the United States.

In addition to identifying, documenting, sharing and celebrating the 21st century practices of exemplar schools, they report on the broader common features– the Patterns of Innovation– that emerge across exemplar schools and appear to be at the heart of their effective transformation into 21st Century Learning Environments.

The 5 essential ingredients that P21 has thus far identified as contributing to exemplar schools’ success are:

  • Student Voice
  • Engaged Community
  • Distributed Leadership
  • Climate of Achievement
  • Evidence & Research

Besides being able to search the exemplar schools, one can search by state, educational level, and topic (such as professional development or technology).

I could not help but notice that many characteristics of these exemplar schools are evident in schools where GIS is being used by educators and students, and where GIS is supported by the school and district administration.  For example, take a look at some of these videos of students who use GIS in their educational journey from primary school to university level:  The “student voice” mentioned by P21 is evident in each story told.  Explore why and how students are using GIS in education, and dig into some of the case studies of real students, faculty, and administrators doing real work with GIS.  These represent the “engaged community” identified by P21.

As my colleagues and I have written in this blog and elsewhere for many years, it’s not just the technology that has merit–it is the critical thinking, community connections, career pathways, media fluency, holistic thinking, and problem-based learning that is fostered when students engage in geotechnologies.  In short, GIS fosters the P21 tenet of the “climate of achievement.”  In the past, my colleagues and I wrote the Geography Skills map for P21, which draws further connections between P21 goals and GIS. Finally, touching on the P21′s identification of  ”evidence and research”, see the GIS education bibliography for studies measuring student achievement, educator professional development, and more.

Using Geographic Information Systems in Education

Using Geographic Information Systems in Education.

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Fun with GIS 184: Mentors Make a Difference

Mentoring gets good press, and for good reason: It works. Geomentors work with teachers or students, depending on the situation. They conduct quick presentations on up to full-day and even multi-day trainings, or provide custom 1:1 support. And it really helps.

Recently, I was at the annual conference for Minnesota’s professional GIS meeting, where a workshop was scheduled at the front end, mid-week. A two-track educator day (“intro” and “beyond intro”, led by both teachers and mentors) drew 50 educators from up to a 4-hour drive away; about 300 GIS professionals went through their own tracks. At lunch, the educators sat in a clump sharing experiences. Addressing the full group, I asked the educators to stand, then asked the GIS pros how many would be willing to help a school in their area. More than 50 hands shot up. At the end-of-day mixer, new relationships formed, and the entire day cemented a mission for the professional community.

Later in the week, I listened to educators who had led summer GIS workshops. One had brought in GIS pros as part of the event, taking time then to formalize relationships, which yielded extra support for the educators afterward. This matches what I’ve heard elsewhere: mentors and educators alike have benefitted from the experience.

Online GIS is becoming commonplace, and demographic and economic patterns mean huge opportunity for students with GIS knowledge and skills. Educators grappling with the bucking broncos of educational mandates, technological shifts, fiscal constraints, and societal expectations need a hand. Any US K12 school can have free access to powerful software and instructional materials for GIS, via Esri’s commitment to President Obama’s ConnectED Initiative. Expanded resources help educators begin. But geomentors make a difference between teachers who “would like to do some GIS someday” and those who “are helping kids and community already, which will pay off for years to come.”

Charlie Fitzpatrick, Esri Education Manager

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Desperately Learning

Something that Esri founder and president Jack Dangermond said this summer at one of the Young Professionals Network panel sessions at the Esri User Conference this past summer has stuck with me ever since: Jack said that he is “desperately learning.”

It was the first time I had heard this adverb applied to learning and I liked it immediately. I think it typifies the attitude of those involved with GIS in education, and one that we need to cultivate in our students.  I believe it has several key implications, as I describe below and in this video.

The adverb implies that learning is lifelong. GIS technology is rapidly changing, with citizen science tools, users as data publishers, mobile applications, open data, 3D tools, and the evolution of GIS to the web to name a few. The application areas for GIS are rapidly expanding, as is the audience for communicating the results of GIS analysis and the means available for communicating one’s GIS story.

But more than that, “desperately learning” implies that learning takes effort. Learning takes hard work; it takes initiative; it requires challenging oneself to try new methods and tools. It requires listening and continually asking questions.

Finally, “desperately learning” implies that learning is imperative. It is not an option. Given the complex and vexing challenges our world is facing, we cannot be complacent in our work in education and GIS. Indeed, the world needs the contribution of all of us involved with grappling with issues of water, energy, human health, crime, land use, urban planning, natural hazards, and other issues that GIS can be of great utility in understanding, modeling, and solving.  As my colleague Charlie Fitzpatrick wrote recently, we need to be learning quickly–there’s no time to lose.

Are you “desperately learning?” How are you fostering this attitude in your students?

Are you "Desperately Learning"?

Are you “Desperately Learning”?  There’s no time to lose–the world needs your contribution.

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Fun with GIS 183: Earth Science Week 2015

South Carolina recently suffered a lesson in earth science. El Nino watchers prep for another, and friends of Nepal weep over yet another. Earth science affects us all, like it or not, admit it or not. This year even more than usual, Earth Science Week is an important opportunity for educators.

The 2015 Earth Science Week theme is “Visualizing Earth Systems.” Esri’s Earth Science GeoInquiries help educators show and explore critical content in earth science, with just a computer and internet connection. No downloading, installing, or logging in needed. Whether in a one-computer classroom with projector, or a fully stocked lab, or 1:1 tablet situation, teachers and students can explore key content and discover the power of GIS for visualizing patterns and relationships.

Check out all the Earth Science GeoInquiries, built as part of Esri’s commitment to the ConnectED Initiative. Visualize these earth systems, so students grasp how these powerful forces influence us … and how we influence them.

Charlie Fitzpatrick, Esri Education Manager

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Why GIS in Education Matters: 3 Videos

Recently I posted a document that I have been curating for quite a few years now, one explaining why GIS in education matters.  This content is also posted with graphics on the Esri Insider newsletter.  To provide another way of communicating this information, I have created a series of videos on this same theme, in three parts–Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.

The reasons why GIS in education matters include critical thinking, career pathways, spatial thinking, understanding how to work with data and the limitations of data, building media fluency, focusing on the whys of where, asking good questions, solving problems, sustainability and green technology, and understanding changes over space and time.

I am interested in your reactions to these videos:  What is missing from this message? What is useful about these videos?  In what settings could you use them in your own work with fellow faculty, with faculty from other disciplines, with administrators, with parents, and with students?  What do you include in your own messages about the reasons for GIS in education?

Why GIS in Education:  Series of Videos

Why GIS in Education: Series of videos.

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7-Day Short Course: Exploring Spatial Thinking with GIS

Want to quickly ramp up to speed with applying spatial thinking with Geographic Information Systems (GIS) to education?  Join me in the Online Learning Consortium for an asynchronous 7-day short course through the Online Learning Consortium beginning 2 October 2015.  Read more about the course here.  The course has two main objectives:

  • Explore spatial thinking in a wide variety of disciplines and apply it to your own discipline.
  • Use GIS tools to capture, analyze, and present data from your discipline.

The workshop is entirely online and requires approximately 6 hours of work, including reading research-based articles, viewing presentations, engaging in discussion forums, and working through hands-on, engaging activities.  The activities will be based on ArcGIS Online and includes investigations in earthquakes, population change, business locations, weather, and citizen science.  Faculty interested in spatial thinking, instructional designers, and others who have a location component to their teaching or research should consider attending.  Or, tell a colleague that you have been encouraging to explore GIS about the course.

If you are reading this after the course has begun, if there is sufficient interest, we can offer the course again.  Contact Joseph Kerski – jkerski @  for more information.

Exploring Spatial Thinking with GIS 7 Day Short Course

Exploring Spatial Thinking with GIS – 7 Day Short Course.

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Educating about GIS for the General Public: 20 Ideas and Strategies

We write frequently in this blog about educating students and professional development for educators.  But, could the general public also benefit from GIS education?  I contend that not only can the general public benefit, but it is part of our responsibility as GIS professionals to seek out opportunities to do so.  And, when we find an opportunity, what are some tried-and-tested strategies for educating the general public about GIS?   In this essay I present 20 ideas that I have used in many different venues for general-public GIS outreach, and I would like to hear about your ideas and strategies as well.

1.  Sometimes, a one page information sheet about “Why GIS in education (and society) matters” is what is needed.  Here is my document on this theme.

2.   You may have the opportunity to teach a workshop or a short course for the general public.  I recently taught a course for the general public and titled it, “Why Maps Still Matter”, at the University of Denver.

3.  Need an example of an elevator speech?  I have a series of them, filmed in actual elevators, here.

4.   I created a series of “Why geography matters” videos in this playlist.

5.  Events such as the one I describe here at a local history museum are sometimes effective ways.   Note that “G-Harmony” was the message here!

6.  Geocaching provides a good way of outreaching to the general public.  I have created a set of geocaching courses that I have set up and run at events, parks, and other locations.  I favor “virtual geocaching” where the course still takes place outdoors, but rather than planting plastic or other containers, I use objects already on the landscape, such as light poles, trees, and so on.  Some of these geocaching courses are listed here; all contain a story “theme” to spark interest, such as “aliens land at city park!”

7.  Messaging.  For some events, consider not leading with the term “GIS” or “spatial analysis” might puzzle or alienate some.  Consider “Mapping” or “Spatial Thinking” or “Geo-enabling your …” or Telling Your Story through Maps.  I realize that “mapping” is not the end goal – it is admittedly an oversimplification, but it in one word at least gets to some of our message that is at least understandable to someone browsing an event program.

8.  Spreadsheets to Maps.  If you only have a short time, show (1) a table / spreadsheet; demonstrating attempting to understand it as is, but then show (2) a map of that same spreadsheets’ data.  The spreadsheet could be earthquake epicenters, location of hydroelectric dams, countries with high birth rates, or another topic that would resonate with your audience.

9.  Create story Maps to help people understand what GIS is – such as the Titanic with spatial distribution and graphs showing quantitative data.  Create story maps for campuses, events, or convention centers where you will be presenting.  The message is, if you create a story map in the day or hour before the event, so can your audience!  They are easy to create and yet powerful.

10. Incorporate Spatial Analysis.  Show, in ArcGIS Online, simple but powerful examples of spatial analysis, including the use of the Esri spatial analysis poster:  My live examples in ArcGIS Online usually include mapping earthquakes or some other natural hazard, some current event, John Snow’s cholera points, wells, and city streets, or mapping a specific business in a metro area, and creating a hot spot analysis, route, spatial interpolation, or heat map from it.

11.  Show current, real world events using multimedia and ArcGIS Online, making a Geo-News out of it and encouraging your audience to do the same.

12.  Use Simple but effective web maps to demonstrate and discuss:  600 world cities, plate tectonics with earthquakes, tornadoes, watersheds (drop pin and trace downstream), Starbucks locations, compare locations of two different types of businesses in your community; population change, median age, diversity, and tapestry segmentation. All of these activities are searchable in this blog.

13.  Show web mapping applications, including:  Landsat Change Viewer, and the Urban Observatory and invite conversation on the patterns and issues that you are showing.

14.  Core Messages:  Use Dr Charles Gritzner’s “What’s Where, Why There, and Why Care?” document as a memorable “core message.”  Also consider using my own Working Definition of Spatial Thinking.

15.  Presentations versus Live Demos and Stories.  Limit the number of slides you show; it is much better usually to give live demos of GIS in action and tell stories about what you do with GIS, how you entered the field, and what interested you growing up and in school.   Ask questions during your presentation and foster inquiry!

16.  Paper map and satellite image or aerial photo activity:  Create a map from an aerial photograph activity, discuss map elements such as TODALSIGS.  Print aerial or satellite image, put in plastic sleeve, use markers to make thematic map on top of aerial.

17.  Landforms and land use quiz using satellite imagery:  Land use:  schools, hospitals, churches, shopping centers, golf courses, malls, apartments vs houses, railroads vs light rail, streets vs freeways, etc.  Landforms:  Karst, lava, grasslands, sand dunes, barrier islands, glacial terrain, ice fields, mesas and buttes, oxbow lakes, alluvial fans, deltas, wetlands, sinkholes.   Weird Earth QuizOdd natural and human-built things on the landscape using satellite imagery.  Provide multiple choice questions.    Along these lines:  Other Quizzes:  Use Street View images to determine what city or country the image was taken; provide multiple choice questions.

18.  Think outside the Box:  Tap into community events and make a geo-something out of them.  I did this at History Colorado Museum’s “date night” and created an interactive Colorado geography quiz on the large terrazzo map on the floor, dubbing it “G-Harmony.

19.  Don’t be afraid to use some paper maps and aerials/satellite imagery, and thematic maps to foster inquiry and a roll-up-your sleeves conversation around a table.  Obtain USGS and other large thematic sheets from, ODT Maps, or other map dealers.

20.  Involve the audience in a crowdsourced map that you set up yourself, in answering a quiz, or something else map-related with their cell phones.

Additional Resources include this GIS education blog, GIS Day, and this set of 2,700 videos.

What are your ideas to reach out to the general public?

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