Monthly Archives: May 2016

Alexander Von Humboldt’s Biographer Andrea Wulf to Keynote Esri User Conference

Each year I look forward to the Esri User Conference, and the day of the plenary is always one of my favorite days there.  This year I have particular interest in hearing our keynote speaker, Andrea Wulf, because I just finished reading her magnificent biography of Alexander Von Humboldt, entitled The Invention of Nature:  Alexander Von Humboldt’s New World.  A historian and master storyteller, Wulf is the author of five books and has written articles for many well-known publications. Her latest book about Von Humboldt was a New York Times bestseller and recently won the 2016 Los Angeles Times Book Prize in the science and technology category. It is listed as one of the “10 Best Books of 2015” by the New York Times.

Nowadays, we take for granted discussions and investigations into human impact on the environment, climate change, and the interconnections between Earth systems such as the atmosphere, hydrosphere, and lithosphere.  We make maps of the variation of vegetation by elevation.  We weave together the sense of place and the description of flora, fauna, weather, landforms, and people.  But it wasn’t always this way:  Von Humboldt (1769-1859) was a pioneer in all of these areas, and more:  He was really the first to integrate the arts into STEM education, which sounds strikingly 21st Century!

One of the things I like about Wulf’s book is that she takes the time to investigate those who Von Humboldt influenced, such as Thoreau, Emerson, Bolivar, Darwin, and Muir, just to name a few.  Von Humboldt frequently met with the poet, writer, and statesman Goethe.  I would have loved to sit in that room or tag along on one of their many walks together, as they discussed art, science, and literature.

As a geographer, I knew about Von Humboldt before I read Wulf’s book, but I wasn’t aware until after I read the book that he really only made two epic treks in his lifetime:  To South America (with some time in Central and North America as well), and to Russia, all the way to China and Mongolia.  In fact, he walked all the way to China when he was 59 years old.  While he also traveled extensively throughout Europe, it is even more amazing that he accomplished what he did with these two trips:  It shows that he listened to others, read widely and gathered as much data as he could.  He was meticulous in his mapping, drawing, and research.  But my favorite thing about him is something we are always mentioning in our workshops with students–Be curious, and ask lots of questions.  

I won’t say any more – you need to read this book for yourself!  Then I encourage you to use Wulf’s book in your own instruction, discussing the above geographic themes that Von Humboldt pioneered and why they mattered in the 19th Century and why they matter now.  You could examine his traits in career focused discussions.  In addition, your students could create a story map about Von Humboldt, or those who he influenced, highlighting where they traveled, what they discovered, and what they thought about.

I look forward to seeing Ms. Wulf and all of you at the Esri User Conference and the Esri GIS Education conference as well.

The Invention of Nature, book by Andrea Wulf about Alexander Von Humboldt

The Invention of Nature, book by Andrea Wulf about Alexander Von Humboldt.

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New GeoInquiry collection: Grade 4 Interdisciplinary

The public field testing of the fourth geoinquiry collection, GeoInquiries for Grade 4 Interdisciplinary is now open.  This collection is targeted at upper elementary classrooms and includes 15 cross-curricular activities supporting integrated science, social studies, math, and language arts with ArcGIS Online.

The authoring team includes: Mellissa Thom, Michael Wagner, and Anita Palmer.  Maps were created by authors and Maps.com.

You can explore the collection here: http://edcommunity.esri.com/Resources/Collections/Grade4_geoinquiries

A short story map for easy review of the collection is available at: http://arcg.is/1TgiQkJ

If a teacher chooses to field test an activity, they need only submit their comments to the URL at the bottom of page two (on each geoinquiry). That URL is: http://esriurl.com/GeoInquiryFeedback

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Fun with GIS 198: Two ConnectED Years

Dateline Washington DC, The White House, May 27, 2014: President Obama welcomes Esri to the ConnectED Initiative, a partnership with private industry to help all US K12 students engage in digital learning. Of the four needs (devices, connectivity, educational resources, teacher support), Esri pledges educational resources and teacher support.

GeoInquiries: Sets of 15 lessons, each only 15 mins long, await educators in US history, human geography, earth science, environmental science, or elementary school. These are “choose and use” — no login required, no download, no install, just click and begin working through an activity with a custom-designed ArcGIS Online map. Designed for educators new to GIS, these address standard content with gentle nudges toward exploration, inquiry, and deeper investigation. The bank gets tens of thousands of views each month, as more educators find new ways to teach with online maps, and students experience new ways to understand their world.

ArcGIS Online Organization accounts: Any US K12 school can request a free school-wide account for instruction. Over 3000 accounts now serve K12 across USA. (Amazon Web Services works with Esri to support these.) Organization accounts are ideal where teachers present custom content or, even better, want their students to do their own projects, from 5-minute creations to contest entries to weeks-long research. Guidance and resources about instruction, Org design, data and maps, careers, and coding await those anxious to help students build capacity.

Professional Development: Esri’s “Teachers Teaching Teachers GIS Institute” began in 2009, but ConnectED intensified the mission to share GIS with K12 educators. The 2016 institute will add another 100 to those sharing vision and skills (see Map#5), with presentations to local departments and peers across the land. Esri also supported a bank of educator workshops in 2015, and is supporting another series in 2016.

GeoMentors: Galvanized by the ConnectED commitment, the Association of American Geographers has joined Esri to help professional GIS users engage with educators as GeoMentors. AAG has promoted the idea through professional publications and events, registered mentors, sought stories, and shared guidance. With over 1000 GeoMentors on the map (see Map#4), many educators now have a key human resource to assist with unfamiliar concepts, give technology support, point to data, and present career pathways for students.

At the 2014 launch, focus was on the potential “billion dollar commitment.” With now thousands of ArcGIS Online accounts in place, and tens of thousands of resource views per month, and more educators jumping in every week, and thus many thousands of students working with GIS each day, it’s exciting to consider how many lives have been changed, and how much more impact can come from engaging the rest! Click any link above and jump on in!

Charlie Fitzpatrick, Esri Education Manager

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New Resources about GIS Careers

Many of us attended graduation ceremonies this month; some of us have our own students graduating.  Amid these joyful events, I wanted to share several new resources about careers in GIS that are now available that I believe will be useful to students, educators, career counselors, and others.

First, the folks at the career and employment resource, The Muse, created a fascinating node on Esri with interviews of young people working here!

I created several new videos on my YouTube channel under “Career” such as a new series of 4 “career pathways in geotechnologies” videos, beginning here.  I also created a “Top 5 skills you need to be successful in GIS” series beginning here, a Geographer is a Green job video, and others.

The career development zone on the Esri EdCommunity page includes Esri career posters, a summary of the blog essays we have written on careers, links to industries that use GIS, some GIS heroes, videos of those who use GIS on the job as firefighter, city manager, and in other fields, and much more.

I also tell students to frequently check the job openings on www.geosearch.comgisjobs.org, and our own Esri openings on http://www.esri.com/careers as they think about their future.

Esri also maintains an interesting  student opportunity page and a jobs zone on GeoNet is useful too.  Interested in talking with our staff about career opportunities?   See this page for upcoming events where our university recruitment team will be.  Feel free to contact the university recruitment folks on university @ esri.com.  Read this blog and the Esri Higher Education Facebook community to find out where the education outreach team will be speaking in the near future.

Processing and analyzing topographic data on the job.

Processing and analyzing topographic data on the job.

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Mapping Livability’s 100 Best Small Towns as a Story Map

What are the best small towns in the USA?  To investigate these towns and their spatial distribution, I created a Story Map of the Top 100 Best Small Towns in the USA according to Livability.com.  I created it in part to show how easy it is to create a story map based on a news feature, current event, or something interesting that has a location component.  I also wanted to demonstrate a different method of creating a story map than those I have described in the past.

After deciding that the map tour story map was the type I wanted, I downloaded the map tour CSV template, and then once I populated the template with the Livability 100 towns data, I imported the CSV using the map tour app:

Downloading and importing CSV file to build story map

Downloading and importing a CSV file to build a story map.


The CSV populated the Map Tour captions from my spreadsheet.  If you would like to see what the CSV looks like, click here.  After uploading the CSV, I did make some small aesthetic updates in the story map app, but my work was essentially done. My resulting story map looks like this, below – click on the map to see it live:

The 100 Best Small Towns according to Livability - Story Map

The 100 Best Small Towns according to Livability as a Story Map.

My underlying ArcGIS Online map in “My Content” looks like this, below.  Later, I can add layers to this map that will be reflected in the story map, such as median age, median income, or other variables.

The 100 Best Small Towns according to Livability - ArcGIS Online Map.

The 100 Best Small Towns according to Livability – ArcGIS Online Map.

Another reason I created this map is that it provides a number of teachable moments.  In creating the story map, I made sure I practiced what I am always preaching to students: Cite your sources, including your photographs.

Furthermore, in teaching with the web, we as educators frequently tell students to check the methodology used.  Unlike some other sites that “rank” things but the “ranking” may represent only the opinion of the person writing the article rather than any sort of rigorous or scientific method, Livability clearly explains how they developed their ranking.  They work with the Martin Prosperity Institute, examining more than 40 data points for more than 12,000 towns with populations between 1,000 and 20,000: “These scores were weighted based on an exclusive survey conducted for Livability by the leading global market research firm, Ipsos Public Affairs. These cities and towns allow for the tight-knit communities key to small-town living coupled with the amenities you’d expect in larger cities,” says Livability.  They used economic, health, housing, social and civic capital, education, amenities, demographics, and infrastructure as eight categories of “livability”.  They used a national survey so that it is in part based on what people most value in communities, and also added some thoughtful considerations of their own.  They followed four guiding principles:  Access, affordability, choice, and utilization, and used Esri’s lifestyle variables that allowed them to see which residents were making the most of opportunities in their cities.

Despite these well-documented and rigorous measures, you could use the map and the above discussion to ask the students questions such as:   “What variables are missing?  Several communities in western Washington and Oregon are on the map:  Are rainy winters a problem for you?  Or the cold winters that would be experienced in Bemidji, Houghton, or Bar Harbor? Or the occasional hurricane in St Augustine?  How important is being near to or far from a metropolitan area or a major airport to you?  Are there regions of the USA that are under-represented by the “100 best” towns, or over-represented?  What would your list of, say, 100, or 10 best, be?  Make a story map of your list! What would your list of 10 best in your own state be, and why?  What about a list of 10 best outside the USA?”

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Fun with GIS 197: Learning with Technology

Growing up in the country, my three older brothers introduced me to two mind-blowing tools: binoculars and a magnifying glass. From first grasp of each, the world was never the same. Distant birds were intricately detailed, and even the tiniest of ants were marvelously sculpted. Size and scale became essential concepts for comprehending the world, and tools facilitated this.

A steady progression of wood block puzzles, globes, solar system mobiles, paper maps, atlases, and other books helped me slowly assemble a framework of places and spaces, regions of crisp or hazy nature, features on the land and their characteristics. Again, a bank of tools facilitated this, right through college.

It was not until the arrival of digital tools midway into my teaching career that the means by which to explore any given topic or place exploded. But after just one titanic evolution of my digital tools over a two-year span, I realized that, while knowing the specifics of any one tool was important, the essential elements for my students would be (a) learning to recognize the inherent capacities of any given tool, (b) understanding that mixing and matching tools yields logarithmic options, and (c) since tools evolve faster than mastery, persistence and attending to task matter.

Tools help us accomplish tasks, great and small. The sooner we work with tools that provide a different but fathomable view of our world, the more we can cope with its galactic and fractal complexity. Parents and teachers ask me “What tools do my kids need? When should they start?” I reply “They need tools which help them grasp their world, one tool after another, as soon as they start asking questions.” And they need to build over time those three concepts above — design, compounding, and evolution.

ArcGIS Online can be as simple as an aerial image of the school yard viewed on a smartphone held by a first grader … and there is no upper limit. With the challenges facing us individually, as a community, and as a planet, we need students to build their grasp of the world, learn to identify and analyze problems, and generate and present ideas. Anyone can start with one click at ArcGIS.com, and any US K12 school can have a powerful and flexible school account for free at esri.com/connected.

Charlie Fitzpatrick, Esri Education Manager

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GIS in Archaeology Woven Throughout New Book

As we have frequently noted in this blog, GIS is rapidly becoming a key tool for research and instruction in an increasing variety of disciplines.  These include business, mathematics, health, and sociology, just to name just a few.  Equally encouraging is that in disciplines where GIS has long been used, such as geography, environmental science, urban planning, and wildlife biology, GIS is now being used in deeper and more meaningful ways.  One of these disciplines–archaeology–is featured in a new book from Texas A&M University Press entitled The Archaeology of Engagement:  Conflict and Revolution in the United States, edited by Dr. Dana L. Pertermann who teaches at Western Wyoming College, and Dr. Holly Kathryn Norton,  who is the State Archaeologist for Colorado.   Conflicts in the book include the 1836 San Jacinto battle in Texas, Robert E. Lee’s mid-1850s campaign along the Concho River, the battles of the River Raisin during the War of 1812, and others.

The book focuses somewhat on the physical artifacts that archaeologists uncover, but even more so on the human side–the people involved in conflicts and their social mores and understanding of power.  It is a significant step forward as I believe it represents a weaving of cultural geography and spatial thinking into archaeology.

Readers of this blog will find Chapter 7 particularly interesting:  This chapter, Georeferencing Maps and Aerial Photos for the San Jacinto Battlefield Analysis, by Peter E. Price and Douglas G. Mangum, goes into great detail, but in understandable language, about how to bring geospatial data and analysis to archaeological studies.  While the chapter is focused on how to bring historical aerial photographs and maps for the San Jacinto battle near Houston Texas, the methodology they describe will be helpful for others preparing data sets for their own instruction and research.  Educators can use this and other San Jacinto chapters in conjunction with the story maps gallery of historical maps, which include Civil War and other historical battles.

The Archaeology of Engagement book.

The Archaeology of Engagement book.

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