Earth Quiz: 20 Questions about Our Planet Using ArcGIS Online

Take a look at this image. Which waterfall is shown in this image? What clues exist on the landscape to help you choose among the three options listed?

Where is this glaciated terrain located?

Examining maps and imagery seems to be an engaging activity for many people, young and old, all around the world. Consider the number of maps and images delivered daily by web GIS servers. I contend that the number requested for people who simply enjoy looking at the Earth compares favorably to the number served for wayfinding and research purposes. This interest can be effectively taken advantage in education by engaging students in a series of images or maps as a quiz or a contest. At the Esri User Conference each year, the “Where in the World” sets of imagery on display always attract a crowd.

For nearly 20 years, I have frequently used map and image quizzes in classes I have taught and presentations I have conducted for geography, environmental studies, earth science, and other classes. These quizzes can be easily created and effectively used through the use of ArcGIS Online. Using ArcGIS Online’s presentation mode, for example, I created a 20-question Earth quiz. This quiz includes the images shown above as well as waterfalls, glaciers, deserts, rainforests, volcanoes, cities, and much more.

You can view the quiz in presentation mode.

More importantly, you can also run it inside ArcGIS Explorer Online so that you will be able to change the scale and basemaps, posing and answering questions, and fostering deeper inquiry into places and the processes at work behind those places.

For example, when you engage your students in discussing glaciation using the above slide, you can zoom in to examine south versus north facing slopes and the amount of snow cover on each. You can zoom out until someone recognizes the location. Then you can discuss the effect of latitude and altitude on glaciation. You can change the basemap to topographic to determine the height of the mountains and the depth of the valleys and determine slopes. You can add land cover, climate, and population map layers and discuss how each is affected by the presence of these glaciated mountains along the west coast of this country. Thus, these are by no means static “slides” and calling them slides is really a misnomer.

Even better, instructors can create their own quizzes focused on other processes, specific themes, specific regions, or their own community. Consider a quiz-based presentation focused on a community issue such as an area proposed for rezoning, or a process such as river meanders, erosion, and sedimentation.

Well, how did you score on the 20-question Earth Quiz? How might you use the idea of an Earth Quiz in your own instruction? How might you use ArcGIS Online in your own instruction?

- Joseph Kerski, Esri Education Manager

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Comparing the Spatial Distribution of Two Different Types of Businesses in a Metropolitan Area

Analyzing the location of businesses is a powerful way to foster spatial thinking and skills in GIS.  A new activity invites you to compare the distribution of two very different types of businesses—bail bonds and car washes, in the Oklahoma City metropolitan area.

Businesses are located in specific areas to reach specific customers locally, regionally, nationally, or internationally. They are located where they are because of physical or intangible local or regional benefits, such as a skilled labor force, the presence of or lack of competition, access to busy streets or regional transportation networks, or to take advantage of local suppliers or distributors. They are constrained in their location from local zoning laws and costs of doing business. Their locations may reveal specific patterns or exhibit no pattern at all.

This activity uses ArcGIS Online. A web browser is the only software required, with a broadband Internet connection. This lesson can be completed in 2 class periods, but additional investigations can cover multiple class periods. This lesson can be used with secondary or university level students with little or no GIS experience, but does rely upon spatial thinking and the geographic perspective.

To access the activity, visit ArcGIS Online. Search for “car wash owner:jjkerski”. Open the Oklahoma City bail bond and car wash map in the map viewer, or go directly to the map at this URL.

Compare the pattern of bail bonds and car washes and discuss the reasons these business locate where they do, and the patterns that exist. What influence does the location of the Oklahoma County detention center have on the location of the bail bond services?

Say you were establishing a new bail bonds service or car wash business. What are the three most important factors influencing your chosen location? Select the three best locations for your bail bonds and car wash businesses in Oklahoma City, and indicate the reasons why you have selected the locations you chose using the presentation mode in ArcGIS Online.

The data were gathered from an online directory, read into a comma-delimited database, and uploaded into ArcGIS Online. Using these techniques, map additional businesses in Oklahoma City, such as stores for flowers, home improvement, bicycles, boutique clothing, gas stations, and even schools or libraries. Compare and contrast the resulting patterns.

Compare the population of Oklahoma City to the population of three other cities and towns of your choosing. Conduct research into the types of businesses in those other towns. Determine how large a town has to be to support specific businesses, such as big box hardware stores, restaurant supply stores, or specific business names, such as Dairy Queen vs. Applebee’s, Ace vs. Home Depot, and the like. Why do certain businesses locate in certain sized communities? Compare bail bonds vs. car washes in different cities that have roughly the same number of people to the pattern and number you discovered in Oklahoma City. Compare the number and pattern of businesses in smaller cities and towns to that of Oklahoma City. Why do the differences exist?

Besides total population, the demographic makeup of the population is also important. These factors include household income, ethnicity, educational achievement, age, and other factors. Find and add some of these variables to your Oklahoma City map or map of another city you are investigating. What influence do these factors have on your investigated businesses? Why? Name a business, for example, where the median age of a city is important, and another business where age is not a factor. Do the same for other variables.

How has the spatial perspective and GIS helped you to understand the location of businesses?

- Joseph Kerski, Esri Education Manager

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Integrating Technology with Meaningful Learning

David Jonassen (1995) described seven qualities of meaningful learning with technology. They are: active, constructive, collaborative, intentional, conversational, contextualized, and reflective. These are valuable not only to keep in mind when teaching with GIS, but to be purposeful, asking before each class, “How can I be active in my teaching with GIS today?” “How can I be conversational?” and so on.

Those I know who teach with GIS are good examples of putting these qualities into practice. Their teaching is never just for the technology’s sake, even when it is with the goal of increasing the students’ GIS skills for career readiness. They teach in context and with a purpose, asking students to reflect on problem-solving, data, scale, critical thinking, and more. Jonassen and others make a strong case for the value of situated learning, or learning in context, which is exactly what teaching with GIS entails.

Jonassen’s three assumptions about technology are also instructive. These include the following:

  • Technology is more than hardware; it consists of the designs that engage learners.
  • Learning technology is any environment of a definable set of activities that engages learners in knowledge construction.
  • Knowledge construction is not supported by technologies used as conveyors of instruction that prescribe and control all learner interactions. Rather, technologies support knowledge construction better when they are need-driven or talk-driven, learner-initiated, and when interactions with the technologies are conceptually and intellectually engaging.

Technologies as toolkits enable learners to build more meaningful personal interpretations and representations of the world.

According to Jonassen, learners and technologies should be “intellectual partners”, an intriguing concept in which the cognitive responsibilities for performing are distributed by the part of the partnership that performs it best. Let’s say you are studying the relationship between elevation and rainfall on the windward and leeward sides of mountains. Calculating how much rainfall occurs at different elevations and on the western versus the eastern sides of the mountains through overlay would be something you would let the GIS software do. But your final assessment that incorporates multimedia and a presentation relies more heavily on your own input and reflection—not something that the software can do. This is one of my favorite things about teaching and learning with GIS. The software is the enabler and the GIS user provides the solution.

How are you incorporating elements of Jonassen’s seven qualities in your own GIS-based instruction?

- Joseph Kerski, Esri Education Manager

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Planning an Introduction to Spatial Thinking Course

A question that gets increasingly asked on listservs and forums these days is advice by those who are planning a course at their university that focuses on spatial thinking. These courses may be entitled “Introduction to Spatial Thinking” but there are numerous variations, depending on the goals of the university and hosting department. It is exciting to learn about these new courses and those who are planning them, because it shows that the message that we in the geospatial education community have been sharing for years is at last getting out beyond our own community. That message has consistently been that spatial thinking and spatial analysis are too valuable to be held by a single department, program, or school on campus, whether it is Geography, Natural Sciences, or anything else. Rather, spatial thinking and analysis, and the use of GIS technology and methods as an aid in teaching those concepts, are valuable to the student’s overall education, career skills, and to society. These concepts and skills therefore need to be embedded in all departments on campus as part of a rigorous and innovative 21st Century education. Such courses not only provide theoretical and practical background for GIS courses, but also for any discipline in which the “where” question is important—in business marketing, environmental design, wildlife biology, history, civil engineering, geology, epidemiology, geography, and beyond.

How should such a course be planned and built? Fortunately, some good models exist. For example, the course developed by the GeoTech Center provides a checklist vetted by numerous GIS education professionals on what might be included. Dr Bone at the University of Oregon is developing a freshman-level course entitled Our Digital Earth, which will provide hundreds of students annually with an appreciation of the ubiquity of geospatial data and technologies in their everyday lives, and how the geospatial revolution is shaping societies around the world. Dr Diana Stuart Sinton developed courses at the University of Redlands such as Foundations of Spatial Thinking. Other example courses can be found in the “case studies” section of the Esri EdCommunity and in the pages of Esri publications ArcWatch, Esri News for Education, and ArcNews. I will follow this post with my own thoughts about what might be included in such a course in future blog essays.

In the meantime, please share your thoughts: What would you include in a course on spatial thinking?

Joseph Kerski, Esri Education Manager

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Explore Locally with Your Senses, Curiosity, and the Spatial Perspective

Soccer fields and playgrounds provide some means of allowing youth to get outside. But, as Richard Louv so well stated in his book Last Child in the Woods, these adult-constructed environments are no substitutes for “wild places” – those places that are untouched or minimally touched by humans. “Wild places” could be a local ridge or hill, a stream or pond, or even a vacant lot.

For me growing up in western Colorado, I loved the riparian zones that were adjacent to local gullies, what the locals called “washes.” In this semiarid landscape, walking down into these riparian zones was like descending into another world. They were sometimes so much lower than the surrounding landscape that sharp cliffs in the shale enclosed them. A different and a greater abundance of vegetation added to their character—indeed, they were a mini-ecosystem, but to a child growing up, like a whole different world. They were filled with sage, willows, yucca, and tamarisk—some native species, some invasive, all fascinating and so different from the alfalfa, orchard fruit, and corn being grown in the fields above. Another adventure awaited every autumn after the irrigation canals were shut off and drained. All sorts of strange things that had been hidden all summer were now in view along the canal beds and underneath the bridges that spanned them. How our senses were awakened to every new sound, smell, and sight in these washes and dry canal beds.

Nowadays, we have a wide variety of electronic means at our disposal, from probes, GPS receivers, smartphones, to other devices, to record phenomena while in local wild places. The data can be easily mapped in ArcGIS Online. Yet I submit that before taking full advantage of learning with these means, three things must first be in place. The first is the ability to use one’s own senses and interpret the results of one’s own observations. The second is curiosity, and from curiosity comes asking questions. The third is the spatial perspective—seeing the world geographically.

These three things sometimes take years to cultivate, and one could argue that this cultivation is a lifelong endeavor. Yet I certainly don’t recommend that instructors wait until all students exhibit curiosity before embarking on a field-based experience. Being purposeful about using all five senses takes practice. In addition, most students will have no idea at first what it means to “think spatially.” And don’t be discouraged if despite your best laid plans, some students appear completely disengaged from your carefully designed field experiences. Go back to Richard Louv’s advice on outdoor education—start early, and do it often.

What are some of your methods of instilling curiosity about the world around us—beginning with your own local wild place?

- Joseph Kerski, Esri Education Manager

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New Book: The GIS Guide to Public Domain Data

Central to the interest of the GIS community is spatial data: Where to find it, how to use it, how to gauge its quality, its scale, format, and resolution, privacy issues, copyright and licensing, the policies that govern the use of data, the role of data in the evolution of spatial data infrastructures, fee vs. free issues, cloud vs. desktop, downloading vs. streaming, crowdsourcing and citizen science, and a host of related issues. I am pleased to report that a book that Jill Clark and I co-authored on this subject has been published by Esri Press, entitled The GIS Guide to Public Domain Data.

This book [website] is accompanied by a blog that we update weekly with data sources and news on the issues explored in the book. The book is also accompanied by 10 activities free to use that involve the access and use of public domain data to solve problems. These problems range from selecting the most suitable locations for tea cultivation in Kenya, investigating the Gulf Oil Spill, siting a café in a metropolitan area, assessing citizen science portals, creating an ecotourism map in New Zealand, analyzing sustainable land use in Brazil, analyzing floodplains in Colorado, and much more. These activities are linked to the concepts presented in each chapter, and are accompanied by quizzes and answer keys, designed for easy use by an instructor, students, or the individual GIS practitioner. All of these resources are linked to the Spatial Reserves site and reside on ArcGIS Online. Our goal for the text and the activities is to provide GIS practitioners and instructors with the essential skills to find, acquire, format, and analyze public domain spatial data.

“This book fills a very big gap in the literature of GIS and brings together for the first time discussions of issues users of public domain data are likely to confront,” says Michael F. Goodchild, professor of geography at the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB), and director of UCSB’s Center for Spatial Studies. “It will prove useful to GIS practitioners in any area of GIS application, including students anxious to learn the skills needed to become GIS practitioners and data producers who want their data to be as useful as possible.”

How might you use this book and its associated resources in your own GIS journey or instruction?

- Joseph Kerski, Esri Education Manager

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Advancing STEM Education with GIS ebook Released

Science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) education is a multidisciplinary approach to improving education, the work force, and national competitiveness. President Barack Obama noted that “Strengthening STEM education is vital to preparing our students to compete in the twenty-first century economy, and we need to recruit and train math and science teachers to support our nation’s students.” (White House Press Release, September 27, 2010).

Geographic information system (GIS) technology can engage several critical elements in STEM curriculum and instruction. GIS tools and techniques lead to understanding cross-disciplinary phenomena and solving problems rooted in academic and real world concepts. People use GIS to make maps, analyze data, and decide on best solutions. From a curricular perspective, GIS allows us to study climate change, design cities, inventory geologic samples, plan ecological growth models, catalog contents of an archaeological site, and countless other activities. GIS and related geospatial technologies of global positioning systems (GPS) and remote sensing can be used to simultaneously engage students in science, technology, engineering, and math.

To support the ever growing interest in GIS and STEM from teachers, researchers, and administrators, Esri has released a new (free) ebook addressing the multi-faceted supports GIS offers STEM classrooms. Dr. Tom Baker begins the ebook by addressing the core question, “How does GIS enhance STEM learning?” The ebook is filled with rich case studies of STEM in formal and informal environments. The power of STEM collaborations and partnerships and ties to career and workforce development is also a central theme of the volume. The ebook outlines three beneficial tracks for student learning in STEM by integrating GIS technology:

  • Improved declarative knowledge
  • Improved procedural knowledge (critical thinking, problem solving, spatial reasoning, etc)
  • Career skills development

The new ebook Advancing STEM Education with GIS is available now for download in PDF here
(right-click to “Save as”), perfect for mobile devices and tablets.

Contributors include:

  • Steve Obenhaus, Olathe North High School
  • Penny Carpenter, Byron Martin Advanced Technology Center, Lubbock Independent School District
  • Matthew North, Washington and Jefferson College
  • Kerry Lagueux, Heather Deschenes, and Maria Elena Derrien
  • Jim Baumann, Esri
  • Nicole Minni, University of Delaware
  • Susan Harp, Esri
  • Daniel C. Edelson, National Geographic Society
  • Karen Dvornich, University of Washington and Dan Hannafious, Hood Canal Salmon Enhancement Group
  • Hans Bodenhamer, Bigfork High School
  • Joseph Kerski, Esri
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Fostering Spatial Thinking Through Paper Maps and Aerials

Those of us on the Esri Education Team have dedicated our careers to promoting and supporting the use of GIS and spatial thinking in education to enhance teaching and learning and to have a positive impact on society. We believe that Esri GIS tools are some of the best means available to fostering spatial thinking and prepare students for 21st Century decision making. Yet we are frequently asked what non-software activities are effective in fostering spatial thinking. Thousands indoor and outdoor activities, games, and lessons serve as excellent resources to prepare students to use GIS and also are excellent where no access to the Internet or software exists. Indeed, one of my favorite stories from the recent International Perspectives on Teaching and Learning with GIS in Secondary Schools book I co-edited came from South Africa, where students studied issues in their community and country using paper maps. I really like what my colleague David DiBiase said to the United Nations in a recent address: “The digital divide is no excuse to ignore geography.” Space doesn’t permit me to expand on the many activities based on paper maps and aerials that are suitable that I and others in the community have used for years, so let me describe just one in this essay. I have used this activity many times from age 6 to university level.

  1. Before you teach the lesson, access ArcGIS Online and change the base map to imagery or Bing aerial (whichever is higher resolution) and zoom the map to focus on school where you will teach this lesson. Make sure the school and the school grounds take up most of the image, but include some of the surrounding neighborhood as well.
  2. Print one of the aerials for each student, leaving space on the right and top for the title, legend, and other information.
  3. Obtain one piece of translucent paper for each aerial, and some clear tape.
  4. Go to the class where you are teaching with your papers and printed aerials.
  5. Ask the students what they think the school looks like from above. Have the students sketch the school on the white board or on paper, noting which way is north. Can they identify the cardinal directions by standing up in the classroom and pointing?
  6. Hand out the aerials and translucent paper. Discuss how well the aerial matches the students’ drawings on the board. What matches, and what doesn’t match, and why?
  7. Have the students tape the paper to the aerial along the top edge only.
  8. Get out colored pencils or markers. Discuss elements that are important for a good map, such as TODALSIGS – Title, orientation, date, author, legend, scale, index, grid, and source. Add name, orientation, title, scale, and source to start with.
  9. Discuss map themes (trees, school building, street, playground, soils, lakes and streams, and so on). Have the students choose one color for each theme for the translucent paper. Trace each theme from the aerial photo onto the translucent paper, lifting up the paper when necessary to have a clearer view of the aerial.
  10. Add each theme to the legend using the same color used for the theme.
  11. Ask students to remove the translucent paper from the aerial photo: Now they have a map! How is the map the same as the aerial image? How is it different?

What paper-based activities have you used to foster spatial thinking?

- Joseph Kerski, Esri Education Manager

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Creating and Conducting Guest Presentations for Students

A question that is raised frequently on blogs, forums, and listservs is from professionals who are asked to conduct a presentation for a group of students, in a colloquium, after-school program, or in a primary, secondary, or university level classroom. Some school districts and universities have a “visiting scientist program” that matches instructors with outside professionals, while elsewhere it is done more informally upon request. In the GIS field, GIS professionals are often asked to conduct presentations for students, and these requests often peak near GIS Day each November. Given the fact that GIS Day is approaching, I would like to give my philosophy on these presentations, and look forward to hearing your ideas and experiences. Over the course of my career, I have visited over 400 educational institutions to give guest presentations, but the following reflections are by no means “one size fits all”: I am continuously learning as I go.

First, move beyond the phrase “guest lecture” or “presentation.” Particularly in a visual and exciting field such as GIS, approaching it as “lecture” will severely limit your effectiveness. Yes, we have slides on and elsewhere. But you have wonderful GIS tools at your fingertips and complex, fascinating problems that you are grappling with on a daily basis. Therefore, show what you are working on! Bring your computer and a projector, showing your data or data you have made available to the public on the web. Make it as interactive as possible! Ask questions and show how you use GIS to solve problems. Don’t just show a bunch of slides if you really want to engage the students. If you’re in a lab, even better—have the students investigate your maps for themselves. Some students may consider geographic inquiry to be simply asking where something is. Therefore, you might have to provide some foundation about what spatial thinking and spatial analysis in a GIS is all about.

Second, think about the neighborhood and region where you are giving your presentation. What issues such as natural hazards, graffiti, rapid growth, traffic, or water quality are of concern? What makes this neighborhood unique? Think of the landscape, ecoregion, land use, river systems, climate, ethnicity, history, and other characteristics at work. Sometimes, students consider their neighborhood to be the most boring in the world, so help them consider what sets it apart, showing their neighborhood via GIS and another across town or in another city across the country or on another continent.

Use ArcGIS Online to compare earthquakes around the world to plate boundaries and cities. Examine median age by tract and block group and discuss the implications that the median age has on different service industries. Compare land use and ecoregions and ask why agriculture occurs where it does. Go for the unusual by examining this strange imagery collection. Show 10 satellite images of selected places around the world or around your state and have students guess as to where they are, why, and what the area is like. Investigate landforms or features and ask students to tell you what each one of them is, whether sand dunes, wetland, karst, a golf course, school, office building, or hospital. In ArcGIS Online, you can prepare this tour ahead of time or construct it while you are talking with the students.

Third, if you cannot show any of the data that you are working on for privacy reasons or because your data are too large to go mobile, then use GIS tools that work anywhere, such as ArcGIS Online. Display different satellite images taken in different years to compare land use change in the community, as I did when I was teaching in Nairobi last November. Use the “Change Matters” Landsat imagery to examine changes in the Aral Sea or along the Florida coast over the past 30 years. Choose at least one local issue and one global issue and discuss the “whys of where.”

Fourth, get outside on the school grounds with some cameras and GPS receivers, or with smartphones. Hyperlink the resulting photographs and videos to ArcGIS Online, and then help students tell their stories as I did in Amboseli National Park.

Fifth, tell your personal story about how you blazed your career path in GIS, touching on the importance of staying in school and pursuing a well-rounded education including courses in science, geography, mathematics, computers, and language arts.

Sixth, don’t forget to ask them questions as well. You will be inspired and energized! Seventh, leave a poster describing what you do or what GIS is behind. Other ideas abound on the Esri Edcommunity blog and on the GIS Day resource area.

If you can instill some curiosity about their world, and the value and power of real data, maps, and GIS technology, then you will have succeeded.

What presentation will you give to students this year?

- Joseph Kerski, Esri Education Manager

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Exploring Data Using Cartograms within ArcGIS Desktop

Cartograms, because they distort our normal view of things, are wonderfully rich research and teaching tools. A distance cartogram shows relative travel times and directions within a network. An area cartogram is a map in which some variable is used instead of the land area in each polygon to compute the size of that polygon. Many of us remember using graph paper to make rectangular area cartograms as undergraduates (but perhaps I am dating myself). Today, one can use Web GIS and desktop GIS to create cartograms. For example, nearly 700 variables can be mapped on, and the data can be downloaded as Excel spreadsheets and analyzed within ArcGIS.

To dig deeper and make your own cartograms, with the ability to do bivariate analysis within a GIS environment, use the ArcScript cartogram tool that Tom Gross in the ESRI Applications Prototype Lab created, on: How can a GIS, which focuses on the accurate spatial representations of features, be used to create cartograms? Try this script and find out!

Once you install the cartogram tool, inside ArcMap, access ArcToolbox. Create a toolset, add the cartogram tool, and run it. The intuitive interface allows specifying input and output, and even comes with a nice assortment of international population and other variables to practice on. You can distort the base layers so that your cartogram can include the distorted layers for reference. I did this for cities, a 30-degree world grid, and a satellite image of the Earth to see these reference layers overlaid on my cartogram.

In this example, I chose to map the total CO2 emissions by country in 2004, in millions of metric tons, from the US Energy Information Agency. What patterns do you notice?

The cartogram map layer has to be written into a geodatabase, but otherwise, the tool has few restrictions. I am very pleased cartographically with the results, and the methodology of how the cartograms are generated is well documented.

What other variables and scales could you map and analyze as cartograms?

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