Tag Archives: AEJEE

Fun with GIS #64: Integrating Tools, Engineering a Solution

There are many kinds of maps, many mapmaking tools, and many strategies. An experienced mapmaker
can engage different tools under different circumstances. Esri has several free tools that are useful for
education. They do different things, having been created for different purposes, under different times,
and with different base technologies. Just as a savvy carpenter, angler, or musical composer will make
choices and incorporate various tools to meet a challenge, a mapmaking educator should consider a full
range of options.

I have written extensively about the ArcGIS.com Viewer and ArcGIS Explorer Online (see “Fun With
GIS” #49-63
) and about ArcExplorer Java Edition for Education (AEJEE). Both technologies are free, both
work on both Macintosh and Windows operating systems, and both can help students and educators
develop fundamental concepts and skills with GIS. Each has advantages not found in the other, so a
crafty cartographer should consider the overall goal in a given project, and coordinate usage.

The first complete Youth Community Atlas project submitted for 2010-2011, produced by a 4-H club in
Kansas, integrates technologies nicely. Presenting dynamically online requires ArcGIS Explorer Online;
giving the viewer maps with specific characteristics required a desktop tool like ArcMap or AEJEE. The
integration is superior to either alone.

This is the heart of engineering: defining a problem, examining constraints, engaging capacities,
designing an optimized solution. This is yet another reason why GIS — even free GIS — is such a powerful
platform for STEM education.

- Charlie Fitzpatrick, Co-Manager, Esri Schools Program

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Fun with GIS #44: Powerful Work with Modest Tools

Last week, I visited a classroom in Juneau, AK. The teacher (let’s call her “Kay”) was preparing to have her class look at some of impacts of climate change. On the nearby Juneau Icefield, two neighboring glaciers are behaving differently … one advancing, one retreating. How can this be? Can it continue? Ahhh, that’s science and geography!

Kay was a little discouraged about not having good access to strong PCs on which to do the best mapping. I assured her that, with her vision and ArcExplorer Java Edition for Education (“AEJEE”) — an aging workhorse but still powerful intro geographic information system (GIS) tool for Windows and Macintosh — she and her students could accomplish a lot. In fact, I contend that it’s vastly more impressive seeing powerful work done on modest tools than modest work done on powerful tools.

As a college student, 35 years ago, I spent a summer on the ice field, and this was my first time back. I hiked around for a couple of hours gathering GPS coordinates and taking pictures. Then I went back to my computer, converted the points and tracks to shapefiles, and displayed them along with some data downloaded from the Internet to my hard drive (roads, rivers, waters), and some data used on the fly (USGS Seamless Elevation), using AEJEE on a Mac, like Kay does.

The Juneau region, with the icefield inland. See the Mendenhall north of Juneau and Taku to the east.

Part of Juneau between the airport and the Mendenhall.

The Mendenhall has been retreating for a century, while the Taku has pushed steadily forward. How can this happen, will it continue, and what does it mean for the residents? That’s what Kay and her students will be exploring.

In a week when a U.S. Congressman demonstrated a rather dreadful grasp of science and geography (regarding the physical stability of the island of Guam), it should be apparent to all that we need our youth (and leaders!) to see the world holistically, using powerful geographic tools to explore and understand better the science about the world around them, and we need educators like Kay with the excitement and energy to bring it to them.

- Charlie Fitzpatrick, Co-Manager, ESRI Schools Program

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Exploring Near-realtime Earthquakes with AEJEE

AEJEE Screenshot

A new lesson has been posted to ArcLessons, exploring recent worldwide earthquakes with the free, cross-platform ArcExplorer Java Edition for Education (AEJEE).

Map and analyze the last 30 days of earthquakes around the world, examining depth, magnitude, relationship to plate boundaries, and comparing recent earthquakes to historical earthquakes.

Explore, download, or rate and review this lesson.

- Tom Baker, ESRI Education Manager

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Fun with GIS #33: Still Thinking, After All These Years

So we start a new decade. Can you remember what were things like at the start of 2000? Y2K, ArcView 3.2, Windows NT4/98/2000/ME, MacOS9. Hard drives were modest, RAM was expensive. Data were available, if you knew where to look and how to cope with the different formats, but often involved some struggles. GPS was available, but devices weren’t available everywhere, and selective availability limited civilian accuracy to about 100m.

We’ve come a long way. Maps are almost ubiquitous. Computers have exploded in power, but shrunk in size. Operating systems are … well … still evolving. And GIS? Same here — more power, still evolving.

What hasn’t changed, though, are the fundamental concepts and skills of GIS. It’s still pretty much about using the power of the computer to explore layers of data, isolate specific questions, seek relationships, solve problems. There are still floods and fires, and land claims and precious resources, and routes and stops, and countless problems to solve. The galactic capacity of GIS seems to be exceeded only by the infinite capacity of people to say “Well, ok, but now I have a different question …”

Look at the two screenshots above. Though about different topics, with different tools, and separated by a decade between construction times, they still point to what is unmistakable about GIS: It affords the user the chance to look at information in new ways, to look for patterns and relationships, to present a story to others and ask them to share in the analysis in search of common ground, to see the power of critical thinking, and grasp the many ways in which geography matters.

I don’t know what the coming decade will bring. I lie awake at night, sometimes, wondering about our fate. But I take solace in the intensity with which brilliant programmers are working to provide us ever better tools for exploring our world, and the unbridled passion with which many educators are showing children a map and asking “What do you see?”

- Charlie Fitzpatrick, Co-Manager, ESRI Schools Program

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Bird’s-Eye View: Using GIS and Remote Sensing

New Curriculum Invites Exploration of the United States from a “Bird’s-Eye View” Using GIS and Remote Sensing

Bird's Eye CD Cover

We are frequently asked, “Can younger students analyze historical, geographic, and scientific phenomena in a GIS environment?” Absolutely! Using a new resource called “Exploring the United States: A Bird’s-Eye View,” students in Grades 4 through 6 have new opportunities to explore the country using maps, satellite images, aerial photographs, graphs, and databases. Supported by a NASA grant to the National Council for Geographic Education and authored by a team of experienced instructors, the Bird’s Eye curriculum is contained on a CD-ROM. ESRI was proud to provide staff support, software, and production of CDs for this project. The CD is available from the NCGE store.

The CD contains lessons, data, assessment instruments, and GIS software—everything an instructor needs to begin engaging students in a variety of topics at a variety of scales. These topics include an investigation of the development of the Erie Canal, a comparison of deep shaft versus open pit mining, analyzing urban growth of Las Vegas, exploring the ecoregions and land use of the Great Lakes, the impact of Disney World on Orange County, Florida, an investigation of the settlement of the corn belt, shaping the Nation’s capital, tracking Hurricane Katrina, and much more—14 lessons in all.
The CD contains a school site license for the GIS software Arc Explorer Java Edition for Education (AEJEE), which offers a powerful toolkit for inquiry but ease of use. It can be used on computers running Windows or Mac operating systems. The CD also contains reading material about the background and benefits of using GIS and remote sensing in the classroom, key concepts, and technologies. Students may work individually, in small groups that share a computer, or as a class with one computer and a data projector. While the lessons are written for upper primary school students, the lessons can be expanded for use by middle and high school students using the same data and software.

Explore the USA for yourself from a Bird’s-Eye View!

- Joseph Kerski, ESRI Education Manager

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Fun with GIS Using AGX#21: Integrating Tools

People often ask “If I want to do data analysis, what tool should I use?” Several weeks ago, I wrote a different blog entry about tool use. As I tell people, I use ArcGIS Desktop (either ArcView or full ArcInfo), and ArcGIS Explorer (or “AGX,” ESRI’s free, downloadable, 3-D geo-exploration tool), and ArcExplorer Java Edition for Education (or “AEJEE”, ESRI’s free, downloadable, Win-Mac, 2-D intro GIS tool). I also use other basic tools on both Windows and Macintosh, as needed: web browser, simple text editor, word processors, spreadsheets, database tools, and several graphics packages.

This morning, I wanted to explore some data about marine critter migration, mentioned on a marine bio listserv I read. I found some data, but they were not formatted just right. I copied the data from my browser, pasted different versions into different tools while doing “clean-up” and, in about 15 minutes, generated a tidy little CSV (comma-delimited text) file. Since AGX could not draw a CSV file but could add a shapefile, I used AEJEE to convert it in to a shapefile, then copied and renamed a PRJ file of another decimal degree data set. Then I used AEJEE to build a quick analytical map, and explored the environment with AGX. Finally, I used graphics tools to do screenshots and trim the images down.

I’ve talked recently with people in several states who were looking for students with technical experience. They all said much the same thing: “We need people who can look at a situation and figure out how to address it. And since situations, tools, and data keep changing, we need people who can continue to learn new techniques and strategies, and find how to learn something quickly when they don’t know it. A disposition for learning and using their information and skills to solve problems. That’s what we need.” GIS has a huge role to play in educating young people for jobs of today and tomorrow.

- Charlie Fitzpatrick, Co-Manager for ESRI’s Program for Schools

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What do you think? – "What's the Right Tool to Use?"

A teacher educator this week asked, basically, “What software should I use with my students? If we use free tools, are they of any value? If we use ESRI’s full tools, will these new teachers be able to afford them at their new schools? And can I learn them? Are there examples we can see?” These are such good questions that I want to post my response on the blog. (These are, of course, my own personal beliefs, rather than ESRI’s position.) Perhaps some of you will be interested in posting replies.

No one tool will do everything the best forever. Technology evolves, and people need to adapt. I believe it is useful to expose students to various tools and help them understand how and why to choose “the right one for the job.” Given limits to the number and range of tools with which one can develop facility, I support developing skills with “a reasonable number” of tools.

Free tools are often very useful, but seldom do everything. I use a bunch of free tools, and a bunch of fee-based tools. Whether reading or composing text, or doing tasks like viewing or editing images, on MacOSX or Windows, I use both simple/free tools and stronger/fee-based tools. I consider the task at hand and engage the software that I expect will yield the “best experience.” Sometimes this means switching software during a job, or even going back and forth.

I have viewed many student projects done with expensive GPS units, and many done with consumer-grade units. The success of an operation that students in primary or secondary school engage in is typically influenced far more by the user’s grasp of concepts and implementation of fundamental skills than by the type of device engaged. It is to me far more impressive to see users doing powerful things with modest tools than doing modest things with powerful tools.

When doing GIS presentations, I often use ArcExplorer Java Edition for Education (http://www.esri.com/aejee), to demonstrate the power of spatial analysis and show that many sophisticated concepts and skills can be taught with “simple” free tools. AEJEE is “visually simple,” but quite effective for many tasks, as my AEJEE blog posts show. The very first lesson of AEJEE’s built-in tutorial takes users in simple steps thru the fundamental concepts of maps as models, maps as dynamic instruments, layers of data, features with attributes, and querying by attribute or location. Every GIS professional on the planet relies on these fundamentals. The visual simplicity of AEJEE helps novices focus on the fundamental task at hand.

ArcGIS Explorer (http://edcommunity.esri.com/software/AGX) is another powerful free tool, particularly useful for visualization and presenting an engaging experience, as you can see by the AGX blog posts. The next generation of AGX will provide even more power for analysis and integration.

Some folks want only to explore maps with a web browser, and will do whatever they can manage inside a browser. Some website creators oblige by providing users with capacity for basic analysis of provided layers. These are surely going to grow in the future. As long as one’s connection to the Internet is sufficiently robust, and users can adjust to interfaces, these experiences can be very educational. ArcExplorer Web and ArcWeb Explorer are browser-based tools that join ArcVoyager, ArcExplorer, AEJEE, AGX, and ArcReader as free tools that people have used in educational settings to teach fundamentals of GIS.

But there are times when “more power” is better. Good as they may be, “simple tools” cannot do all tasks. Yes, there are free tools which can accomplish some important GIS tasks. It becomes a balancing act for the instructor to cope with (optimize) a suite of challenges: software availability, near-term capacity to accomplish specific tasks, transferability of learning, resources for support, background knowledge of instructor and students, time available for learning, and more. Educators and students may differ on the relevance of these parameters to one’s setting, and where one falls on any given continuum.

ESRI has made basic tools available to everyone for free, and worked hard to make more powerful tools available at low cost for instructional purposes. Across the US and around the world, thousands of schools are using ArcView, ArcEditor, and ArcInfo. Many students move quickly into college courses or the job market with a solid background of concepts and skills. Many youth groups outside of school are engaging in community projects, working directly with professional GIS users and their data. Familiarity with the look and feel of professional GIS speeds the transition. Sometimes, it even allows young GIS users to introduce approaches to situations that the “established staff” had not previously experienced.

Within the US (and a growing number of other countries), customized curricula (such as the Our World series) exist to help teachers address “standard classroom content” (science, geography, social studies, math, etc) using GIS. There are also materials to “teach about GIS”, as one might teach photography, computer-aided design, or video editing. References are visible throughout the ESRI EdCommunity and the K-12 partner pages. There are also many references to people using GIS successfully, in the Community Atlas, youth programs like 4-H, and other case studies.

In my view, the greatest power of GIS is its potential to support analysis. My bias is always to promote approaches which foster critical thinking, develop one’s passion for learning and applying knowledge, and build a grasp of the many ways in which geography matters. Many tools can do this. Whether “teaching with GIS” or “teaching about GIS”, I favor using readily available tools with high capacity and high transferability. I spent 15 years teaching social studies in grades 7-12 and, were I to return tomorrow, I would use a combination of AEJEE, ArcGIS Explorer, ArcGIS Desktop including extensions, and web-based technologies … different tools for different tasks, which all build upon each other and allow the young user to reach farther faster.

- Charlie Fitzpatrick, Co-manager of ESRI’s Program for Schools

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"Our World GIS Education", A Four-Book Series

The four-book series Our World GIS Education was developed to enhance learning GIS for students from grade school through universities. The series provides teachers with a comprehensive and easy-to-use resource for GIS instruction in the classroom.

Students should be discouraged from purchasing used ESRI Press workbooks if they need the time-out software in the back of the book to complete their projects. The time-out software use is limited to one student for 180 days.

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Fun with GIS using AEJEE #13: Exploring Oceans

While reading about oceans and climate, I wondered about a way to explore depth using ArcExplorer Java Edition for Education (AEJEE), ESRI’s free, downloadable, dual platform (Win/Mac), lightweight GIS tool. I typed “gis data oceans” into an Internet search, clicked a link, and saw a reference to the National Geophysical Data Center (NGDC), part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). I clicked “Bathymetry, Topography, & Relief” and, from there, the link for “Create Custom Grid“. Jackpot!

I wanted to create depth around the Hawaiian Islands, using the “ETOPO2 2-minute Global Relief”, so I named my grid “HI2MIN”. I entered the bounding coordinates: 23-N to 18-N and 161-W to 154-W. I chose the most extreme grid cell size: 2 minutes (or 30 divisions per degree). I requested an output grid format of “XYZ(lon,lat,depth)”, chose “No header”, and asked for commas as delimiters. After clicking the “Submit” button near the top and, on the new page, “Compress and Retrieve Your Grid” (skipping options to include other items), a compressed file was ready for me in seconds. I downloaded it, unzipped it, and extracted the “.xyz” file.

The “.xyz” file is just a large ASCII file, so I opened it up in Word. Even though the file was almost 600 pages long, I was able to use a global replace to change all spaces to nothing in just a few seconds. I inserted the line “LONG,LAT,DPTHELEVM” at the top. I saved the file as “HI2MIN.csv” (using the quote marks to make sure Windows didn’t add “.txt” to the name).

I opened AEJEE and chose the “us_gn.axl” project, to have a basemap drawn for me, then zoomed in to Hawaii. I used AEJEE to convert the .csv file to a shapefile (as described in the AEJEE Tutorial Lesson #4), then classified the data into 20 classes with a 6-point dot, tweaked the classes into a more pleasing interval, and changed the colors. Voila! You can see the deep canyon between the Big Island and Maui, and the “protected shallows” around Maui where whale mothers like to bear their young.

GIS is not just “buttonology.” It involves having a vision for a spatial pattern, which generates a question. Then it’s a matter of finding data, which sometimes means being able to see it before it’s there. Then comes the chance to tinker with the data in order to address a question or vision. Simple tools accomplished this task: browser, file compression, word processor, and AEJEE.

- Charlie Fitzpatrick, ESRI K-12 Education Manager

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Fun with GIS using AEJEE #12: Wandering Watersheds

A topic of concern both for conservationists and for teachers is watersheds. We can explore these using ArcExplorer Java Edition for Education (AEJEE), ESRI’s free, downloadable, dual platform (Win/Mac), lightweight GIS tool. There is a lot of public info about watersheds that can be displayed in AEJEE.

Two layers hosted on USGS websites are extremely helpful:
=> “nhdgeo” (hydrology layers)
http://seamless.usgs.gov => “USGS_EDC_Elev_NED” (national elevation data)
Add these to AEJEE, as described in Lesson 5 of the AEJEE Tutorial. Collapse the descriptions so just the two main layer names show, and move the “nhdgeo” layer to the bottom.

Turn them on/off as needed and zoom in to your vicinity, to about a 1:250,000 scale, then spill open “nhdgeo”. Scroll to the bottom and turn off “high”. Scroll up and turn on “NHD Water Body (High)” and “NHD Flowline (High)”. Turn on “US Routes” and/or “State Routes”for additional highways. Close up “nhdgeo”, spill open “NED”, turn off the top layer (“NED_Metadata_Footprints”), and close up NED. By making the NED layer 60% transparent (as in Lesson 5 of the Tutorial), you can get a nice display of landforms plus the direction of waterflow, even on relatively flat terrain. (Of course, the flatter it is, the less definition the NED layer shows, so the best visual result may come from just turning NED on/off.

Here’s what it looked like where I grew up, in “the land of sky blue waters.” The deep blue line running roughly north-south in the middle is the dividing line between a hilly watershed flowing east into the St. Croix River versus a flatter watershed with streams and canals joining a set of lakes and flowing eventually to the Mississippi River just south of the screenshot.

- Charlie Fitzpatrick, ESRI Education Manager

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