Tag Archives: Analysis

Fun with GIS 208: Competitions 2016 and 2017

In spring of 2017, Esri is hosting a network of US state competitions for grades 4-12. Successful pilot events occurred in 2016 in Minnesota (MN) and Arkansas (AR). “Students had a lot of fun with it and liked the freedom of making any type of map they wanted,” said MN teacher Kyle Tredinnick. A high school student said “This project was one of the most rewarding things I have done. It makes me respect the amount of work people put into their maps and information because I have now gone through the same process.” MN event co-leader Scott Freburg said “One teacher commented ‘Students who were doing poorly in most of their classes were absolutely loving this competition and thriving.’”

Competitions spark extra creativity and individuality, and students everywhere love that. MN students chose topics of personal interest ranging from commonplace to exotic: demographics, food, crime, pollution, health care, urban art, even Bigfoot sightings. The open-ended design yielded products ranging from more pictorial to more analytical.

MN’s professional GIS community jumped in quickly, offering to judge, and providing special T-shirts to all entrants and their teachers. The competition was highlighted at the state’s annual conference for GIS professionals; interested teachers were supported to attend a day of training, and contest awardees spoke to the more than 300 conference attendees at lunch. The state geography teachers’ conference also provided special recognition to winners.

(Top: MN co-leader Jim Hanson and some winners.
Bottom: Teachers and competition winners at GIS conference.)

Esri’s 2017 event has school, state, and national tiers. GIS professionals can help their state participate and serve as mentors or judges. Ultimately, one high school and one middle school winner will present at the 2017 Esri Conference. See the announcement for details.

Charlie Fitzpatrick, Esri Education Manager

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Fun with GIS 207: Competition!

In spring of 2016, Minnesota announced an ArcGIS Online competition for high school and middle school students across the state. From initial discussion to completion was barely three months, but they had over 200 entries from 25 schools across the state. Hearing Minnesota’s initial announcement, Arkansas created a twin event. On the strength of these successes, it’s time to take the idea up a notch.


Esri invites all U.S. states to conduct a state-based ArcGIS Online competition in 2017.
For each state formally participating, students can submit to their school an ArcGIS Online presentation, web app, or story map about something inside the state borders. Schools can submit up to five projects to the state. Esri will provide each state ten prizes of $100, to go to five high school and five middle school projects. These ten awardees per state will get national recognition, with one each high school and middle school entry advancing to a top level competition. The best high school and middle school projects will earn trips to the 2017 Esri Education Conference in San Diego, CA.

ArcGIS Online maps and apps help users of any age discover/ explore/ display data, show analyses, and present interpretations. Project-based learning experiences such as these help students build the essential problem-solving skills and in-depth background content knowledge needed for college, career, and civic life.

GIS professionals abound across the country (Map#4 above)! They can help educators present ideas and strategies, establish an Organization account, and help students grasp the deeper learning available with GIS. Keep an eye out for opportunities to connect these valuable community resources to learners. Check out the competition!

Charlie Fitzpatrick, Esri Education Manager

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Fun with GIS 206: Community Round Mile

Want to do a simple crowdsourcing activity? Want to engage students in an exploration of areas around school, across the state, or spanning the country, using both demographic and landscape data? Want to make it an activity based on your students’ choices? Want to use the analysis powers in an ArcGIS Online Organization? Try the “Community Round Mile.”

By dropping a point, creating a circle of a certain distance around it, and enriching that buffer with particular data, you can get some fascinating “apples to apples” comparisons. But it takes a little planning to do more than once. The Community Round Mile activity is a three-part process that walks you through creating some simple data, sharing that data, and then expanding.

This final part relies on Survey123, which just acquired some exciting new powers. Try this to “crowdsource data” among your classes. Enterprising states might even coordinate a state-specific effort emphasizing data of special interest. Check out the Community Round Mile!

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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Getting to Know ArcGIS Pro: Book Review

Thanks to my colleagues at Esri Press, I had the opportunity to review the upcoming book Getting To Know ArcGIS Pro.  The book, published in March 2016, was written by Michael Law and Amy Collins, and an accompanying site includes trial software and all the data you need for the exercises.  I believe it is a valuable resource for beginning and advanced GIS professionals, instructors, students, and anyone who wants to learn about this important and forward-thinking component of the ArcGIS platform.

There is a reason for the success that the “Getting To Know” series from Esri Press has had all these years, including the Getting to Know ArcGIS series and the GIS Tutorial series:  Working through the exercises in these books, I believe, is the fastest way to be successful with Esri ArcGIS Pro technology. Last year, my colleague Dr Pinde Fu wrote Getting to Know WebGISwhich has already become a trusted resource for teaching and learning about web and mobile maps and apps.  In this tradition, Getting to Know ArcGIS Pro helps new and existing GIS users solve problems in a variety of fields and scales, but it also helps them understand why to use specific tools, and to be able to select the most appropriate tools and parameters for specific tasks.  These tools are not taught in a vacuum or in rote fashion from one function to another, but are taught as a connected and logical series of workflows that emulate what is done in today’s workplaces.

Moreover, this book helps people understand GIS as a platform and a system of engagement, as it is increasingly called nowadays.  In my travels to higher education institutions over the past two years, faculty and students have been asking me about resources that will help them to use ArcGIS Pro.  They know that Pro represents the “next generation” in desktop-and-web integrated GIS technology. This book, along with Tripp Corbin’s Learning ArcGIS Pro book that I reviewed recently, and web and instructor-led webinars and courses from Esri are excellent resources to get started.

The book is organized into 10 chapters, building from basic terminology and functionality to calculating statistics, extracting data, creating and modifying features, geocoding, analyzing spatial and temporal patterns, and creating 3D scenes.  I was pleased to see that the book contains major sections devoted to crowdsourcing, or citizen science, including field data collection, as well as presenting a project with appropriate symbology and sharing that project online. An index by task, sidebars, and helpful font and color choices are thoughtful touches for the busy person working through this book.

As an educator, I found the exercises to be interesting and engaging, ranging from analyzing recent earthquakes around the world, conflicts in Sudan, health data in Illinois, social services in Los Angeles, crime in a metropolitan area, to site suitability for a vineyard in California, and much more.

I am interested in hearing your thoughts below to how you are using this book and ArcGIS Pro in your workplace.

Getting to Know ArcGIS Pro book from Esri Press

Getting to Know ArcGIS Pro book from Esri Press.

Example exercise in the Getting to Know ArcGIS Pro book:  Suitability analysis.

Example exercise in the Getting to Know ArcGIS Pro book: Suitability analysis on a vineyard.

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Creating and Analyzing Regional Cartograms

In my last post, I discussed how to easily create compelling Cartograms in ArcGIS.  I would now like to point out one of the best things about the tool:  You are not confined to creating cartograms of variables by countries of the world.  Think outside the box!  You can create cartograms for any set of polygons that you choose!  A set of provinces or states, neighborhoods in your community, or even watersheds are all good candidates.

Let’s take population from 1900 to 2000 for a state, such as the great state of Kansas.  You and your students can certainly create standard choropleth maps showing the population each census year and even a animation to help visualize the changes.  But creating cartograms of the population in each county provides additional insight.  See the output from selected years, below.  The cartograms show the settlement of the high plains (western Kansas) from 1900 to 1930, followed by population loss that continues in some counties all the way to 2010.  Coupled with that is the rise of the urban centers of Wichita (south central Kansas) and Topeka, Lawrence, and Kansas City (northeast Kansas).  The combination of these trends, brought about by social, physical, and economic forces, squeeze some of the northern and western counties so much that they are almost invisible by 2010.  I’ve been to many of these counties, though, and rest assured that there are some vibrant communities and good people there!

Think about doing this for your own area–population change in your own state over time, water quality or river flow differences by watershed, or crime rates or median age by neighborhood in your own community.  If you do this, I think it is advantageous if the readers of your cartograms know what the areas that you are analyzing look like as a standard map for comparison purposes.  Thus, you might consider providing this standard map at the front of your set of cartograms, as I do below.  That way, your audience will more readily understand how the variables you are mapping distort the “standard” way of looking at that area.

The possibilities for increased spatial literacy and understanding with cartograms and ArcGIS are endless.

State of Kansas - Counties and cities - Standard View

State of Kansas – Counties and cities – Standard View

Population in 1900 by county in Kansas

Population in 1900 by county in Kansas.  Many of the eastern and central Kansas counties had similar population totals.

Population in 1930 by county in Kansas

Population in 1930 by county in Kansas.  The western third has now been settled, but the east continues to increase at a more rapid rate.

Population in 1960 by county in Kansas.

Population in 1960 by county in Kansas.  Many western counties have lost population or gained very little compared to the rise of the major urban centers of Wichita, Topeka, Lawrence, and Kansas City.

Population in 2010 by county in Kansas.

Population in 2010 by county in Kansas.  Urbanization continues, particularly Johnson County (suburban Kansas City) although selected rural counties are gaining population as well.

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Creating Cartograms in ArcGIS

Cartograms, because they distort our expected view of mapped variables, are wonderfully rich tools for teaching and research.  They allow us to see relationships and trends that may not be evident in a typical choropleth map.  A distance cartogram shows relative travel times and directions within a network.  More common is an area cartogram, a map in which some variable is used instead of the land area in each polygon to determine the size of that polygon. I remember using graph paper to make rectangular area cartograms as an undergraduate (though I realize 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 www.worldmapper.org, and the data can be downloaded as Excel spreadsheets and analyzed within ArcGIS.

Let’s say you wanted to dig deeper and make your own cartograms, with the ability to do further analysis within a GIS environment.  You can use the cartogram geoprocessing tool that my colleague Tom Gross at Esri created.  How can a GIS, which focuses on accurate spatial representations of features, be used to create cartograms? Download the tool and find out!  The tool also includes step-by-step instructions and a sample set of data.

Once you install the cartogram tool, you simply run it to create the cartograms.  An intuitive interface allows specifying input and output.  You can even distort your base layers (such as the imagery shown below) so that your cartogram can include these as reference layers.  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 2015 population by country.  Then, I mapped 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 these cartograms are generated is well documented:   These are Density-Equalizing Cartograms using methodology developed by Mark Newman and Michael Gastner at the University of Michigan.

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

Cartogram of World Population in 2015

Cartogram of World Population in 2015.

Cartogram of C02 Emissions in 2004, as a Map Layout

Cartogram of C02 emissions in 2004, as a Map Layout.

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Why Maps Matter

How would you explain to fellow educators, to students, parents, or the general public why Geographic Information Systems (GIS) matters in education and in society?  One idea is to start with a document entitled “Why Maps Matter“.

While spatial thinking is much more than “maps”, I aimed at a phrase that would attract people to this workshop.  I frequently choose similar presentation titles depending on my audience, such as “Mapping Your Educational Research” or “Mapping The Social Studies.”

Themes of this workshop include:  Maps foster understanding, tell stories, and enable decision making.  I included my favorite maps and map books for a personal touch. Topics include population, land use, urban, economics, health, and natural hazards, with frequent mention of scale, systems thinking, critical thinking, time and space, and place. The workshop is taught through an inquiry-driven, hands-on, problem-based format.

I’ve posted related resources in the form of three videos and 20 resources for sharing GIS with others.  I look forward to hearing how you share “why maps matter” with others.

Why Maps Matter Presentation

Why Maps Matter Presentation and Workshop.

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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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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 www.omnimaps.com, 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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