Tag Archives: ArcLessons

Using Topographic Maps to Study Landforms in ArcGIS Online

Using topographic maps to study landforms has been a key part of Geography and Earth Science instruction for over a century. It has never been easier to do, thanks to the seamless USGS topographic maps for the USA and the base topographic map for  the world available in ArcGIS Online. I have created a set of 12 questions and a map containing 20 landforms as a starting point for these investigations.

Topographic Map Activity

Topographic Map Activity in ArcGIS Online.

Remember the old days when the landform you were seeking to analyze seemed to inevitably fall across corners of 4 topographic paper map sheets?  The USGS maps, originally published at 1:24,000, 1:100,000, and 1:250,000 scales, display seamlessly in ArcGIS Online – no more corners!  The map above opens to the Ennis, Montana area, on the classic alluvial fan that has long been a staple with these sorts of investigations.

Questions include the following, which can be used as is or as a springboard for your own questions.

Use the bookmarks to zoom to the 1:24,000-scale map. Measure the distance between each contour line. Determine the contour interval by reading the numbers on the contours. Calculate the slope in percentage and in degrees.  Calculate the slope of the fan again using the 1:100,000 scale map. Is this measurement different than the measurement you calculated using the 1:24,000 scale map? Explain a few reasons for possible differences.  Calculate the slope in another location on the fan. Is the slope similar to your other reading? Why are slopes so constant on an alluvial fan?

Calculate the area of the alluvial fan using the square mile grid shown on the topographic map as a guide, and the scale bar in the lower left of your ArcGIS Online map window. Then compare this measurement against what you get by using the measure tool above the map. Be sure to indicate the units you are using.  Name 3 differences in the type and number of features shown on USGS maps at the 3 different scales. Why do these differences exist?

Examine the following features, each of which is accessible through the Bookmarks above the map. For each landform, indicate:   What is the name of the landform?  What is the location of the landform?  How did the landform form?  What did the landform and area look like 100 years ago? 1000 years ago? Why? What will the landfrom and area look like 100 years from now? 1000 years from now? Why?  Would you classify the landform as rapidly changing or slowly changing? Why?   How has the landform influenced human activity and settlement in this area?  How have humans modified the landform, if at all, in this area?   What is the climate and vegetation like in this area?  Can you find the same landforms in other areas? If so, where are they?

The 20 landforms included in the map and lesson are a tombolo, a col, a salt dome, lava beds, marine terraces, the Llano Estacado, sand hills, drumlins, moraines, a caldera, an estuary, karst, a water gap, a tarn, an arete, a structural dome, a slow moving landslide, trellis drainage, an oxbow lake, and an inselberg.   The lesson also includes comparison of landscapes shaped by the public land survey system, long lots, and metes and bounds.

You can use ArcGIS Online to draw your own points, lines, and areas on the topographic map using “Add” and “Create Editable Layer.” Link your features to text, photos, and videos. Save your map (requires either a personal or an organizational ArcGIS Online account).  You can also add USGS topographic maps to any ArcGIS Online map through the “Add” function by searching for “USA Topo.”   You can also use the Add tool to add climate, weather, ecoregions, and other layers to help you understand the interaction between climate and landforms.

Working outside the USA? Then make sure your base map is set to “Topographic” and you can explore landforms using a topographic map base all around the world!

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New Earth-Based Activities in the ArcLessons Library

A new set of activities about the Earth have been added to ArcLessons that promote geoliteracy through earth investigations as quizzes and matching activities.  Each of them model “What’s Where?”  “Why is it there?”, and “So what?”  The first was created by a colleague at the Ysleta del Sur Pueblo in Texas, entitled, “Where in Indian Country?”  In it, clues about physical and cultural geography are used to match satellite images with monuments, each of which is significant to Native Americans.  Monuments speak to history and landscape, representing wars, warriors, gods, and animals; some are natural wonders of spiritual significance.  A brief description of each of 15 monuments is included on the slides.  Through this activity, you are thinking spatially and considering geography, culture, climate, landforms, land use, and other factors.

I created an activity along similar lines that I call the “City and Country Ground Image Matching”.  Can you use physical and cultural geography clues to match the ground photograph provided with its correct city and country?  In so doing, you are thinking spatially and considering language, culture, climate, landforms, land use, transportation methods, and other factors to determine the correct answers.

I created an Earth Quiz using ArcGIS Explorer Online’s presentation mode.  The Earth Quiz asks you to think spatially and creatively about the “whys of where” using maps and imagery for famous waterfalls, cities, coastlines, and other physical and cultural features.  These include the famous “Earth eye” in Mauretania, the Dorset Coast in England, and other wonderful landscapes.

Along these same lines, my ArcGIS Explorer Online “Weird Earth” set, encourages the exploration of the planet using bizarre, unusual features.  Through their intriguing nature, they help students to think spatially using a variety of themes and scales.  One of my favorite things about “Weird Earth” is that not all of these mysteries can be explained!

Image from Earth Quiz: Name that Place

Image from Earth Quiz: Name that Place

These are only a sample of the earth-based activities that promote geoliteracy that are in the ArcLessons and that are on ArcGIS Online.  Keep checking this blog for additional resources that appear weekly.

How are you using these resources in your instruction?

-Joseph Kerski, Esri Education Manager

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Election, ArcGIS Online, History and GIS, webmapping, curriculum, ArcLessons

I have created a data set containing electoral history for the past 56 years in ArcGIS Online, so you and your students can interact with it, teach with it, and explore patterns. To accompany the data set, I wrote a lesson entitled, “Which states went for which candidate? Elections” is in the ArcLessons library.

What is the difference between the popular vote and the electoral vote? What influences voting patterns at present and what influenced the patterns in the past? Why do electoral votes sometimes exhibit a regional or national pattern and sometimes exhibit no pattern? After examining the maps dating back to 1956, which election years would you say were the closest in terms of the electoral vote, and which were the most one-sided? Which states voted consistently Republican, or Democratic, in the past? When have third-party candidates been a factor? When did the candidate lose his “home state?” Which states change back and forth in terms of political party over time, and do these correspond to what are referred to as “swing states”? How does population distribution influence the electoral vote and where candidates spend their time and money?

These questions and many more can be effectively analyzed by using the above maps and lesson. ArcGIS Online provides an excellent platform for learning about issues, patterns, and phenomena. Because elections data in the USA are tied to administrative boundaries, elections maps can be easily created. Examining election data in ArcGIS Online allows the data to be effectively and easily used by educators, students, and others, anywhere around the world.

Another map and data set containing electoral votes by state for the upcoming election, along with demographic information and much more, was compiled by my colleague Charlie Fitzpatrick, and makes an excellent accompanying data set. These data sets can be used with an accompanying blog post describing what is there and how to use it.

It is my hope that these data sets and lessons will be helpful in teaching and learning in these next few weeks, and beyond.

- Joseph Kerski, Esri Education Manager

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Investigating Extreme Temperatures Using ArcGIS Online

Who has ever looked in the newspaper or online and read that day’s extreme high and low temperatures for your country or for the world? Who has ever wanted to map that data? I thought so! Three years ago, I did exactly that when I created a data set and lesson on extreme daily temperatures for ArcGIS for the USA, which I updated last month for ArcGIS 10. But I also have just created a version for ArcGIS Online, which was easy to do given ArcGIS Online’s geocoding capabilities, and the lesson provide a pathway to spatial analysis with a fascinating data set.

What is the relationship of temperature extremes to latitude, altitude, seasons, and proximity to coasts? Previous experience with GIS is not necessary to use this lesson, but the geographic perspective is important. Ideally, this lesson would be run during a unit on climate and weather. Data layers include extreme temperatures, a topographic map, and cultural features. The temperature data was gathered with the help of a stellar secondary school student. The map shows the locations of all of the places that recorded a high or low temperature extreme in the USA for each of the 31 days in January 2011 and the 31 days in July 2011. For example, on 15 January, the high temperature in the USA occurred in Santa Ana, California, and the low temperature on that date occurred in Northway, Alaska, and in Chicken, Alaska. Therefore, Santa Ana, Northway, and Chicken all are symbolized appropriately on this map.

As expected, the January highs are mostly in the low latitudes and near coasts, such as Hawaii, southern California, Texas, and Florida, but by July have migrated inland to Arizona, Nevada, and Oklahoma, reflecting the southern plains heat wave that year. The January lows occur in the high latitudes of Minnesota, Montana, and Alaska. By July, some remain in Alaska but others migrate to high altitudes in Montana, Oregon, Colorado, and even as far south as Arizona.

I couldn’t stop there, because another data set just aching to be mapped were the historical high and low temperature extremes for each state. I have now also mapped these in ArcGIS Online and packaged with a lesson. This map shows the locations where the all-time low and high temperature occurred in each state, dating back to the late 1800s. As such, fascinating patterns in space and time are visible, such as record highs from the Dust Bowl years that still stand today, and the effects of latitude, altitude, and proximity to coasts. Both of these data sets and lessons could find good homes in climatology, meteorology, and geography courses, but also in mathematics courses and in the last example, in a history course. Feel free to modify either lesson with your own questions.

How might you be able to use these resources in your courses?

- Joseph Kerski, Esri Education Manager

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Esri Education Industry Team joins Open Educational Resources movement

Beginning in 2012, Esri president Jack Dangermond authorized the Education Industry Team (Ed Team) to license the educational resources we create under the Creative Commons Attribution-Non-Commercial-Share-Alike license (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc-sa/3.0/). Every year, Ed Team members create dozens of educational videos, lessons, and learning activities, most of which are freely available through http://edcommunity.esri.com. Though the works remain copyrighted to Esri, Creative Commons licensing allows users to copy, adapt, and/or distribute them freely. License terms oblige users to (a) acknowledge Esri’s original authorship; (b) refrain from using licensed resources for commercial purposes; and (c) share derivative works freely using the same license.

In addition to the resources it creates in-house, the Ed Team aims to encourage and promote resource sharing and Creative Commons licensing among its partners in formal and informal education communities. This goal follows recommendations of the GIS Education Community Advisory Board to “promote broad Community participation in resource development, sharing, and assessment” (http://blogs.esri.com/esri/gisedcom/2012/08/08/communique-from-the-2012-gis-education-community-advisory-board-meeting/) Visit http://open.ems.psu.edu for examples of open GIS courseware modules published by a public university. A future revision of the Esri Education Community web site will include a showcase for these and other volunteered GIS education resources the Ed Team has reviewed and endorsed.

The Ed Team’s open educational resources initiative complements the many free and for-fee educational resources published by Esri Training (http://training.esri.com), Esri Press (http://esripress.esri.com/), and the ArcGIS Resource Center (for example, http://video.arcgis.com/).

- David DiBiase and Joseph Kerski, Esri

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Weird Earth: Exploring the Earth With Interesting, Bizarre, and Odd Imagery

Take a look at this image.

Where is Socotra? Why and how do these trees grow there?

Where is the Richat Structure? Why are its origins still a bit mysterious?

Why do people create drawings on the landscape that can only be fully appreciated from above? What do you notice about the language of the text, the street names, and the landscape that give clues about the location of this image?

Examining the Earth with imagery can be a powerful resource in geography, biology, environmental studies, earth science, and in other courses. Examining imagery can be easily done through the use of ArcGIS Online. The above images are included in an investigation I entitled “Weird Earth.” This investigation includes the images above, as well as a giant lizard, mazes, an erupting volcano, the walled city in the mist, and much more.

Why Weird Earth? First, fascinating patterns, places, and phenomena abound on our planet, and some are just plain weird. Examining the bizarre is an excellent way of sparking student interest. As images are examined, the door for inquiry is opened: What physical and environmental factors caused the land and vegetation to look as it does? What do human-created objects on the landscape say about the culture and language there? What will these images look like tomorrow, in 10 years, in 100 years? Second, I wanted to illustrate that the presentation mode in ArcGIS Explorer Online is an effective and easy-to-use technology to teach such concepts.

View the investigation in presentation mode.

The presentation is dynamic: You can change the scale and basemaps from satellite images to topographic maps, street maps, and much more, while posing questions, fostering deeper inquiry into places and the processes at work behind those places. For example, when you engage students in examining Socotra using the above slide, zoom in to examine hills versus valleys and the amount of tree cover on each. Zoom out until someone recognizes the island’s location. Then discuss the effect of isolation, latitude, and altitude on the vegetative cover, and why 1/3 of the species are endemic to the Socotra Islands. Change the basemap to topographic to determine the height of the mountains and the depth of the valleys. You can add ecoregions and climate map layers and discuss how these influence the bizarre trees and other species on the island. You can add a population layer and discuss the settlement pattern of the island. Thus, these are by no means static slides. Even calling them “slides” is really a misnomer.

Even better, create your own investigations focused on other processes, specific themes, specific regions, or your own community. What do you consider unique or “weird” about your own community?

How might you use the concept of Weird Earth in your own teaching and learning? How can you use ArcGIS Online to investigate what is strange and interesting about your own community?

- Joseph Kerski, Esri Education Manager

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New Wind-Based Curriculum Uses Several Scales and GIS

A series of five new curricular activities use the spatial perspective and GIS to delve into wind and wind energy from a continental to a local scale. Four of the activities use ArcGIS Online and one uses ArcGIS desktop version 10, and all of them reside on the ArcLessons library. One might say these activities are “wind-driven!”

Analyzing Current Wind Speed and Direction in North America  uses ArcGIS Online as a tool for examining the spatial or geographic dimensions of current wind speed and direction in North America. Compare your own data gathered at your location to the online current wind speed and direction. Consider why and where winds blow.

Siting a Wind Farm in Indiana uses ArcGIS Online for siting a wind farm in Indiana. Use variables such as proximity to existing powerlines, population density, and other criteria to determine the ideal site for a wind farm.

Exploring the San Gorgonio Wind Farm uses ArcGIS Online for exploring the famous, enormous San Gorgonio Wind Farm in California. Consider why terrain, wind speed and direction, and population base make this the ideal place for a wind farm through analyzing local maps and a video filmed on site. The activity ends by inviting you to investigate a different wind farm and create a map, telling its story using ArcGIS Online.

Siting a Wind Turbine on Your School Campus uses ArcGIS Online as a tool for siting a wind turbine on a typical school campus. Consider relief, proximity to buildings, wind speed, local access, and other variables, first by examining Platte Valley High School in Colorado, and then your own campus.

Siting wind farms in Colorado with GIS
uses ArcGIS version 10 as your primary investigative tool, considering the location of cities, the Continental Divide, highways, rivers, counties, wind speed and power, land use, and elevation. Data layers are from Esri, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, and the Colorado Department of Transportation.

How might you use these activities to encourage spatial thinking, to teach and learn about wind and wind energy, and to foster GIS skills?

- Joseph Kerski, Esri Education Manager

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Play Ball! Examining the World Series, Baseball, and Other Sports Using ArcGIS Online

I have created a new presentation using ArcGIS Online to invite exploration of the spatial aspects of baseball teams, players, stadiums, and the sport itself. The goal of the presentation is to use the familiar and interesting topic of baseball as a starting point for exploring spatial data at a variety of scales, to ask geographic questions, and to use WebGIS in the process.


Baseball is a spatial sport. The bases are a standard “space” or distance apart, the fielders are assigned certain locations on the field, the offense has a prescribed direction to tag and run the bases, and the players, umpires, coaches, and warm-up pitchers have prescribed areas in the stadium in which to work. Even the fans have certain areas in which they can sit, and the proximity to the field and other amenities determines the ticket price. Angles are of crucial importance as the ball is thrown, hit, and fielded.

In short, spatial considerations run throughout the sport of baseball. Baseball stadiums are constructed in certain locations and markets and affect local and regional transportation patterns, local economies, land use, and even local drainage and impervious surface. The birthplace of players and affiliated radio and TV stations also form regional and, these days, even international patterns.

The presentation includes discussion and data on the distribution of radio stations broadcasting major league baseball games, the distribution of the birthplaces of baseball players, population density and neighborhood characteristics, access to and proximity of stadiums, comparing stadiums in different cities, comparing different types of sports stadiums, and much more. A total of 7 videos linked to the presentation invite deeper reflection. Spatial questions are embedded throughout the presentation. Actually, the word “presentation” does not adequately fit the wonderful and powerful capabilities built into ArcGIS Online. This presentation includes 53 slides, but at any point, the user of these slides can exit the presentation mode, zoom and pan, add additional data, change symbology, change the base map, or examine a different issue. The presentation mode in ArcGIS Online can serve as an excellent storytelling tool for students studying biology, chemistry, geography, history, mathematics, as well as a convenient and authentic means for instructors to assess student work.

How might you use this activity, and ArcGIS Online, to promote spatial thinking through sports?

-Joseph Kerski, Esri Education Manager

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Africa Fires and Tea GIS-Based Activities Online

Investigating human-set fires, and determining optimal sites for expanding tea cultivation in Kenya are the topics of two new university level, ArcGIS 10, Africa-focused GIS activities in the ArcLessons library. Search for the two activities using terms “Africa fires” and “Kenya tea”.

You will gain skills in tabular and spatial data joining, query, analysis, symbolizing, and classifying data, and making a decision in a GIS environment. You should be familiar with computer file management and have some familiarity with ArcGIS. Both lessons emulate real decision making with GIS occurring daily around the world.

The goals of the fires activity include how to use GIS and spatial analysis to study the pattern of human-set fires in Africa and to understand the physical and cultural geography of Africa. The activity begins with this scenario: Hearing about your GIS skills, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) has hired you to analyze the seasonal pattern of wildfires in Africa.

Consider that people set fires in Africa and elsewhere to create and maintain farmland and grazing areas. People use fire to keep less desirable plants from invading cropland or rangeland, to drive grazing animals away from areas more desirable for farming, to remove crop stubble and return nutrients to the soil, and to convert natural ecosystems to agricultural land. In Africa, the area burned shifts from north to south over the year in step with the rainy and dry seasons. Although fires are a part of the natural cycle of seasonally dry grasslands and savannas, some scientists and public health officials are concerned about Africa’s burning frequency. The frequency with which fires return to previously burned areas helps determine what species of plants (and therefore animals) can survive. When the fire-return interval is too short, the land may become degraded and unusable for farming or grazing. The massive amount of burning that occurs in Africa each year creates carbon dioxide, smoke, and aerosol particles, affecting climate and creating a public health hazard.

In the Kenya tea activity, you learn that tea is an important cash crop in the world and in Kenya. The Kenya Tea Development Company is the largest cooperative of growers, representing 28% of Kenya’s total export earnings. Its 400,000 growers cultivate land over 86,000 hectares in size, producing over 700 million kg of tea annually. Hearing about your GIS skills, the Kenya Tea Development Company has hired you to select additional lands that might be suitable for tea cultivation, as follows:

1. It must be grown on moderately high ground, between 914 meters and 2,133 meters above sea level.
2. It cannot be on any water-related land cover, including wetlands.
3. It cannot be in an urban area.
4. It cannot be within 500 meters of a populated place.
5. It cannot be within 2000 meters of a mine.
6. It must be within 5 km of a road, to reduce transport costs.

How might you use these activities to teach and learn about key geographic themes, physical and cultural characteristics of Africa, and gain fundamental GIS skills?

- Joseph Kerski, Esri Education Manager

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Analyzing Food Expenditures at Home vs. Away from Home

Think about two ways you can consume food – at home or away from home. Think about how often you eat at home versus away from home. Food purchased in grocery stores and eaten “at home” is generally less expensive than food purchased and eaten in restaurant. Do you think that the ratio of food expenditure at home vs. away from home varies by country? If so, how and why would it vary? Do you think there is a geographic pattern of the ratio within the USA, by region or even by neighborhood?

A new lesson in the ArcLessons library invites you to think spatially using common experiences of food purchasing and consumption, to analyze the relationship of food purchasing versus median age and household income, and to learn how to use ArcGIS Online as an analytical tool.

The lesson uses a standard web browser to access the food expenditure map on ArcGIS Online. The food data represent just two of the hundreds of variables available in the Esri Consumer Spending database. Esri combined the 2005-2006 Consumer Expenditure Surveys from the Bureau of Labor Statistics to estimate these spending patterns.

I wrote the lesson around 10 focal points, including “scale matters,” national patterns, urban vs. rural, patterns within cities, famous foods and cities, university towns, retirement communities, areas with low population density, median age, and median household income. To compare these last two variables to food expenditures requires the addition of two additional layers, which is easily done in ArcGIS Online. The ability in ArcGIS Online of comparing different variables across space is a valuable educational tool.

The web GIS map displays a ratio of the average annual household expenditure on “food at home” to “food away from home.” Areas in red represent areas where households spend noticeably more at home, while blue area households spend noticeably more away from home. Households in an “average” area tend to spend $1.38 on food at home for every $1.00 on food away from home. This ratio of 1.38 does not mean that food at home is more expensive; it means that more money is spent for home consumption of food than money is spent away from home. In other words, most people eat at home more frequently than they eat away from home. Where the ratio approaches 1:1 represents areas where an equal amount of money is spent on food at home versus away from home. Red areas are above this average, blue areas are below this average, and yellow areas are near the average.



Why do many metropolitan areas contain neighborhood where the ratio is high, surrounded by a suburban ring where the ratio is low, surrounded by rural areas where the ratio is high again? Why do rural areas in Nevada and Utah seem to have a lower ratio than rural areas elsewhere?

What spatial patterns of food expenditures can you discover using this Web GIS resource? What implications do these patterns have?

-Joseph J. Kerski, Esri Education Manager

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