Tag Archives: GeoMentor

Fun with GIS 200: Alternatives Matter

Education means freedom, the chance to learn and grow and change. Unfortunately, life can include roadblocks. Many public school districts support “alternative schools” for students who may not have stayed on schedule at a “traditional school.” At Esri’s 2016 User Conference, students from such a school — San Andreas High School (Highland, CA) — with only a few months of GIS experience, presented their work to over 10,000 GIS professionals from around the world.

Working with educators skilled in teaching with technology (but still new to GIS), the students learned to ask geographic questions, acquire relevant data, analyze it, interpret it, and present it, to their peers at school, and before a massive crowd of professionals. The school had let them do, and you can see the results.

From the first click, GIS offers the chance to do — to engage and explore, to puzzle and ponder, to tinker and tweak, to reflect and perfect. With boundless data available, users can dive deeper, focusing on matters of personal interest, whether topical or technological. GIS offers alternatives: ArcGIS Online provides easy access and quick success, and the broader ArcGIS platform means limitless opportunity. At all experience levels, users must make decisions constantly, and learn incessantly. New tools, strategies, and data appear endlessly, and at an accelerating pace, yielding ever more choices.

At San Andreas, one teacher heard about the opportunity of GIS via Esri’s ConnectED offer, investigated on her own, brought in her colleagues, engaged the students (with pioneers becoming leaders of succeeding waves), sparked a revolution, and presented to the world, in under 18 months.

Alternatives matter. Students in alternative schools are typically just as bright, capable, driven, engaging, feeling, and thirsty for opportunity as elsewhere. The endless capacity of GIS means those most open to and supportive of engagement, critical thinking, and fostering the opportunity for students to make a difference (for themselves, the community, and the planet) will succeed. All students can succeed with GIS; San Andreas showed it.

Charlie Fitzpatrick, Esri Schools Program Manager

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Fun with GIS 198: Two ConnectED Years

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

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

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

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

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

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

Charlie Fitzpatrick, Esri Education Manager

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Valuable educational tips from mentor David Neils

My colleague David Neils is one of my favorite mentors.  David runs the International Telementor Program and is very active in connecting students and faculty at all levels with industry professionals for the goal of fostering workforce skills development.  He is also one of the greatest wildlife photographers and advocates for outdoor education that I’ve ever known.

He recently summarized some of the gems he is regularly sharing in his presentations and workshops, and graciously agreed to allow me to post this for the greater community:

1. Follow up quickly and professionally on all communication with industry professionals. Dead air is common today from students. Avoid it like the plague.

2. Look for ways to make a difference RIGHT NOW for these professionals and others who you connect with. Learn more about the industry WHILE MAKING A DIFFERENCE.

3. Be sure you set the bar at or above industry expectations for all of your student work and work outside of school. Don’t let your instructors set the bar of quality any more. They won’t set it high enough for you to be competitive. Grade inflation is rampant. Don’t be a casualty. Have all of your work reviewed by industry. You’ll find you are capable of producing stellar work and it will open up doors.

4. Make sure your education plan ALWAYS supersedes the institutional requirements of any institution you’re at. Your institution is simply a catalyst for you to blow the doors off with your interests, natural abilities, and energy. To be successful you must view your school as just one small part of your education experience, goals, and objectives.

5. Pay it forward. Help fellow students learn the ropes. Reach back into a local high school or middle school and share with students the powerful journey you’re on. Few things in life will produce more

6. Develop win-win relationships with successful alumni from the program you’re currently in. Dig in and learn all you can about these alumni before you connect. Determine why they’ve been successful. Figure out what keeps them up at night professionally, and figure out a way to help solve their challenges. Nothing opens up doors faster, nothing. Only one out of a million college students thinks this way. You’ll definitely stand out.

7. When you connect with a successful professional, use this approach:

1. Be humble, transparent, appreciative and professional in all of your communication.

2. Let the professional know you still have a lot to learn but while you’re learning you want to help.

3. Identify an area of mutual interest (you’ve done your homework) that you’d like to tackle and note the time frame, etc.

4. Be clear regarding what you’re asking of the professional and the time frame involved.

5. Note how you’re going to wrap things up and share the results.

6. Thank the professional in a heartfelt, professional way. (Handwritten thank you cards have the greatest impact).

Note from Joseph Kerski:  What are you reactions to the above?  I look forward to hearing your comments below.
Ways to contact David:


Want to be a mentor in the fields of STEM, geography, and GIS?  Or find a mentor for your school or program? One way to do so is via the GeoMentor program.

David Neils setting up one of his wildlife webcams in Colorado.

David Neils setting up one of his wildlife webcams in Colorado.

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Fun with GIS 191: Survey123

Gathering great field data can be a challenge. A new Esri tool makes it much easier. Survey123 is robust and easy for educators to begin using.

Survey123 relies on a carefully crafted spreadsheet to define the data elements and parameters. The power and familiarity of a spreadsheet make the task manageable even for non-data-wonks. A simple survey can be built and published in a minute (watch the video!), and tested and expanded iteratively. The result is a powerful survey for deployment in the Survey123 app on iOS and Android tablets and smartphones, online or offline, supporting picture attachments, with a map. And anyone in an Org can use it.

Android tablet and iPhone view of same survey

The short intro video (on YouTube) shows the guts. The browser approach is very simple, but the more powerful spreadsheet process takes a little getting used to, and an example helps. I have built a spreadsheet that anyone can download and use inside their Org (as is or customized) to gather some non-invasive personal data, in English or Spanish. Watch the video, download the spreadsheet, and examine how it was built. Publish it once as is, and have students create data on mobile devices, populating the feature service you’ve published. Then look at the data in ArcGIS Online, and finish by dreaming aloud about the data you could gather to amplify learning.

This is a great tool for getting students actively engaged in generating data. The whole class could collaborate on design of a survey, or teams could build their own on different topics — about wildlife in the community, local water quality, visitors to a regional attraction, nearby historic sites, features along routes to school, locations that could support butterfly gardens, and so on. Check out the sample spreadsheet and Survey123!

Charlie Fitzpatrick
Esri Education Manager

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Fun with GIS 184: Mentors Make a Difference

Mentoring gets good press, and for good reason: It works. Geomentors work with teachers or students, depending on the situation. They conduct quick presentations on up to full-day and even multi-day trainings, or provide custom 1:1 support. And it really helps.

Recently, I was at the annual conference for Minnesota’s professional GIS meeting, where a workshop was scheduled at the front end, mid-week. A two-track educator day (“intro” and “beyond intro”, led by both teachers and mentors) drew 50 educators from up to a 4-hour drive away; about 300 GIS professionals went through their own tracks. At lunch, the educators sat in a clump sharing experiences. Addressing the full group, I asked the educators to stand, then asked the GIS pros how many would be willing to help a school in their area. More than 50 hands shot up. At the end-of-day mixer, new relationships formed, and the entire day cemented a mission for the professional community.

Later in the week, I listened to educators who had led summer GIS workshops. One had brought in GIS pros as part of the event, taking time then to formalize relationships, which yielded extra support for the educators afterward. This matches what I’ve heard elsewhere: mentors and educators alike have benefitted from the experience.

Online GIS is becoming commonplace, and demographic and economic patterns mean huge opportunity for students with GIS knowledge and skills. Educators grappling with the bucking broncos of educational mandates, technological shifts, fiscal constraints, and societal expectations need a hand. Any US K12 school can have free access to powerful software and instructional materials for GIS, via Esri’s commitment to President Obama’s ConnectED Initiative. Expanded resources help educators begin. But geomentors make a difference between teachers who “would like to do some GIS someday” and those who “are helping kids and community already, which will pay off for years to come.”

Charlie Fitzpatrick, Esri Education Manager

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Fun with GIS 180: Esri K12 GIS Org

School’s open! Just in time, Esri’s ArcGIS Online Organization for K12 GIS has grown stronger. The front carousel sports easy access to intro documents, lessons, maps and apps, and videos. (Scroll right for specialty items.) Contents are curated and organized to help learners of all kinds find most quickly the resources of greatest value. This includes easy-to-use instructional materials and access to an ArcGIS Online Org for any US K12 school, as part of Esri’s commitment to the ConnectED Initiative. Use the shortlink http://esriurl.com/k12gis.

Charlie Fitzpatrick, Esri Education Manager

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Fun with GIS 178: Mentors Matter

Sarah and Lily Jenkins, two sisters from the quiet Hawaiian island of Molokai, “stole the show” on Monday of the 2015 Esri Conference. At least that was the sentiment of the few dozen people who stopped me during the rest of the conference. “And they’ve inspired me to work with my local school,” most added. Outstanding!

For over 20 years, Esri has encouraged GIS users to work with schools. In 2009, Esri and National Geographic launched a formal GeoMentor program, encouraging mentors to work with educators. (See Maps 3&4.) In 2015, the Association of American Geographers added new structure and energy, making it easier than ever for educators and mentors to find each other, and then document collaborations. And, since 2000, every student group to appear on Esri’s stage has had a mentor.

The best situation is when an insatiable educator and a passionate GIS user collaborate over repeated interactions. A single experience is nice but, like one bite of a meal, inadequate. Good relationships take time, trust, and interaction — honest sharing of goals, information, and chances for both to benefit. Some schools let outside mentors work with students as well as educators; others restrict things to adult interactions only, mentor to educator.

But mentors can — and sometimes must — work outside of school with known kids in the community. That’s what happened with Sarah and Lily. A local conservation mentor “adopted” them when only 8 and 6 years old; they worked on a string of local science-related projects for 9 years … first a little, then a little more, and so on. Several years ago, a STEM education mentor from another island saw their potential and began offering additional opportunities and guidance. Then, as they embarked on their most challenging project to date in fall of 2014, a GIS mentor gave just enough guidance to overcome difficulties. The “March of the Molokai Mangroves” is a powerful analysis of an invasive species with huge impact on a small and fragile island. Sarah and Lily showed brilliance, passion, grit, and grace under fire, presenting to more people than live on their island. Their project earned international acclaim and attention from federal agencies and international scientists … but not at school. Sometimes it works that way.

Mentors can have a huge impact in kids’ lives. It might come thru a teacher, or alongside one, or via a club or youth group, or just by working with a kid you know, independently. Does it matter? Just watch Sarah and Lily, and think about the kids you know. You can make a difference. Mentors matter.

Charlie Fitzpatrick, Esri Education Manager

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Fun with GIS 176: A ConnectED Year

On May 27 of 2014, President Obama welcomed Esri to the ConnectED Initiative, an effort to help all US K12 students be effective digital learners. The President asked private industry to help with devices, connectivity, learning resources, and support for educators. Esri President Jack Dangermond offered to every US K12 school (public, private, or homeschool) an ArcGIS Online Organization and various educational supports. Amazon Web Services, provider of essential infrastructure in ArcGIS Online, generously stepped up to help.

ArcGIS Online Organizations let users make maps and analyze data. These specially configured school accounts offer what business, government, and agencies around the world increasingly find valuable: a custom portal, vast galaxies of data, and a fleet of applications simple enough for grade school students yet robust enough for mission critical or scientific work. Tying it all together is the chance to build, host, and share content in a safe and secure environment.

Over a thousand schools have begun using accounts, across the grades and subject areas. Kids are tracking butterflies and whales, mapping great literature and local history, calculating watersheds and earthquake hotspots, monitoring civic activities and signs of climate change, and sharing the results of their work. They are exploring the multiple factors that influence complex issues, making decisions, and solving problems … just like adults do.

In the digital world, this is what students most need — experience coping with ill-structured problems, managing unending inputs, integrating wide-ranging background to find relationships, asking questions that bring out patterns, and synthesizing and communicating meaning. Educators long to breathe life into material in the form of projects, which are like “educational Velcro” — they hold students’ focus, bringing together the scattered collections of numbers and concepts and places. Education is not delivery but engagement, and projects let students invest, follow their ideas, innovate, create, and share.

Web-based mapping means “any device, anytime, anywhere connected.” Students can go from a tablet at home to a friend’s smartphone to Mac, Windows, and Chromebook through the school day, opening and manipulating the same map each time. Students who can thus adapt and use opportunities are building their pathway for college, career, and community life.

But in this ever-accelerating world, educators need mentors to show what’s possible, get the ball rolling, and provide guidance over time about how to take advantage of these valuable accounts (beyond $10,000 per account per year). Powerful resources including easy-to-use intros are waiting to help launch students on new trajectories. We just need the current GIS user community to follow a simple school rule: “Each one teach one.” Before another year goes by, we need those who know to make a personal commitment: share with an educator whose school is without these great resources. Help a teacher and a bunch of kids get connected, at http://www.esri.com/ConnectED.

Charlie Fitzpatrick, Esri Education Manager.

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Fun with GIS 171: Lighthouses

Maps are magical because they expose so much info so quickly. This works even for GIS in education. In mid-2014, the White House announced Esri’s participation in ConnectED. ArcGIS Online Organization subscriptions started being issued to any US K12 school requesting one for instruction. At the 2014 Esri Conference, we launched a story map showing these. Today, that number is about 1000.

The second map in the series shows “Lighthouses.” A lighthouse is a beacon, a guidepost for those in need, a marker for all to consider as they make their way. Some are tall, robust, and brilliant, with clarion voice; others are more quiet, less dramatic. The best lighthouses work in concert with others, so explorers can advance ever farther. Today, this map shows just one per state, but we know there are other “lighthouses of GIS in K12 ed.”

The map has a link inviting lighthouse nominations — administrative as well as instructional, informal as well as formal. Tell us about someone using GIS in K12 education, or supporting it from outside, so we can explore the story, enrich the map, and help others progress more swiftly and safely.

The other maps contain powerful content as well — educators in search of mentors, GeoMentors willing to help educators, alums of Esri’s T3G educator institute who can provide guidance, and states and districts with broad licenses. The patterns and relationships in these maps tell powerful stories, but we really want more lighthouses with which to guide others. Help us out by nominating situations from which others could learn, whether your own story or that of someone else.

Charlie Fitzpatrick, Esri Education Manager

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Fun With GIS 170: GeoResolution 2015

For many of us, new year’s resolutions are all too easy to make and break. So, this year, how about something different — a GeoResolution — a specific commitment to help a single teacher start mapping in class with ArcGIS Online.

Esri has made it easy to begin. There’s an ArcGIS Online Organization with starting resources just waiting for exploration.

The first button, “01.InstructionDocs”, has starting materials, neatly arranged from quick and easy to longer and more involved. The document “ArcGIS Online 5×5″ is one that a teacher with only a few minutes of experience can use immediately in class, on Macs, PCs, Chromebooks, iPads, or Android tablets.

ArcGIS Online allows educators great flexibility for instruction, so be sure to walk the teacher through the “ArcGIS Online Use Strategies” document. It has a lot of text, but highlights the advantages of each route, and lists some “best practices.” Many teachers have found it easy to move from “no login” to “public account” to “Organization” in their teaching.

ArcGIS Online Organizations offer professional mapping tools via just a web browser. Already, hundreds of teachers and thousands of students have started using these Organizations. Esri has made these Organizations available for free to US K12 schools, for instructional use. After introducing a teacher to the basics, be sure to point out the form for requesting an Organization for the school.

Time is already flying! When will you complete your GeoResolution?

Charlie Fitzpatrick, Esri Education Manager

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