Tag Archives: iPad

Fun with GIS 166: Pay it Forward

Who was the mentor who most affected your life? What did she say? What did he do? A good mentor builds a relationship, draws out existing capacity, and opens up new possibilities. A mentor finds out what you seek, and helps you consider important options. Everyone needs a mentor … even educators.

When Esri launched our effort through ConnectED, we also sought to rekindle the GeoMentor program. Hundreds of schools now have an ArcGIS Online Organization, but it’s new enough that few know how best to take advantage. See the story map of GIS in US K12 Education.

But only a very few educators have taken the bold step of saying “Yes, please, I could use a hand!” It doesn’t take long to seek a hand – visit a website, enter a login, zoom to your workplace, and enter some info so someone can find you. Then, you can go exploring as well.

Compare those few educators with the GeoMentor map. Almost ten times as many mentors as educators have said “Count me in!” Some parts of the country are rich in volunteers. Excellent odds for educators, and promise for the students!

Esri has provided a number of resources for educators with which to start using GIS even on their own, but having a mentor can turbo-charge this. See the GeoMentor page for ideas on how to engage in a relationship, as educator or as mentor … or both.

Put your dot on the map and seek out a partner. Esri has opened up tools for mapping and analyzing data anytime, anywhere, on any connected device. The youth of the country are familiar with tech and hungry to engage in activities that matter. But they need teachers and schools to permit and encourage it.

Educators, it’s time for you to halloo. GeoMentors, it’s time for you to pay forward the remarkable gift someone helped you discover. Our kids need us to come through for them.

Charlie Fitzpatrick, Esri Education Manager

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Fun with GIS 165: Earth Science and Humans

Earth Science Week for 2014 arrived with the release of two fascinating story maps: The Age of Megacities and The Age of Humans. Earth science is fascinating in its own right for many students and adults, but others need to see its relationship to humans in order to pay attention. These two story maps use the powerful new “map journal” template to tell the stories, and this new template shows nicely on computers, tablets, and even smartphones.

Major cities have have expanded dramatically over time. Around the world, already 28 urban centers exceed 10 million people, with more expected in years ahead. A number of these face earth science-related challenges: earthquakes, volcanoes, floods, drought, hurricanes, sea level rise, and shifting conditions from a changing climate.

So many people in a concentrated space also makes one ponder the notion of humans as shapers of the planet. Adding another billion people, and another, and another … consuming resources and generating waste. Food, forests, biodiversity, climate, clean air and water, and our many support systems all sustain and depend on us. All are subject to the forces that shape our planet. But earth science shows that not all forces are titanic events of colossal power; some are slow but steady influences that accumulate and generate huge impact. Humans have become fundamental shapers of the atmosphere, biosphere, and hydrosphere, and tap increasingly into the lithosphere.

We are subjects of our host planet, and cannot avoid its conditions, but we also influence things far more than we might care to admit. Our survival depends on a holistic understanding of the dramatic forces that affect us, and the massive but uncontrolled power humans also wield.

Charlie Fitzpatrick, Esri Education Manager

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Fun with GIS 164: Web AppBuilder

What do you like: construction tools or a finished product? For education, it depends on the situation. Sometimes, it’s best to give people a “finished product” with which to explore content; this helps build certain kinds of knowledge and skills. Other times, people need a construction zone, which fosters learning too, though not necessarily the same. Still other times, it’s good to have the user build a “finished product” for others, so s/he can grapple with how others may think about information. Part of the magic of learning is that it happens via many channels. Part of the magic of GIS is that it can support all channels.

The new Web AppBuilder is a “tool for building finished products.” Usable from within an ArcGIS Online subscription, Web AppBuilder gives the user an erector set for converting a saved ArcGIS Online map into a sleek, focused app, with only the widgets the designer wants to provide. A bank of powerful choices is available, and a programmer can create even more. But with just the default set, it’s easy to build a custom experience in minutes, one which adapts well to use on devices of all shapes and sizes. So I decided to try it.

For several years, educators and students have used the “USA Demographics for Schools” map to explore patterns and relationships among people across the US. A second version added state and county boundaries to provide easy references as scale changed. I chose to convert this second version into a “USA Demographic for Schools” app, using the Web AppBuilder. It has easy to use bookmarks, measuring, and drawing tools, plus a quick “query a state’s counties” tool. And I tested this one app on my Mac, Windows, Chromebook, iPad, Android tablet, iPhone, and Android phone … all worked alike.

With powerful pre-built widgets and options to craft even more, the process for building apps is easy and fun using the simple but flexible wizard, and a good challenge to help users think about how others might want to explore data. It is another way in which educators can challenge students to learn background content and skills at the same time. And, for learners challenged by a blizzard of tools, Web AppBuilder makes it easy to create “one-trick ponies” — apps that do one or two main things and nothing else.

Esri’s support of ConnectED makes powerful mapping and analysis tools available to any US K12 school. The release of Web AppBuilder opens up yet another channel for the creative tinkerers of all ages who want in on the exploding world of geotechnology. Hold on to your hats!

Charlie Fitzpatrick, Esri Education Manager

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Fun with GIS 163: Any Connected Device, Anytime, Anywhere

Tablets are surging in K12 schools and US home. As a test, I’m writing this blog on my iPad while flying across the country, battling for the modest bandwidth with other device users among the 170 passengers. I want to use the special “Browse Esri Map Layers” option in ArcGIS Online to inspect some premium content. My flight goes near where I grew up, and I want to see some changes over time.

I was raised where woods, farm, and town mingled. I walked out the driveway and 100 yards down a dirt road to the school bus stop; across the paved road was a pig farm. Before I hit age 20, though, the area had become an exclusive suburb. Today, the region battles typical pressures on land use, water, and waste management, caused by population change and economic development. The pond where we chased turtles in summer and played hockey in winter is now a fen; hillsides of oaks and berry patches have sprouted houses and driveways.

I signed into my ArcGIS Online subscription, made a map, and chose “Browse Esri Map Layers” (an option available only for subscriptions). This curated content has a mix of optimized and categorized layers. I added and explored 2014-2019 USA Population Growth Rate, USA Development Risk, USA Hazardous Waste Sites, and USA NLCD Landscape. Content in the curated zone is all carefully documented, so I can tap and read underlying info, then tap and return to the map.

Though my internet connection is not fast, focusing on a specific region and minimizing redraw uses content cached in the browser, yielding reasonable performance. The iPad allows me to do all the exploration I would do on a full computer, and to swipe back and forth between map, screenshots, and document. I have even made a presentation, saved it, and iteratively revised it.

The magic of education is opening a mind to endless opportunity and fostering the disposition to explore. The magic of technology is not gadgets per se but rather what one can do with what is available; it’s vastly more thrilling to see students doing powerful things with modest tools than modest things with powerful tools. The magic of GIS is layers of data in the hands of a thinking explorer. The magic of Esri’s ConnectED offer of an ArcGIS Online subscription to any US K12 school is “any connected device, any time, anywhere.”

Charlie Fitzpatrick, Esri Education Manager

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Fun with GIS 152: Easy SwipeMap App

At the FFA conference this week, in the first hour of exhibiting, I decided to build an app. It took 10 minutes to build and 10 minutes to fine tune. It was a basic “swipe” app, usable in any browser, on computer, tablet, and smartphone. It is easy to build a simple app that can be used on multiple devices with just a few minutes of work via ArcGIS Online. The linked lesson is a “bare bones process,” to emphasize how easy it is to create. Later, you can create more elaborate maps and apps.

Check out my quick SwipeMap app, then see the lesson.

Since this is so doable, think about how to change your left and right panel maps, text, and links to show more important content. Or consider other web app templates. This one template works very well across devices; others may not work quite as well in the small form of smartphones. Experiment! It’s easy!

Charlie Fitzpatrick, Esri Education Manager

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Fun with GIS 150: Scaffolding

“GIS looks so exciting. And I know the perfect project. I just need to know what button to push.” This is a comment that I and others who work with educators hear frequently.

After watching people present their work, many of us want to be at that same high level, immediately. Me too. I’ve long wanted to be able to play the cello, speak Spanish, and shoot awesome photos. It takes time getting comfortable with the fundamentals of each to do them well. Time, and practice. Big goals are doable, but things worth doing require work, and it helps to have realistic goals at the start … neither too high nor too low.

The magic of ArcGIS Online is that it’s easy to use; one can build skills quickly. A few small documents can help learners (from, say, grade 3 on up) and educators climb steadily up the ladder of fundamentals. These docs have simple steps which help people learn with GIS, then teach with it, and then do more challenging projects.


  • AGO 5×5: Get a taste of the basics in ArcGIS Online, with no previous experience or login required.
  • Mapping With AGO: Learn from short videos, then online classes, then using a trial Org.
  • AGO Use Strategies: “50,000-foot view” of options for engaging students in a class/club setting.

For an educator who wants to start learning GIS, and has access to reasonable internet speed, my recommendations are, in order:

  1. Learn the essentials of ArcGIS Online (from AGO5x5, then Mapping steps 1-3). Use pre-constructed maps first, then make simple maps, then expand.
  2. Establish and use your own AGO public account (e.g. “Charlie’sPlayground”). Get comfortable opening, creating, saving, and sharing maps and apps, on computers, tablets, and smartphones. Focus on maps that are more and more analytical. Show a colleague or two what you’re doing, and help them create their own accounts. Have your students begin using AGO without signing in.
  3. Create and share a different public account, for a group of students (e.g. “LincolnSchool” or “LincolnGrade7″), where everyone logs in with the same credentials and creates their own folder in which to store their content. (That is, this should not be the same account as in #2 but a different public account. See AGOUse.) Get them used to seeing, using, building, saving, and sharing analytical maps.
  4. While students are learning to use ArcGIS Online and a public account effectively, explore what you can do with an Organization account. There are more tools, more capacity, more power, and each means more decisions to make. It will take a little time to get comfortable with how to use these capacities in one’s setting, but the investment is really worthwhile.

Building proper scaffolding takes a little time and attention, but allows educators and especially students to accomplish a lot with ArcGIS Online.

Charlie Fitzpatrick, Esri Education Manager

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Fun with GIS 148: Seeing History

It’s a terrible thing for a former social studies teacher to admit, but I was a lousy student of history. It just never made sense to me in school — a blizzard of names and facts. It was not until after I had become a geographer that history began to make sense in my head, by way of maps.

One of my favorite ArcGIS Online maps is this map of USA Territorial Acquisitions. Like so many texts, it presents a particular view of history but, being an online map, it allows alternative perspectives by adding in other data. In this case, several maps from the remarkable collection of David Rumsey have been added. Below, I’ve gone further, adding in a layer of Native American culture regions.

And like most ArcGIS Online content, the map can be used on Macs or Windows machines, Chromebooks (above), iPads (below), and even smartphones (top).  I think the most important part of history that I missed growing up was the geographic element — that it happens in places, and the locations, layers, conditions, patterns, distances, obstacles, and so forth have an impact on what happens.

The history teachers from my youth later became my friends and mentors as I went back to teach at my old school. But I saw things in new ways then, and continue to expand my vision still. I think this is what we owe today’s young people — views into the past from many angles and perspectives, considering all the layers in the complex fabric that is our collective history (and not simply ignoring that which is embarrassing or egregious), so we may understand how we came to be as we are today, and mark a clearer view into the future.

With thanks to my teachers: Ms.M, Mr.S, Mr.M, Ms.V Prof.L.

Charlie Fitzpatrick, Esri Education Manager

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Fun with GIS 142: iPad GeoPower

Small but powerful, iPads have taken hold in many classrooms. With good connectivity, these tablets offer rich exploration, data gathering, analysis, and presentation, via ArcGIS Online. Lacking the horsepower, browser plugins, and multi-function mouse of a full computer, there are limits, but savvy users can still accomplish quite a lot.

The ArcGIS for iOS app opens existing projects containing modest data sets. With sustained wifi or cell connection, field data entry is a snap, including adding on-site photo/video and using GPS-based location. Swapping basemaps and turning layers on and off just requires accessing side panels. Shifting between multiple accounts is easy, as the app can store full connection info.

But I just use the iPad’s regular web browser, because it permits full access to authoring (including saving and sharing), layer controls like transparency, and the rich and growing body of ArcGIS Online data and analysis power, just like my computer. It takes only a few seconds to get used to tapping to focus the tablet’s attention and then tapping again to engage a control.

Even maps with data loads that overtax the ArcGIS for iOS app (such as “GLOBEdemo” above) often work inside the iPad’s web browser. This means that, if you can do it on a computer in a regular browser, including playing a presentation (such as “TX Demographics” below), you can usually do it on an iPad.

Many schools today are looking for reasons to use the banks of iPads they have acquired, particularly in activities that engage students in analysis and presentation. ArcGIS Online provides unlimited opportunity for educators who are willing to unleash students in exploring, creating, and analyzing data.

Charlie Fitzpatrick, Esri Education Manager

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Fun with GIS 136: Analysis Rocks!

“Please computer show me all features where…” I think this is the sweetest phrase in all of GIS. Why does GIS rock? Analysis!  It’s technology’s marvelous ability to sift through a bunch of data, and show the answer to a compelling question. The user has to provide the data and craft a clear and meaningful question that the computer can answer. For an educator, this is magic! It is a wonderfully simple, clear, and potent demonstration of problem-solving. The guts of GIS is features and their attributes, but the brain of GIS is analysis.

The latest upgrade to ArcGIS Online now makes it easy to see and practice analysis, allowing educators to build problem-solving skills from even a young age. Any feature service can now display a table of attributes, where users can sort and select and see relationships even more clearly. And properly formatted data can be filtered with queries, sifting out features that meet specific criteria.

To demo, I downloaded some data about US states – four years of 8th grade math scores in the National Assessment of Educational Progress (NAEP) test. In Excel, I collected summary scores from 2011, 2009, 2007, and 2005, and calculated the difference between 2005 and 2011. (For such a demo, I could have used as few as three features and three attributes, but making it realistic adds power.) I used Esri Maps for Office to convert the spreadsheet into a map layer, and then shared that layer through my ArcGIS Online organization.

Back in a classroom, students on computers or iPads could practice analysis, using the map, table, and filter tools! This is a fabulous workflow for educators – build a simple data set, publish it to ArcGIS Online, let your students bang away on it! In addition to the classification and symbolization that is a hallmark of GIS, now students can explore that table and select features of special interest.

Students can then filter out according to carefully crafted criteria, with simple queries about a single thing to very complex and even parameterized queries! And users don’t even need to be signed in if the data is shared with the public! This is awesome!

Education policy leaders are yearning for analytical thinking. Employers seek workers who can analyze information. The new geography standards and next generation science standards both call for students to demonstrate analysis. The Common Core State Standards call for analysis. STEM fields require constant analysis. This is why I’m so excited about the powerful combination of ArcGIS Online as a critical thinking arena, especially when used in conjunction with Esri Maps for Office. Opportunities for students to build analytical power are endless!

- Charlie Fitzpatrick, Esri Education Manager

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Fun with GIS 134: iPad GIS

Once upon a time, computers were huge and slow. Now? I’m typing this and snagging screenshots on an iPad. These devices rock for reading and writing. But can they do GIS? It depends on what you want to do. Visualization? Analysis? Data creation? All doable. OK, an iPad running ArcGIS Online does not have the horsepower of a robust workstation running ArcGIS Desktop, but it’s easier to tote around and use anywhere there’s connectivity.

With the ArcGIS for iOS app, one can open any number of pre-created maps, and use them largely as the designer intended for a laptop and larger. Here’s a screenshot from a popular resource, “USA Demographics for Schools,” accessible without being signed in, simply by typing the title in the “search for map” box in the ArcGIS for iOS app. Open it up, zoom in to the region of interest, and explore the layers. (See other US maps at http://esriurl.com/funwithgis119.)

Since 2002, a favorite resource for educators working with GIS has been “Mapping Our World.” It was created for ArcView 3, then for ArcGIS 9, then for ArcGIS 10, and is now available for free, engaging ArcGIS Online. Here’s a screenshot of the most commonly used lesson, exploring earthquakes around the world, and the map it uses. I floated back and forth between the doc and the map easily on my iPad.

The earthquake map above uses native ArcGIS Online and the iPad’s native browser, which means users can have a more or less similar experience as on a computer, just with finger-work on a touch-screen instead of mouse-clicks on the desk. This can take a little getting used to, and some activities call for two-handed work even on a computer, but many of the basic activities are just as easy on an iPad. So you can do some basic classification of layers, tweak the symbols, play with the transparency, do an identify, and so forth. Here’s a map built from scratch on iPad, using the “election2012″ layer from “Map the Vote“, showing the added layer classified (electoral votes available in 2012) and symbolized, and a feature identified.

Another blog included a lesson using editable feature services with smartphones. As long as your iPad has connectivity in the field, it’s just another field data collection device, with the benefits of portability, screen size, GPS, and camera. This is why many organizations are turning to tablets in the field for on-site data collection and integration. Here, I’m adding a data point with my favorite breakfast beverage (OJ, of course).

As with any technology in the hands of any user, the key is what’s going on in the user’s head. It’s vastly more exciting seeing people do powerful work with basic tools than do basic work with powerful tools. Even such an elegant tool as the iPad has limits, but with ArcGIS Online, users who engage vigorously have access to galaxies of data and an array of capacities that would have made GIS users a decade ago gape. “Explore, analyze, solve, communicate” is as relevant to an iPad-based user of ArcGIS Online as a workstation-based user of desktop GIS.

- Charlie Fitzpatrick, Esri Education Manager

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