Tag Archives: Projects

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 205: Good Soil Yields Good Learning

Among the US 50 states, Nebraska ranks #37 in population, with about 1.9 million, or not quite 0.6%. But knowing about US population distribution and looking at the USK12GIS map, Nebraska stands out, with the sixth highest rate of “ArcGIS Online ConnectED Orgs per 100 schools.” How did this happen? Persons and policies matter, certainly, but so does timing, working along multiple fronts, and geography — matters of local significance.

Visionary educators had presented to colleagues about the potential of GIS in Nebraska since before 2000, but saw little yield before 2013. Then, longtime geography teacher Harris Payne became the state social studies coordinator, and collaborations with many (including Geography Alliance leader Randy Bertolas, GIS instructor Leslie Rawlings, and state GIS coordinator Nathan Watermeier) lit rockets. A year-long push yielded a K12 state license for Esri software. Payne participated in Esri’s T3G Institute for educators, immediately on the heels of Esri launching its ConnectED effort (providing free ArcGIS Online to any US K12 school). And the Nebraska Environmental Trust provided a 3-year grant supporting summer workshops for “Educating the Next Generation of Nebraskans About Soil Conservation Using the Power of GIS.”

Numerous teacher workshops later, the impact is clear. Concerned about its place in the world’s breadbasket, Nebraska recognizes the need for soil conservation. Today’s learners require a holistic understanding to avoid “treating the soil like dirt,” in Payne’s words. Two-day workshops involved instruction about soil, gathering data, and building Story Maps with which to teach. But the learning grew into other fields: career guidance, mapping 9-1-1 calls, fire station coverage and travel time, restaurant maps, daily traffic and that after “Big Red football games,” diseases, tourism, personal history, and beyond. “It’s not about clicking but about improving the community,” said Payne.

GIS can make its way into school instruction when savvy leaders identify good opportunities. Just as New Hampshire spread GIS through a coalition of tech-savvy leaders in multiple arenas, and Arkansas spread GIS through its tech-based service learning, and Virginia spread GIS through statewide and district efforts, Nebraska saw that fertile ground was its fertile ground. When educators and influencers identify missions of local importance, the synergy offered by the power and flexibility of GIS yields great results.

Charlie Fitzpatrick, Esri Education Manager

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Fun with GIS 202: Roots & Shoots

Jane Goodall. The name conjures images of science, documentaries, jungles, crowded auditoriums, and visions for a better world. Jane’s work and passion have captured minds and hearts across the globe. For 25 years, young people have engaged in community projects through her “Roots & Shoots” organization, learning that they can make a difference, at home and across the globe.

Roots & Shoots makes it easy to start, with a 4-step formula: Get engaged, make a map, take action, and celebrate. This year, Roots & Shoots added ArcGIS Online to the mapping alternatives, so now projects can combine digital mapping, collaboration, and analysis. Is it powerful? See the video featuring teachers and students of the Math, Science, & Technology Magnet Academy of Roosevelt High School (Los Angeles, CA). See also the youth leader blog on the Jane Goodall Institute page; leaders from across USA visited Esri and learned about adding ArcGIS Online in their work and outreach.

Projects are not just the most powerful way for people to learn GIS. They are also the best way for people to see that they can make a difference in the world, no matter their age. Roots & Shoots projects epitomize “service” — something done for the benefit of another. Roots and shoots help plants spread out and grow, and Roots & Shoots projects can allow young people to shape their world and their future.

Charlie Fitzpatrick, Esri education manager

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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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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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Fun With GIS 196: Esri ConnectED Showcase

Esri joined President Obama’s ConnectED Initiative in May 2014, offering a billion dollars worth of learning resources and teacher support. Two years later, one school district stands out as a model of implementation: Loudoun County (VA) Public Schools.

Since 2005, LCPS had participated in the Geospatial Semester program (through James Madison University), teaching GIS to hundreds of high school seniors (and even juniors) through a project-based approach. Lead GIS teacher Mike Wagner attended Esri’s 2013 Teachers Teaching Teachers GIS institute, and science coordinator Odette Scovel in 2014, building strategies for helping others use GIS. ConnectED opened new horizons.

Agreeing that all 89 LCPS schools needed their own ArcGIS Online Organization, Scovel released Wagner from some classroom duties with “Get them up and running.” Now, every school has an Org underway, with students and teachers logging in. The district is more convinced than ever that ArcGIS Online opens doors for student learning, engagement, and opportunities.

Some LCPS schools use GIS more vigorously than others, according to their needs and culture. But 35 elementary schools fed data to the district’s Project Daffodil, examining relationships between weather and plants. Some first graders worked with high school honors students to map kindness. Middle school students use pre-crafted story maps to learn standard classroom content in science and social studies. High school students create story maps to deepen their own learning and help others, in history, science, and even English literature. Some special needs students use GIS to help them understand and document tasks in their day.

This summer, Wagner will lead two days of ArcGIS Online training for elementary teachers, and a week of activities for middle school and high school teachers. Such investment positions LCPS well for the huge market of GIS jobs in the region and beyond. This vision and action earned LCPS a Special Achievements in GIS Award in 2015, and already yields benefits in student learning. Kudos to LCPS for recognizing opportunity and rising to meet it! (For more info, contact Mike Wagner.)

Charlie Fitzpatrick, Esri Education Manager

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Fun with GIS 195: Map Contest!

Nifty idea, Minnesota! They are running a map competition for the state’s middle school and high school students! Build a “finished product map” — a presentation, app, or Story Map — using ArcGIS Online. Five entries each for the two divisions (grades 6-8 and 9-12) will receive equal awards.

Mapped content must be inside the borders of the state — perhaps a region, a watershed, a city, a neighborhood. This limits the students’ possible content to a somewhat “known universe,” while permitting an unlimited array of topics from which to choose.

This is a nice model for states or even school districts that want to nudge students toward thinking of geography as more than “states and capitals,” and promoting futures in the geospatial tech arena. In fact, students in MN must have a “personal learning plan,” so building maps into their future is a good strategy.

Since any US K12 school can acquire an ArcGIS Online Organization account for instruction for free, and since many classes suffer from spring fever as the weather warms, this new opportunity to acquire and apply skills may spark some extra focus. (The judges may have their hands full!) Kudos, Minnesota!

Charlie Fitzpatrick, Esri Education Manager

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Fun with GIS 190: Sharing Work

Got interesting student-made maps? Share them! You can, via ArcGIS Online Organizations, while controlling exposure of personally identifiable info (“PII“). Success depends on students minimizing PII in the content, Org admins creating a login for sharing, and having a location to share.

Orgs can use a single login to host the Org’s best content for sharing. (See “Showcase Logins” in AGO Orgs for Schools.) Such “showcase logins” need a well-designed and publicly visible profile that tells about the Org’s users. Org admins can then transfer into this login ownership of “completed content.” By helping students minimize use of PII during construction, good content can be shared safely.

A new GeoForm lets Org admins share a single map or app, a special collection, or the public parts of an entire Org. Follow the guidance on the GeoForm details page and you can safely share content beyond the school. Content nominated here for sharing may become accessible via the US K12GIS Story Map.

Let the world see student work! Keep the students and the work safe, while making them proud to share their best.

Charlie Fitzpatrick, Esri Education Manager

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Fun with GIS 185: Integrating STEM

“In which class does GIS belong?” I’m often asked. “Wherever you encourage critical thinking,” I reply. With furrowed brow, they continue, “We don’t teach geography, so maybe US history, or environmental science? Certainly not English or math or language. But, high school career tech, or middle school gifted, or what?” I smile and say “All of those, for sure, but more. Wherever you want students to dive in, explore, analyze data, integrate, present, and collaborate. Certainly from 4th grade on up, for every student, in all subjects, but even younger students can benefit. Web-based GIS means it is accessible on any connected device, anytime, anywhere.”

School should be a process in which all students learn why and how to learn; scaffold thinking skills; find, analyze, and interpret data; practice making decisions; engage deeply; integrate, communicate, and collaborate; create and share; listen, observe, and reflect. The content can vary widely, and GIS can be a great tool for all of these, whether examining community demographics, national history, soil productivity, urban planning, factors affecting variation in climate models, or the density of ant colonies across the school playground.

The recent meeting of the State Educational Technology Directors Association (SETDA) featured a presentation by the Math, Science, and Technology Magnet Academy of Roosevelt High School, from the Boyle Heights neighborhood of East Los Angeles. Four seniors and two alums, plus the 11th grade English and Social Studies teachers and principal, shared their story. Each year, the juniors have a major project that is service learning, community based, personally chosen, team designed, data driven, justice-oriented, intensely researched and analyzed, and mapped, written, and taught. In this STEM school, two “non-STEM” teachers coach the class on how to use ArcGIS Online to enrich their experience, expand their skills, integrate their knowledge, gather field data to expand their findings, and power their presentation. The standing ovation by state and national leaders at SETDA is what students in all grades, all subjects, all schools should be earning.


(Above: Adult and student presenters. SETDA presentation visible there, or see this presentation by MSTMA/RHS at Esri’s 2013 User Conference, before 10,000 GIS professionals.)

Any US K12 school can have the same GIS used by MSTMA, for free, via Esri’s ConnectED offer. Teachers who want an easy starting point will find instructional materials with which to explore the basics, in classic content or one’s own vision. Schools seeking to replicate the MSTMA model need to be willing to cross lines, break down barriers, and let go the reins of adult control and empower students.

Charlie Fitzpatrick, Esri Education Manager

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