Tag Archives: Spatial Thinking

Interpreting Our World: New book on 100 Revolutions in Geography

Looking for a new way to teach and learn about geography?  I have written a new book entitled Interpreting Our World:  100 Discoveries that Revolutionized Geography, described in this video.  This book demonstrates why geography matters in the modern-day world through its examination of 100 moments throughout history that had a significant impact on the study of geography—which means, literally, “writing about the earth” or “describing the earth.”

Geography is not simply accounts of the lands of earth and their features; it’s about discovering everything there is to know about our planet. This book shows why geography is of critical importance to our world’s 21st-century inhabitants through an exploration of the past and present discoveries that have been made about the earth. It pinpoints 100 moments throughout history that had a significant impact on the study of geography and the understanding of our world, including widely accepted maps of the ancient world, writings and discoveries of key thinkers and philosophers, key exploration events and findings during the Age of Discovery, the foundations of important geographic organizations, and new inventions in digital mapping today.

The book begins with a clear explanation of geography as a discipline, a framework, and a way of viewing the world, followed by coverage of each of the 100 discoveries and innovations that provides sufficient background and content for readers to understand each topic. Students will gain a clear sense of what is truly revolutionary about geography, perhaps challenging their preconceived notion of what geography actually is, and grasp how important discoveries revolutionized not only the past but the present day as well.

It is my hope that the book clearly provides readers with an understanding of why geography matters to our 21st-century world and an awareness of how geography affects our everyday lives and is key to wise decision making. I have also ensured that the book addresses and explains key themes of geography, including scale, physical processes, cultural processes, patterns, relationships, models, and trends.  The book also integrates time, space, and place in geography, documenting how it is not only the study of spatial patterns, but also the fact that many discoveries in geography came about because of the particular time and place in which the discoverers lived.

The book was published by ABC-CLIO and is available from the publisher and via Amazon.

And yes, the book includes plenty about geotechnologies that we discuss in this blog, including GIS, GPS, remote sensing, web mapping, UAVs, and other technologies from astrolabes and compasses to theodolites and the Internet of Things.

Interpreting Our World:  100 Discoveries that Revolutionized Geography

Interpreting Our World: 100 Discoveries that Revolutionized Geography.

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Why Data Quality Matters – Now More Than Ever

Not long ago, obtaining data for a GIS-based project was an arduous task. Because great time and effort was involved with either creating your own data or obtaining data that someone else created, you had to think carefully about the quality of the data that would go into your project. While it can still be cumbersome to obtain data at specific scales for specific areas, cloud-based data services, crowdsourced maps and databases and real-time streaming make it easy for anyone to obtain vast amounts of data in a short amount of time.

In such an environment where so much data is available, is data quality still of concern? I believe that yes, data quality does matter. In fact, because data is so easy to obtain data nowadays, and with the advent of crowdsourcing and cloud-based GIS such as ArcGIS Online, I submit that data quality considerations actually matter now more than ever before. And for those of us who are GIS, STEM, and geography educators, I believe this topic merits inclusion in many courses. In fact, I have found that discussing this topic connects well to critical thinking, spatial thinking, location privacy, and other relevant themes that we need to address in our courses.  In these three examples, I illustrate in an article I wrote for Directions Magazine, I focus on why data quality matters both now and in the future.

The first example describes my mapping of a GPS-collected track in ArcGIS Online.  The second example focuses on mapping health data for Rhode Island towns.  The last example is entitled “Walking on Water?” – and it has to do with resolution and scale.  But I won’t spoil it for you – read the article, and then below this essay, I look forward to hearing how you teach about data quality.

Why Data Quality Matters - Now More Than Ever

Why Data Quality Matters – Now More Than Ever. Examples.

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Fun with GIS 203: Index Grids Rule

Think back to your early map reading days. Do you remember using an index or reference grid — rows and columns of letters and numbers — to find a zone in which to look for something? These grids are really helpful for many learners and many purposes. Now there is an app (still beta, but robust) with which to generate such grids as needed.

It’s simple. Log in to the app with your ArcGIS Online credentials (publishing privileges are required), pan and zoom to the region of interest, set the desired number of rows and columns, click a button and drag a box, and a graphic grid appears. If you don’t like it, just hit the trash button and try it again. When happy, click the button, and the system generates a feature layer in your contents for you. It works at all scales I’ve wanted to try — from a parking lot to a continent. (Naturally, local level minimizes issues of cartographic distortion.)

Some educators have wanted a grid atop a portion of their school grounds in order to assign data collection tasks, or even to reference player positions on an athletic field. Others have wanted a grid atop a state map to support teaching about features and locations. The grids can be generated quickly for ad hoc processes, and can be labeled, symbolized, and filtered by attribute.

I like to put a grid atop just the topographic basemap, save the map, share it, and open the map in Explorer for ArcGIS. Try it, and I think you’ll agree: grids rule.

Charlie Fitzpatrick, Esri Schools Program Manager

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New book released – STEM and GIS in Higher Education


The new e-book from Esri, STEM and GIS in Higher Education compiles 19 university case studies describing innovative ways faculty are incorporating GIS to advance STEM related activities in higher education. As a successor to the 2012 Advancing Stem Education with GIS this book explores how faculty, staff, and students are successfully using GIS to analyze and better understand data in their specific STEM fields. As a sequel, this book is designed to foster the expansion of spatial analysis throughout the sciences and engineering. The content highlights successful experiences that describe innovative approaches to the collection, analysis, and display of spatial data and the unique benefits of applying GIS methods.  The nineteen chapters are assembled into three sections.

Section 1: Campus Support for Spreading GIS into STEM Disciplines

Demonstrate how major universities have established technical and academic infrastructure to support the use of GIS across campuses. These institutions represent models of “Spatial Universities” that have committed to the establishment of infrastructure to foster multidisciplinary spatially oriented learning and research. The examples provide a glimpse of how these organizations are serving as catalysts to stimulate interdisciplinary collaboration. Specific examples demonstrate new approaches to data sharing through enhanced library functions, highlight new ways to utilize cloud based servers for realistic technical training, and preview cutting edge geodesign applications. They also illustrate ways to incorporate GIS to support campus facilities and foster interaction with local communities.

Section 2: Teaching and Learning about Spatial Analysis

Provide examples of ways that GIS and spatial analysis can serve as the focal point of courses in STEM disciplines. These examples should be useful to faculty in STEM disciplines who desire to incorporate innovative new activities for their students. The case studies demon-strate how GIS can be used to expand the technical abilities of stu-dents, helping to improve their understanding of real world problems while generating products that foster communication skills. It is significant that these experiences strongly suggest that the new breed of GIS software, such as ArcGIS Online and Esri Story Map app, will provide a fast track to curriculum deployment.

Section 3: GIS Applications in STEM disciplines

Describe research projects conducted by faculty and students in sci-ence and engineering that incorporate spatial analysis. These examples are designed to clearly demonstrate the value of GIS oriented research methods to traditional scientific investigations.

The contributions to this book were selected from submissions in response to a widely distributed call for chapters. These chapters cover activities at a wide range of institutions that include a cross section of Carnegie One private research universities, major state universities, smaller engineering colleges, and state supported regional campuses. The authors include biologists, engineers, physicians, environmental scientists, chemists, and psychologists. These lighthouse authors empower their students to discover, create, analyze, and display spatial data within the constraints of traditional university settings.

Explore the story map and no-cost e-book at http://www.esriurl.com/STEMGIS

If you are interested in contributing your university’s STEM and GIS program to the map, see the geoform at http://arcg.is/2cWoYvj .

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Start your engines! Analyzing car race data in ArcGIS Online

Analyzing car race data in ArcGIS Online

Analyzing car race data in ArcGIS Online!

One of my colleagues at Esri has a hobby that is quite exciting – she races cars.  Timing is everything.  During her first race at “nationals”, she won by 9 thousands (.009) of a second!  But besides timing, a wide variety of other data are collected during each race.  These data can be mapped in ArcGIS Online and used in education to foster spatial thinking in geography, physics, mathematics, and other disciplines.  For her recent race at Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, California, where she was driving a Mitsubishi Evolution Lancer, I created a web map based on the data she generously provided.   Use the map with the following guiding questions, or make up your questions.   Investigate the data while fostering spatial thinking using this engaging topic!  Be sure to show your students this video of the first time my colleague drove this type of car and a more recent video here (but be sure to hold on while watching!).

Here is the race car!  A Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution.

Here is the race car! A Mitsubishi Lancer Evolution.

Each racing event uses a custom course, which is marked off with pylon cones.  What do you notice about the spatial pattern of this course?  How many sharp curves did it include?  Go to the bookmark “Best Scale”.  Use the measure tool and measure the distance that the car drove between the start and finish line using the “Track of Race Car” layer as your guide when measuring.  Compare that distance against the straight line distance between the two locations.

Turn on the other map layers and open their tables to investigate the following questions:

Examine the Speed MPH layer.  What was the speed achieved around the first curve?  Where did the vehicle achieve its maximum speed?  What is the relationship of speed to the curvature of the track?  What was the speed across the finish line?

Turn on the acceleration layer.  What is the lateral acceleration around the first curve?  What was the range of acceleration around the race course?  What is the relationship of acceleration to speed?  Examine the oil pressure PSI layer.  What is the relationship of the oil pressure to speed?  Why?

Each of the data points was resampled for a reading every 0.12 seconds. For additional math and physics integration, measure the distance between two adjacent data points in feet or meters, determine how long it took my colleague to cover that distance, and calculate speed in kph or mph based on your measurements.

Change the style of one of your map layers to ‘gear.’  What gear was the driver in most of the time?  Why do you suppose this was the case?

Examine the steering wheel angle layer.  The Steering_P is given in angles from 0 (due north) with positive numbers to the right (+90=sharp right turn) and negative numbers to the left (-270=sharp left turn).  What is the relationship of the steering wheel direction to the curves?  From the steering wheel position, can you determine where the quick left-and-right motions occurred, indicating where a slalom was set up and requiring the driver to go back and forth around cones?  Run statistics on the attribute Steering_P and you will see the range, and that the average (just over the value of 1) is just about “straight ahead”.  In other words, all of the curves average out!  Try using one of the rotational symbols in ArcGIS Online to visualize the direction of the steering wheel more effectively.

What other variables and tools could you use to analyze the data using ArcGIS Online?  Try investigating the g-force (vector), braking velocity, and lateral force.  Try some of the analysis tools in ArcGIS Online to determine hot spots of understeer angle or other variables.  Have fun and think spatially!

Car Race Data Mapped in ArcGIS Online

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Fun with GIS 201: Instructional Guide for the ArcGIS Book

The ArcGIS Book offers “10 Big Ideas” about mapping, in hardcopy, free downloadable PDF, and free online in multiple languages. Equal parts coffee table book, text book, and workbook, some educators began teaching with it immediately after its release at Esri’s 2015 User Conference. It worked well having students reading on one screen (even a phone) and mapping on another.

The Instructional Guide for The ArcGIS Book now makes it even easier for educators to leverage the original. The Instructional Guide works like an outrigger, matching the concepts and technology of each section, speeding solid comprehension thru carefully designed activities. Linked movies launch chapters with an easy hook. Step-by-step guidance thru a bank of scenarios ushers even novices steadily into the power and flexibility of online mapping, via generic tools in browsers, browser-based apps, and mobile apps. End-of-chapter tasks summarize the fundamental ideas and skills. Many activities can be done without logging in, but many valuable ones require the powers of an ArcGIS Online organization account, and the Guide shows how educators in different situations can acquire such an account.

Coupled with the original volume, the Instructional Guide for The ArcGIS Book is a terrific resource for educators who want to see and employ true GIS power with online tools. And, especially for educators in Career/Technology Education (CTE) programs, or anyone who wants to see STEM in GIS, this demonstrates powerfully how online GIS can be engaged in day-to-day scenarios relevant to many different industries.

Charlie Fitzpatrick, Esri Schools Program 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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What it is like to NOT know

I recently heard some memorable words which stated that “wise people have recognized the importance of what it is like to not know”.  This is different from the wisdom of “Socratic ignorance” but may be even more applicable to the use of GIS in education.  What it is like to not know in my view means that we as GIS educators understand the challenges that exist in embracing a new set of tools and methods that the use of geotechnologies entails in teaching and learning. In other words, “we’ve been there!” and can empathize.

I think this empathy is part of the reason why the online and face-to-face professional development workshops and courses (such as the T3G institute) have been so positively received by the education community over the years.  Because the instructors have “been there”, as instructors, we approach each of these professional development events with sensitivity and humility.  As leaders of these institutes, we very purposefully model what we are teaching–we know what it is like to not know about GIS.

We understand what it is like to be immersed in new technology with its associated new terms and new tools.  We know what it is like to be simultaneously grappling with new ways of thinking, teaching, and learning.   I think back to the first time I took an ArcGIS Server course where all of the other students were systems administrators, who regularly used terms I only had vague notions of.  I am reminded on a daily basis how much I still have to learn about GIS, despite having used it since 1984.  It’s very humbling to be taught new skills by someone who, for example, has “only” been using GIS for a few years. But veteran and new GIS educators alike have much to learn from each other.

GIS has become much easier to use over the past 25 years, though challenges remain.  However, for the good of the planet and for the good of our students, I believe that the challenges are worth grappling with.  And for those of us who have instructor roles–remember what it was like to not know!

Educators discussing their use of GIS in education.

Educators discussing their use of GIS in education.

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Transformational Change is Enabled as Past Technologies Simplify

Dr Damian Gessler of Semantic Options recently gave a keynote address in which he stated, “transformational change is enabled as past technologies simplify.”  Immediately, I thought of the many presentations and papers where a few of my colleagues and I have applied Everett Rogers’ diffusion of innovations theory to GIS in education. Rogers theory focuses on how innovations are adopted, at first by innovators and then by early adopters.  Rogers says that for real change to occur with any technology, the early majority of users, representing one standard deviation below the mean, will need to adopt the technology.   Some of us are arguing that with the advent of web based GIS and the resulting lowering of technological and learning barriers, we are beginning to see an “early majority” of educators using GIS in their instruction.

Gessler’s point perfectly applies to the use of GIS in education:  First, GIS has 50-year roots, so while one can argue that it is changing more rapidly now than ever before, it qualifies as a “past technology” as identified by Gessler.  Its methods and models have been tested, vetted, and refined.  Second, it has simplified in many ways–through the advent of the graphical user interface around 2000, web based services through the Geography Network of the early 2000s and on through the modern ArcGIS Online platform, and its ability to incorporate real-time data, multimedia (via story maps and other mapping applications), and field data through crowdsourcing and other methods.  As it has become easier to use, it has simultaneously become more powerful.

These two simultaneous trends are attracting people in a widening diversity of disciplines to the use of GIS.  As they do, decisions are increasingly made using the geographic perspective, and transformational change is enabled, to put it in Dr Gessler’s words.  In the classroom at the primary, secondary, and university levels in formal and in informal settings, the use of the technologies and methods are beginning to effect transformational change in how skills, content knowledge, and perspectives are taught and learned.

Do you agree that we are seeing a transformational change with regard to the use of GIS in education?  What do you recommend that we as the community need to do in order to further encourage and hasten these developments?

Educators learning how to implement field methods and GIS into their curricula.

Educators learning how to implement field methods and GIS into their curricula.

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5 Educational Activities Using ArcGIS Earth

ArcGIS Earth, which arrived earlier this year, is a free, powerful tool to visualize the Earth in 3D.  ArcGIS Earth runs via a program that you install on your computer (at the present time, Windows-only) and streams spatial data over the web.  You can add data that you or your students create, or data that local, regional, national, and international organizations have created on a wide variety of themes.  These themes include natural hazards, demographics, hydrography, ecoregions, energy, health, and much more.  Indeed, because ArcGIS Earth can access data in the ArcGIS Online cloud, the number of layers available are vast, and expanding daily.  Educators and students can also visualize data collected and stored on their own computers.  Let’s explore five activities that you can quickly and easily use in the classroom, at a wide variety of educational levels and disciplines.

1.  Study your community or region, or others around the world, using satellite imagery.  Not long ago, my colleague in geography gave me a tour of Yangmingshan National Park in Taiwan, which contains sulfur deposits, fumaroles, venomous snakes, and at least 20 volcanoes.  I can use ArcGIS Earth to teach about the physical geography of the park (shown in part, below).

Yangmingshan National Volcanoes Park, Taiwan in ArcGIS Earth.

Yangmingshan National Volcanoes Park, Taiwan in ArcGIS Earth.

2.  Teach about watersheds.  In the example below, I added the World Hydro Reference overlay to ArcGIS Earth, changed the base map to a topographic base map, and highlighted the boundary of a watershed in western Colorado.  Using this technique, you can teach students the relationship between watersheds, river drainage, and topography.

Examining watersheds in ArcGIS Earth.

Examining watersheds in ArcGIS Earth.

3.  Investigate population density and world demographics.  In the example below, I added the world population density layer.  I can then add demographic data by country, location of major world cities, and other map layers to teach about world settlement patterns and why these patterns are important.

Population density visualized in ArcGIS Earth.

Population density visualized in ArcGIS Earth.

4.   Teach about the shape and size of the Earth.  Using the measurement tool in the example below, you can teach about Great Circle routes and much more about distances and the physical geography of the Earth.

Showing measurement and the Great Circle route in ArcGIS Earth.

Showing measurement and the Great Circle route in ArcGIS Earth.

5.  Study real-time data.  In the example below, I am using the oceans base map and earthquakes from the last 90 days to study the relationship between tectonic activity and the ocean trench northeast of New Zealand.

Earthquakes northeast of New Zealand visualized in ArcGIS Earth.

Earthquakes northeast of New Zealand visualized in ArcGIS Earth.

Much more can be done, but I hope that these examples help you think about how you might use ArcGIS Earth in your own instruction or research.

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