Tag Archives: webmapping

Mapping Livability’s 100 Best Small Towns as a Story Map

What are the best small towns in the USA?  To investigate these towns and their spatial distribution, I created a Story Map of the Top 100 Best Small Towns in the USA according to Livability.com.  I created it in part to show how easy it is to create a story map based on a news feature, current event, or something interesting that has a location component.  I also wanted to demonstrate a different method of creating a story map than those I have described in the past.

After deciding that the map tour story map was the type I wanted, I downloaded the map tour CSV template, and then once I populated the template with the Livability 100 towns data, I imported the CSV using the map tour app:

Downloading and importing CSV file to build story map

Downloading and importing a CSV file to build a story map.


The CSV populated the Map Tour captions from my spreadsheet.  If you would like to see what the CSV looks like, click here.  After uploading the CSV, I did make some small aesthetic updates in the story map app, but my work was essentially done. My resulting story map looks like this, below – click on the map to see it live:

The 100 Best Small Towns according to Livability - Story Map

The 100 Best Small Towns according to Livability as a Story Map.

My underlying ArcGIS Online map in “My Content” looks like this, below.  Later, I can add layers to this map that will be reflected in the story map, such as median age, median income, or other variables.

The 100 Best Small Towns according to Livability - ArcGIS Online Map.

The 100 Best Small Towns according to Livability – ArcGIS Online Map.

Another reason I created this map is that it provides a number of teachable moments.  In creating the story map, I made sure I practiced what I am always preaching to students: Cite your sources, including your photographs.

Furthermore, in teaching with the web, we as educators frequently tell students to check the methodology used.  Unlike some other sites that “rank” things but the “ranking” may represent only the opinion of the person writing the article rather than any sort of rigorous or scientific method, Livability clearly explains how they developed their ranking.  They work with the Martin Prosperity Institute, examining more than 40 data points for more than 12,000 towns with populations between 1,000 and 20,000: “These scores were weighted based on an exclusive survey conducted for Livability by the leading global market research firm, Ipsos Public Affairs. These cities and towns allow for the tight-knit communities key to small-town living coupled with the amenities you’d expect in larger cities,” says Livability.  They used economic, health, housing, social and civic capital, education, amenities, demographics, and infrastructure as eight categories of “livability”.  They used a national survey so that it is in part based on what people most value in communities, and also added some thoughtful considerations of their own.  They followed four guiding principles:  Access, affordability, choice, and utilization, and used Esri’s lifestyle variables that allowed them to see which residents were making the most of opportunities in their cities.

Despite these well-documented and rigorous measures, you could use the map and the above discussion to ask the students questions such as:   “What variables are missing?  Several communities in western Washington and Oregon are on the map:  Are rainy winters a problem for you?  Or the cold winters that would be experienced in Bemidji, Houghton, or Bar Harbor? Or the occasional hurricane in St Augustine?  How important is being near to or far from a metropolitan area or a major airport to you?  Are there regions of the USA that are under-represented by the “100 best” towns, or over-represented?  What would your list of, say, 100, or 10 best, be?  Make a story map of your list! What would your list of 10 best in your own state be, and why?  What about a list of 10 best outside the USA?”

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Integrating Arts into STEM: Cowboy Boots of Wimberley, Texas

Recently I created a “Famous Boots of Wimberley, Texas” story map for four reasons:  First, I wanted to show educators and the general public how to integrate art, history, science, technology, geography, and GIS.  My colleagues and I receive frequent inquiries from people asking how to integrate art into STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Mathematics) educational programs, and Wimberley’s giant boots are a good illustration of this integration.  Second, I wanted to test the new capabilities of the side accordion story map configurable app.  This app is an easy and compelling way to tell a story.

Third, I wanted to demonstrate that every community has a story, and story maps are a visually compelling, easy-to-create way of telling that story.  When I visited the town for the first time after a series of presentations I gave at the geography department of nearby Texas State University, I learned about the boot project from my town walkabout.  It was so interesting to me that I began collecting information, photographs, and video, and a short time later, I had created the story map that integrates all of these types of multimedia.  The boot project brought together local artists, the Chamber of Commerce, local businesses, and the entire community, and serves as a source of city pride as well as a tourist attraction.  Fourth, it is my hope that my brief story map (see my video) can in some small way inspire people in another location to think creatively about a place-based arts project that can help build pride in their own community.

If I can do this for a community that I had just learned about, how much more can you and your students tell a story for which you conduct more in-depth research and may even have local knowledge about!

Cowboy Boots of Wimberley Texas story map

Cowboy Boots of Wimberley Texas story map.

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Fun with GIS 193: Computer Science for All

Computer Science for All is President Obama’s initiative to get all US K12 students to learn computer science. Why? Problem-solving, creativity, entrepreneurship, and logic are crucial life skills. Governors, mayors, school district leaders, and other education influencers are joining the call.

Good news! Students and teachers alike can do this with GIS, online, starting even at a young age, in just minutes. With an ArcGIS Online account, users can create and save maps, then get busy customizing, zeroing in on the mission. Designing a solution that presents information to an audience or solves a specific problem for a client is what hundreds of thousands of GIS users do every day. Students can identify walking hazards in the school vicinity, call out neighborhood opportunities for local businesses, profile shifting demographics for social services, construct environmental reporting apps for concerned citizens, build satellite data monitoring apps to help a community on the other side of the world, and countless other purposes.

It just takes getting started. A while back, I posted about building an easy swipemap app. I’ve used this example with learners young and old with no previous experience coding or doing GIS, and walked them through it well inside an hour. This is just a sample. Students need resources for examples, and then purposeful opportunities of relevance: a map to school; an app about the school in the world; a web scene (3D) presentation showing five places around the world they would like to visit and why; an app showing the college they would most like to attend.

Teachers must adapt to countless new challenges every day — students growing up. Students need the same chance to explore, attempt, fail, struggle, get close, fall down, and struggle up again. “Fail fast, fail early, fail often” (a modern business mantra) is what happens when people stretch their limits, try new things, customize, and build capacity. GIS lets users practice — over and over again — breaking problems down into little steps that build, iteratively, all the while exposing new patterns, illuminating relationships that had been hiding in the shadows. Custom maps and apps help students learn what it is to be a maker, a builder, a designer, a coder. The chaos of life provides countless opportunities. You just have to start!

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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Data Management Tips in ArcGIS Online

Like many of you, I frequently create Esri story maps and ArcGIS Online presentations for events, workshops, webinars, courses, and curricula.  Then I often want to modify those story maps and presentations for a different purpose, but yet preserve the original version so people can still access it.  The ArcGIS Online Assistant is the perfect tool for this.  It can be used for copying web mapping applications such as story maps, ArcGIS Online maps, layers, scenes, and other items from one folder to another, or between organizations, or even to the same folder within an organization.  It can also be used to view the underlying JSON for any item in ArcGIS Online or Portal, and to modify the URLs for services in web maps and registered applications.

Another very helpful feature about the ArcGIS Online Assistant is that it quickly lets you scroll through all of your content your organizational account.  If you have a lot of content in your organization, saves a great deal of time over the standard method of going through each page of your standard “My Contents” zone in ArcGIS Online.

Note that the copying procedure does not copy all of your data that your web mapping applications may refer to, but just the application or presentation that points to them.

If you need even more functionality, look into the tools created by Geo Jobe.  In the free version of their tools, there is a tool labeled “Copy Items” that acts like the AGO Assistant tool.  Their tools also allow for a filter that can select multiple items at once.  In the Pro/Portal version of their tools, you can “Clone Items”, which not only copies the selected item, but also copies and rewires all the data and content that the selected item depends on.  As noted above, the AGO Assistant does not do this, but Geo Jobe allows you to truly copy everything, including the source data.

For more information, see the GeoNet discussion on this topic, and for best practices and tools related to ArcGIS Online organizations, see the ArcGIS Organization Administration Wiki on GitHub.

The ArcGIS Assistant

After using the ArcGIS Online Assistant, I now have a copy of my original item in ArcGIS Online, which I can now rename and modify.

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New Geocaching, GPS, and Related Geo-Activities

I recently created a presentation on geocaching, GPS, and related geo-activities.  The live webinar from NCGE is here; use the password geocaching to access, and the presentation including all links to the activities and maps is here.  Other geocaching, GPS, and related resources are located in the Esri K12 GIS Organization (despite the name, note that most activities are suitable for higher education as well), under 03:  Blogs, Lessons, & Other Docs, under 05:  GPS Resources.

The objectives of the presentation are to define geocaching and other GPS-related activities, explain reasons for teaching with these, and discuss specific example activities that I and other educators have tested successfully in classrooms from primary to university and adult learning.  Example activities include earthcaching, waymarking, Mapillary, mathematics-driven activities including the calculation of the Earth’s circumference, mass, and volume, GPS drawing, tracking movements over a week’s time, my “Get outside with GPS” set of activities, geocaching events and themes, setting up geocaching courses in ArcGIS Online, and using spatial accuracy and precision as teachable moments.

I also describe other outdoor-related geography apps, such as the creation of storymaps on a phone with Snap2Map, exploring and comparing places on Earth with Field Notes, and citizen science using Collector for ArcGIS.  I also discuss the use of GPS receivers versus GPS apps on smartphones, essential GPS functions for educators, and smartphone GPS apps.  I finish the presentation with activities, books, and other ways to learn more about the subjects presented.

Recording attributes of trees and field notes while marking waypoint with GPS receiver.

Recording attributes of trees and field notes while marking waypoint with GPS receiver.

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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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5 Exciting ways to access USGS Historical Topographic Maps in ArcGIS Online

Many exciting ways now exist to access the USGS historical topographic maps in ArcGIS Online.   I recently created a Microsoft Sway presentation that summarizes the key ways to access these maps here.  After giving this presentation to a very receptive group (the Rocky Mountain Map Society), I decided to share it with the entire GIS education community.

There are many uses for historical USGS topographic maps in education and research, including building map interpretation skills (contour lines, slope and aspect, symbology, scale, density, patterns, distance, direction), teaching web GIS skills (maps, layers, time aware sliders, popups, filtering, data types, multimedia, saving and sharing maps, maps vs apps, metadata), teaching cultural geography (settlement patterns, population change, reservoir construction, land use), physical geography (coastal erosion, historical water levels, watersheds, volcanic eruptions, geomorphology), and incorporating biology, mathematics, history, language arts (*STEAM) into education, and research (assessing land cover change, human- environment interaction, and more).

To summarize, the methods available to use USGS topographic maps in ArcGIS Online are:
1)  Use the latest version of USGS topographic maps as a basemap.
2)  Use the Historical Topographical Map Explorer web mapping application.
3)  Use the historical topographic maps as layers.
4)   Go deeper with the maps as layers:  Narrow your search on specific dates or other map attributes, enable time animations, change the popups and the draw order.
5)  Use my application comparing maps of different dates in a side-by-side application, or create your own.

View the presentation and let me know what you think.  I found that the interactive nature of ArcGIS Online fit very nicely with the free Sway presentation tools!  You might consider Sway for a future presentation that you or your students need to conduct.

How are you using USGS topographic maps in ArcGIS Online in your instruction?

Using USGS topographic maps in ArcGIS Online

Using USGS topographic maps in ArcGIS Online.

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Investigating Land Use Change using Historical USGS Maps and Satellite Imagery in ArcGIS Online

An article I wrote in NASA’s Geographia invites exploration of land use change using USGS historical topographic maps and historical and current Landsat satellite imagery, beginning in Lake Havasu, Arizona.  Humans have modified the landscape of Planet Earth in many ways. This modification is nothing new—it began as the earliest humans began burning of local grasslands to encourage new growth, tilling the soil for the first agricultural experiments, and building small dams to ensure a water source. Yet today’s changes are more frequent and also larger in area, from the construction of cities, reservoirs, and tunnels, to widespread land use change through the conversion of the natural land cover to cropland, grazing pastures, mining sites, and other uses.

One of the ways that humans have modified the landscape is in their attempt to make parts of deserts more habitable. Some of the most famous examples include the transformation of coastal fishing villages in the United Arab Emirates into major world cities, and the creation of resort areas around the world in Australia’s outback, Namibia, Morocco, and in the USA, including the cities of Las Vegas, Palm Springs, and Lake Havasu City, shown on the series of topographic maps below.

Use the Esri USGS Historical Map viewer, the Change Matters Landsat viewer, and the Landsat Look viewer to examine land use change in your own area of interest!

1911 map

1911 USGS map at 1:125,000 scale of Parker.

Lake Havasu 1970 map

1970 map at 1:24,000 scale, Lake Havasu City South.

Lake Havasu map 1994

1994 map at 1:24,000 scale, Lake Havasu City South.

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Fun with GIS 183: Earth Science Week 2015

South Carolina recently suffered a lesson in earth science. El Nino watchers prep for another, and friends of Nepal weep over yet another. Earth science affects us all, like it or not, admit it or not. This year even more than usual, Earth Science Week is an important opportunity for educators.

The 2015 Earth Science Week theme is “Visualizing Earth Systems.” Esri’s Earth Science GeoInquiries help educators show and explore critical content in earth science, with just a computer and internet connection. No downloading, installing, or logging in needed. Whether in a one-computer classroom with projector, or a fully stocked lab, or 1:1 tablet situation, teachers and students can explore key content and discover the power of GIS for visualizing patterns and relationships.

Check out all the Earth Science GeoInquiries, built as part of Esri’s commitment to the ConnectED Initiative. Visualize these earth systems, so students grasp how these powerful forces influence us … and how we influence them.

Charlie Fitzpatrick, Esri Education Manager

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