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Students in many states are finding patterns, puzzles, and projects in the world around them, and turning these into adventures in learning, as part of the ArcGIS Online Competition for US High School and Middle School Students. After doing their research, they put together a Story Map or a web app. Five who do this well in their school advance to the state level, and those in the top handful at the state level win 100 bucks. And two students (or teams) from across the US get chosen to display the best in high school (grades 9-12) and middle school (grades 4-8) at the Esri Conference in San Diego, CA.


The ArcGIS Online Competition for US HS+MS Students


The competition is underway again, for school year 2019-2020. Teachers can start introducing students to the technology and the opportunity. But the teachers need also to pivot and point to state leaders, urging them to sign up the state. This is a binary event: Either all students get to participate or none do, and what ensures the former is a team of education-friendly, GIS-savvy, doers who step up and make it happen. In states with few student participants, high percentages have been award winners at the state level. And at the national level, even states with few participants have had winners. It just takes curiosity, vision, gumption, and tenacity … someone who is part Sherlock Holmes, part Jane Goodall, and part Katherine Johnson.


Winning teams meet Jack Dangermond at 2019 Esri Conference

 HS and MS student winners and their teachers chat with Jack Dangermond at the Esri Conference


The task for students is to research a topic of their choosing, within the bounds of their state, and present what they learn in the form of a web app or Story Map. Whether singly or as part of a team of two, this is a chance for unfettered exploration, observation, analysis, and tinkering, wrapped up in a presentation. The long-term rewards can be impressive. The short-term rewards could include sharing with 20,000 GIS users at the 2020 Esri Conference in San Diego.


Explore the opportunities, the guidance from 2019 winners and their teachers, and the whole collection of three years of award winners, at

Esri and the GLOBE program (Global Learning and Observation to Benefit the Environment - have been working together on initiatives and educator training for decades.  Globe was one of the first major education-focused citizen science programs, and it offers a wealth of data on soil chemistry, water quality, weather, and much more, as well as rigorously tested methods to have your students collect and contribute data, and a network of educators with which to collaborate.  Recently, two GLOBE educators asked me to conduct a webinar for their educators and students, and I documented the highlights in this video.  I have written about this topic before, documented on the GLOBE site here, and as an essay in GeoNet here, but in this recent webinar, I expanded and updated these explanations to include what I consider to include key elements of a project-based workflow:  (1) Obtaining the data > (2) mapping the data > (3)  Analyzing the data, and > (4) creating communications tools from the data.


To gather citizen science data, you can use the Globe Observer app, iNaturalist, Survey123 from Esri, or another app.  You can use probes such as those from Pasco, Hanna Instruments, Vernier, or another company; or you can even go "old school" and use clipboards and pencils.  I believe all of these tools have value in education, and in this essay, I describe 6 ways to gather and map your field data.  The most important thing is that you end up with a spreadsheet of data, generated from your app or probe, or one you generate yourself from your clipboard notes.   This spreadsheet becomes the "I", or "Information", part of your GIS. The spreadsheet needs to contain some sort of location, such as street address, or ideally, latitude-longitude values.  In the video and webinar I obtained the data from the Advanced Data Access Tool (GLOBE Advanced Data Access Tools ) and selected the region, time frame, and theme--in my case, mosquito larvae data.  Download the data; in the case of GLOBE data, it is offered as a CSV (Comma Separated Value) table. Oftentimes, data tables need to be edited slightly for ease of use in your mapping software.  In my case, I brought the data into Excel, I removed the second header line, as only one is required, removed extraneous records at the end of the table, and formatted the numeric data for be "integer" or "floating point" numbers as needed.  Once done, I saved the spreadsheet as a CSV file, shown below, linked here, and attached if you would like to use it. 


Globe data table


Now for the fun and fascinating part!  In ArcGIS Online (, I signed in to my organizational subscription, went to my content, and added the CSV, creating a feature service from the data.  After giving it some tags and other metadata so that I could more easily find it later, and if I share it, so others could be more informed about my data, I then opened up the feature service in the map viewer. Once in the map viewer, I can now symbolize the points by elevation, date collected, number of eggs found, whether larvae were found or not, and on other fields in my data table.  I could make a heat map showing density of the collected points. I can also change the base map and zoom into and study specific locations on a satellite image, or at a regional or national scale, add data such as precipitation, ecoregions, population density, river systems, or other layers from ArcGIS Online and the Living Atlas of the World.  I can add fields, sort fields, and select specific data points to study further.  While doing all this, I am thinking about patterns, relationships, and trends of my data.  I can also use the spatial analysis tools, such as proximity, map overlay, routing, creating maps of statistical significant difference, and summarizing.  In my case, for example, I added a point as a map note on Minneapolis St Paul, and then summarized the number of data points within 250 km of that location.   Once done, I saved and shared my map and layers so others can examine them.  See screen shot below and also this link for the map


Map in ArcGIS Online of Globe Mosquito Data

Map in ArcGIS Online of Globe Mosquito Data.


Next, I created communications tools from this data.  Many such tools exist, and I chose to focus on story maps and operations dashboards.  The ones I created are shown below and linked here (story map) (Operations Dashboard).  ArcGIS story maps are multimedia web mapping applications, and Esri Operations Dashboards allow you to create graphs, maps, widgets, and other tools for you to monitor your data in real-time.  These were straightforward to make--once I shared the data in ArcGIS Online, I selected these two tools, choosing a map series story map, with different tabs showing different attributes of the data.  In my operations dashboard, I created a gauge that pointed to the number of points currently in my data set, along with the ArcGIS Online map, and graphs indicating where the mosquitos were found and if eggs were discovered.  If I add to my map in the future, the data in my dashboard automatically updates. 


Story map of Globe mosquito data

Series story map of Globe Data showing spatial analysis results.


Operations Dashboard of Globe data.

Operations Dashboard of Globe Data.


I encourage you to do even more wonderful things with spatial data, such as that from citizen science portals including, and elsewhere, to better understand the patterns, relationships, and trends, and to consider how you can contribute to the scientific community through your efforts!

Explore and share the new storymap, Getting to Know GeoInquiries from the Esri schools team.  The storymap walks new educators through the basics of GeoInquiries, including the anatomy of the teacher guide, accessing student worksheets, and interacting with GeoInquiry maps.  It's a great one-stop for learning about GeoInquiries and how to effectively use them in classrooms!  Share the short URL: 

Fellow Educators:


ArcGIS Online User Types have been in use for some time now as a way of providing apps and privileges to ArcGIS users. The Creator User Type has been available for Education program licenses.  


With recent updates to the Education Institution Agreements, the GIS Professional Advanced Use Type was added as the default option, versus Creator. GIS Professional Advanced User type differs from the Creator User type in the fact that it provides ArcGIS Pro Advanced licensing.


Everyone who has migrated to the new Institution Agreement (and has the GIS Professional Advanced user type as an option):


  •        Please switch all ArcGIS Online users to GIS Professional Advanced User Type. Instructions are listed here, and further info is below.
  •        If you do not assign GIS Professional Advanced User Type licenses, you will likely get a message “The number of user types and licenses assigned exceeds the number available”. The reason for this message is that users are now all GIS professional User Type licenses instead of Creator, while you may have Creator User Type licenses assigned.  


Please ensure that you utilize the New Member Defaults to auto-provision licensing for new users, preferably with Enterprise Logins (SSO). Note that the GIS Professional User type does NOT include all ArcGIS Pro extensions. When you set your add-on licensing on New Member Defaults, please note that you will have to add the extensions (and not ArcGIS Pro, since it is now part of the user type). Extensions count as one of the 5 add-on apps.    


Also, please note that there is an existing bug BUG-000124709 that you will not see all ArcGIS Pro extensions on the New Member Defaults option. The bug should be addressed in the October 2019 release. In the meantime, in the New Member Defaults, as a workaround please 1) deselect all add-on licenses to "Not Set" state, 2) switch user type to Creator, then back to GIS Professional, then 3) set the default add-on apps, and the extensions will appear for the new member defaults. If you are to experience issues and reach out to Esri Technical Support, please reference this BUG-000124709.       


How to Change User types – documentation here:


  1.       Login as an Administrator – Organization>Members tab.
  2.       On the left, filter by User Type – Creator.
  3.       Ensure that you are showing 100 members per page (maximum default currently), bottom right.
  4.       Check the box to in the upper Left to select all Members.
  5.       In the Upper Right, Manage User Types.
  6.       Select GIS Professional Advanced and Save.


Changing User Types can be done in an efficient manner via an ArcGIS API for Python script, such as:


from arcgis.gis import GIS


# Update these values for your ArcGIS Online organization orgURL = ""

orgUser = "an_admin_user"

orgPwd = "admin_password"


gis = GIS(orgURL,username=orgUser,password=orgPwd)


# Enumerate and iterate over all users

users = for user in users:

     # Change user type for each user

     print ("Changing user type for " + user.username +" to GIS




Further feedback is welcome!

My colleagues and I have had numerous inquiries over the years from educators asking, "How do I teach a specific topic with the expanding variety of web GIS tools and data sets?" and these inquiries also exist on GeoNet, in the National Geographic educators network, and elsewhere.  Let's take one specific example, a set of resources I sent to an educator who is putting together units on the history, colonialization, and geography of Africa for her social studies course.  My list of 10 tools included the following:

  1. Examine the interactive David Rumsey 1787 map of Africa:   Discuss:  How much detail was included? What was left off?  What lands did local people know about?     Then examine the 1790 Cassini map cast on an Esri 3D globe:  Discuss the differences between the 1787 and the 1790 maps.  What modern countries occupy where “Nubia” and “Abissinia” were in the past?
  2. Study the ecological tapestry map. In Africa, compare the bioclimates, landforms, rock type, land cover:   For more on ecological units, see story map: 
  3. Examine the Esri international migration map in the "cool maps" gallery:    Examine the metadata:  Where did the data come from?  What time periods does it cover?  How accurate is the data?  Stop the animation.  Select South Africa and examine incoming and outgoing migration over the 5 time periods.  Compare to another country in Africa, noting the differences in numbers and spatial patterns.  How many emigrate to the USA from each country?  Change to Somalia and discuss reasons the total numbers are so much lower and why outgoing is much more than incoming.  Discuss challenges there (food security, political instability) and what causes people to decide to stay vs what causes them to emigrate, and - what hinders them from emigrating.
  4. Access the Esri Water Balance app:  Go to > “precipitation” >  compare regions in Africa, especially Sahara versus the topical regions.   Change to “soil moisture” and discuss relationship.  Change to “snowpack” – make sure graph is on Monthly Normal.  Does it snow anywhere in Africa?  Go to Atlas Mountains in Morocco and then examine Mt Kilimanjaro on the Kenya Tanzania border where some snow exists (for now, anyway, but perhaps not in the future).  Supplement this activity with the seasonal change in snow cover map and animation, that I describe in detail, here:  Seasonal Changes in Snow Cover Map.  
  5. Go to ArcGIS Online ( and search for Baltimore Maryland.  Pan north and south along the east coast of the USA, noting the abundance of harbors.  Then search for Mombassa Kenya.  Pan in both directions along the coast and note the absence of good harbors, with Mombassa being one exception, and discuss the implications of the lack of harbors and the table-land geography of Africa, and the implications on the patterns and amount of exploration and development and colonialism.
  6. Use MapMaker Interactive from National Geographic:    Add data > add climate, language diversity, religion.  Discuss language and religion influence from colonialism and other forces.  Show legend and discuss the patterns, relationships, and trends. 
  7. Go to Google Maps, and zoom to Kenyatta Ave & Uhuru Hwy, in Nairobi > Street View (drag street view person to map) > discuss influence of the British colonialism on:  architecture, the roundabout, the side of the street people are driving on, the manicuring of the parks, and more.  Examine French and other colonial influences elsewhere in Africa.  Where StreetView does not exist, you can use the Mapillary citizen-science generated images on  
  8. Study the pattern and amount of urban growth in Cairo using the Esri Wayback imagery app: > go to Great Pyramids >  Check “only updates with local changes > pan to the area to the west of the pyramids, observing  the 2014 to 2018 changes. Discuss the implications of urban growth on society, schools, and natural resources.  Using the same app, examine the impact of urban growth in Tunis, Lagos, Johannesburg, and selected small villages of your choice.  Using the same app, determine if you can detect other changes on the landscape, whether from political instability, expansion of agriculture or energy exploration, encroachment of the Sahara on the Sahel, tourism infrastructure growth, the impact of national parks and preserves on the return of forested land, and other changes.  
  9.  Use a selection of the GeoInquiries collections to investigate physical and cultural themes in Africa:   GeoInquiries | Standards-Based Inquiry Activities for Teaching Map-Based Content .  For example, examine population growth as part of the "Growing Pains" unit under the World History collections.  These lessons were built for primary and secondary school instructors, but if you are instructing at the university level, you can still use the interactive maps tied to these lessons and insert your own questions. 
  10. Investigate the world's largest cities, including those in Africa, via the 3D ArcGIS Globes here:  Get creative with globe visualizations . Next, examine global population density and compare to world cities.  Why are zones sparsely populated in Africa a short distance away from heavily populated zones, such as in Nigeria and in Egypt?  Next, examine the population density filter tool on the same site and slide the filter tool so that you are only examining high density population areas across the continent.  What are the physical, cultural, and historical reasons for the population settlement patterns in Africa? 

These maps, data layers, tools, and questions can be applied to other areas of the world, as well.  By using these tools in a problem-solving, inquiry-driven educational environment, students become investigators, thinking spatially and critically, and asking even deeper questions than the ones posed here.  


How are you using these tools in your courses and classrooms? 


Ecological Land Units of AfricaEcological Land Units map focused on central Africa.

Two excellent apps were released in summer 2019: ArcGIS QuickCapture and the Attachment Viewer web app template. Educators can use these powerfully! To test both, I decided to record notables on my morning walk.


iPhone showing QuickCapture display


Electric scooters have sprouted like fairy rings in my neighborhood. QuickCapture lets me capture the location (click#1) and a photo (click#2) and confirm the data (click#3), which auto-sends while I move poorly parked ("strewn") scooters out of the path of others. I created a point feature service with 8 elements to choose from, essentially converting an 8-item pulldown into 8 big buttons, which I laid out in two columns ("pain" or "joy") for each of four items (scooters, bikes, other human things, and natural things). With a little exploring and experimentation, I was able to configure the buttons and ensure each permitted a photo.


QuickCapture project


QuickCapture lets you tweak your "project" setup after creation, so I tested and adjusted things a couple of times, optimizing for data sufficient to play with behind the scenes, but not display on the map. Because I wanted to share the results focusing on the photos (with the map simply as context until I get enough data), I used the new Attachment Viewer web app template. This meant creating a view of my feature service (to protect the source data; create item 3 from item 1, below), building and configuring a map (item 4), and sharing it by creating and configuring a web app from a template (item 5). Ta-da!


ArcGIS Online contents of the project


The Attachment Viewer will work with any feature service used for data collection, so think Survey123 and Collector as well. The rather minimalist display gives enough space for map, context, and image. This will be ideal for educators and students after a data gathering experience! (See my neighborhood scooters!)


Attachment Viewer app


The GIS toolkit for educators keeps getting better and better. Take some time to try these apps. I have updated a document about Survey123 and Collector to include QuickCapture as well.


My morning walk has a new appeal for me, and even the irritation of hazardously placed or strewn objects now has a slight silvery lining for me.

I invite you to explore the Community Walkability map I created, here:


This is a new ArcGIS storymap, and it also includes a button linked to a survey (created with Survey123), plus an Operations Dashboard that provides real-time information on what has been thus far collected. The message I wish to convey through the creation of this resource is that the combination of these connected tools, all part of the ArcGIS platform, offers amazing capabilities. I have created a video on these procedures, here.


Feel free to contribute to this map, ideally, along with a photo, in your own community or another place you have visited.   As you do so, think about the kinds of things YOU and your students, colleagues, stakeholders, friends and family in your communities could be collecting, mapping, and analyzing with these same tools—water quality, graffiti or blight, weather, noise, albedo, types and amount of trash, cell phone signal, historical points of interest, tree height/species/condition, pedestrian or traffic counts, and much more.  Start with these procedures, presented as a story map, that will guide you through the process. 


Walkability images submitted to the storymap.

A selection of walkability images submitted to the storymap.

Walkability storymap.

Static screenshot of the walkability map as it appeared in late August 2019; look for more points on the above storymap link, and I encourage you to submit your own point. 

The long-awaited World Geography GeoInquiries collection has released 15  "Level 1" activities and ArcGIS Online maps, based on the content from the award-winning book, Mapping Our World.  The activities are designed for middle and lower-high school geography classrooms, are based on the C3 Framework for social studies, and tied to leading world geography textbooks.  All activities are licensed under Creative Commons for easy reuse by educators.

World Geography GeoInquiries

Currently, the collection includes "no-login" activities studying:


  • urbanization
  • temperature factors
  • seismic and volcanic activity
  • population density plate boundaries
  • political boundaries
  • population growth
  • standards of living
  • the Arabian Peninsula - culture
  • growth of global communications
  • the Arabian Peninsula - physiographic
  • monsoons of South Asia
  • GDP and development
  • Central America
  • sea level rise
  • North American trade



Explore the activities and maps >>

Hans Bodenhamer is an unusual teacher. He doesn't use a cell phone, doesn't spend a ton of time on computers, and engages an "old school" approach to teaching: do projects. And his favorite location for study is distant, dark, dirty, and damp … underground, in caves. If this sounds familiar, you might have seen Esri's 2010 User Conference speakers from the Cave Club of Bigfork High School in Montana.


Esri 2010 User Conference stage

Bodenhamer used to be a traditional high school science teacher: four sections of biology, one of physics, one of geology. A field trip once included a cave, which led to forming a club, then making maps for local agencies, then doing presentations, then learning about GIS, and then the feedback cycles went organically into overdrive. Students saw GIS in class, did projects, joined cave club, fed passions for the natural world, and wanted to protect it. Local agencies lost employees, needed help, and service projects led to internships and jobs for young people with skills. A local college seeking a pipeline of students collaborated on a dual enrollment class. Cave club regulars earned scholarships, jobs, and experience; alums shared stories, expertise, and inspiration; and public attention grew.


It's not rocket science: engage students in activities that interest them. Seeing a small, confined, unique, and exceedingly fragile natural world, students want to protect it, which requires defining it. "Projects have helped kids feel engaged. It's probably true that Cave Club and GIS have gone hand in hand. Traditionally, we'd use a fiberglass tape, compass, clinometer, and clipboards. Now we use laser instruments to get distance, direction, and angles … but we still use paper. Then we recreate it back at school. And we use a similar approach above ground, like our projects out on lakes. Kids build a sense of a mission, and these local groups have discovered and latched onto that there's a small army of young people who can contribute locally and even wider. Once you get 'em hooked, they will drag you along…"


Map of two caves showing fragility and condition

Along with four sections of 9th grade science (blend of environmental science, ecology, and geology), Bodenhamer now teaches two sections of "Projects in GIS" to students in grades 10-12, many for multiple years. "And because I had some middle school classes for a while, I've taught some kids as many as six years in a row. Students can earn one semester credit at the local college. Most students taking the high school class take the community college credit."


"Cave Club and GIS have directly benefited students in getting great opportunities right out of school. Several received big scholarships. Students in cave club often graduate with over 200 hours of volunteer services and immediately applicable resource management skills (GIS being a big one). Some have received part-time jobs directly out of high school; two years in a row the National Park Service has hired interns directly out of our cave club and the year before a student was given a recreation specialist job with the Forest Service because of her involvement. A couple students have been hired for coveted wildlife technician jobs after high school and while in college as a result of connections they make in Cave Club. Many students who take a GIS class after high school say how easy the college GIS class is. Some end up tutoring other college students. They use specialized skills in our high school class, but just having lots of experience working with GIS makes it easy for them to learn new skills quickly."


Bigfork Cave Club


There are many good teachers making a tremendous difference to kids, the community, and the planet, with GIS. Their situations vary widely. But they recognize that young people want to be valuable, want to be respected, and want a world worth living in. GIS can help everyone make it happen.


NCSS + NCGE 2019

Posted by tbaker-esristaff Employee Aug 21, 2019

The National Council for Social Studies (NCSS) and the National Council for Geographic Education (NCGE) are teaming up this fall in Austin, TX to bring what is surely to be one of the largest geography education events in the country! Planned for November 22-24, 2019, the event features a growing line-up of GIS sharing and learning.  We'll start tracking the Esri and partner-based presentations below to help give you a heads-up.


Thursday, November 21


Friday, November 22

        Presenters: Thomas Baker, Barbaree Duke, Injeong Jo


Saturday, November 23




Photo credit.

Are you new to GIS, or spatial technology?  

Do you want to improve your spatial technology skills?

A new online course created by an educator FOR educators - and students - is now available online (click here for more)!


What is spatial technology?

Spatial technology is about measuring and representing the world using innovative and high-tech tools. Using spatial technology such as GPS, GIS and Remote Sensing, spatial information can be collected and analysed from the ground, the air, and from space. This information can be used in hundreds of different applications ranging from natural hazard mitigation to modelling the effects of climate change.  


What does this course offer?

This extensive course (Module 4: Spatial Technology) provides:

  • Professional learning on the use and application of spatial thinking and spatial technologies in Geography teaching and learning, including:  an in-depth study of key themes and issues of the 21st Century:
    • change over space and time, scale, coordinate systems, systems, spatial thinking.
    • ocean currents, ocean health, and ocean structure.
    • land use, land cover, ecoregions, and biomes.
    • human health, demographics, and population change.
    • energy sources and river systems
    • weather and climate.
    • natural hazards (wildfires, hurricanes, and tsunamis).
    • urban greenways, mapping your campus, field data collection.
  • Hands-on investigations, readings, 25 videos, quizzes.
  • Instructional material focused on the use and application of spatial technology tools, including:
  • Survey123 for field data collection,
  • Story Maps and other web mapping applications,
  • ArcGIS Online,
  • Google maps, NASA Earth Observatory, Gapminder, and other tools. 
  • with options for extensions and deeper learning.Collage of course quizzes, hands-on work, readings, and videos.Selection of course quizzes, hands-on work, readings, and videos.

Who should enroll?

The options provided in this course make it suitable for:

  • Geography teachers who require basic grounding in geography themes and foundations or who wish to improve their spatial technology skills.
  • Educators in earth and life sciences, environmental sciences, history, and computer technologies who seek to infuse spatial technology and spatial thinking into their courses. 

When is the course available?

This course can be completed at any time over any time period. There are a number of required tasks for satisfactory completion.  

Who created the course?

The course was created by Joseph Kerski, PhD GISP, a geographer with 30 years of experience in geography and GIS education, working in close collaboration with the Geography Teachers Association of Victoria.  While some of the places studied focus on Australia, many other areas of the world are examined, and you can use all of the ideas presented in the course to study your OWN community, region, and country.

Time and Price

Estimated 20–25 hours to complete the required tasks.   Price: Australian $250. 


A certificate is provided on completion of the formal assessment for this course.  This is module 4 in the Certificate of Geography Competency.  You can take Spatial Technology as a stand-alone course OR you can take this course along with the 4 others in the Geography Competency certificate.  But note that there is no requirement to complete the other modules.


Course Structure

1. An introduction to Geospatial technologies.

2. Using spatial technology in Geography.

3. Analysing change over space and time.

4. Exploring regions.

5. Mapping your own data.

6. Analysis and synthesis.

7. Formal assessment.

One of the videos in the course video playlist, describing what Spatial Technologies are and why they are relevant and exciting for educational use. 


Why the GTAV?

This course is offered through the Geography Teachers Association of Victoria, Australia (GTAV), one of the world's preeminent geography education professional societies.  Esri, Esri Australia, and GTAV have been partnering to further geographic content and skills for educators for a number of years.  By taking this course through GTAV, you have the advantage of networking with some truly inspiring educators, and you have the support of all of these organizations to provide you with advice and/or any technical support you might need along the way. 

For Further Information

See the information on, contact the author of this blog Joseph Kerski (,  peruse the set of videos here, comment below, or contact the GTAV office

GTAV course sequence

Just as athletes specialize, so do many teachers. On the other end of that continuum is Dominique Evans-Bye, a teacher at Clark Magnet High School in La Crescenta, CA. She is the instructional equivalent of a decathlete. Her social media stream hints at this, as a medley of GIS, marine science, space science, biology, chemistry, design, conservation, education, and exploration.


Not purely science or technology or engineering or math, or even just STEM, Evans-Bye integrates everything. Her current course load is 6 classes in block schedule, with AP environmental science, biology, environmental GIS, and GIS & Remote Sensing, the last two as part of a CTE (career technical education) pathway, across grades 10-12, with some intros coming in grade 9. In each, she challenges her students to look outward, conduct research, engage in projects, and participate in competitions -- activities which also call for attention to social studies and communication, plus a bank of critical "soft skills."


Esri User Conference 2011 presentation


Students tackle leadership training from SkillsUSA interspersed with GIS activities (on Esri Academy and Learn ArcGIS) that build content background in their subject and beyond as well as essential tech skills. Opportunities to showcase these in presentations and competitions span the school year.  


Esri Oceans Summit 2018 presentation


"Although SkillsUSA doesn’t have any GIS technical skill competitions (yet?) my students have had a lot of fun and success with the Career Pathway Showcase. This competition involves a group of three students presenting a community service project in their subject area. Students can advance in local, state and national competitions. Judging by my student’s scores in the Nationals for the past two years, GIS has had quite an impact on the SkillsUSA community. Our first year competing, we made it to Nationals and won Silver. This year I had beginning GIS students win gold medals at the National SkillsUSA Championships by using a GIS story map to show the impact of marine debris on albatross."


Story Map on albatross


GIS is the perfect technology for integrators, and the best educators help students understand the world in a holistic fashion, building the skills and expertise to help make good decisions and solve problems. Far from generating one dimensional specialists, CTE teachers today whose students build GIS expertise tied to real world projects and competitive experiences help them prepare for tremendous opportunities ahead as problem solvers in a vast array of industries.

During 2017, I met with Michelle Ellington after hearing about her from my Esri colleague George “Geo” Dailey. Geo told me that Michelle was one of the most stellar campus facilities administrators he had ever met, but even this high praise did not prepare me for the amazing work that Michelle showed me when I visited her office at the University of Kentucky. Imagine having the job of managing the best way to create, maintain, and network all of the infrastructure on a major university campus — every light pole, water main, fiber optic cable, sidewalk, tree, exterior door, and much more. That’s what Michelle and her team do, day by day. Meeting her staff, it was immediately apparent that Michelle is one of those rare leaders who inspires everyone to be their absolute best, and no matter what their role, they feel that they are a critical part of the team. The innovative tools and methods they are using are helping make the university more efficient, cost-effective, and sustainable. Therefore, it is my great pleasure to introduce Michelle to you, and, through her story, inspire you to make a positive difference on your campus or wherever you happen to be. 

Michelle’s position is, in my view, one of those “unsung hero” types of positions on a campus.  How did she gain the knowledge and skills necessary to fulfill all of her responsibilities? Michelle said, “I’m currently the GIS coordinator for the University of Kentucky Facilities Information Services as well as the president for the Campus FM Technology Association. I worked in the private sector for seven years before coming to UK and am a past president of the Kentucky Association of Mapping Professionals. Folks in the campus GIS world or Kentucky mapping community are my people and we are a tight group. I enjoy serving in leadership positions for professional non-profit organizations because it connects me closer with people who are passionate about the work they do. I love the CFTA community specifically because everyone so freely exchanges information. There’s a like-minded viewpoint shared across CFTA where everyone wins if we all work together and collectively share our successful strategies and implementations.”

Michelle Ellington, Facilities Manager, University of Kentucky. 

What convinced Michelle to enter this field? “I was living in Alaska in my early 20’s (late 1990’s) in between college years, alpine trekking near Valdez,” she said. “We were using a GPS in whiteout conditions for wayfinding, and I just thought it was a powerful technology. When I went back to school at the University of Georgia, I asked my anthropology professor, Dr. Garrison, if he knew about GPS technology and had any recommendation on what I could do with it upon graduation. He steered me to the university’s Information Technology Outreach Services, and there I landed my first GIS job digitizing lakes to the Georgia base map for the Department of Transportation. Since then, I have worked for engineering and photogrammetry firms using GIS in a variety of applications until I found my home at the University of Kentucky in 2006.”

“A little over a year ago we hired a young woman and fellow alumni from UGA. She is an anthropology graduate, like me, and Dr. Garrison was an inspirational teacher to her as well. She is doing great work in our department and doesn’t have a GIS degree either. GIS is an over-arching technology with unlimited potential and I believe it could be taught across multiple college curriculums. As a hiring official, I’m typically not swayed to hire someone with a GIS degree over someone without. I seek individuals who are technical, methodical, see relationships and patterns, spot anomalies, as well as those who are flexible to adapt to the ever-changing advancements in geospatial technologies.”

I asked Michelle, “What one person, class, or topic most inspired you during your career?” She said, “Without question, my supervisor, Andrew Blues, FIS associate director, is my biggest professional inspiration. I feel fortunate that Andrew has been my mentor for over 10 years. He inspires me to believe that I am the “best in the world” as the GIS coordinator for the University of Kentucky ([see the] Hedgehog Concept from the book “Good to Great” by Jim Collins). He brought lean management principles into my life, which is the foundation of how our department works and why I believe FIS has received several local and international awards. He is a gifted mentor and continues to support me immensely with all I do. A great mentor does not tell you what you want to hear; they see your potential, sharpen you, and encourage you to find your best and work to achieve it. I’m very thankful for Andrew in my life and hope he will continue to mentor me for many more years to come.”

What project is Michelle the proudest of being a part? “There was one significant project that put us on the map as a leader in GIS floor plan mapping. In 2008, we partnered with a contractor to develop the UK GIS Facilities Management System for a new UK hospital, Pavilion A. We went from a vision to successful deployment of an enterprise GIS interior space mapping application used to facilitate the occupancy of a 16-floor 1.2 million square foot Level 1 Trauma Center. The GISFMS had an interactive map interface and dynamically generated Room Data Sheets used to track move-in. The RDS showed where the space was in the building and listed all technologies, furniture, and equipment present in each room. Each RDS was posted to the door of its associated room and assets were checked off in the system until occupancy was complete. This application was well received within the GIS community and in 2011 we received an Esri Vision Award at the Esri Health Conference followed by the Esri Special Achievement in GIS Award in 2012.”

“GIS floor plan mapping wasn’t as pervasive in 2008 as it is now, so we were definitely a leader in this new space. Our application was built off the Flex API so, unfortunately, the GISFMS application died off once Apple’s iOS took hold of the mobile market, but that’s just the price of being on the bleeding edge of technology. Back then, we could take these kinds of risks because it was pretty much just Andrew and me supporting a few projects while building a GIS service area, whereas today we have about 30 employees and three distinct teams in our department. FIS is now a recharge unit that services many customers across multiple UK areas so we have to be more selective when choosing large, high-risk project opportunities that come our way. The experience gained from the GISFMS project, along with Andrew’s leadership, has inspired a belief that we are successful innovators. This mindset has now become part of our department’s DNA.”

“The second project I’m extremely proud of is the Miller Fork rock climbing guidebook that my husband, Ray, and I self-published. We’ve both been rock climbing for over 20 years and Ray has authored many editions of the Red River Gorge Climbing guidebooks since 2005. In 2014, his publisher unexpectedly passed, so we decided to create an innovative guidebook for a new climbing area with a couple of friends. The book is filled with GPS surveyed 3D maps, analytical charts and graphs, eye candy illustrations, professional photography, and Ray’s reputable route descriptions. I developed much of the content and coordinated the entire project from beginning to end in under six months while working a full-time job. It was an extremely challenging and fulfilling project and I definitely think there will be more self-publishing in my future. My husband and I are outdoor enthusiasts with a passion for technology so documenting our recreational activity information in databases is a fun hobby.”

What does Michelle feel is the most important thing we, the geographic community, need to work on? “I think the most important thing every community needs to work on is learning how to be more efficient so we can use our time more wisely to accomplish great things and enjoy life to its fullest (work-life balance). Everyone is so busy! I don’t feel busy; I definitely have a lot of things in motion but I rely on the Lean strategies I’ve learned to create successful plans and accomplish goals. Being a student of Lean for many years has taught me to “be good to my future self” by documenting all my work and developing systems that are self-servicing so I don’t have to always be accountable for their upkeep. Nearly everything I do is standardized, documented, and taught to others with the hopes of growing them into future leaders. I welcome anyone to contact me to learn more about Lean and how it makes life easier, more rewarding, and promotes success.”

What is Michelle’s advice to a new geographer, surveyor, or GIS professional? “My advice would be to focus on the term “geospatial” instead of “GIS.” Our community and industry is not just one technology, tool, or software application. To be successful as a geospatial professional today you must be aware of all the many components and how they integrate. You also must be disciplined and flexible enough to learn new systems and quickly dive into new technologies instead of staying anchored into something just because you’re good at it. Also, join professional non-profit organizations and volunteer to help them meet their mission and goals. Through helping the industry in this way, you will exponentially grow as a professional and make meaningful relationships along the way.”

Michelle also shared this quote, “Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.” – Thomas Edison

To read about more of these "geoinspirations", see my column in Directions Magazine.  This column is published every two months; some are in text format and others are in podcast format.  Enjoy and be inspired! 

I am pleased to announce that a new book that I am co-author and co-editor on has been published by CRC Press, entitled Spatial Thinking in Environmental Contexts--Maps, Archives, and Timelines.  My co-authors and I refer to it as "GeoMAT".  For a brief video about the book, see this link.  Spatial Thinking in Environmental Contexts: Maps, Archives, and Timelines cultivates the spatial thinking "habit of mind" as a critical geographical view of how the world works, including how environmental systems function, and how we can approach and solve environmental problems using maps, archives, and timelines. The work explains why spatial thinking matters as it helps readers to integrate a variety of methods to describe and analyze spatial/temporal events and phenomena in disparate environmental contexts. It weaves together maps, GIS, timelines, and storytelling as important strategies in examining concepts and procedures in analyzing real-world data and relationships. The work thus adds significant value to qualitative and quantitative research in environmental (and related) sciences.   

GeoMAT book cover.

Cover of book Spatial Thinking in Environmental Contexts: Maps, Archives, and Timelines.   


The book features:


    • Written by internationally renowned experts known for taking complex ideas and finding accessible ways to more broadly understand and communicate them.
    • Includes real-world studies explaining the merging of disparate data in a sensible manner, understandable across several disciplines.
    • Unique approach to spatial thinking involving animated maps, 3D maps, GEOMATs, and story maps to integrate maps, archives, and timelines—first across a single environmental example and then through varied examples.
    • Merges spatial and temporal views on a broad range of environmental issues from traditional environmental topics to more unusual ones involving urban studies, medicine, municipal/governmental application, and citizen-scientist topics.
    • Provides easy to follow step-by-step instructions to complete tasks; no prior experience in data processing is needed.


Here are more details:    Reference - 224 Pages - 271 B/W Illustrations | ISBN 9781138631854 - CAT# K32082


Who could benefit from this book?  Researchers in a wide variety of fields, but all of whom want to understand what spatio-temporal thinking is and how it can be incorporated, instructors who want to teach with the exciting tools and data sets available through the WebGIS paradigm (such as ArcGIS Online, story maps, Operations Dashboards, Survey123, and more), the "curious general public" who are intrigued by mapping tools and want to explore them, and finally, all who are keenly aware of the challenges we face as a 21st Century society and want to take positive steps to raise awareness of them and solve them.


I look forward to hearing your reactions to the book!  


--Joseph Kerski

Collage of GeoMAT book images.

A selection of images from the book.

The ArcGIS School Bundle has grown! It now includes Insights for ArcGIS and Esri CityEngine, in license numbers matching the size of the Bundle in place. No special request is needed, these are now just built into existing and new ArcGIS School Bundles. And, like the previous elements, these are available to K12 schools and youth clubs at no cost for instructional use.


 ArcGIS School Bundle


The heart of the Bundle remains the ArcGIS Online Organization account, with its many built-in powers, "sidecar" apps, and connections to the entire ArcGIS platform, all accessible via internet connection. The second key online component has been ArcGIS Community Analyst, a powerful research and analysis tool with couple-of-clicks access to an immense wealth of demographic data (and more) all ready for mapping and analysis. The addition of Insights for ArcGIS enables intense exploration of data, in search of trends, patterns, correlations, and relationships, in a "card-based" operation, again all within a web browser.


On the Windows-based desktop side, ArcGIS Pro Advanced users continue building powerful skills in core 2D and 3D environments, enhancing those with powerful extensions, now including Image Analyst. The Bundle still includes the latest version of ArcMap, but desktop users in schools are largely graduating to the newer, more powerful, more connected ArcGIS Pro. The "new kid" in the School Bundle is Esri CityEngine, a powerful rules-based construction environment for creating large, interactive, immersive urban environments, long of particular interest to educators working with students anxious to work in the modeling and gaming realm.


Like most elements of the Bundle beyond the basic Map Viewer and Scene Viewer in ArcGIS Online, access to these new tools is established by explicit provisioning, typically according to the user's "type" and "role." These can also be managed individually, but handling more than a few in a manual and one-off fashion is inefficient and can be time consuming.


As with all products in the ArcGIS family, a host of resources are available for learning to work with them. See the product pages, the documentation, the Learn site, Esri Academy, and GeoNet for various forms of guidance.

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