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Just in time for Earth Day, but suitable for use throughout the year in geography, earth science, environmental science, chemistry, social studies, and in other disciplines is a new lesson that invites students to learn about water using ArcGIS Online.10_ways_to_teach_and_learn_about_water_agol_screenshot-300x285.jpg

Water is a spatial subject: It easily moves among its solid, liquid, or gas phases on our planet. It flows through oceans, rivers, wetlands, glaciers, and through the hydrologic cycle at different rates. It is affected by long-term climate, everyday weather, hurricanes, landforms, and air pressure. It has been channeled into settling ponds, water treatment plants, fields, irrigation ditches, drainage ditches, canals, reservoirs, and many other means by humans. It acts as a change agent above, on, and below the surface of the Earth, affecting crop yields, aquifers, erosion, floods, stream sediment, soil chemistry, weathering, and much more. Thus, the geographic perspective and GIS are useful to understanding water from local to global scales.

These activity use ArcGIS Online, a Web-based Geographic Information System (GIS). Students at the upper secondary/university level can use the lesson, but so can those at the lower secondary level, and the lesson can be modified for primary level. It can be used in formal or informal educational settings and in a whole-class format or in a lab. No previous experience with GIS is necessary but (1) the geographic perspective is important, and (2) a background discussion in the topic investigated will be helpful. For example: “What are watersheds and why are they important?”

Through the activities, students investigate major dams and reservoirs, cities along rivers, flood zones, food production, wetlands, and water quality. These include the following questions and assignments: What is the relationship between wind speed and direction to precipitation, current air pressure, temperature, and topography? Using USGS stream gages and weather stations, predict the height of the water in streams where significant precipitation has been occurring. What is the relationship between the location of the gaging station within the watershed and the height of the river? Go outside! Do current weather local conditions match the map you have been examining? Predict tomorrow’s conditions based on the maps you are examining.

How could you use ArcGIS Online to teach about water in your instruction?

- Joseph Kerski, Esri Education Manager
Two points in particular struck me as we talked with hundreds of science educators recently at our workshops and exhibit (video) at the National Science Teachers Association’s annual convention. First, ArcGIS Online offers a rich set of data, tools, and capabilities for educators and their students to begin using. And I think an important advantage of ArcGIS Online is that they could begin using it right away. Everyone we talked with could see a connection with what they are teaching, whether in earth science, biology, environmental science, chemistry, mathematics, or other subjects, and analyzing data spatially with ArcGIS Online.

That leads me to the second point: Sometimes, the thing that really resonates with an educator is something that might seem small. However, for that educator, it becomes a game-changer for a particular lesson or maybe for the entire course curriculum. It could be a tool, data set, or process that allows them to accomplish more efficiently with GIS than what they could do with paper maps or other physical objects. Using ArcGIS allows students to more quickly move to the analytical phase of a project, working with real data in real contexts.ants_in_shoshoni_wy_screenshot-300x215.jpg

One example of the small-but-big is a discussion I had with an educator from Shoshoni, Wyoming. In this arid part of the mountain west, watering dry fields to grow grass for livestock takes precious water resources. Ants are the one thing that is found in abundance. Ants cause a problem because their large colonies consume a tremendous amount of grass. Eradication with chemicals is ineffective due to the depth of the colonies. Students in the town’s high school routinely get out into the field to measure these ant colonies with GPS and tape measures. When the instructor saw that not only could he and his students use ArcGIS Online to visualize and measure the ant colonies from above, but also geotag and add field observations, audio, photographs, and video to the project, he was overjoyed. As additional fieldwork is conducted, the ArcGIS Online map becomes a living database over space and time.

What is the little thing that you learned to do with GIS that caused major changes in what and how you teach?

-Joseph Kerski, Esri Education Manager
A new book from Esri Press entitled Tribal GIS: Supporting Native American Decision Making, will be published in June 2012. In it, tribal leaders tell their stories about implementing and using GIS to address their unique challenges as sovereign Nations. The book covers applications in natural resources and the environment, transportation, cultural and historical preservation, economic development, health, public safety, agriculture, and perhaps most interesting to the GIS education community, two chapters on K-12 and higher education. Showing how tribal governments responsible for the stewardship of their land and resources and the health and well-being of their People use enterprise GIS to make decisions, Tribal GIS supports tribes new to GIS and those with GIS experience. It also will be useful for the general GIS community, showing the many scales and disciplines in which GIS can be applied.cover_for_tribal_gis_book_for_blog-244x300.jpg

It was an honor to work on this book with so many visionary people who are making a positive difference in the lives of people, in their communities and on their lands, and beyond. The book includes dozens of stories written by educators, scientists, administrators, managers, and others, showing the diversity of their backgrounds but also a common vision for the benefits that spatial analysis and GIS bring to their everyday decision making. Editors of the book include Anne Taylor, who coordinates Esri’s Tribal program, David Gadsden, who coordinates Esri’s nonprofit organization program, Joseph Kerski, who serves in Esri’s education program, and Heather Warren, who is the marketing coordinator for the federal government industry at Esri.

The education chapters include stories such as students at the Alamo Navajo School collecting water well location and water quality information for the tribal government, students at Santa Fe Indian School measuring soil erosion and analyzing land use, students at Haskell Indian Nations University researching the geology of Antarctica and developing an accessibility map for their own campus, and much more.

Space does not permit me to say too much here, but the stories speak for themselves. Pick up a copy of the book, read these stories, and share them with your students. How have the spatial perspective and GIS made a positive difference and aided with decision making? How might you be able to use these stories to generate ideas for your own GIS-based projects?

--Joseph Kerski, Esri Education Manager

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