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2015
I recently mentioned that maps, tools, and applications in ArcGIS Online continue to expand, highlighting the new map showing the distribution of Starbucks as an example. Another example touches on a subject that many students know very little about--agriculture.  We have written about this topic in the past, offering curricular resources such as this one that asks students to analyze the distribution of four crops in the USA  and this one asking students to investigate the distribution of five crops around the world using ArcGIS.  A starting point for such investigations is simple but powerful maps of agricultural data, such as this one showing the acres of total cropland by county in the USA as a percentage of total land in acres.  The data comes from the 2007 Census of Agriculture.

Does the pattern of agricultural land as a percentage of total land surprise you?  Do the statistics that are visible when you select a county, indicating how much of the cropland is harvested, surprise you?  What are some of the reasons for the spatial patterns that you see?  If you live in the USA, how does your own county compare to the others in your region and across the country?  What are some factors that explain how much land in a county is dedicated to agriculture?  How would you rank the following factors:  Soil health and type, climate, growing seasons, frequency of hailstorms and floods, landforms, relief, urban areas, and the height of the water table?  Zoom in on some of these counties, change the basemap to satellite image, and examine the type of farms and ranches.  Do the croplands rely on precipitation alone or are the croplands irrigated?  If they are irrigated, are they irrigated from a canal or from wells?

Change the style--the colors and classification method.  How do these changes affect the way you understand the cropland patterns?  Based on your answers above to the importance of factors explaining cropland patterns, use "Modify Map" and then the "Add" button to find, add, and investigate these other factors.  For example, add the Crops 2009 map by "hillrc" to examine the type of crops grown in Indiana.  Which crop type(s) exhibit the most intensive agricultural land use?  If you are logged in using an ArcGIS Organizational subscription, search the "Landscape" group under Esri Map Layers for USA Land Cover GAP and soil layers.  Also, change the basemap to topographic or add USGS topographic maps to determine the effect of landforms and steepness of terrain on crops.

Sort the table and find the counties with the highest percentage of their land in crops. Then, change the style and choose a different attribute to map, such as average size of farms, cotton or soybeans, orchards, or milk cows.  This single table of data contains many variables that can be mapped, compared, and contrasted.

How might you use these maps and resources in your own instruction?
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Cropland in Use Map of the USA in ArcGIS Online.

Maps, tools, and applications in ArcGIS Online continue to expand, affording exciting new opportunities for teaching and learning.  One of the new maps highlights the new capability of generating “heat maps” by showing the distribution of Starbucks coffee locations.  The map is quick to load but contains 18,680 Starbucks around the world.  The points are grouped at a small scale, for analyzing regional and continental patterns, and at a large scale, for analyzing patterns within a metropolitan area.  Examine this map via the above link, shown below, guiding students through inquiry using some of the following questions followed by investigations.

Does the pattern of Starbucks in Manhattan surprise you?  What are some of the reasons for the spatial pattern?  How do the number and pattern compare to other boroughs of New York City, to your own city, and to other cities around the world?   What are some factors that explain how Starbucks determines where to locate?  How do these factors and the spatial pattern compare to other coffee-oriented businesses, and to other food-related businesses, and to non-food businesses?

Make the two heat maps associated with the Starbucks locations at the two different scales visible.  A heat map is another way to visualize data, creating a “density surface” of the points, with brighter oranges and yellows indicating a higher density, and greens and blues indicating a lower density.  What are the differences between the heat maps at the two different scales?  How does the heat map help you understand the clustering of the Starbucks locations?  Starting in March 2015, you can now easily create heatmaps of any point data using ArcGIS online.

This map isn’t a fabrication created for educational use:  Indeed, Starbucks uses Esri GIS solutions at many levels and for many reasons, from managing its suppliers to packaging operations to selecting optimal retail outlet sites.  During the unit where you and your students are exploring the map, you could show this video from the Esri User Conference where Starbucks GIS analysts explain why and how they use Esri GIS technology to make their business more efficient and sustainable.   For more detail,  your students could read and reflect upon this article in Forbes written about how big data helps retailers like Starbucks pick store locations.

A related mapping application in the “coolmaps” gallery allows you to filter stores by the average income in neighborhoods in San Francisco, California, and to buffer the most effective distance for a mobile “coupon” message to potential customers.  If you are interested in analyzing patterns of other businesses, the locations of thousands of businesses are included in the Esri online products Business Analyst, Business Analyst Online, and Community Analyst.

How might you use these maps and resources in your own teaching?
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Starbucks in New York City - locations and heatmap.

Those of us in GIS education continually strive to ensure that our teaching methods adhere to respected and innovative learning styles.  Adult learning theorist David Kolb's Experiential Learning Theory (1984) works on two levels:  A four stage cycle of learning and four separate learning styles.  I believe Kolb's cycle and styles can help inform how we can more effectively teach with GIS and about GIS.

Kolb's experiential learning style theory includes these "stops" along a cycle:  1.  Concrete Experience, where a new experience of situation is encountered, such as what happens while performing a task, followed by 2. Reflective Observation of the new experience, followed by 3. Abstract Conceptualization, where reflection gives rise to a new idea, or a modification of an existing abstract concept, and, finally 4. Active Experimentation, where the learner applies the experience to the world around them to see what results.  At first glance, pausing at each of these stops seems like something we already do in our GIS-based assignments. However, at times we hear from students who feel that they are "going through the motions" in technical tasks and aren't assimilating and conceptualizing what they are doing.  Therefore, a critical examination from time to time of how we are enabling students to reflect upon their learning and apply it may be challenging, but helpful as we strive to improve the effectiveness of our instruction.

Kolb's learning styles attempt to identify an individual's predominant way of learning, and include (1) Diverging--those who watch from different perspectives; they are good brainstormers. (2) Assimilating--those who prefer a concise, logical explanation and approach.  They are good organizers.  (3) Converging--those who can solve problems and will use their learning to find solutions to practical issues. (4) Accommodating--those who prefer "hands-on" learning, often rely on intuition rather than logic, are able to meet challenges, and who like new experiences.

Kolb's learning stages and cycle could be used by GIS educators to critically evaluate how they are teaching, and ensure that they design GIS activities to be carried out in ways that offer each learner the chance to engage in the manner that suits them best. Also, the activities should be taught in ways that usually take students through the whole cycle.

Kolb believes that the learner must be involved in the planning of the learning experience if experiential learning is to be fully effective.  How can we ensure that the learner has a say in our GIS courses, over and above the standard "GIS project" assignment?

Kolb, D. A. (1984). Experiential learning: Experience as the source of learning and development (Vol. 1). Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall.
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How might you use Kolb's Learning Cycles when you teach GIS?

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