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Helping students think spatially is a key goal for many of us involved in GIS education work, and the growing set of resources, data, and tools in the Green Infrastructure initiative can help students reach that goal.  These resources ( are aimed at helping communities to preserve and connect open spaces, watersheds, wildlife habitats, parks, and other critical landscapes.  One way to open the discussion with students is to use the "How Green Is Your Community" tool on the page. Entering their zip code into the Current tab results in a map and a set of graphs describing rivers, land cover, agriculture, and other themes, where students can compare their own community to local, state, and national averages for those same themes. Entering the same zip code or address in the Future tab shows how land cover is predicted to change between 2011 and 2050 via a swipe map that can be examined at multiple scales.


Another activity you can engage students in helps them think about the themes that planners use as they seek to build a sustainable future.  By accessing the "landscape cores" interactive map, students can examine a variety of themes that they may not have thought about before, but are critical to everyday planning, such as land ownership, soils suitable for agriculture, and my favorite, the Theobald Human Modified Surface, which indicates the degree to which humans have modified the landscape. Each layer's opacity can be changed and the scale and region can be altered to examine local areas of ones across the country.  And in keeping with our focus on fostering critical thinking about the data, each data layer can be investigated so that students know what each one means, who created it, and how it was created.


Another resource that students can use is the set of Advanced Apps for Green Infrastructure Analysis.  Let's focus on just one of them, the "Conduct Landscape Analysis" app.    With it, students can experiment with weighting different components of land cover scoring.  This can help students with working with GIS tools, to see that not only do the themes included in spatial analysis make a difference in the final result, but the weights assigned to each theme also make a big difference.  In the example below, I set up a scenario where I want to study areas that are high in elevation, are flat or nearly so, and have a high number of endemic species.  On my map I see the areas meeting those criteria in western Colorado along with popups that provide further information, and I can easily adjust the weights and themes to see the difference those adjustments make spatially.


Want more?  Students can use all of the apps on the page with their ArcGIS Online accounts, to run through a real world problem scenario, choose themes and weights, and save their results to ArcGIS Online.  They could even download these results to ArcGIS Pro or GeoPlanner for further analysis.  This week, the GeoDesign Summit was held at Esri in Redlands where people gathered to discuss how these tools can be further developed to build and design a sustainable world.  Have your students examine the papers given at the Summit and think about the career pathways that are opening up in this field.


Green Infrastructure map

My colleague wrote a free 5 course sequence entitled Getting To Know GIS for Secondary Students.  The goals of these courses are to view and identify map features and patterns, use GIS tools to analyze a problem, create a GIS web app that tells a story, and describe how GIS helps people do their work.  The courses include compelling videos and hands-on work with dynamic web maps and tools. The courses are accompanied by a helpful guide for educators that includes help in setting up accounts in ArcGIS Online for students to use to work through the courses.  Students not only gain practical GIS skills in these courses, but also develop skills in critical and spatial thinking, and have the opportunity to examine careers that use these skills. 


This sequence will be most useful for secondary students, and their teachers, but it will also be useful for other educators who are interested in teaching and learning with GIS.  I had the opportunity to take the entire 5 course sequence this week, and found it interesting and informative.  One of my favorite parts was examining real job postings and creating a story map, and I also enjoyed digging into the problem of determining where a city should contract artists to paint murals.  


A section of the 5 course sequence.


You can complete each of the courses in one hour; so plan on five hours for the sequence.  The courses are listed on the Esri Training site, and you can track your progress there while going through the course.  While you are on the Training site, spend some time there checking out the other training resources!

The International Geographical Union (IGU) recently drafted a new International Charter on Geographical Education.  This important document was originally written and endorsed in 1992; the new draft has been updated and includes an action plan.   I believe five aspects to this document have implications for all those who are using GIS to teach students of all ages to think critically, deeply, and spatially about their world:


1.  The document reaffirms that geography is the discipline that deals with spatial variability.  Many who are teaching with GIS today are from the disciplines of biology, history, hydrology, business, and even language arts and mathematics.  Our community of GIS educators has been greatly enriched by these disciplines, but the IGU document makes it clear that it is the geographical perspective operating in those disciplines that is core to the study of spatial variability.


2.  The document reaffirms the ongoing belief by those inside (and some outside) the discipline of geography that geographical education is neglected in some parts of the world, and lacks structure and support in others. Geography should be "regarded as an essential part of the education of all citizens in all societies."  Part of the urgency of teaching with and about GIS is a belief that the themes of geography itself, including climate, food security, overexploitation of natural resources, and urbanization, all mentioned in the Charter, are the most important issues facing 21st Century societies.  The Charter mentions the "consequences [that come] from our everyday decisions."  I believe thatstudents who use GIS are enabled to see connections between eocregions and precipitation, between agriculture and population growth, between land use and economic policy, and so much more.


3.  The 2016 charter addresses policy makers, education leaders, curriculum planners, and geography educators to help to ensure that all people receive an "effective and worthwhile geographical education" and to help geography educators "counteract geographical illiteracy."  Those of us on the Esri education outreach team and thousands more in the GIS and geography education community have been working across many levels to help these groups of people understand why and how geography can be effectively taught and learned by applying the systems thinking, tools, and methodologies that come with Geographic Information Systems (GIS).


4.  The Charter also mentions that geographical education "satisfies and nourishes curiosity." My colleague Charlie Fitzpatrick long ago began calling GIS a "thinker's tool".  Teaching and learning with GIS cannot happen unless students are thinking, asking questions, and testing their hypotheses.  Teaching with GIS allows the educator and student to explore the "what if" questions  by changing the number, types, and weights of variables, by changing the classification method, by changing the scale, and by changing the methods used.


5.  The Charter also makes it clear that geography education can be advanced if important research questions in geographical education are asked and answered through a rigorous research program.  The Charter states that such a program needs to be addressed by an international group of colleagues, which my colleagues and I addressed in one way by encouraging an international agenda and center for GIS education.


I believe that the Charter lends strength and vision not only to the case of why geographical education is important, but also why we need to be using inquiry-driven methods of instruction and solving real geographical problems.  I believe this can be effectively done using GIS in education and in society.

Writing a custom expression in ArcGIS Online using the new Arcade scripting language is easy, powerful, and has deep implications for education.  Arcade expressions, described in full here, allow you to make maps from simple calculations, from functions, from data conversions, and from brand new representations of your data.  In my example below I wrote an expression that symbolizes cities based on the percentage of 18 to 29 year olds in that city.  But this blog essay shows that more advanced and powerful expressions, such as if-then statements, are possible.


Under "Change Style" is where you enter the expression, under "Custom (Expression)" as follows:

The custom script in ArcGIS Online

My expression to calculate the percentage of 18 to 21 plus 22 to 29 year olds out of the total population for each city in my data set is:


Round ((($feature.AGE_22_29 + $feature.AGE_18_21) / $feature.POP2000) * 100, 2)


Here is my resulting map:


Final map from script results.

One of the chief advantages of expression building is that the data that you are seeking to map does not already have to be part of the existing attribute table for your data - you are, in a sense, creating that data with your expressions!  And teaching students how to write these expressions to achieve a desired result builds skills in GIS, computer science, and mathematics. 

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