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"All our K-5 students are doing at least one GIS activity per year." That's according to Eric Cromwell, coordinator of elementary science for Baltimore County Public Schools in Maryland. "Most are doing multiple activities using GIS in their annual curriculum. Some are just to orient kids to where things are. Kindergarten has three activities (like weather, and getting them ready for doing some examining of their environment in the spring and where will creatures find food, water, and space)." He rattled off different activities across the grades. Listening to him describe activities makes you want to spend the day in school, learning.




"But Fifth Grade is great. Every fifth grader participates in our outdoor ed program, coming out to one of our parks for a one-day experience. We provide a 20-minute orientation on collecting data using a tablet with the Collector app, then get them out collecting data in the field for about 2.5 hours. We have all 8500 of them, about 150 per day, rain or shine, thru mid-December, and starting up again in late March, and split them up across four of our county parks and one state park. They gather data relating to biodiversity, and with this many kids gathering this much data, we have some pretty big data, which is all theirs, and they compare the biodiversity of their schoolyard with that of the parks."




Those devices? "We use Collector," he explained, "so we can have a basemap and go offline. We've got 60 inexpensive Android tablets (well, a few have suffered glitches technically or, uhh, been impacted by gravity, but these were really inexpensive in bulk). They're all pre-configured, the students arrive, do their work, and then we bring them back to the office, synch the data and images (removing any with identifiable kids), and get 'em ready for the next day."


Do the kids like it? And, even more, do they learn anything? "I hear a lot of 'Wow, I never realized this was out here!' And we have different parent chaperones all the time, some of whom really know a lot, so they're sharing what they know, and learning from the kids about the process, so there's all this great intergenerational instruction."




But what about content? "NGSS [Next Generation Science Standards] is all about data … creating it, using it, discovering and understanding patterns in the data. Our kids are all collecting data, so it means something to them. They get to see their items in relation to everyone else's. And when we analyze it across the whole year, during the fourth quarter, they are mesmerized! When I saw what we could do with the Web AppBuilder, I was ecstatic! We've set it up so people can explore it without login (" So, I explored Cromwell Valley Park ("No relation," he added), zooming in to see the park (date selection is sensitive to map scale), then choosing Oct.26. Items popped up, and I clicked to examine what had been collected, and the supporting images. Then I shifted to Oct.25, and used the food web role filter. "We wanted the app to work fast, even with a lot of data behind it, so we've forced people to choose. All the students love this," he continued. "We just keep growing with it. We've been building this over the years, biodiversity, earth science, data collection and analysis … they learn a ton with GIS. And, yes, they're using some in other areas too, like social studies, with GeoInquiries, and they have a lot of interest in adding more to their curriculum…"


So, for learning about The Science Of Where, truly, it's elementary, in Baltimore County.

Some teachers know, a month ahead of time, exactly what their class will cover, and even how it will work, minute-by-minute. Not Jason Smolinski, at Fairfax (VA) High School. His five sections of 12th grade GIS sometimes don't even get the same content from one period to the next. "I no longer provide written instructions ... Instead, we do a brief reading at the start of class. I then demo a new concept/tool/etc, have them work through a practice with me, and then give them an assignment for the second half of the class period. Since I no longer write instructions, I am free to change topics or examples, even at the last minute..."


As part of the Virginia Geospatial Semester, Smolinski teaches GIS to high school seniors, in a project-based style. The school uses a block schedule, so he gets 150 students for 90 minutes each, every other day. The scheduling and instructional style allow students to dive deeply into projects, and expand their exploration. But Smolinski still holds them accountable for learning: "Every few days, I encourage them to recall the last few lessons and write down the instructions or tips they need. I'll then allow them to use it on a formative assignment. When a summative assignment comes at the end of the quarter, they will not have access to these notes, as they should be familiar enough with the processes."

Inventing a strategy du jour might cause angst for some. Smolinski does have experience to draw on; he was a GIS analyst for several years, and so has a deep grasp of maps, data, analysis, and the mission of GIS users -- to understand complex situations more completely, in order to make good decisions, in constantly new situations. But, he adds, anyone could teach like this. Taking advantage of events that change by day or even by hour, he engages students with relevant, timely examples. "We do a lot of analysis. Find all schools within 10 miles of a nuclear power plant in this state. Analyze the landcover in hexagons. And, so far, we've done everything this year with ArcGIS Online, which lets us be more creative, share, use templates and the Web AppBuilder. From a data view, it's just much easier and more interesting to work with Online. We used ArcMap [for some projects] last year but we'll use ArcGIS Pro this year, so we can connect more powerfully with Online in the deep dives."


So, what do the students think after dancing around with new ideas, new tools, new data constantly, and only a vague idea of what might happen tomorrow? "Many of the kids said they didn't know computers all that well, but learned to think differently, and amazed themselves with what they could do. They don't get a lot of opportunity to think about a technology skill set, but GIS, with this project-based class, and the way we work, shows them 'Look what I can do that other kids can't!' This helps students grow in ways they can’t anticipate."


VGS mentor Kathryn Keranen says “Jason and some others are just so comfortable with technology, it’s seamless. He shows something on-screen, puts up three bullet points to guide them, and they go to work. They may be doing things a little bit their own way because of what they’ve learned before, but they are trying new things constantly, and come up with new ideas. They walk out knowing how to use the software to handle questions that don’t come with instructions.”

Here is a fun and interactive map (full URL here) that you could use to teach spatial thinking and Web GIS fundamentals.  This map shows the results of NFL (National Football League) football week-by-week data.  Why are the team locations distributed as they are?  How does the spatial pattern of football teams compare to those of professional basketball, hockey, or baseball?  How has the spatial pattern of the football teams changed recently and how will it change in the future, and why? (recent moves of teams to Los Angeles and an impending move to Las Vegas).  Use ArcGIS Online to investigate city size.  What seems to be the minimum size threshold for a city to have an NFL team?  What large cities do not have an NFL team, and why?  (Birmingham Alabama, Portland Oregon, or Memphis Tennessee, for example).  What is an example of a smaller city that has an NFL team? (Green Bay, Wisconsin).  


You can also explore this map to illustrate how the Esri Web AppBuilder, the storymaps builder, and other tools can be used to create interactive web mapping applications in ArcGIS Online.  Examine how animated GIFs can be used in the creation of web maps - in this case, the sleepy, happy, and sad football faces depend on the team’s results for the previous week.   


For the GIS professionals reading this, you could show this map to your friends and family to introduce them to the idea of web mapping applications and what GIS is.  You could also show this as your attention-getting starting point if you are visiting a school as a geomentor ( or for something to demonstrate on GIS Day ( 


The map is updated after each Monday Night game (and thus the map after Week 6 below will unfortunately show the sad faces in Green Bay and Denver).


For more information, see my video with further details.  If you would like to further pursue the connections between sports and geotechnologies, see the chapter on geotechnologies that Jill Clark and I wrote in the book Practical Sports Coaching by Christine Nash.


NFL interactive map in ArcGIS Online

While GIS analyst and developer careers are readily available, the bulk of professional GIS users are in geo-enabled careers – like civil engineering.  Join the Esri Education Outreach team and Strivven Media’s Virtual Job Shadow as we explore the career field of civil engineering – focusing on storm water management.


Be sure to share this and all of the career videos with your students! 


Sara loved buildings as a girl and planned to become an architect. In college, she discovered art didn't interest her as much as science, math and GIS so she switched to civil engineering. Watch her video to see why she loves being a civil engineer!Civil engineer


Civil engineers design, build, supervise, operate, and maintain construction projects and systems in the public and private sector, including roads, buildings, airports, tunnels, dams, bridges, and systems for water supply and sewage treatment. Many civil engineers work in design, construction, research, and education.


Watch the civil engineer video >>

Oct 18 - It has been only a week since we launched the Hurricane Maria Mapping Project and your response has been … amazing!  Altogether, over 22,000 building damage interpretations have been contributed since October 11, and the numbers keep growing! In this week, more than 160 teams and individuals have joined.


Interpreting damage through the aerial imagery has been a great learning exercise for all. Here are some interesting scenarios people have run into. (Info below is from the project team.)



This is a classic ORANGE example (Damage Observed), since the structural damage is obvious. Note how the strong wind literally scrapped out part of the roof. Note that, in this case, we have not marked the building in RED (Completely Destroyed). The difference between Damage Observed and Completely Destroyed is always a bit subjective. It is best to reserve Completely Destroyed for cases where the structure is virtually gone.



Here is another ORANGE example. The roof has been heavily affected as well, but you can tell the main structure is still standing as proven by the shadow of the building. The trees around the house have been badly hit, but typically that would not count for us as damage, unless it is obvious that the trees have hit the building. In this particular case, it is also interesting to see how the pier has been ripped off. The pier damage has been flagged as ORANGE, although some would argue it should have been RED (Completely Destroyed). The most important thing here is to flag the damage!



This one is really tricky. First, you can see that the color of the roof is completely different. Before the hurricane it was red, and now it is white? What is going on? Well, a lot could have happened between the time the pre-Maria and post-Maria images were taken. In fact, major transformations in the house could have been undertaken, explaining why the roof is completely different. Now, looking the post-hurricane image, you can tell that the texture of the roof is pretty consistent. It looks like a perfectly fine flat roof, so there are no obvious signs of destruction. Also the fact that there is not a lot of debris around indicates that all these red tiles from the pre-Maria image were probably taken away before the hurricane hit. But wait! There is a small suspicious blue rectangle in there. What could that be? If you have spent enough hours looking at this imagery, you may have seen blue tarps on roofs. This is a good indication of damage (more on this later). However, in this case, we play conservative and leave the building alone; this blue thing could be some sort of roof structure on top of a door to the backyard, some sort of a patio covering may be? Just too difficult to interpret, so we move on and look for more obvious damage somewhere else.



In this screenshot, I am highlighting a plain mistake. Note all buildings are flagged in GREEN, indicating no damage. Indeed, the imagery shows no damage, but please note the imagery is pre-Maria! For this particular area of the island there is no post-Maria imagery. Always use the swipe tool to compare the before and after: if it looks the same… then there may be no recent imagery at all! I left the green dots for the screenshot, but I deleted them right after.  Note that for some areas of the island we do not have imagery after the hurricane. These could include highly forested portions of the island, military areas, or portions of the island constantly covered by clouds or islands (like Culebra or Vieques for which we are still waiting for imagery).



Look at the animation above. What do you think? Is this worthy of RED (Completely Destroyed)? I would personally have categorized this as ORANGE. Particularly the building in the center of the image is a good candidate to leave unflagged. It is certain that vegetation above was severely affected, but there is no obvious evidence of damage to the building itself. It is sometimes just hard to tell from the air.



Flagging buildings in GREEN indicating that no damage is observed is good practice. Here we have a good example. It is quite difficult, if not impossible, to see all damage in buildings from the air. Someone will need to inspect buildings while onsite, because glass in windows may have broken, or tiles in walls may have been ripped off, but in this case, with the data we have, it is safe to flag thsee buildings in GREEN.  There is very minor effect in the vegetation, at least compared with other areas. Note that some Palm Trees are still standing, there is no debris around the house and even the pool looks usable. Another good sign of no damage are the new solar panels installed on the buildings: still apparently intact! There is only north of the pool a small corner of the building where some beams seem to be exposed, but given how well everything seems to be, we would not flag it as damaged: our eyes could be lying here.



If you are a baseball fan, the above will not look pretty. ORANGE or RED, is your call. To some of you the assessment may be conservative, but let’s do not split hairs on this one. Well done highlighting damage!



A good example of thorough interpretation. Every building where an interpretation can be made is flagged, leaving only those buildings where a clear assessment cannot be made. Being thorough and at the same time not adding guesses makes the best interpretation.



Looking for more? You can use the basemap gallery to temporarily switch to the Streets basemap. This will highlight urbanized areas more clearly so you can focus on areas where no assessments have been made.


You may be wondering about the blue tarps… Did you run into any? I am sure you did! So what about you adding a comment to this blog post with images showing blue tarps? In fact, I encourage you to post comments about situations you have encountered where you need help, or those where you think it is worth sharing!


As we get more damage assessments mapped and we also get better at it, folks in Puerto Rico are getting ready for field validation.  We are working with local groups to help contrast the interpreted damage with onsite information. In the meantime, let’s keep up the good work and above everything else, let’s keep learning by doing!


[[Note (Nov.13): Please see blog of Nov.13 adding important context and results.]]

For a while we have recommended that the best approach for managing an ArcGIS Online or ArcGIS Enterprise portals is to enable enterprise logins, commonly referred to as Single Sign On (SSO). The information below may be useful for those who are not familiar, or have not implemented it, yet.


  • SSO explained
    • SSO enables a user to use the same set of credentials for signing in to multiple applications. This means that faculty and students can use the same credentials coming from their institution’s enterprise identity store to login to ArcGIS Online or ArcGIS Enterprise.
    • What happens in the background? An ArcGIS Account still gets created for identity purposes that is linked to your enterprise credentials. This is not visible to the user.
    • SSO can be setup for both ArcGIS Online as well as ArcGIS Enterprise, both referred to as “portal”, and can be setup for multiple portals.


  • What will be alleviated with SSO 
    • Ease of access – one set of credentials will be used.
    • User management – this is HUGE for academia. Enabling SSO means that no additional account logins need to be created for ArcGIS Online or ArcGIS Enterprise. We don’t have to add students to the portal manually (or via script), and share credentials with them.
    • This could solve various inefficiencies associated with creating and managing multiple accounts, which takes time and thus is an incurred cost.
    • Students have one account only, if one portal is used, which makes it easy to save projects and build their geosopatial portfolio. Without SSO, some institutions create different student accounts for different courses, which means that workflows would need to be in place to transfer student content.
    • When a student is no longer attending the university, and have been removed from the institution's identity store, access can be prevented. They will no longer be able to login to the ArcGIS Online or ArcGIS Enterprise portal. As an administrator, it would be easy to find disabled accounts, determine what would be done with their content, then remove the student account from the portal. 


  •  What you would still need to do (i.e. what problems it does not solve)
    • Manage groups – a group for a course or project would still need to be created, and users added to it. SAML-based group membership functionality is now available. 
    • Manage content when student or faculty leaves the institution, if desired. The recommendation is to do nothing, as users may rely on this content. Geo Jobe Admin Tools, ArcGIS Online Assistant and the ArcGIS API for Python could be useful for managing content, and many other tasks, associated with portal management.


  •  How do we do it
    • Work with your IT department and refer to the documentation – these are industry standards, and IT staff will be aware of them.
    • Attached is a template letter to Campus IT staff that could be used to request SSO.
    • Esri Technical Support is there to help if any issues arise.
    • Note: Esri technology supports identity federation (allowing the use of identification coming from multiple enterprise systems) – as of June 2018 ArcGIS Online release. 



 Further feedback is welcome!

Educators from all over the world have assigned high school, college and graduate students to complete all or part of an Esri MOOC as part of their coursework. We at Esri are pleased to have these students join our massive open online courses!


If you are an instructor exploring using a MOOC as part of assigned coursework, please review these best practices to ensure your students are successful.


1. Complete the MOOC before assigning it to your students.


I strongly encourage you to complete any MOOC you plan to use in a course before assigning it to your students. That way, you can confirm you know how the course works and that it covers relevant material. If that is not possible, I encourage you to take the course along with the students so you can tackle the content together.


2. Communicate to students that they are responsible for meeting course deadlines.


MOOCs are run on schedules and each course has a list of Dates to Remember. You and your students need to understand and stay ahead of registration and course deadlines.


3. Ensure students register before registration closes.


Students register for each MOOC by logging in to the Esri training site with their (Esri enabled) ArcGIS credentials. Registration typically closes two weeks after a course opens. We are unable to add students to a current offering after the registration cutoff date.


When a student successfully registers, the course will appear on the student's My Schedule page. If a student registers within the first two weeks of the course, the student may start the course immediately, but there may be a delay of up to two business days for course ArcGIS (organizational) accounts to be set up.


We send an e-mail on the course start date to registered students but we encourage students to put course start and end dates and the My Schedule URL on their personal calendars. 


4. Emphasize the need to differentiate between, and document, the two sets of course credentials.


Students will use both an (Esri-enabled) ArcGIS account (which they may already have) to register for the course and sign in to the course and an ArcGIS Online organizational account (either a course ArcGIS account which we provide for all students or if the MOOC allows, they can use an existing one ) to access software. You as instructor should be familiar with these types of credentials.


5. Encourage students to help one another and their fellow online students.


Make sure you and students know where to go for help.


For help with course exercises, students should:

  • Visit the course Help tab


For help with general MOOC or account questions, students should:

  • Visit this Help page (accessible when not logged in to the course)
  • Visit the course Help tab


6. Know requirements for a student to receive a Certificate of Completion.


Students can earn a certificate by “touching” all the course content. A student can do that without learning anything or completing a single hands-on exercise.  


New content each week. Thus students must wait for the final content to be available to complete the content required to earn the certificate.


To confirm students complete specific exercises or learning objectives, you may want students to send a link to a finished map or provide a screenshot of an analysis. You may also assign your own exercise/assessment that students will complete using the provided software during the course.


7. Plan for student ArcGIS Online accounts, their content, and associated software licenses to “disappear” when the course is over.


The temporary course ArcGIS accounts and any content saved in them are deleted after the course closes (the exact time and date is noted in the Dates to Remember pane on the Dashboard tab). Software licenses associated with the course accounts (ArcGIS Pro, ArcGIS Business Analyst Web App, etc.) will be revoked after that time.


If you or your students want to keep the maps, apps and other products in their course ArcGIS Online accounts, this post from MOOC instructor John Shramek discusses options for doing so.


8. Use your school’s own ArcGIS Online accounts to complete the exercises if possible.


Students in some MOOCs may use existing ArcGIS Pro licenses and ArcGIS Online organizational accounts to complete the course content; details are provided in the exercises about accessing those software products. If your institution has access to such licenses and accounts, I encourage you to use these school accounts if possible. When students use these school-based licenses and accounts, any content students build will be available after the course ends.


9. Point Students to the "How to Be Successful" Document


I wrote How to Succeed in an Esri MOOC for students (all students, not just those who were assigned a MOOC by an instructor) to help them be successful.


10. Contact me.


If you need help related to using a MOOC in a course, please contact me directly at

The lunchroom of Washington High School (St.Paul, MN) buzzed on Saturday with 175 teachers drawn together by a common vision. This annual "GEOFEST" of the Minnesota Alliance for Geographic Education included veteran teachers from before the dawn of MAGE in 1987 to a few dozen pre-service teachers. Thirty-plus-year vets to energetic young stars guided the swarm through an array of strategies for geographic thinking, by students of all ages, ethnicities, socioeconomies, physical environments, and levels of technology access. From pointedly to subtly, everyone modeled asking questions, acquiring data, exploring it, analyzing it, and acting on it. This is what binds geography educators -- a way of seeing conditions, from global to local, that finds, acknowledges, catalogues, and integrates consideration of the many layers of our world. A number of sessions embedded GIS, from intro on up, as a way of teaching content to a strategy for building students' futures. 
But the MAGE event was not the only event of the month for GIS-using educators. Ten days before, Minnesota's GIS/LIS professionals gathered in northern Minnesota and, as part of it, subsidizing for the third time an Educator Day, free to teachers. Over 75 educators came from across the state, for a full day of learning from peers about teaching with GIS, on whatever devices their schools had.



"Teachers teaching teachers" helped launch and power MAGE for decades, and drives the GIS Educators Day. Comparing situations, sharing what works, engaging colleagues in doing geography, practicing thinking, analyzing data, seeking and seeing the patterns and relationships ... these generate opportunities for students, community, and common good. Educators from grade school to grad school and teacher school see the power of GIS through the eyes of peers and the creations of students constructing their own knowledge, scaffolding skills, investigating a project of their own design, on up to crafting entries to Esri's competition for high school and middle school students.
Geo-savvy educators learn from each other, hungrily. The staggering breadth of tools and topics, evolving instructional landscape, and classroom conditions mean these educators must seek and share, tirelessly. Even employers in school systems seek workers with skills in finding, analyzing, and presenting ever more complex data in ever more powerful ways, learners who make good decisions. Educators who engage The Science Of Where in their own insatiable learning are building the critical thinkers and problem solvers we need.

The GIS community has always had strong connections to education.  For years, many GIS professionals have freely given their time and skills to encourage and foster the use of GIS in geography, language arts, history, biology, environmental studies, mathematics, and other disciplines in schools.  A geomentor program is a structured and safe framework that provides a network through which faculty, students, and GIS, geography, and/or STEM professionals come together on a regional or national scale to promote the use of spatial thinking and GIS in education in concrete ways.  Geomentor programs usually focus on primary and secondary schools.  Esri and the AAG have been collaborating on a geomentoring program for years that is encouraging deep and frequent use of GIS in public, private, and home schools in the USA.  Some other countries have expressed interest in beginning their own geomentoring programs. 


To encourage geomentoring programs, I have created a new presentation and three geomentoring videos that cover my own background in geomentoring and credentials in this subject; four tenets of geomentoring; and why I believe this is the ideal time to start a geomentoring program in your part of the world and/or tap into the existing geomentor networks that already exist (such as in the USA for example). These resources also cover what geoliteracy is, advice in setting up a geomentor program, important traits in any geomentor program, ways of geomentoring, success stories, messages to give to students, tips to help geomentors engage with faculty or students, and ways geomentors could use web GIS, crowdsourcing, field work, spatial analysis, and story mapping in their geomentoring efforts.  


Presentation:  Mentoring for GeoLiteracy  


Video series, Part 1:


Video series, Part 2:


Video series, Part 3:


Geomentoring is wonderfully diverse, and can take many forms.  This presentation and videos do not represent the only way that geomentoring can be done, but simply some guidance. It is heartfelt and it is my hope that it sparks some ideas, and encourages more involvement in this important effort, globally. 

Geomentoring presentation and videos

A GeoMentor is a volunteer who can help a teacher or youth club leader build capacity to help students engage with GIS. Using tools of geography (such as digital or hard copy maps), and even field work, the GeoMentor helps the educator and youth develop skills in geographic thinking.


To provide practical skills and strategies to encourage geomentoring around the world, I have created a 3 part video series on geomentoring, including what geomentoring is, why it matters, what geoliteracy is, 8 pieces of advice when setting up a geomentor program, 5 traits for a geomentor program, example ways of geomentoring that I have been involved with, 3 success stories, key messages to share with students, 6 tips of engagement as GIS professionals work with educators and students, tools and maps to use in geomentoring, and resources to keep moving forward. 


Part 1:


Part 2:


Part 3:


I have posted the presentation (in Sway, online), that I used to create these videos, as an additional resource, here:

Mentoring for GeoLiteracy 


Geomentoring Videos


I hope this content is useful and I look forward to your feedback. 


~~Joseph Kerski

Hurricane Maria was the strongest hurricane to make landfall in Puerto Rico since 1928. Originating from a tropical wave that the US National Hurricane Center began monitoring on September 13, Maria developed into a tropical storm on September 16 east of the Lesser Antilles. In conditions remarkably favorable for further development, on September 18, Maria underwent explosive intensification, doubling its sustained wind speed to 260km/h (160 mph), becoming a Category 5 hurricane.


As of October 4, the hurricane has caused no less than 79 deaths. Puerto Rico has suffered catastrophic damage. Total losses from the hurricane are estimated between $15.9 and $95 billion. The entirety of Puerto Rico has been declared a Federal Disaster Zone.


Maps and GIS were used to monitor the development of the hurricane and to coordinate initial rescue efforts. GIS continues to be used to assess damage and help with recovery efforts. In the next two images for example, maps illustrate the effect of the hurricane on the electrical grid. The first map shows an average summer night in Puerto Rico, with the electricity grid working in normal conditions. The second map shows what the activity looked like on September 24 immediately after the hurricane when most of the electricity grid was out of service.



This is one of the many ways geography and maps can be used to help Puerto Rico recover. We propose an activity for students to learn a practical use of GIS technology for emergency recovery operations. This will be a fun yet didactic exercise. 


Using high resolution imagery donated by Vexcel Corporation, students will use ArcGIS tools to identify and assess damaged buildings in Puerto Rico. Working as a team, damage across the entire island can be mapped!


Assessing Building Damage Using High Resolution Imagery


This imagery was captured right after the hurricane, which makes it easy to identify damage.  For clarity, proper damage assessments need to be validated on the ground, but the initial interpretation from imagery is a great step to get an initial approximation to the severity of damage.


Here are some examples to illustrate what you can expect. We have a pair of images, one before the hurricane, and one right after it. A small red dot has been added on top of the building indicating that it was completely destroyed.



The next set focuses on an area near the coast. Note that some building have been flagged in green, indicating that no damage has been observed, whereas others are flagged in orange (damage observed) or red (completely destroyed).



Properly identifying damage takes some practice but can be effectively done through careful observation, common sense, and lots of patience.


Do You Want to Try?


Esri has setup all the aerial imagery required to perform damage inspections in Puerto Rico as shown above. We also have setup a powerful web application that will let students easily compare images pre- and post-hurricane as well as tools to flag buildings.

  1. Watch this short video to see and understand the process in operation.
  2. To participate, you will need to join our ArcGIS Online Maria Damage Assessment Exercise Group. Click the link and join the group using your ArcGIS Online Organization credentials. (If your school or youth club does not have an Org account, you can request one.) We recommend that all people in a school or club share a single credential that clearly identifies your group (e.g. "IL_Ourtown_LincolnHS" or "TX_Ourcounty_4Hmappers"), so you and others can look at your team's collective work.
  3. Once you access the ArcGIS Online Maria Damage Exercise group, open the Damage Assessment Application and start mapping.
    1. Navigate the map to find an area where you want to start working.
    2. Engage the swipe tool (upper left) and use it to compare the images before and after the hurricane.
    3. Engage the edit tool (at left) and use the Green, Orange, and Red tools to flag buildings as appropriate. Emphasize accuracy, not speed.
  4. To see all points contributed across all teams, open the General Dashboard (improved version allows viewing by contributor).
  5. [[Added Oct.18]] Please see also the Oct.18 Update, which provides examples and feedback.
  6. [[Added Nov.13]] Please see also the Nov.13 Blog, which provides important context and results


What is next?


The most important aspect of this exercise is to learn and have fun, but you should know that your contributions have a meaning beyond your own. We at Esri are also learning through this entire process with the intent of enabling similar activities in the future.  Thanks for your participation.

[[Note: This document was updated Oct.18 and Nov.13 to clarify the project's purpose and provide links to subsequent write-ups.]]

Perhaps the most fundamental activity of a citizen is voting. In the US, this is stunningly dependent on geography. The simple act of casting a ballot is a profound demonstration of faith in a system. But some argue that the system today is imperfect, even tainted, since the political party in power in a state defines the boundaries of each district. We can simulate this, and so discover the importance of understanding complex problems and grasping how GIS can foster critical thinking and problem solving.


The lesson "Ohio Apportionment" lets teachers and students explore quickly the population of an example state -- Ohio -- and work on dividing it up. But different people will make different choices, with different reasons, and different impacts. Very quickly, and without login, users can explore and make some decisions, and start contemplating other patterns. In just a few minutes, users can test various scenarios.




Teachers with time can do a deep dive into the makeup of their home state. Students with time and interest might consider turning this into a substantial project, perhaps even an entry to a competition. Helping the citizenry choose their representatives equitably is a Gordian knot -- one of many in our time -- demanding attention from many minds and perspectives, with give and take on all sides, seeking common ground through The Science of Where. It takes exposure, and practice, and analysis. It can begin with simple exploration … an open mind … thinking scientifically … investigating. This is what education is about. It begins with little steps.

Some enhancements to ArcGIS Online are big and others are very small. My favorite one from the September update is very, very small. It’s a tiny checkbox that only ArcGIS Online administrators would ever see. Here it is in all its glory:


Check box for send member e-mail about license changeIf you’ve not run into it yet, have a look at your Manage Licenses tab. Select a member to review his or her licenses and click Configure. You’ll find that, by default, the little checkbox near ASSIGN or in the case below UPDATE, is checked on. That means that when you assign or revoke a license, the user will be informed by e-mail.


The checkbox in context.


Sometimes, of course, we ArcGIS Online administrators want to be stealthy. We want to assign licenses without the member knowing. That’s what we like to do in the Esri MOOC program, but until now, it was not possible. That meant thousands of e-mails went out to students before the course began. Those thousands of students scratched their heads and then sent e-mail asking what that odd e-mail meant. My colleagues and I sent thousands of e-mails in response. It makes me tired just thinking about it.


As of Sept 2017, all ArcGIS Online administrators can silently and stealthily assign or revoke licenses by unchecking that box. I am looking forward to assigning Business Analyst Web App licenses for the Location Advantage MOOC students for the fall offering starting Nov 1.

The column I write for Directions Magazine called Geoinspirations is now over 1 year old.  It features people who are making a positive difference through their work in GIS, geography, oceanography, climatology, city planning, and related fields. I thank the Directions editors Rebeckah Flowers and Barbaree Duke for believing in this column and supporting it.  I have personally enjoyed very much interacting with the people I have interviewed and written about; just thinking about them makes me smile.  Here is a spiffy new page in Directions Magazine, where they are all featured in a gallery:


Consider using this column to inspire your students, but also to help them see the variety of career pathways possible.


This is a great tribute to these individuals and to our geo-field that we have such a diversity of backgrounds and stories, but with some common visions, too!   


If you know of someone who should be featured, please let me know.


~~ Joseph Kerski

GeoInspirations column in Directions Magazine

"Ready set go!" Opportunities abound for students and educators both, even in relation to GIS. The chance to match a set of criteria defined by someone else is excellent practice for all the years ahead. Understand what someone seeks, think creatively, and show what you can do. And for all the GeoMentors out there, this is even a chance for you to shine, with encouragement, instruction, and supportive critique.


Esri's ArcGIS Online Competition for US High School and Middle School students is underway. Work singly or in pairs, students investigate and report on a topic of interest within the state borders, and present findings as a web app or Story Map. Students submit their entries to the school, the school submits its top five to the state, and the state chooses 5-HS and 5-MS entries each to receive $100, then submits these to Esri for the next level, with top 1-HS and 1-MS awardees from the nation earning a trip to the Esri User Conference in San Diego.




Esri's Teacher Video Challenge is for US K12 teachers to create a 60-second video of how they work with ArcGIS Online, post it publicly, and create a database entry. Each month, Esri selects one for digging deeper with a richer video, and provides a $500 honorarium.


Even the US Congress is in the act, with the US Congressional App Challenge. This is for US high school and middle school students. While it is a much broader "STEM education" challenge, it is a great opportunity for students to submit an original application using GIS to a panel of reviewers who may be less familiar with, and thus more impressed by, the power of geospatial apps. This has a tight deadline -- Nov.1, 2017 -- but there can be winners within the boundaries of each participating legislator.


It takes courage to explore an opportunity, empathy to see the goals and constraints, dedication to do the work, and humility to propose a solution, on top of the technical skills. But all these traits are highly prized among adults, and take practice to develop, so every attempt brings rewards.

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