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"What builds successful use of GIS in schools across a state? What leads to widespread use of a technology not built for schools? Is there a model that other states could follow?" people ask when contemplating GIS in schools. Depending on the questions, I may point to several states, but one is always Minnesota.


Full disclosure: I am a native Minnesotan, with 50 years in the state, including half my Esri career. But I have traveled a lot, and lived half my Esri time in California and the DC area. This is not simply "home bias." I want to find (or catalyze) such success everywhere.


The map of ArcGIS School Bundles across USA shows one story. The data behind it show more. Minnesota has a high rate of licenses per 100 schools, a high "activation" rate (launching the ArcGIS Online Org), and high numbers of users per Org. Minnesota launched a state-wide competition in 2016, which became the model for Esri's ArcGIS Online Competition for US High School and Middle School Students, and MN has consistently had the highest participation, plus national winners in the first three years (2017, 2018, 2019; national winners were not declared in 2020 due to the pandemic). Minnesota has run teacher training events for decades that included GIS components and, since 2014, dozens of events for teachers specifically to learn to use GIS. Indicators of success abound.


ArcGIS School Bundle sites

Why? How? Who's doing all this? It's a network, a culture, decades in development. In 1985, Macalester College geography professor David Lanegran began holding summer institutes for geography teachers. I was a participant in 1986, and learned there from middle school teacher Jim Hanson to use database-driven inquiry-oriented investigations with students on Apple IIe computers. In 1987, the Minnesota Alliance for Geographic Education (MAGE) launched, as part of a network organized by National Geographic, and began influencing generations of teachers. Dozens of institutes and countless workshops later, MAGE is still a force, with Lanegran and Hanson (both despite being formally retired) and a host of others still vigorously promoting geographic thinking, analysis, and technology to teachers. Presciently, their 2019 summer institute was conducted online.


Across USA, "Advanced Placement Human Geography" started in 2001, and 9th grade quickly became a key target; many schools in Minnesota (featuring MAGE-trained teachers) offered APHG, building skills in thinking geographically. The sciences, too, have engaged decades of students, from elementary school on up, in projects that relied on data gathering and analysis, whether about local butterflies, migratory birds, regional water quality, budding plants, faraway whales, global temperature patterns, or the very local ways in which humans can prepare for fires.


Meanwhile, the Minnesota Department of Education (MDE) hosted a statewide license of Esri software for school instruction. Working with content teams, MDE incorporated GIS formally into some state educational standards. While such standards do not dictate the exact content or style of instruction, good teachers easily find support for the critical thinking skills, problem solving, integration of knowledge, and active learning that are hallmarks of GIS. "There is legitimacy in GIS for teachers just because it is in the state standards," said MAGE co-coordinator Kelly Swanson, who teaches at both Johnson High School and Metropolitan State University.


MDE is also a key communicator to schools, districts, leaders, and teachers about opportunities to learn about using GIS in all areas. But the biggest influencer at MDE was their GIS lead (recently retired), Scott Freburg. A longtime desktop GIS user with deep ties to MN GIS/LIS -- the state's professional GIS community -- Freburg recognized the power of online GIS for instruction, and encouraged the pros to support teachers with events and dollars. Dozens of GIS users led scores of events introducing hundreds of teachers, starting in 2014. They launched a "GIS for Educators Day" in the fall. To make sure teachers could attend, they provide funding for transportation and even for substitute teachers. This annual event features teachers and students as lunchtime speakers, teachers and GIS users mixing at tables, with users offering data and tips, leading to long-term mentorships or serving as competition judges. Coordinator of Ed for U-Spatial@UMD, Stacey Stark, said "What has finally happened this year is that the presentations are being done by teachers, not by those of us who live in this field." Freburg added "This has been our goal for years -- for the teachers to lead it." And it all makes a difference. "Seeing Educators Day was important for me; seeing it every year after that made it clear to our department that this is a big deal. This will be our fifth year of 7 teachers from high school and middle school attending," said Sauk Rapids Rice High School geography teacher Brianne Wegter. Minnesota's Chief Geospatial Information Officer Dan Ross has supported GIS Educators Day with his imprimatur, and more: "It is very important for the state office and community to support teachers in our pursuit of geography and building the next generation of geographers and geospatial professionals." All this helps teachers secure time -- that most precious gift -- to learn, share, and be inspired, even if just meeting online this year.


Each building block leads to teachers introducing GIS to kids who get inspired to do impressive work. Of the national prizes in Esri's competition, half have gone to students in Minnesota. "We love the competition as a good culminating event," Wegter said. "We have all our 9th grade students do it -- just over 350 kids this past year. They create a map, and some do it in partnership, so we had just over 250 entries to the competition. It gives teachers a way to bring these skills and data together; it guides us all year long." Hanson added a different spin: "I pull all the state's entries together for the judges, and the frustrating thing to me -- and it happens every year -- is seeing a kid with a brilliant idea, but who didn't really have the support from a GIS perspective to bring it to life. We need even more connection to mentors."


Minnesota's success has not come from solo work by a digital version of giant lumberjack Paul Bunyan. It is from a large group of people at many different organizations seeing a key opportunity and working together. Numerous other leaders and teachers deserve mention above for their role. Truly, any state can do this.

In a recent post, I introduced the idea of spatial environmental education, using map-based analysis to teach and learn environmental studies.  I hope to strengthen this idea in this column by showing how spatial analysis can foster learning about environmental content and relationships.  One of the central themes of environmental studies is examining the interaction between humans and the environment. How does the environment affect people, through such characteristics as daily weather and long-term climate, native plants and animals, landforms, the availability of water, local and regional natural hazards, and predominant soil type?  Conversely, how do humans affect their environment?



IS can be used to teach and learn about environmental content and relationships.  Photograph by Joseph Kerski, out on the landscape in Wyoming.


Another central environmental theme is change. The Earth is a dynamic planet. Comparing land cover change based on examining Landsat satellite imagery, comparing the variation in the frequency and intensity of hurricanes by year, or investigating population change in an urban area are three of the many ways in which change can be examined using maps within a Geographic Information Systems (GIS), starting with ArcGIS Online.

Because environmental phenomena interact, move, and change, it is not enough to know content only:  Relationships and processes are critical to understanding the environment.  GIS can foster each of the Center for Ecoliteracy’s six core ecological concepts: networks, nested systems, cycles, flows, development, and dynamic balance. GIS allows variables to be input, modeled, and modified so that the dynamics of environmental processes can be studied. Hungerford and Volk (1991) defined nine key ecological concepts that they said were necessary for environmental education programs, including (1) individuals and populations, (2) interactions and interdependence, (3) environmental influences and limiting factors, (4) energy flow and nutrient cycling, (5) community and ecosystem concepts, (6) homeostasis, (7) succession, (8) humans as members of ecosystems, and (9) the ecological implications of human activities and communities.  GIS can enhance the teaching of each of these concepts.

An NSF-funded project from the NAAEE resulted in a definition of environmental literacy that includes four interrelated components: (1) competencies, (2) knowledge, (3) dispositions, and (4) environmentally responsible behavior. By using the same tools used by scientists, GIS aids in the first two of these, and by investigating real issues in their communities and beyond, GIS aids in helping with the last two of these components.

Students who use GIS in tandem with environmental studies develop key critical thinking skills. These skills include understanding how to carefully evaluate and use data. This is especially critical in assessing environmental data, due to its increasing volume and diversity, and given its often sensitive and politically charged nature. Moreover, crowd-sourced data appears regularly from “citizen science” initiatives all over the world on pine beetle infestations, the appearance of monarch butterflies each spring, phenology, birds, and a host of other topics.  These data are more frequently being tied to real-world coordinates that are mapped and analyzed. Students and graduates using GIS and who are grounded in environmental studies will be in demand to help make sense of this deluge of incoming data.

Students using these tools can map phenomena and features such as ocean currents, ecoregions, and the locations of usable geothermal energy. They can use the tools to answer various questions. How does pH vary along this stretch of river, and why? How do tree species and tree height change depending on the slope angle and slope direction of the mountain, and why? Why do wind speed and direction vary across North America the way they do?

Are you using GIS to teach or learn about environmental content and relationships? If so, how?

Hungerford, Harold R., and Trudi L. Volk. Curriculum Development in Environmental Education for the Primary School: Challenges and Responsibilities. Invited paper for The International Training Seminar on Curriculum Development in Environmental Education for the Primary School.  May 1991.

- See more at:… 

Dr Sandra Lach Arlinghaus and I have co-written a book entitled Spatial Mathematics—Theory and Practice Through Mapping, published by CRC Press/Taylor & Francis.  Spatial mathematics draws on the theoretical underpinnings of both mathematics and geography.  Spatial mathematics draws from geometry, topology, graph theory, trigonometry, modern algebra, symbolic logic, set theory, and more.  To build bridges between mathematics and geography, each of the book’s 10 chapters begins with theoretical discussions that form the bridge foundation, and activities that form the span between the two disciplines.  It can be used as a text in geography, GIS, or mathematics courses at the university or community college level, and by researchers interested in these intersections, and by GIS practitioners who seek deeper insight into the mathematics behind their spatial analysis.


Our table of contents includes 10 chapters:

1.  Geometry of the Sphere
2.  Location, Trigonometry, and Measurement of the Sphere
3.  Transformations: Analysis and Raster/Vector Formats
4.  Replication of Results: Color and Number
5.  Scale
6.  Partitioning of Data: Classification and Analysis
7.  Visualizing Hierarchies
8.  Distribution of Data: Selected Concepts
9.  Map Projections
10.  Integrating Past, Present, and Future Approaches
The book also includes a Glossary, References, Further Reading, and Related Materials.

Waldo Tobler of the University of California Santa Barbara, wrote, “Two ancient texts had a profound and lasting impact on the literate world—Euclid’s Elements, and the rediscovery in the 1400s of Ptolemy’s Geography from AD 150. […]  Now, in this book, additional insight for the mathematical solution of geographical tasks is provided. The pedagogical orientation is especially worthy of comment.”  Michael Batty, of the Centre for Advanced Spatial Analysis at University College London, wrote “Teaching mathematics can be tough but here is a book that is a gentle introduction to the mathematics of the spatial world through the medium of mapping.  The use of QR codes to access additional map-based material is clever and innovative, and provides a nice link to the very technologies that this mathematics supports.”

Michael Goodchild, of the University of California, Santa Barbara, wrote that “Mathematics underpins geography in many ways, especially in this new era of computerized mapping and geographic information systems. Geography can also be an exciting and relevant way of teaching many of the basic concepts of mathematics, from geometry and topology to statistics. So this book on spatial mathematics as applied to mapping is both timely and welcome. The wealth of practical examples and the enthusiasm of its authors will fill an important niche in a mapping literature that often underplays the importance and relevance of mathematics.”    Marc Schlossberg of the University of Oregon, wrote, “This book is both all about the map and all about the math behind the map, using what has become ubiquitous on our smart phones and in our vehicles as a vehicle itself to teach complex concepts accessible, meaningful, and useful for students.”


A few years ago, I walked on the pier at Manitowoc, Wisconsin, and after mapping my route, reflected on issues of resolution of scale in this blog.  After recording my track on my smartphone in an application called RunKeeper, it appeared on the map as though I had been walking on the water!  This, of course, was because the basemap did not show the pier.  Recently, following the annual meeting of the Association of American Geographers, I had the opportunity to retrace my steps and revisit my study.  What has changed in the past 2 1/2 years?  Much.

As shown below, the basemap used by RunKeeper  has vastly improved in that short amount of time.  The pier is now on the map, and note the other difference between the new map and the one from 2012 below it–schools, trails, contour lines, and other features are now available.  A 3-D profile is available now as well.  Why?  The continued improvement of maps and geospatial data from local, regional, federal, and international government agencies plays a role.  We have a plethora of data sources to choose from, as is evident in Dr Karen Payne’s list of geospatial data and the development of Esri’s Living Atlas of the World.  The variety and resolution of base maps in ArcGIS Online continues to expand and improve at an rapid pace.  Equally significant, and some might argue more significant, is the role that crowdsourcing is having on the improvement of maps and services (such as traffic and weather feeds).  In fact, even in this example, note the “improve this map” text that appears in the lower right of the map, allowing everyday fitness app users the ability to submit changes that will be reviewed and added to RunKeeper’s basemap.

What does all of this mean for the educator and student using geospatial technologies? Maps are improving due to efforts by government agencies, nonprofit organizations, academia, private companies, and the ordinary citizen.  Yet, scale and resolution still matter.  Critically thinking about data and where it comes from still matters.  Fieldwork with ordinary apps can serve as an effective teaching technique.  It is indeed an exciting time to be in the field of geotechnologies. 

My walk on the north pier at Manitowoc, Wisconsin.


From my track, it looks like I am walking on the water!


The pier that I was actually walking on. 

I think many of you in education (and beyond) can relate to this:


When you embed a video in a story
map or in a map note, when it is done playing, by default it shows you the “related” videos –
and “related” is definitely in quotes!  Sometimes these are really
embarrassing and sit there in your story map as a set of “tiled” choices, OR
worse yet, are on the “big screen” when you are presenting to a group. 


Here is a little tip to avoid that:


So, for example, compare this
embed video of mine (you can skip to just a few seconds to the end to test it):


versus this one:


The one with the rel=0 does not
show the “related” ones at the end!  It only shows other videos in my own channel.


If you forget the ?rel=0 code,
then in YouTube just go to Share, Embed, and Show More, and you’ll see the
choice there that you can Uncheck to avoid the related video display.


Now, keep in mind that videos, like GIS, rapidly evolves, so when you read this, the procedures might be somewhat different--but do some research and it will surely be something along the lines of adding a tag such as that above. 


Thanks to Owen Evans for the information!

A theme running throughout the book I co-authored, The GIS Guide to Public Domain Data is to be critical of the data that you are using–even data that you are creating.  Thanks to mobile technologies and the evolution of GIS to a Software as a Service (SaaS) model, anyone can create spatial data, even from a smartphone, and upload it into the GIS cloud for anyone to use.  This has led to incredibly useful collaborations such as Open Street Map, but this ease of data creation means that caution must be employed more than ever before, as I explain in this video.


See more on:


--Joseph Kerski

Dr Damian Gessler of Semantic Options recently gave a keynote address in which he stated, “transformational change is enabled as past technologies simplify.”  Immediately, I thought of the many presentations and papers where several of my colleagues and I have applied Everett Rogers’ diffusion of innovations theory to GIS in education. Rogers theory focuses on how innovations are adopted, at first by innovators and then by early adopters.  Rogers says that for real change to occur with any technology, the early majority of users, representing one standard deviation below the mean, will need to adopt the technology.  Some of us, such as in this book, are arguing that with the advent of web based GIS and the resulting lowering of technological and learning barriers, we are beginning to see an “early majority” of educators using GIS in their instruction.


Gessler’s point perfectly applies to the use of GIS in education:  First, GIS has 50-year roots, so while one can argue that it is changing more rapidly now than ever before, it qualifies as a “past technology” as identified by Gessler.  Its methods and models have been tested, vetted, and refined.  Second, it has simplified in many ways–through the advent of the graphical user interface around 2000, web based services through the Geography Network of the early 2000s and on through the modern Software-as-a-Service architecture, and its ability to incorporate real-time data feeds, multimedia (via story maps and other mapping applications), and field data through crowdsourcing and other methods.  As it has become easier to use, it has simultaneously become more powerful.


These two simultaneous trends are attracting people in a widening diversity of disciplines to the use of GIS.  As people are attracted to it, decisions are increasingly made using the geographic perspective, and transformational change is enabled, to put it in Dr Gessler’s words.  Nowhere was that more evident than during the COVID crisis, where thousands of Hub sites, dashboards, web maps, and infographics appeared within weeks.  In the classroom at the primary, secondary, and university levels in formal and in informal settings, the use of the technologies and methods are beginning to cause transformational change in how skills, content knowledge, and perspectives are taught and learned.


Do you agree that we are seeing a transformational change with regard to the use of GIS in education?  What do you recommend that we as the community need to do in order to further encourage and hasten these developments?

Exciting news from the Arctic! Version 2 of the Arctic DEM has been released. Topographic elevation of the Arctic can now be viewed and analyzed like never before. This release extends the detailed 2 meter Alaska elevation data with additional 2m data for Novaya Zemlya and Franz Josef Land, as well as preliminary 8 meter data for the entire Arctic.  Additional detailed 2 meter elevation data will be released in quarterly installments over 2017 until the arctic data is complete.  This is the result of a partnership between Esri, the National Geospatial Intelligence Agency, the National Science Foundation, and the Polar Geospatial Center at the University of Minnesota.


In September 2016, the US at the White House hosted an Arctic Ministerial meeting, with over 20 countries represented, where this data was showcased and new commitments on data provisions were sought.  The goal of the meeting and the new data is to help people better understand, adapt to, and address the changing conditions in the Arctic.

The four key themes include:

  • Understanding Arctic-Science Challenges and their Regional and Global Implications.
  • Strengthening and Integrating Arctic Observations and Data Sharing.
  • Applying Expanded Scientific Understanding of the Arctic to Build Regional Resilience and Shape Global Responses.
  • Using Arctic Science as a Vehicle for Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math (STEM) Education and Citizen Empowerment.

To access the data, start  with the NGA Arctic Support story map here and spend time on the ‘Arctic Digital Elevation Model (ArcticDEM) ’ tab.  The embedded apps provide interactive access to the elevation. The data is described in an article here from and an article from National Geographic here.  This story map illustrates the visualizations that can be generated with the click of the mouse for any user selected area, and a swipe story map explains the background on Digital Elevation Models and compares the new elevation data to the older elevation data by providing the ability to swipe between the maps. The DEMs have been computed from high resolution stereo Digital Globe satellite imagery.


The DEM Explorer is a web app that allows the data user to zoom to any area and review different visualizations such as hillshade, slope, aspect, contours. As the data is temporal in many areas, users can see how the data is changing over time and summarize elevation change for a selected areas.  The Change Viewer is a simpler app that allows a user to click a point and graphically view the historical elevation of that location. Access to these services is also available in a wide range of applications through the Arctic DEM Group in ArcGIS Online.   Most of the apps use the polar projections to reduce distortions which would become severe in generic mapping applications.  Finally, a video tour of the story map highlights many of the above products and services.


Quite a bit of publicity and press surrounds these data sets, but all of it is good news.  Don’t let the flood of information prevent you from taking the time to investigate these resources and spend some time exploring the Arctic.  The actual data is accessible through the web services, and will be of great benefit for anyone doing research in the Arctic, as the map below should make very clear.


Alaska DEMs showing the heretofore available data (left) and the new data (right).

I have written a new book about geography and geographic technologies, its foundations, and its implications, entitled:


Interpreting Our World – 100 Discoveries that Have Revolutionized Geography: 


For more information, see the above and the following video:


New book

--Joseph Kerski

GIS GIGO (Garbage In Garbage Out): 30 checks for data errors

Nathan Heazlewood of Eagle Technologies wrote a very useful essay about “garbage in, garbage out” in relation to geospatial data.  In it, he not only ties this oft-heard phrase to the importance of GIS data quality, but he also details the checks that GIS analysts should go through when they are assessing a data set.  I would argue that this checklist is also useful for educators and for students as they document their own work for two reasons:  (1)  Paying attention to data quality is even more important now than ever (as I described recently in this blog), and (2) nowadays, with the advent of Web GIS, everyone working in GIS is a potential data producer.

The list of 30 items is grouped under checks for positional accuracy, topological logic, geometric considerations, projections and coordinate systems, attribute and data structure checks, and attribute and data structure checks.  Extremely helpful are Nathan’s diagrams showing tables lacking null values for non-null attribute data, values outside permitted ranges, and orphan records in related tables.

Nathan includes many considerations that are not often discussed but can lead to enormous problems, such as the different standards and formats of dates being used around the world, from year-month-day to day-month-year to month-day-year (which Nathan dubs the “super dumb American date format”).  Another consideration is one I can identify with that was a significant challenge for me during a GIS workshop I taught in Turkey–the numbers in my data set were formatted such as 100,000 for one hundred thousand, but the software in the university lab, given its location, was naturally configured for one hundred thousand to be coded as 100.000.

How might you be able to use this data error checklist in your own instruction?  What checks would you consider adding to this list when you are teaching GIS?

A section of Heazlewood's 30 checks on data.

There are many ways to store photographs so that you can link to them and use them in ArcGIS Online.  The most popular method is probably using Flickr, Google Plus, and other photo sharing services, as I document in the attached set of guidelines. However, either because their institution prohibits the use of photo sharing sites or for technical reasons, some educators prefer to store their photographs in ArcGIS Online. 


Let's say you have uploaded some photographs to ArcGIS Online by navigating to "My Content" and then using the "Add Item" function.  How, then, do you link to the photograph once it is there in ArcGIS Online?  You cannot link to the URL that is at the top of the metadata page for that photograph.  Rather, you need to navigate to the bottom of this page to get to the actual URL where the photograph is located, as shown for a photograph I uploaded from a field trip I was on with educators in New Zealand, highlighted in yellow, below:

Rangitata Valley metadata for a photograph I took there.... Ah!


Once you have the URL, you can create a Map Note that links to that photo (shown below and in the map linked here), you can use the photo and other similarly-linked photos in a story map or other web mapping applications, and you can use them in other ways.

Rangitata Valley web map


Hmm.. working with these images and map makes me want to take another field trip back to this spectacular landscape!  Give this photo technique a try! 

We live in a 3D world, and it only makes sense that we want to teach with and learn about the world with 3D tools.  With ArcGIS Online, 3D scenes can be easily created and used effectively to teach content.  I created a 3D scene with the last 30 days of earthquakes in ArcGIS Online, and documented my procedures with this video.  The video also demonstrates how I have taught with the results.  Many more themes and phenomena of our world can be examined in 3D using these same tools.  I look forward to your feedback!


Teaching and learning with 3D scenes in ArcGIS Online can help students grasp key content, encourage spatial thinking, and obtain core GIS skills.  This video uses recent earthquakes as an example. 

Examining the locations of businesses can also foster spatial thinking and enhance skills in Spatial Technology. In the business world, location is usually the factor in determining whether it will thrive or fail. 


Let’s have a coffee break.   Examine this interactive web map of Starbucks coffee establishments around the world. The map is based on ArcGIS from Esri:


Starbucks map 1 Manhattan and Beyond.  The map opens with a view centered on Manhattan, one of the boroughs of New York City.  The data are displayed as points and also as a heat map.  A heat map shows the relative clustering of data, with “hot” or “bright” colours indicating clustering of a certain variable or feature, and “cool” or “green-blue” colours indicating areas containing fewer of a specific variable or feature. 


Clustering.  Why are Starbucks clustered in this part of the New York City and not in other parts?  To assist your answer, use Basemap > change the basemap to Imagery with Labels.  Zoom in to Manhattan.  You can use the Show Contents of Map button to display the map layers, and then toggle them on and off as shown below (or make them semi-transparent from a menu from the (…) choice when you click on and expand the individual layers). 


Starbucks map 2
Starbucks in Australia. 
Enter Sydney in the search box to the upper right of the map and select Sydney, NSW, Australia.  The map should look similar to that below.  Why are Starbucks clustered in this part of the city?


In the search box, enter Jilliby and zoom to Jilliby in New South Wales Australia.   Would you say that Jilliby is larger or smaller than Sydney?  Do some research to back up your observation.  Why, according to this data set, are there no Starbucks in this town?  Think about specific types of business—a petrol station, convenience store, concert hall, home improvement store, airport—they all have different population thresholds that they must meet.  Some are viable in a small town or even in no town at all, while others, such as IKEA or other chains with a large footprint, need a large nearby population base to stay in business.


Extend this activity.  How are Starbucks distributed in other major cities around the world?  Shanghai?  Chicago?  London?  How does the type of product influence where it expands globally?  The headquarters of Starbucks is in Seattle Washington in the northwest corner of the continental USA.  How does the location of the headquarters of a chain influence where, how, and the rate at which it expands?   Name 2 other factors that influences if and when a business could expand.  What 2 factors influence Starbucks expansion?  Name 2 other chain businesses that have spread regionally, 2 that have spread nationally, and 2 that have spread globally.  Which of these chains have you visited?



By examining these other questions, you can begin to see that Spatial Technology can serve as a springboard for inquiry, for critical thinking, and for thinking across disciplinary boundaries. The activity above, for example, touched on geography, but also sociology (consumer preferences), and economics (prices, personal income, global trade). 


Think outside the box!  You can map the location of any business as point data in ArcGIS .  Think about mapping two types of businesses in your community, for example, car washes versus antique stores.  Why do the exhibit different spatial patterns?  


Be critical of data—including maps.  In this and other GIS-based investigations, always investigate the source of the data.  Where did it come from, who created it, at what scale was it created, is it curated, is it trustworthy?  These are elements of what we call metadata, which is especially important in mapping.  In this case, the Starbucks metadata does not contain much information, but there is some information here:   What is the date of the Starbucks data?   


Think about which data you might want to map where having data 10 years out of date is OK (such as geologic strata of Turkmenistan) and when even 1 day out of date is not OK (such as mapping current wildfires in Australia).


Thus, be critical of the data.  Make sure students question all data on the web, including maps!  Maps have an aura of authenticity and are often taken as “the truth.”  Nowadays, anyone can make a map and post it to the web.  That is wonderful, and empowering, but also requires you to be a critical consumer of data.  All maps are inaccurate, because they are representing the oblate spheroid that is the Earth on a 2D or even projected 3D image on your computer screen.  Furthermore, maps, including satellite imagery, are only representations of reality—and hence, are symbolized and generalized and processed in various ways.  There are many maps that show false information, and also, many maps that may be useful but contain no metadata.  Despite their limitations, maps are incredibly useful.  But to make effective use of maps, make sure you understand their limitations and encourage students, coworkers, and others to be critical of them. 

Examining Ocean Currents:  


Limitations of Static Maps.  One of the advantages to using Spatial Technology in education is that you and your students have the capabilities of interacting with mapped data.   Let’s say you are teaching about ocean currents at some point. 


Examine this ocean currents map from Wikipedia:  It is fairly clear, not overly detailed; unfortunately Australia is off on the side, as often happens on world maps. 


Examine this ocean currents map from NOAA:  Again, it is OK, Australia is now nearer the center but the arrows are shorter and a bit more difficult to interpret. 


Neither of these maps is a vast improvement over the one created by the US Army in 1943, here:; in fact, the US Army’s choice of symbology actually make it more useful in some ways than the more current maps. 


You also may use maps on the wall of your classroom or in a textbook.  These maps may be wonderful as well and be useful to you.


But all these maps have limitations:  You as the educator are “stuck” with the projection chosen, the symbology used, and the scale.  They are all snapshots in time and cannot be updated.  You cannot add additional information to it and you cannot interact with it.  Printed maps can tear or be spilled on.  Wall maps or printed maps might require a lot of space.   By contrast, you will examine a 3D scene of ocean currents.


Enter the world of maps from Spatial Technology.  The advent of web based Spatial Technology has enabled a variety of different map and imagery layers to be combined in what are called web mapping applications, including this one on ocean currentsElsewhere on, you can explore and build some web mapping applications, including story maps (  


A 3-D map of ocean currents.  Right now, let’s start with this 3D Globe of world ocean currents:

Pan the map to Australia.  Note the navigation tools to the left of the map and experiment with them.  On the right side, make all of the layers visible.  Your map should look similar to that below.


Ocean currents activity 1

Make the legend visible.  Based on this map, one question you could post to the students is:  Say you want to find a swim beach.  On which coast(s) of Australia are being fed by a warm current and therefore, on which coasts would you find warmer water (north, east, south, or west)? 


What is another question you could pose to the students based on this map?


Changing the map.  You can see that not only is the map rendered as a 3D globe, you can examine the topography (called bathymetry) of the ocean floor, turn layers on and off, change the basemap, change the sun position to today’s date and time, examine the difference in the Coriolis effect in the northern versus the southern hemispheres, and more.  You can measure distances and areas on land and in the water, and since you are working with a 3D globe, your measurements will be more accurate than measuring off of a 2D map.  (Not perfect, but more accurate.  See documentation on the Esri site about map projections, accuracy, and scale).  You can even share the map as a URL.  When you do, the person you send the link to will be able to open the map in the exact spot you desire and with the layers, basemap, and sun angle all set to the way you set it. 


Floating on the High Seas.  In addition, since Spatial Technology is now a platform, you and others can build on top of it.  Let’s use one educational and fun example.   Looking at the ocean currents, you may have been thinking, if I dropped a bottle, or set off on a raft, off of Australia, where would the bottle or my raft float to?  


Go to the Message in a Bottle web mapping application, below.  This is based on the same data you have been observing with one additional wonderful capability:


Again, pan and zoom to Australia or another area of interest to you.  Set the number of days to 250 and the buffer distance to 25 km.  Take the default of today’s date.  Hypothesize about the direction and distance a bottle or raft would float in 250 days off the north coast and off the east coast of Australia.  Then, click on the map to drop 1 point off the north coast of Australia, let the tool run, and observe the result.  Drop 1 additional point off the east coast of Australia, again letting the tool run and observing the result.  The results will look similar to that below:

Ocean currents activity 2


Are the results (direction and distance) consistent with your hypothesis?  Why or why not? 


Extend this activity.  This web mapping application could therefore serve as a useful tool that can teach that the ocean currents move in different directions, but they also move at different rates of speed.  And they also move differently depending on the time of year.  Change the time of year from today’s date to six months ago and observe any differences.  Why do the differences exist?

Examining neighborhood change with historical high-resolution imagery.

The Wayback Image Service.  Over 80 different dates of historical imagery for the past 5 years now reside in ArcGIS  via the World Imagery Wayback service, as described here: .  The best place to start for educators is the World Imagery Wayback app.  In the app,, an incredible resource for examining land use and land cover change, changes in water levels of reservoirs, coastal erosion, deforestation, regrowth, urbanization, and much more, covering the entire globe, is at your fingertips within a simple web browser. 

The app begins with Las Vegas, Nevada, USA.  You are welcome to stay here awhile and examine the massive amount of urban sprawl occurring here.  Zoom out and take note of the region in which Las Vegas is situated.  What’s wrong with this picture?   Do you think a city in the desert is sustainable over the long term?  Examine the water level of Lake Mead, a reservoir to the east of the city, over time.  What is happening to the water level?  In part to divert water to Las Vegas, but in part due to long term drought, the water levels in the reservoir are clearly dropping.

In the upper right of the map, in the search box, enter Casey Hospital, Kangan Dr, Berwick, Victoria, 3806, AUS.  Then to the left of the map, click “only updates with local changes” to just display imagery where changes have been noted, as follows:

Wayback imagery

Select different images to the left of the map to display them at right.  Did the hospital exist in 2014?  Note the hospital’s proximity to the Princes Freeway and to the city of Berwick.  Why do you think the hospital chose to locate here?

Zoom out a bit to determine where in Victoria this hospital is and where Berwick is, noting its proximity to Melbourne.  You can use the + and – buttons in the upper left of the map, or Shift-Drag Box to zoom in on the box you draw, or Control-Shift-Drag Box to zoom out on that box.  Why do you think this area is experiencing urban growth?  What do you think it will look like in 10 years?  

Examine your own community using the Wayback image service.  Examine your own community or even your own school or university campus grounds.  What changes can you detect?  Why have those changes taken place?  What will your own community look like in 10 years?  In 50 years?  As an example, search for and find Melbourne Grammar School.  What changes took place on the southeast corner of one of the fields on the school grounds, on the northwest corner of Bromby and Domain Streets?

However, in keeping with the theme that is important in teaching with GIS of being critical of the data, caution is needed.  The dates represent the update of the Esri World Imagery service.  This service is fed by multiple sources, private and public, from local and global sources.  Thus, the date does not mean that every location that you examine on the image is current as of that date.  You may observe construction in your local neighbourhood, for example, but the construction does not appear on the satellite image.  Or, you may find imagery that has a wintertime date in the Southern Hemisphere but the leaves were clearly on the trees in the image.  The images could have been taken during the summer before, or even from the summer before that.  Therefore, as always, know what you are working with.  Despite these cautions, the imagery still represents an amazing and useful resource.

Extending the lesson.  Note that after you select "only updates with local changes", you have the option of opening those images with changes in ArcGIS .  Why would you want to do this?  Because if you bring them to ArcGIS , (1) you can add other data to these historical images, such as the OpenStreetMap layer, or layers on land use, hydrology, natural hazards, population change, and more; (2) you can save and share those maps that you create; and (3) you can make story maps and other web mapping applications from the maps. 

Investigating world landforms.  Studying regions is a key topic in geography, environmental education, biology, and other disciplines.  Let's use ArcGIS  and examine a key way of studying regions—through landforms.


Investigating world landforms with ArcGIS .  Open a new tab in your web browser and access the following web map: 



Investigating Regions


Pan to Australia.  To the left of the map, use Content to turn off all layers except Divisions:


Regional investigation A

Show the Legend.  Click on each of the three divisions covering Australia, noting their size and location.


Access the popup, which reflects the attribute table behind the map (the “I” or information part of GIS), noting the information about each landform region.


To the left of the map, go to About > More Details, and examine the metadata for the map (  This map contains contains layers of systematically compiled named physiographic divisions, physiographic provinces, and landforms.  The features are attributed and named based on the work of Professor Richard Murphy, Department of Geography University of New Mexico, and Professor E.M. Bridges, University of Wales, Swansea, UK


Go back to your map (by using the “Open in Map Viewer” button in the upper right of the metadata page, or by accessing the above URL for the map again. Make sure only the Divisions layer is visible again; if not, turn that layer on and turn the others off. 


Open the table for the Divisions layer > click on the shape_area field > Sort Descending. 

Regional Investigation B



Which are the 3 largest landforms divisions according to this data set?  Scroll down the table and note that the Australian Shield is, according to this data set, ranked 17th in area.  What states in Australia are totally or partially in the Australian Shield?


Zoom to Victoria by searching for it in the upper right search box, or by using the + and – navigation tools, or by using control-drag box.  Use the transparency tool underneath the Divisions layer to estimate how much of Victoria falls in the Eastern Highlands region and how much falls in the Sedimentary Basins region.  Change the basemap to Terrain with Labels and compare the terrain to the landforms region “boundary”, noting that the landform region boundary is generalized and continental in scope. 


One of the themes running through the use of GIS in education is that scale matters.  Some geographic themes such as hydrologic units and landform regions, nest within each other, visible as the scale increases (to larger scales showing more detail). 


On your map, use Content > and turn on the provinces and structural character layers, noting how these nest inside the “divisions” that you examined a moment ago.


Examining Landforms by Named Province.  Make the Landforms by Provinces layer visible and turn the others off.  Make the Legend visible.  Note that there are hundreds of named landforms.  Click on the ones covering Victoria and name the 5 that cover the state.  In which one do you live and work?  Which landform region covers Sydney?  Adelaide?  Perth?  Kuala Lumpur?  Tokyo?  As you search and find each city, you could add a map note to each, and using your new Spatial Technology skills, you could log in to ArcGIS , save this map, and share it with your class as a World Landforms map or some other similar name. 


Examining Landforms by Structural Character.  Make the Landforms by Structural Character visible and turn the others off.  Make the Legend visible.  Note the presence of isolated volcanic areas in New South Wales and Victoria.  Change the basemap to Imagery with Labels and make the Structural Character layer semi-transparent.  Does the imagery give evidence for these areas?  In some places, yes, but in others, the land use and land cover obscures the volcanics underneath.  Change the imagery to Terrain with Labels and pan around the rest of Australia.  Where do isolated volcanic areas exist around the rest of the country?  Pan to other locations around the world, naming 3 areas where isolated volcanic areas occupy a large part of the landscape.  


Other questions to pose with this data set and these tools at your fingertips are:  Which landform regions in Australia support the most agriculture?  Why?  In which landform regions are the largest cities in Australia?  Which landform regions support and encompass the world’s largest cities?  Using the measure tool, measure the area for selected regions, such as the Australian Shield, or the Himalayas, or the Gobi Desert.  Which is the largest?  What questions would you like to pose to the students using these data layers?


Examining Hydrologic Features.   Rivers, river basins, and watersheds are another way in which to understand the world through regional analysis.  To the upper right of your map, use Modify Map > Add > Search for Layers > world hydro > select “Esri hydro reference overlay” > Add to map, as follows:

Regional investigation C


Go back to your Contents for your map and note that you now have a hydro layer showing rivers and tributaries.  Turn all of your landforms layers off.  Change the basemap to Terrain with Labels.  If you have ever wanted a map of just rivers of Australia, or any continent, now you have one!


If it helps visualize the political boundaries, feel free to change the basemap to National Geographic or another basemap.  Which direction do most of the rivers flow in Victoria? Why?  What is the nearest river to your school? 


You’ve done a lot of good work in this map, so it is a good idea to save it so you do some analysis on it now and return to it later.  Use Save > Save As, which will prompt you to log in to ArcGIS  if you are not already logged in. Give your map a suitable title, tags, and a summary.  


Tracing water as it flows downstream.  Now that you are logged in, a simple but powerful tool called Analysis now appears to the upper left of your map:

Regional investigation E


If Analysis does not appear, then you need to contact your administrator for your ArcGIS  account and make sure that you are granted “publisher” permission.    Publisher permission allows you to create map layers including through the Analysis functions and via other means. 


Because you have Spatial Technology at your fingertips, let’s do some analysis and determine how water flows from your school or another location.  This is part of the analysis tools, which allow you to overlay map layers, compute spatial statistics, interpolate surfaces, and much more.  For now, we will focus on 1 analysis tool—Trace Downstream. 


Use Analysis > Find Locations > Trace Downstream, as follows:

Regional investigation F


Use the tool as follows.  For #1, click the placemarker and drag it to the point on the map that you want to trace downstream from.   It should drop the point on the map and you will see it.  For #2, make the maximum distance 5000 kilometers. 




For #3, give the resulting map layer with your stream trace a suitable name.  Do NOT check the “use current map extent” box.  (Conversely, zoom out until you see all of Australia, and then it would be OK to check the box).   When done, > Run Analysis.  Be patient while it considers elevation and stream hierarchy and flow to compute the trace.


Regional Investigation H

When done, examine the spatial pattern of your result, noting direction, cities and landform areas that the water passes

through, and the location where your water enters the ocean.  Use the measure tool to measure the distance.   To see your stream trace more clearly, change the style to red or orange and increase the thickness of the line symbol; example below. 



In this example, why does water take such a long journey to the ocean, when the distance to the south of the point is so much less?  Use the Measure tool to measure the straight-line distance from your point to the nearest ocean shoreline.

Open the table for the trace layer.  Note the value in the Length Kilometers field.  How many kilometers did water from your point need to reach the ocean?  How much more in kilometers and in percentage is this from the straight-line distance you measured above?


Save your map again.


Extending the lesson.  There are several ways to extend this lesson.   Because GIS technology is an open problem-solving toolkit, you are not confined to doing only what is outlined in this activity. 


First, you could perform trace downstream from other locations around the world, as well.  Second, you could add a real-time weather layer to your map and discuss how river flow would be affected by a large rain event or typhoon, and which cities might need to be placed on alert.  Third, you could add stream gaging stations and real-time water flow to this map, and examine their values in relation to the rivers and watersheds, investigating the effect of snowmelt or rainstorms on the stream gage, the location of the stream gage within the watershed, again using ArcGIS . Fourth, you could investigate another area of the world entirely. 


Congratulations!  You have investigated world regions using GIS Technology.   You have opened maps and built your own maps.  

Examining Regions with ArcGIS  Maps and Google Street View.  At times, geographic learning is enhanced with photographs taken on the landscape you are studying.  Fortunately, photographs are a standard part of today’s Spatial Technology. In the following activity, you will study regions through an interactive map and on-the-ground photographs.


Examine a world ecoregions and population density map.  Access the map of World Ecoregions and Population Density, in ArcGIS , here:


To the left of the map > Content > Turn off population density and turn on ecoregions, as follows:

Ecoregions A

On the map, click on one of the ecoregions.  You might have to use the > next button in the popup until you get “past” the continent and country information to the ecoregion name.  The map will look similar to this:




Compare the ecoregions in eastern Australia and central Australia.  Or another region of the world. 


Based on the descriptions, what do you predict the landscape will look like on the ground in those locations?  What landforms, trees, and shrubs will predominate?  Will you see any evidence of water?  What will the evidence of humans be on land use? 


Toggle the population density layer on and off, noting the patterns that you see in helping you answer the following question when you go to Street View for a chosen area:  Will you see any towns or cities?


Examine on-the-ground photographs from Street View.


To test your hypotheses about the characteristics of the ecoregions, go to Google Maps:  Search on Australia.  You will likely see a 3D scene zoomed to the scale of all of Australia, as below, particularly if you have enabled the Google Earth plugin to your web browser.  Drag the Street View icon and hover it over the continent of Australia.  Before dropping it on the map, note the amount of blue on the map.  This reflects how many roads exist, and also the extent that the Google cars have traveled with their 360 degree cameras (which in turn reflects some socio-political geography as well; that is, where the cars are allowed in specific places around the world and where they are prohibited—another good topic for geography class discussions!).

Ecoregions C


Now, drop the Street View icon on a region in Australia corresponding to one of the ecoregions you investigated earlier.  What do you predict you will see?  For example, compare the location in Queensland, at left, to the location in Northern Territory, at right:

Ecoregions D


What do you predict the land will look like in a taiga ecoregion?  A chaparral ecoregion?  Compare your predictions against a street view image.


Extending the activity:  Use GeoGuessr quizzes about the Earth.  Another method of helping students to think spatially about cultural and physical regions using street view images is with GeoGuessr (without the “e” in the last part of the word):   In this quiz, a player (or competing against another player, say, another student in your classroom), guesses the location on the map, and the points depend on the speed at which the student responds and the distance “off” from the true location of that image.  Excellent connections to fostering spatial thinking in geography include considerations of the landforms, climate as reflected in water or vegetation types, driving on the left or right side of the road, languages visible, land use, housing type and construction material, and other objects on the physical and cultural landscape. 

Some educators I know use Google Street View images to verify student hypotheses of what the land in each ecoregion would look like.  This is a valuable activity.  But, the limitation is that Google Street View images do not exist everywhere on the planet, and where it does exist, it is constrained largely to streets and a few trails and not the areas away from human habitation.  But what if there was a regular sampling of points across the planet, from which you could see what it looks like from each point? Such a project does exist, called the Degree Confluence Project.  This project is crowdsourced, created by a citizen science set of volunteers who set out to photograph all of the full-degree latitude and longitude intersections on land (and in oceans just offshore of land) in the world.  In other words, where 30 Degrees South and 140 degrees east longitude cross in Australia or where 43 North latitude and 25 degrees East Longitude cross in Bulgaria.  

Above, the landscape as it appears at 30 South Latitude, 118 East Longitude, in Western Australia.


Above, the landscape as it appears at 30 South Latitude, 118 East Longitude, in Western Australia.


Begin degree-by-degree exploration by examining latitude and longitude lines.

Discuss with your students how the shape of the Earth, as an oblate spheroid, affects the spacing of the one-degree grid.  You can use the Add button in any ArcGIS  map you are working in to search for graticule and select the 1-degree grid from maps.com_carto, or simply open the following map that contains the Equator, tropics, Prime Meridian, and other lines, as well as the 30, 20, 15, 10, 5, and 1 degree latitude and longitude lines for the world (called “the graticule”), here:


Use Bookmarks to zoom to Australia (or another place of interest to you).  Zoom in further to Victoria or another state.  Use the measure tool to measure the length of 1 degree of latitude at selected locations.  It should be the same no matter where you measure, at around 111 km.  Then, measure the distance between each degree of longitude.  As you move south, the distance should be less as you approach the South Pole.  For example, the distance between 145 East and 146 East along 40 South Latitude is around 87 km, but between 145 East and 146 East is around 92 km as measured along 36 South.  Again, map projections matter!  The distances look the same, but they are not.  In fact, observe the size of the 1 degree-by-1-degree rectangles as you pan from south to north across Australia.  They should approach being squares as you move toward the Equator, and are longer and longer rectangles as you move south toward the South Pole.

Latitude and longitude degree grid in ArcGIS .


Use the Degree Confluence Project site to examine the Earth’s regions.

Use the Degree Confluence Project in a similar way as I described how Google Street View images are used:  Use map resources in conjunction with photographs.  For example, use the photographs to verify student hypotheses about what they think that the following biomes will look like:  The chaparral biome in southern California USA, polar regions in Nunavut, tropical rainforests in Costa Rica, or grasslands in the USA.  You could also use a sample set of images from the site, and ask students to guess, based on image clues, in which biome or country the images were taken. 

Navigate the project’s website by country or by compass rose:  You can start at the east coast of Australia, for example, at 30 South 153 East, and navigate to the west along 30 degrees south latitude by one degree of longitude per stop, all the way to 115 East.  Along the way, ask students:  What changes do you detect to the landforms, land use, climate, human impact, water, housing type, and in sky condition, as you move across the country?  Which are the primary forces—water, humans, natural hazards, something else—acting on the landscape?  Would you say this area is changing more rapidly or more slowly than your own community?  What will this landscape look like in 5, 10, or 50 years’ time? 


You could repeat this process from north to south or choose another line of latitude or longitude.  You could also use the “antipode” function under the compass rose to find out what is on the opposite side of the Earth. 


Teaching Notes about Degree Confluences, and Digging Deeper.  Ask students to be geographic detectives and determine the time of day and season of the year that the images were taken.  Some points have been visited more than once. Ask students to identify at least two changes that have taken place between selected visits to the same location.


Besides the site’s regular sampling of the Earth’s surface, two additional advantages exist with using this site versus random mining for images from Google, Flickr, or another source:  (1) This project is focused on documenting the landscape, so the images are primarily about the land, taken in the four cardinal directions from the point and sometimes in additional directions as well; (2) The images are all vetted, curated, and protected; nothing objectionable exists in these photographs (unlike what you could find in a general Google search). 


If you want to dig still deeper, an additional crowdsourced set of “street view” images is from Mapillary, and you could also use this tool to take your own images-tied-to-maps.  

Examining Ecological Land Units of the World.  In this activity, let’s conduct a regions investigation, this time with a different definition of region:  A combination of bioclimate, landforms, rock type, and land cover.


What are Ecological Land Units?  Ecoregions, like cultural regions and other regions in geography, are in part a human construct—one of the techniques that we use to understand the world.  The boundaries of ecoregions are not universally agreed upon, in part because they depend on what variables are used to define them, and furthermore, are usually not sharp.  A new attempt to define regions is that represented by Ecological Land Units (ELUs). 


Examining Ecological Land Units via a Story Map.   Access a map of ELUs here:


This map was produced by a team led by the US Geological Survey’s Land Change Science Program. It represents a mosaic of almost 4,000 unique ecological areas called ELUs, based on four factors that are key in determining the makeup of ecosystems. Three of these—bioclimate, landforms, and rock type—are physical phenomena that drive the formation of soils and the distribution of vegetation. The fourth, land cover, is the vegetation that is found in a location as a response to the physical factors. You can read more about the research here.


This particular type of web mapping application is called a story map.  A story map can incorporate audio, video, text, photographs, charts, and interactive web maps.  They can be used in education for presentation of a region, a theme, a process, or a current event, for assessing student work, and for presentation of an investigation that you or students have conducted.  You will make your own story map in the next component in this module. 


Use the navigation buttons on the right side of the map to move to different ELUs around the world.  Select three ELUs and contrast them.  How do humans use the land in each of the ELUs you chose?


Ecological Land Units map


Deeper Investigation into Ecological Land Units.  Another way of exploring the ELUs is via this interactive web map:  Using this map (which is another type of web mapping application), pan to Australia.  When you click on a location in Australia, you will see the bioclimate, landforms, rock type, and land cover for that location.  Furthermore, as you expand each of those 4 components of ELUs, you will see all of the other places in Australia and around the world where those characteristics exist.  In the example below, the 4 component maps, when expanded, will show all of the locations around the planet that are warm and wet, contain high mountains, are underlain by mixed sedimentary rock, and are covered with broadleaved evergreen forests.  This is an excellent tool for teaching about the complex nature of regions—how to define them, and how they are distributed across the planet.  It is also an excellent tool for helping students think about “Which areas around the world are similar to my own?”, “which areas are different, and why?” 

Ecological Land Units Map 2


Note that you can change the basemap on the right from ecological to dark gray, imagery, or ocean, as you examine the 4 ELU components around the world on the left.  Explore!  

Exploring Oceans as Regions with Spatial Technology.  Nearly 71% of the world is covered by ocean.  For centuries, and even often in our current era, oceans are mapped as a uniform color and are not thought of as regions, but as geographers and oceanographers are discovering, oceans are as dynamic as land—many would argue even more so—and examining oceans as regions is possible with Spatial Technology.


Pacific Ocean at Pacific Grove, California, photograph by Joseph Kerski. 


Understanding the Ecological Marine Units data.  In many respects, the oceans are the “last frontier” on Earth—much about them remains unknown and unmapped, but given the importance of oceans to the carbon cycle, the food chain, biodiversity, climate, and many other earth systems, there is a growing sense that this needs to change.  Given the vastness, the changing nature, and the 3D nature of the oceans, Spatial Technology is turned to as a solution to understanding and mapping the oceans.  The Ecological Marine Units (EMU) map has been created, to portray a systematic division and classification of physiographic and ecological information about features in the ocean. Part of the EMU is a 3D data model of the ocean—and 3D data visualization tools to go along with the data. A statistical clustering methodology was also developed for identifying the physiographic structure of the water column based initially on temperature, salinity, dissolved oxygen, and nutrients—i.e., the usual suspects that will likely drive ecosystem responses. 


This methodology was developed by Esri’s Kevin Butler and vetted by distinguished spatial statistics professor Noel Cressie of the University of Wollongong in Australia. That information was connected to species distributions (initially from the Ocean Biogeographic Information System or OBIS), biogeographic realms, and seabed habitat and biotopes representing the response of these ecosystems to the physical setting (e.g., the biological distribution/response to ocean acidification).   The Group on Earth Observations (GEO) officially commissioned the project as a means of developing a standardized, robust, and practical global ecosystems classification and map for the oceans. GEO is a consortium of almost 100 nations collaborating to build the Global Earth Observation System of Systems (GEOSS). The EMU project is seen by GEO as a key outcome of the GEO Biodiversity Observation Network (GEO BON) and the new GI-14 GEO Global Ecosystems Initiative (GECO).


For more information, examine this document:


Using the Ecological Marine Units as an investigative tool.  Begin your investigation of the Ecological Marine Units with this Explorer map:    Click anywhere on the map and you will observe a graph to the right of the map with ocean water variables displayed in graph form by depth.  Clicking on the Temperature Profile title of the graph yields the other graphs  (nitrate, salinity, and others) available for that location.


Pan to Australia and click a point off the shore of New South Wales or Victoria; the map should look similar to that below.

Ecological Marine Units 1


Adding to the complexity of understanding the ocean’s regions is that for any one location, the regions overlay, or more accurately, underlay each other.  On land, while elevation influences the plant and animal life, climate, water, soil, and vegetation, to name a few, each location on land is represented by a single region.  But in the oceans, the regions sit (or “slosh”) atop each other.  Consider the example above.  Off the coast of Australia lies EMU region 11—Northern and Southern Subtropical Epipelagic.  Epipelagic refers to the part of the oceanic zone into which enough light penetrates for photosynthesis.   At the location clicked, it is 275 meters thick.  Underneath this is EMU 8 – the subAntarctic, North Atlantic, and North Pacific Epipelagic, extending another 275 meters, and underneath that is EMU 36, the Atlantic, Subantarctic, and North Pacific Subtropical Bathypelagic region.  Bathypelagic – from Greek βαθύς, deep – refers to the part of the pelagic zone that extends from a depth of 1,000 to 4,000 m below the ocean surface.   Here, no primary production of plant life, so all creatures that live there are carnivorous, eating each other or feeding on carcasses that sink down from above.  And underneath this are EMUs 37 and 14. 


For a two-dimensional cross section with these zones labeled by depth, see Figure 1 in the metadata booklet:


Examine Ecological Marine Units around the world.  Use the Table on page 10-11 of the same metadata booklet  (this is the same as page 6 of 19 in the PDF), and compare EMU 11 to the other EMUs in term of depth, temperature, dissolved oxygen, nitrate, phosphate, and silicate.


Examine the map on page 12-13 of (this is the same as page 7 of 19 in the PDF) and note the distribution and spatial patterns of the EMUs around the world.  Which would you say is the largest in area?  Be careful!  EMUs 19 and 31 in the Southern Ocean may look like the largest, but remember that the map projection may distort the area of land and water near the poles. 


Scroll down to page 20 and 21 (page 11 of 19 in the PDF) and examine the map of EMU 11 (reproduced below) that was present at the surface off the southeast coast of Australia —the Northern and Southern Subtropical Epipelagic.   How would you describe the spatial distribution of this EMU?


Ecological Marine Units 2

Note the Equatorial location of EMUs 18 and 24, and predict their mean temperature compared to other EMUs.  Scroll back up to the table—was your hypothesis correct?  Note the high amount of dissolved oxygen contained in EMUs 5 and 16.  Knowing that cold water can hold more dissolved oxygen than warm water, predict the location of EMUs 5 and 16.  Scroll back up to the map.  Was your hypothesis correct? 


Examine Australia EMUs.  Go back to the interactive EMU map (  Begin again by clicking off the coast of southeast Australia.  Or choose another area of the world of interest to you.  Gradually move and click northward along the east coast, observing the graph at the right.  What do you notice about the water temperature as you move north?  Why?  How and why does the dissolved oxygen change?


Always be critical of the data—EMUs being no exception.  Go Again, keeping with our theme of being critical of the data, there is no water quality measurement buoy or set of ships at every square meter on the surface of the ocean with a tether extending down to the ocean floor.  Rather, the data are sampled as follows:


The fundamental approach undertaken was to stratify the ocean into physically and chemically distinct areas. The stratification was produced from unsupervised statistical clustering of data from NOAA’s 2013 World Ocean Atlas version 2.  The data used in the clustering represent 57-year average values for temperature, salinity, dissolved oxygen, nitrate, phosphate, and silicate.  Approximately 52 million ocean data points representing the entire water column. The horizontal resolution of the data is ¼°, or approximately 27 km near the equator. The depth intervals are variable from 5 m near the surface to 100 m in the deeper regions (>2000 m) for a total of 102 depth levels. The EMUs were produced from a k-means statistical clustering of the point data, resulting in 37 distinct clusters.  Each cluster, or EMU, is a physically and chemically distinct volumetric region.  Thus, the data was rigorously produced, but zoom in until you see the data points, as shown below.  You can now see the data points spaced at ¼° (one quarter of a degree of latitude and longitude) apart.  In the same way on land, you examined a sample grid of data points from the Degree Confluence Project to examine physical and cultural regions.


Ecological Marine Units 4


Dig Deeper with EMUs.  Go To dig deeper, literally, examine some of the 3D views in this story map of the EMUs.  Scroll down to “Additional Examples” at the end and examine the areas offshore from Ireland and offshore from Central America.  This might provide a better sense of the 3D nature of each “column” of data across the ocean.


Ecological Marine Units 4


Skim this research document to discover how the EMU data can be used by those using Spatial Technology:  To examine the data in 3D in a Spatial Technology environment requires the use of a desktop GIS called ArcGIS Pro.   Good news!  With your ArcGIS  school account, you can also get access to ArcGIS Pro.

Comparing regions and cities with the Urban Observatory.  A significant and growing part of virtually every region of the world is the presence of urban areas.  In mid 2009, the number of people living in urban areas surpassed the number living in rural areas for the first time in history.  In keeping with our Module theme of being critical of the data, what constitutes an “urban area”?  This can be characterized by a certain population size, or a level of infrastructure, a lifestyle, or other means, and is difficult to define (  However, most germane to our purposes in this activity is the fact that regions are influenced by and in turn influence their urban areas.   Spatial Technology, through a web mapping application called the Urban Observatory, provides the means to compare urban areas via data and maps.


What is the Urban Observatory?  The urban observatory was created by Richard Saul Wurman (the person who began the TED talks), Radical Media, and Esri, launching in 2013.  This tool allows you access to datasets for cities around the world so you (and your students) can simultaneously examine data about the most important questions impacting today's global cities and the regions in which they exist.  The urban observatory is curated by some of my favorite people here at Esri and they have created a wonderful teaching and research tool.


Compare and contrast cities using the Urban Observatory.   Access the Urban Observatory here:  Select Start Comparing > and then, > Launch App.   This is a web mapping application, similar to the Change Matters viewer you used earlier, but this application provides thematic maps and data side-by-side comparisons of urban areas.  The application opens with population density in New York, London, and Tokyo, and you can interact with each by zooming and panning.  


What would you like your students to observe about the population density patterns using this application?  How does the physical geography impact each city’s traffic, land use, zoning, and density?  Which of the classic geography urban models apply to each of the cities?


The application allows for the investigation of 100 cities, with more added yearly, and 50 themes.  Select Cities, move to P in the alphabet, and change the city in Panel 3 to Perth.  How does Perth’s density compare to New York and London?  Why?   


Now, instead of changing the city, change the theme.  Change the theme to Work > Commercial, and compare New York, London, and Perth.  Your map should look similar to that below.

 Urban Observatory

  • Contrast the spatial pattern of commercial land use in the three cities.  What influence do the water bodies (harbours and rivers) have on the location of the commercial land use?  Why?
  • Are the 3 scales the same among all 3 maps? How might the scales influence the interpretation of the patterns?
  • Change the theme to Work, Industrial. Contrast the spatial pattern of industrial land use in the three cities. 

Teaching with the Urban Observatory.   Another example of how you could use the Spatial Technology available to you in the Urban Observatory to support your instruction.  Say you are teaching about world demographics and are showing population pyramids for countries.  Ask students to use the Urban Observatory to compare senior population in New York, Accra, and Tokyo.  Based on the content you have taught, ask them to state their hypothesis about the senior population in each city.  (They might need to do some research to determine which countries each of these cities is located).  Examine the resulting maps.  The senior population for Accra should be much less than the senior population for Tokyo, with New York falling somewhere in the middle, and unlike the other two cities, being heavily influenced by immigration.


Examining real-time data with the Urban Observatory.  Spatial Technologies are increasingly tied to real-time and near-real-time data, fed by citizen scientists and the sensor network, part of the Internet of Things (IoT).  Examine the current temperatures for three cities in the Urban Observatory, making sure you select at least one in the Northern Hemisphere and one in the Southern Hemisphere. What is the effect of season on the temperatures right now?  Compare cities near coasts with those far away, while asking:  What is the effect of proximity to the ocean on temperature?  Examine traffic, using a time zones map of the world as a supplementary resource.  What effect does method of commute, time of day, day of the week, the road network, and physical geography have on current speeds along roadways? 


Select different cities or different themes that you believe would be helpful to help students understand urban geography, and describe the themes and cities you chose, and the patterns that you observe.  In each problem posed, tie the city to the region:  Cities are part of regions—they do not exist on their own.  They also are influenced by global networks of commerce (Singapore being an excellent case study). 

Exploring Potential Changes in World Climate Regions.  In this activity, you will dig deeper and examine change over space and time, while keeping a focus on regions. 


Understanding the Köppen-Geiger Observed and Predicted Climate Shifts data set.  Access the following map:  Köppen-Geiger Observed and Predicted Climate Shifts - WGS 84:  


Skim the metadata, which in part gives the following information:  This service time enables a series of world maps for the extended period 1901-2100 to depict global trends in observed climate and projected climate change scenarios.

The climate classification comprises a total of 31 climate classes described by a code of three letters.  The first letter describes the main classes, namely equatorial climates (A), arid climates (B), warm temperate climates (C), snow climates (D) and polar climates (E). The second letter accounts for precipitation and the third letter for temperature classes. The Map Service author also added 3 attribute fields to decode the letters for simpler use; in the attribute table, Main Climate, Precipitation, and Temperature correspond to these original coded letters. The legend also reflects these attributes rather than the coded letters.


Map projection investigation with the Köppen-Geiger Observed and Predicted Climate Shifts data in ArcGIS .  Access the following map: .  Select "Open in Map Viewer”:

Koppen map 1

The map displays in ArcGIS .  Notice that it is in a different map projection than many of the other maps you may have examined.  Here, the map is cast in the World Geodetic System 1984, rather than in Web Mercator, which has been used in many activities in this module thus far.  As you know as a geography instructor, because we are projecting the oblate spheroid 3D shape of the Earth onto a 2D map (whether paper or digital), all maps therefore have distortion in area, distance, direction, and shape—and usually in more than one of these four elements.  Map projections are similar to scale in that there is no “best” map projection; it depends on the content you are analyzing and your goals for your lesson.  However, the choice of map projection matters for several reasons, such as:  (1) The map projection influences the message; the information; that you are conveying.  Many projections have been criticized for distorting people’s perceptions of lands and countries (especially those not their own).  (2) Measuring areas and distances on maps is dependent upon the projection they are in, which will affect the spatial analysis done in Spatial Technology.   For more, see the video “why all maps are wrong” here and see the resources in the Explore Further session of this component. 


Climate investigation with the Köppen-Geiger Observed and Predicted Climate Shifts data.  Open a new tab in your browser and access the following map.  It contains the same content as the one you just opened, but this one is cast in the Web Mercator projection:


The map you will be using in this activity is on the left, and the map of the same content (after changing the basemap to dark gray) in Web Mercator is on the right.  Web Mercator is used for much mapping, including the default in ArcGIS  and Google Maps.  For studies of neighborhoods or a stretch of beach, the map projection doesn’t matter a great deal, but for global studies, the projection can make a big difference.  For example, compare the size and shape of Greenland and Scandinavia from the two maps below.  Note that ArcGIS  can use many types of projections, for example, the one we will use for this climate region study. 

Climate investigation


Once you open the original Köppen-Geiger Observed and Predicted Climate Shifts - WGS 84:, under the map, find the time slider timeline.  Slide the right slider arrow under the map all the way to the right, so you can examine all of the years predicted in the data set.  Teaching tip:  Some classrooms lack the bandwidth for 30 students to  "Play" the climate shift animations simultaneously, so you might experience better results by using the slider tabs rather than using the "Play" button. 


In the upper left, experiment with Show Contents of Map and Show Map Legend.  Examine various climate zones to obtain more information about them by clicking on them on the map.


Globally, what would you say are the 3 largest climate zones in terms of total area?


Regional investigation with the Köppen-Geiger Observed and Predicted Climate Shifts dataGreenlandOn your map, zoom and pan to Greenland, as follows, turning on the Observed 1976-2000 and the Predicted Using Scenario A1F1.  According to the metadata, Scenario A1F1 represents a scenario where economic and technological growth is achieved through intensive fossil fuel use.  Make sure left marker on the timeline is all the way to the left and the right marker is all the way to right.  Toggle between the Observed 1976-2000 and the Predicted Using Scenario A1F1, as shown below:

Climate investigation 2

Observe the size of the Polar EF climate zone - the medium blue color.  EF is Polar Ice Cap.  Average temperature of warmest month for the EF climate is 0°C (32°F) or less. Precipitation generally is greater than potential evaporation.

Make one observation about the predicted changes in the EF Climate Zone in Greenland and 2 implications of those predictions.  If you have time, explore the other models presented.


Victoria, Australia.  Pan to Victoria Australia, click on it, and observe the 2001-2015 climate type, as shown below.  It should be listed as Cfb, warm temperate, warm summer:

Climate investigation 3


Next, toggle between observed and predicted using scenario A1F1 as you did for Greenland.  You should see that Cfa increases (hot summer) while the area of Cfb (warm summer) decreases.  Zoom out until you see more of Australia, and repeat the process, noting the size of the Equatorial climate zone in the north and northeast parts of Australia. 

Climate investigation 4

Globally, the largest shifts between the main classes of equatorial climate (A), arid climate (B), warm temperate climate (C), snow climate (D) and polar climate (E) on global land areas are estimated as 2.6–3.4 % (E to D), 2.2–4.7 % (D to C), 1.3–2.0 (C to B) and 2.1–3.2 % (C to A).


Examining models in Spatial Technology.  As they do for other activities, in this lesson, GIS provides a hands-on supplement to your instructional goals and themes, in this case, about climate and climate change.  A critical part of the discussion while using the tools is that these predictions are based on climate models.  Discuss with students what a model is and use examples in engineering, biology, physics, mathematics, and geography.  A useful phrase to discuss with your students may be, "All models are wrong, but some are useful."  As in other disciplines, none of these climate models may be considered as completely "accurate" but are based on best available data sources. 


For more discussion, see "Humans and their Models" on  Making maps of climate and using the geographic perspective is more useful than simply examining tables of weather and climate data from weather stations, ice core samples, and the fossil record.  Some students may need a background in the effects of the Earth’s rotation, oceans, land masses, and solar radiation on climate, and for those situations, use this discussion on

Teaching international migration with Spatial Technology:  Introduction. 

Why teach about migration?  Migration is inherently a geographic issue.  It touches on themes of physical geography (such as climate and landforms), cultural geography (political systems, political instability, political boundaries, demographic trends past and present), sociology (perception, push and pull factors), and many more.  It changes over space and time and is an excellent way to teach spatial concepts and skills. Since the dawn of humankind, migration has always been present; thus, it ever remains a current issue. It is also relevant, causing deep and long-lasting changes in culture, language, urban forms, food, land use, social policy, politics, and much more.  Migration is a global issue that affects our everyday lives. It also impacts the formation, change, and rate of change of cultural regions.  It is also a personal issue, because each of us has a migration story to tell about our own ancestors and families. 


Begin investigating migration with the International Migration Map.  One of the maps in the Esri Coolmaps gallery enables you to visualize migration data over time and space in a 2D and 3D tool that is a powerful and effective tool but yet is responsive in a web browser. 


Open the map.  The map opens in 3D mode and in Play mode, showing a set of data for selected countries (the UAE, Mexico, China, and Singapore during the 1990s, 2000s, 2010, and 2013.  This selected set provides a good introduction for teaching about the patterns, relationships, and trends in the data.   The time periods are shown below the lower part of the map, with the out-migration and in-migration available for each of the four time periods.  The thickness of the lines coming out from or going to each country selected indicates the amount of migration, and the end points of each line indicates the countries sending people to or receiving people from each country.  For each country, the raw number of out- and in-migrants is indicated, along with the percentage of that country’s total population for each time period. 


After viewing the introductory data, use the “pause“ button to stop the Play mode and to select among the list of the world’s countries.  The capability of selecting countries and time, the cartography, and the ability to switch between 2D and 3D combine to make this a useful teaching and research tool. 


Teaching with the international migration map.  In keeping with our Module theme, ask, “Where did the data come from?  Can you trust it?”  In this case, the data came from the United Nations Trends in International Migrant Stock:  The 2013 Revision is provided by the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs.  Use the “i” button to go to the data’s source.  Encourage students to investigate the data at its source, and to study how and when it was collected.   According to this data set, how long does a migrant have to live in a country before he or she is no longer considered a “migrant”?


Use this map to help them understand migration patterns and number.  As elsewhere in this Module, this map could serve as an excellent supplement to other sources that you may use.  For example, ask, “How has Australian immigration changed in amount and in the countries sending migrants to Australia over the past 25 years?  What are some of the social and political changes that are occurring in the country with the changes in migration?  What do you think Australia will be like in 25 years if current trends continue?”  These questions illustrate that the visualizations help students understand geographic phenomena, but can also be used in tandem with other sources – such as journal and newspaper articles, the US Census Bureau’s international database, ArcGIS  maps and story maps from Esri, and other resources that could shed light on the topic, changes in demographics in cities and rural areas, and much more. 


Teaching with maps often confirms certain hypotheses and preconceived notions and yet shatters others.  For example, observe the high percentage of Reunion Island’s population moving to the USA.  Is it part of climate-induced sea-level rise migration?  The number of countries that sent people to Somalia is small, and the number of countries receiving Somalians somewhat higher.  But discuss with students:  What keeps most of the population in Somalia, given ongoing political, health, and economic challenges?  Consider financial resources required to move, and sense of place. 


Focus part of the investigation on Australia (or another region of interest).  If the 3D interferes with teaching rather than enhances it, the 2D, particularly for countries like Australia with long international migration patterns, might be more effective.   Note that Australia has one of the highest percentages of migrants living there of any country over 10 million people, at nearly 50% of the total population.  Has Australia’s in-migration changed over time in terms of country of origin? If so, how?  Has Australia’s out-migration patterns changed over time?  If so, how and why?  What will the pattern look like in 25 years?


 Migration study 

Now let us build on the knowledge and skills gained from the international migration study to examining inter-state migration within Australia.


Teaching about Australia inter-state migration with ArcGIS.  Let’s explore one more lesson to supplement the international migration activity you just completed.


Open the interstate activity and map, and begin investigating.  Start with the Esri Australia library of lessons here:  and select Australia’s interstate migration.  You should now be at the following location, a PDF lesson document:  Open the URL of the web map identified in the PDF:,-50.0991,179.6696,6.7851 


The lesson begins with a discussion you can have with your students about push and pull factors influencing where people moved from and where they moved to among states in Australia.  Using data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics from 2017, begin by examining the map layer indicating where people moved to.  At this point, the map will look similar to the following:

Migration study 2


By working through the lesson, and examining population gain, loss, net migration, and movement (for example, movement from Victoria, below), you are integrating mathematics, history, economics, and technology with geography.  Did any of the interstate migration patterns surprise you?  What would you like your students to gain from the use of this lesson?  How could interstate migration change over the next decade?  Considering the international migration activity you completed in the last section, how does international immigration and emigration affect state-by-state population change?


Digging Deeper with ArcGIS  by extending the lesson.  Like the other lessons in this gallery, neither you nor your students need to log in to use the lesson, but with the skills you already have gained in Spatial Technology, you know that you can log in if you choose, which will allow you and your students to save the map, add additional data layers to the map, and share the map. 


Migration study 3

Examine data that has been generated in the field via a smartphone app.  Let’s examine a map in ArcGIS  that was created from data generated in the field:,33.9958,-116.9831,33.9993  

This map is entitled "Motion X GPS Track:  Hike to 34 North 117 West" by jjkerski and will look similar to the map below.

The following steps are the same as those that you can use elsewhere when you use maps in ArcGIS . 

Explore the map and data layers.  First, click the Contents tab to the left of the map to view the layers.   You will note that the map contains 4 layers:  Map notes, track points, track lines, and a satellite image basemap.  Some layers expand when you click on their names in the Contents tab.  The track, for example, expands into points and lines.  This is because certain field data collection apps collect several types of spatial data simultaneously; in this case, the app that was used in the field collected point data and line data.  Each is useful.

Second, open the table for the point and line layers, as shown below.

Field study 2

Note that the line layer only contains 1 feature, while the point layer contains 581 features.  The fields in the point layer include the elevation (in meters) and the date/time.  The point layer is symbolized by elevation, and if you take a quick look at the Legend you will see that the red colors indicate higher elevation and yellows indicate lower elevation.

Third, zoom out a bit to see the entire hike, noting the type of vegetation and terrain traversed, location of the beginning and end of the hike, which sections of the hike followed a trail and which did not, and the high and low points along the hike.  Change the basemap to a streets basemap to answer the following question:  At the west end of which street did the author park on to begin the hike?  Change the basemap back to imagery.

Click on the 2 pushpins to see the photos taken at those locations. These pushpins are “Map Notes” which you have used in this module in the past.   

Zoom out further until you can determine the region of the world in which this hike was taken (the chaparral biome of southern California USA).  To zoom in to the hike, use the … ellipses for Track 002 > use “Zoom to”, as shown below:

Field study 3

Fourth, use the Measure tool to measure the distance between each of the points that appear along the lines.  What is the average distance between each point for a certain section of the hike? 

These steps, from one to four above, that include opening the data table, measuring, changing the scale, and accessing the symbology, are standard procedures that you can use on any map and set of layers in ArcGIS .

Examining the app and the types of field data.  In this case, the data was collected with a smartphone app, called Motion X GPS.  Motion X GPS is one of a series of apps (others include Gaia GPS and Polaris GPS) that collect points and lines in the field.  They all emulate a GPS receiver on your smartphone, including displaying locations in a number of different coordinate system, routing, distances, and directions.  As you saw on the map, two formats of data are typically collected in the field—point data, and line data.  Points can be “track points”, which can be thought of as digital “bread crumbs” that are “dropped” as you move across the landscape at a specified distance or time (such as every 2 meters, or every 1 second).  Points can also be “waypoints” that you drop on purpose at locations that you specify—where you measure water quality along a shore, at a tree or light pole, or at a street corner where you are measuring noise.  Fitness apps, such as Runkeeper, Strava, and MapMyRun, often output point and line data that can be mapped. One of the common formats for these files is a GPX file, which stands for GPS eXchange Format--a type of XML data file for exchanging GPS data between programs, and for sharing GPS data among many users.  So, when examining smartphone field apps for use in education, seek ones that allow for output in a variety of formats, including GPX. 

Even though these apps often contain their own mapping interface, what is more useful for educational use is the ability to bring the field collected data into a spatial technology tool such as Google Maps or ArcGIS .  If the app itself does not output into an exportable format, sometimes the website for the app includes that capability (such as 

Be critical of the data’s spatial accuracy.  In keeping with the theme of being critical of the data, before leaving this data set, zoom to the eastern side of the collected data, near the white circular water tank.  Even though the person collecting the data (your module author) walked on the trail in this area going up and going down the ridge, note the offset from the trail for one of the tracks.  By examining the date and time stamp on the data, you can determine whether the offset occurred on the way up (climbing from east to west) or the way down (descending from west to east).  Measure the offset of this section of the track from the trail as shown on the satellite image, as shown below.

Field study 4

The points could have been compromised in terms of positional accuracy for a number of reasons, including:  The field worker could have inadvertently shielded part of the phone with his hand while gingerly picking his way along the trail while collecting the track, the cell phone reception might have fallen off, dense vegetation or the high ridge to the west could have prevented the phone from sensing as many cell phone towers, wi-fi hotspots, and GPS satellites as it had done along the ridgetop, or the app might not have been recording accurately here.  This compromising of positions happens when using GPS receivers, as well, and is something you and your students need to continually be examining and questioning.  It happens most often near ridges and canyons, such as in the case here, but also in city centres with high rise buildings, and also from within a building or when the field data collector first leaves a building and enters the outdoors.  Discuss with students the different accuracy requirements depending on your project.  For mapping trees on campus, being a few meters off might not be a problem, but it would be a problem for objects spaced more closely together, such as mapping headstones in a cemetery, or pieces of litter on a city street.  Discuss the even finer accuracy requirements for such things as mapping natural gas lines or fiber optic cables. 

Be critical of attribute data quality.  Thus, spatial data quality is important.  The quality of attributes—the information you collect in the field—is also important.  Your database will consider “spruce” and “spruse” to be two different types of trees, for example.  Some data entry errors can be solved by the use of pull-down menus for field data collection, minimizing the amount of free text entry that has to be done in the field under various conditions.  Associated with attribute data quality is ensuring consistent devices and clarity on methods used (for example, to measure the height of a tree).  Also associated with attribute data quality is paying close attention to the units you are using in the field.  If some students are collecting tree girth in cm and others in mm, that could lead to potential misinterpretation of results.  Similar results could occur if one student collected pedestrian counts along a street for 1 minute and another student for 5 minutes. 

Now that you have had experience examining field data in an interactive web map, you are ready to investigate other lessons on GeoNet where you will build your own map with the same type of data that was used for the chaparral hike that you examined above.

Create your own map from field data.  To build your own map from field-collected data, you have many options.  One way is to use a GPX file from a fitness or GPS app such as the Motion X GPS app.  

Creating your own map from field data that has been generated in the field via a smartphone app.  Find the GPX file attached to this blog post.  Save it to your device.  Spatial Technology is able to input and output a wide variety of file types.  To help focus attention on file type, make sure that the extensions are made visible in whatever operating system you are using;  so that the that file you will work with now looks like the following, with the .gpx extension visible, instead of simply “track_to_picadilly_stn”, but with the full name of the file as follows:

Field study

Do not open this file, because you will shortly make a map of this data in ArcGIS .  Go to > Map > Then, to add a data layer to the map, you will need to select MODIFY MAP to the upper right of the map:

Field study

Once you “modify map”, an “Add” button now appears to the upper left of the map, as follows:

Field study

Use the Add button > Add Layer from File, as shown below:

Field study

Note the different types of files that you can add from your local device to an ArcGIS  map.  These types include a GPX file in the list.  Navigate on your computer to the folder where you stored your Piccadilly Station GPX file.  Select your GPX file to add it to the map.  

Once you have added the Piccadilly Station file, it becomes a map layer.  The map should zoom to the location of your newly added layer, and your new GPS track should appear in the list of Contents as a layer.  If your map is not showing the location of your new GPS track, use the ellipses (…) next to your new layer and > Zoom to Layer.  This is the same type of file that you examined for the chaparral hike, but in this case, an actual physical GPS receiver was used instead of a smartphone app. 

Change the basemap to imagery if it is not already an image basemap.  Notice the vast difference in the land cover here versus that of the California hills chaparral!

Saving your map.  Now that you have added data to the map, you can save it into your own ArcGIS  organizational account.  Use the save tool > Save tool Save your map, naming it “Mapping Field Data” or some other suitable title, and providing tags (such as fieldwork, California, England, GPX) and a description (such as “Mapping Field Data”) so you can easily find it later.

Spatial Thinking, Basemaps, and Bookmarks.   If you were using this map in the classroom, consider asking your students to examine clues on the image to determine the type of building that is Piccadilly Station, located at the northeastern end of this walk.   

Change the basemap to topographic and zoom out.   Consider asking your students:  In what city is this walk to Piccadilly Station located?

Use Track to Piccadilly Station > ellipses (…) > “Zoom To” to zoom back to the Piccadilly Track.  Use Bookmarks to set a bookmark here named Manchester UK to return to it later.  In a similar way, zoom to the Track 002 for the chaparral hills, and to the upper right of your map > Manage Bookmarks > set a bookmark there called “Yucaipa California USA”.  Bookmarks are helpful shortcuts to use to navigate in web maps. Use your bookmarks to zoom back to Piccadilly Station.

Change the symbology (style).  Using the Contents tool, note that just as with the chaparral data, the data for the Piccadilly Station walk is encoded as a point layer and a line layer.  Using your Spatial Technology skills, see if you can determine how to change the symbology (or “style”) for the line to be yellow and the points to be orange.  (Hint:  Under Change Style > Options > Symbols).  Save your map to capture your latest additions and changes.

Assess Data Quality.  After you do this, note that the first 4 points in your data table are associated with an elevation much lower than the rest of the data, as shown below:

 Field study

Which elevations are correct--those 5 points that are less than 40 meters, or those 159 points that are just above 40 meters?  Change the basemap to topographic.  Note that this layer does not provide elevation values.  Therefore, you need an elevation data layer to verify your data.  Fortunately, the Living Atlas of the World contains hundreds of data layers for your use in education.  Remember this resource for your future use of Spatial Technology as it is one of the largest libraries of data and maps in existence.

Add data from the Living Atlas.  Add an elevation layer as follows:  Using the Add Data tool > Browse Living Atlas layers and search for “world elevation gmted” as shown below. 

Field study

Click on this GMTED layer > Add to Map.  Close the appropriate add data panels and return to your Show Contents of Map tab.  The data you have just added is the world elevation image service from the Global Multi-resolution Terrain Elevation Data (GMTED) from 2010 with a 250 meter cell size.   Use the ellipses (…) to make this layer semi-transparent.  Then, zoom out and you will notice that it truly is a global elevation data set with different colours representing different elevations:

Field study

Save your map again.  This elevation layer might come in very handy for other lessons you are teaching, particularly since it is global in coverage and thus includes Australia. 

Zoom back to the Piccadilly Station (using Zoom To, to the right of the GPX track, or, using your spiffy new bookmark!).   Click on the map to obtain the elevation in a few places.  The popup will look similar to that below:

Field study

Change the visibility range of your map layer.  You may have noted that on this and other layers, the layer may disappear at certain scales.  This is a typical part of today’s smart mapping technology and occurs so that your map does not become too cluttered.  But you can change this by expanding the map layer in Contents > Ellipses (…) > Set Visibility Range, and expand each end of the range with the slider tools so you see your track at all scales, as follows:

Save your map again.   Turn off the elevation data layer.

Verify the elevations using one more source:  Open a new tab and open this elevation map of Manchester, here, clicking on a few points in the neighborhood of Piccadilly Station to obtain the elevation:  

Summarizing attribute data quality:  Elevation.  Using these two sources, you note that the average elevation is around 42 to 48 meters.  Now that you have verified that the first few elevations collected in the track were the incorrect ones, consider the location of these first few points.  They occurred where the author had just left the building, and as discussed above, this is where the GPS is now free to receive unobstructed signals from the satellites, and therefore, it takes a few seconds to achieve accuracy in the x and y coordinates (longitude and latitude) and up to a few minutes or longer to achieve accuracy in the z coordinate (elevation).  That is exactly what occurred here.

During this data quality investigation, you also built additional key Spatial Technology skills, such as examining the table, adding additional data layers including from the Living Atlas of the World, and changing the visible range.

The Living Atlas of the World:  A mapping resource.  In this activity, you added elevation data from the ArcGIS Living Atlas of the World.  

The Living Atlas isn’t the only library of spatial information that exists.  But it is worth examining because it (1) is continually curated and updated; (2) it contains authoritative (not perfect, but from authoritative sources) data; (3) it contains thousands of maps and data layers; and (4) the data are in the ArcGIS  platform and therefore can be easily mapped. 

Other resources for mapped data exists, including the National Map of Australia, the City of Melbourne’s and Victoria’s data portal, and others listed in the Explore Further sections of this component.  Your own local governmental authority or university may have spatial data that they are willing to share, so searching those websites using “GIS” and “maps” and “spatial data” as search terms might result in some potential data for you to map.

Build and map your own data set:  A field experience.   I have written other lessons in GeoNet that you can use to map field data collected by others, but in this lesson, you will have the opportunity to build your own data set.

Let's say you work at a school in Melbourne.  You and your students are studying walkability, commuting, and urban spaces.   Your students have gone into the field in teams of two.  Each team has collected counts of all pedestrians crossing through selected intersections during a 5 minute span of time, and each team has recorded the counts from 0830 to 0835 am and again from 1400 to 1405  (2:00 pm to 2:05pm).   Some teams used a clipboard and pencil and some used their smartphone to enter the pedestrian counts.   The teams have also collected the latitude and longitude of the location they conducted their observations from.  To collect latitude-longitude, those who had smartphones used Motion X GPS or, if they had an iphone, they used the compass tool that is included in iOS, and those without smartphones used a GPS receiver supplied by you, their teacher.  You have ensured that each team had at least one student with a smartphone in order to take a photograph of the intersection. 

Creating a data table for mapping purposes.   Now your students are ready to create a database from which they can map their data and analyse the results.  Creating a database is a very important part of GIS, because it is the “I” part—the Information.

Open a plain text editor such as WordPad or NotePad on a Windows device or TextEdit on a Mac device, and enter the following data.  Tabular data for Spatial Technology needs to be entered in a precise manner, exactly as shown below.  You could copy and paste the data if you would like to, to save time.  

Note:  If you or your students are familiar with Excel, feel free to use Excel instead of a text editor, naming the fields as specified below.  After saving your Excel spreadsheet containing the data, save it again, this time as a CSV (comma separated value) file.  You may receive a Microsoft warning saying you will lose some content; but it is OK—CSV is fine for this purpose.  CSV is a “bare-bones” spreadsheet format.

Note key characteristics of the data you will be entering:  (1) The data will be in a comma-separated file--all of the data elements are separated by commas. (2) The first line is the header line, that line that describes all of the data that will follow.  (3) As it is important to be consistent in the field with measurement times and units, each observation represents the number of pedestrians over a 5 minute time span, with separate fields for the morning and the evening.  (4)  In a numeric field (integer or floating point), you should not place any letters, such as “degrees C” or “number of people” or “pH”.  The reason is because if you want to make graduated color or graduated symbol maps later on a value, that value needs to be a number.  Any letters will make your GIS consider that entire field as text instead of a number.  (5) Use all of the decimal places given by your GPS receiver or smartphone - no rounding and no truncating!  Recall our earlier exercise in mapping points--precision matters!  (6)  Think about the Cartesian coordinate system discussion:   X values in Australia are to the right of Y-axis (the Prime Meridian, and thus in the eastern hemisphere) and are therefore positive, and Y values are below the X-axis (the Equator, and thus in the southern hemisphere) and are therefore negative (that is, in Quadrant III in the diagram below, such as point E). 

Field study

Three latitude-longitude formats. Three latitude longitude formats exist, and it is important to be able to recognize each.  Let us take the Shrine of Remembrance example in Queen Victoria Park in Melbourne.

 Shrine of Remembrance
Shrine of Remembrance, Melbourne, Australia.  Photograph by Joseph Kerski.

Decimal Degree:  As the name implies, this format (DD) represents locations in the full degree of latitude and longitude and then the fraction of a degree afterward represented by numbers to the right of the decimal point.  The above monument in DD is located at -37.830588 Latitude, 144.973363 Longitude.


Degrees Minutes Seconds:  As the name implies, this format (DMS) represents locations in whole degrees and minutes, with second often listed with digits to the right of the decimal point for increased precision.  Degrees are represented with this symbol (°), minutes with this symbol (') and seconds with this symbol (").  It is important to note that just as with time, DMS is “base 60”.  In one degree are 60 minutes.  In one minute are 60 seconds.  Thus, in one degree are 3600 seconds.  The above monument in DMS is located at 37° 49' 50.1" South Latitude, 144° 58' 24.1" East Longitude.  With DMS, the cardinal directions are typically given rather than negative values for south and west.  DMS is often used in the “EXIF” header files in photographs to indicate the location where the photograph was taken.


Decimal Minutes:  This format (DM) represents locations in whole degrees, minutes, and fractions of a minute.  The above monument in DM is located at 37° 49.83528’ South Latitude, 144° 58.40178’ East Longitude.  As with DMS, with DM, the cardinal directions are typically given rather than negative values for south and west.


As an educator, why pay attention to these three formats?  (1) You will encounter and use spatial data in all three formats.  For example, DM is often used on geocaching sites.  DD is the preferred format for most of Spatial Technology work.  (2) For accurate mapping, it is important that the formats not be interchanged or mixed together.  For example, 144 58.40178 and 144.973363 are shown DM and DD, respectively, for the same line of longitude, and inputting the DM value into a DD table will place that data point many meters or even kilometers off of its true location.  (3) While you can use Excel or websites such as this one from Directions Magazine or this one with a map to convert between the three formats, spending some time discussing and working with each of the formats makes for excellent integration of mathematics.  For example, converting DMS to DM uses:  Degrees = Degrees, then Minutes.m = Minutes + (Seconds / 60), and converting DM to DD uses:  .d = M.m / 60, then Decimal Degrees = Degrees + .d.   DD = d + m/60 + s/3600.

Other Formats and Coordinate Systems. 
Can other methods of recording absolute locations be used?  Yes.  Street address, city, and postal code could also be used.  A more recent system to assign locations to previously un-addressed positions is What 3 Words.  Latitude and longitude, street address, and What3Words are examples of absolute location.  Street address is a bit more challenging because of the variation in street spellings and format (St Charles St vs Saint Charles Street, or 45 St vs 45th Street, for example), but geocoding is improving with each passing year.  Relative location is used frequently in everyday speech but generally cannot be used to determine locations in Spatial Technology.  Relative location examples include “left of the library” or “down the hill from the school”.  

Another geographic fact that makes working with Spatial Technology a bit more interesting is that some countries use the period and comma in a manner directly opposite to other countries.  In France, for example, 26,000 means “twenty-six”, while 26.000 means “twenty-six thousand”.  In other countries, a space is often used instead of a comma, such as 26 000 for “twenty-six thousand”.  Keep these variations in mind as you seek and map data.

Still another geographic fact that makes working with Spatial Technology a bit more interesting is that there are other coordinate systems in use in different states and in different countries.  These include the Universal Transverse Mercator coordinate system (given in meters, northings, and eastings, which you will see later in this component), national coordinates such as the Map Grid of Australia, and state and regional coordinates such as the State Plane Coordinate System in the USA.  You will encounter data in these other coordinate systems in the future as you work with Spatial Technology.

Enter data into a table or file.  Key in (or better yet, copy and paste) the pedestrian count data below into a text file.   Name it melbourne_pedestrians.txt and save it on your computer.  If you are using Excel, save it first as melbourne_pedestrians.xlsx and then as melbourne_pedestrians.csv. 

Observe that (1) the latitudes are all negative!; (2) the first line contains the field headers, including peds_am (pedestrians for the morning 5 minute period) and peds_pm (pedestrians for the afternoon 5 minute period). (3) your data file cannot have any extra characters or blank lines in it; it must look exactly like this, below:

point, latitude, longitude, peds_am, peds_pm
1, -37.808433, 144.96605, 110, 66
2, -37.819727, 144.969252, 75, 82
3, -37.841688, 144.934744, 19, 12
4, -37.805377, 144.973450, 75, 39
5, -37.814758, 144.961700, 177, 129

Map your table of data.  When you are done with your data file, return in your browser to your existing ArcGIS  map that contains the hike in the chaparral to 34 North 117 West and the Piccadilly walk that you named “GTAV Mapping Field Data.”   Use the Add button and "Add Layer from File".  Navigate on your computer to the folder where you stored your melbourne_pedestrians txt or csv file.  Select this file and add it to the map.  “Smart mapping” will attempt to symbolize your data for you, by your point number, and your map will look similar to the following (change your basemap to the one shown, which is OpenStreetMap). 

 Field study

Change the (1) “Choose an attribute to show” from point to peds_am, and (2) change the colour to red or something else, or from a circle to some other symbol, using Counts and Amounts (size) > Symbol, as follows:

 Field study

Field study

You are now mapping morning pedestrian counts.  Go back to your map. What spatial pattern do you notice?

Set a bookmark here Field study and name it Melbourne City Centre Australia or something similar.  Click on a few points on your map.  Do you see the pedestrian data that you have entered for each point appearing as popups?  Note for your future use of Spatial Technology that the content of these popups can be modified.   Save your map again.

Now you are ready to tap into some of the true power of GIS—mapping two variables, and building expressions.

Map two variables.  Because your students went into the field twice and collected data during the morning commute hour and during the time between lunchtime and the afternoon commute, let’s say you wanted to compare the two values. 

First, use Change Style underneath your Melbourne pedestrians layer.  Second, use Add Attribute > add the peds_pm value as an additional attribute to map > Done.  Your map changes so that the colour of the circle represents the morning pedestrians, with darker indicating more, and the size of the circle indicates the afternoon pedestrians, with larger sizes indicating more afternoon commuters.  Knowing this, reflect on what a large dark-coloured circle would indicate vs. a large light-coloured circle.  

Field study

Use an expression for further analysis. Second, you can use expressions in Spatial Technologies, as you have already seen in your use of filtering earlier in this module. Here, use an expression to analyse the difference in morning versus afternoon, specifically, dividing the morning count by the afternoon count.  Do this as follows:  Change Style > Under (1) choose an attribute to show, select “New Expression” as follows:

Field study

In the dialog box for New Expression, click on feature “peds_am”, then enter / for the divide arithmetic operator, then click on feature “peds_pm”, so that your expression looks like that shown below.  Your expression will be built as you click on variable names; that is, you should not have to key in anything except for the / operator.  Once the expression is built, select OK in the lower right:

Field study

Your expression should look like this:

Field study

Save your map again.  Note the new patterns on your map. The point near the river is barely visible (you can adjust the size of the points using Change Style) because the afternoon count was more than the morning count, and therefore, the ratio was less than 1.  Conversely the northeasternmost point is the largest because the morning count there was nearly two times higher than the afternoon count. 

 Field study

You conclude that the northeastern part of the city centre seems to have proportionally higher pedestrian traffic in the morning than in the lower commute time of mid-afternoon, but that you need more points.  You decide to revisit the existing sites to gather additional data and also to gather data at new sites.   Save your map again.

Reflecting on the skills you have gained.  Reflect for a moment on the Spatial Technology skills you just gained.  Now you know how easy it is to add your own data from a spreadsheet, map it, and start analyzing it. You also learned how to map more than one variable at a time, and you learned how to add an expression. These expressions, called Arcade Expressions, can be used on any data, provide connections with mathematics education, and extend the power of Spatial Technology.  Think about using it to compare two population counts, or food cost eaten at home vs. away from home, or earthquakes by size and magnitude, for example.  

Greetings GIS education Community:


I created two short activities that show how to do something really powerful in a GIS--join YOUR data to the amazing content in the Living Atlas of the World. I thought they would be of interest to the CTE and other communities as the procedures to do so are technical, but not overly so, and in following them, students are building critical thinking and problem solving skills.  They are using and working with a variety of data sets while studying about real world issues.  On a technical level, they build several simple but powerful Arcade expressions using ArcGIS Online.



I hope these are useful and I look forward to hearing your reactions!

--Joseph Kerski 

With budgets and enrollments shifting, colleges and universities need to focus on building efficient and effective operations—now more than ever.


Throughout this series, leading universities—along with Esri—will discuss and demonstrate how spatial collaboration, decision-making, and analytical tools can help with a broad range of workflows across campuses.


Join Esri for a four-part webinar series that will walk you through steps that can be taken today:


Webinar 1 (September 16)—Getting Started: Building Your Spatial Foundation


GIS isn’t just a campus basemap. GIS is real-time dashboards for VP’s and department heads, it pulls disparate asset management and work order systems into a contextual framework, and it provides a hub upon which all departments and users can share and collaborate to work more effectively. This webinar will show campus operations users how:

  • To frame the conversation around the return on investment (ROI) that GIS provides
  • GIS can be used to monitor and report on KPI’s
  • Where and how to get started with a technical roadmap
  • Integration with other business systems can take place
  • Key campus workflows can be quickly configured


Watch webinar 1 recording >>

Download presentation slides >>


Webinar 2 (October 7)—Bringing GIS Indoors: Space Planning and Optimization


Getting directions to a building? No problem. What about real-time, floor aware directions to the specific valve that will stop the water leak? Now that’s valuable. Not only does GIS enhance outdoor workflows, but by pulling together building, floor, room, and asset information, indoor GIS takes you a step further. The ability to optimally route visitors to rooms, find nearest AEDs, integrate with calendars, and pull together asset management systems into a floor aware GIS, are just some of the powerful aspects of bringing GIS indoors. Join us for the second webinar in the series to show campus operations users how:

  • GIS is being used to tie work management and location together
  • To build and manage dynamic, routable networks
  • Peers are starting to leverage indoor GIS


Watch webinar 2 recording >>

Download presentation slides >>

Michigan State University's story map

Webinar 3 (October 28)—Building a Mobile Workforce: Getting Decision Support into the Field


In our home lives – smart phones have become a part of daily life. So why do we still rely heavily on printed maps, CAD diagrams, and hand-drawn notes to find assets while at work on campus? GIS is no longer about just producing printed maps, it provides out of the box tools for data collection, data discovery, and data sharing. It also provides applications that can be rapidly configured for a wide variety of workflows. This webinar will feature 2 leading universities sharing their best practices for mobile GIS as well as showing campus operations users:

  • The value of configure first, customize second
  • Updates to Esri mobile applications
  • The ROI of mobile data capture
  • How to provide real-time operational awareness to crews and managers


Webinar speakers you can look forward to hearing from:

  • Seth Kiser, Project Manager for University Facilities Construction & Renovation, Clemson University
  • Grant McCormick, Enterprise GIS Manager, University of Arizona
  • Brian Baldwin, Senior Solution Engineer – Education, Esri


[Webinar recording coming soon]

Download presentation slides >>

Webinar 4 (November 18)—Optimizing Utilities: Digitally Transforming Network Management


It’s 3AM and the power goes out. You or your staff need to locate the right switch, but do you know where it is? When a construction project is taking place and you want to ensure that a dig-in won’t occur, how confident are you in the mapped location of your underground assets? These are just 2 common use cases for the times when an accurate spatial representation of your network assets would be incredibly valuable. This webinar will focus on the value of moving your utility assets from CAD to GIS and many of the advances that allow users to view and trace network assets in the field, incorporate real-time information, and represent your data in 2D, schematics, and 3D. This webinar will feature 1 leading university and showcase: 

  • Network management for electric, gas, water, sewer, stormwater, fiber, telecom, district heating, and more
  • Scaled deployment options (from hosted solutions to Enterprise management)
  • Moving from CAD to GIS


Webinar speakers you can look forward to hearing from:

  • Mary Colomaio, Utility Mapping Program Manager, Cornell University
  • Brian Baldwin, Senior Solution Engineer – Education, Esri


All sessions will take place from 10:00 a.m.–11:00 a.m. (PT)


*You only need to register once to sign up for all four webinars.


Register Here >>

With changing educational conditions come changing practices. Do you have a state or regional virtual K-12 event for teachers coming up? Are you interested in having an Esri K12 presentation? Let us know! Complete the form below ( and we will follow up with you.

Spatial data science solves problems by transforming data into useful information. It enriches traditional data science by incorporating spatial characteristics such as proximity, coincidence, and connectivity in creating models and making predictions. Spatial data science gives students unique skills and advantages that are in high demand in the workplace. If you're looking for spatial data science resources for teaching and research, visit this resource page as your first stop.


This resource page for teaching and research will help equip you with the information you need to get started with the following:

  • Various spatial data science tools
  • Lessons in spatial data science for teaching
  • Python libraries and scripting resources
  • GeoAI and deep learning examples
  • Spatial data science success stories in higher education


Go to resource page >> 


Data Science Landing Page Banner

(Note: This was written for and posted on Sept 11 of 2011, the tenth anniversary, and republished today on the Esri EdCommunity Blog. The memories, and need for learning, remain as strong as ever. Never give up. -Charlie)


On that dreadful day in 2001, under the “severe clear” September sky, in those thunderbolts of inhumanity that cost so dearly, we lost two friends from National Geographic who, with students and teachers in tow, had embarked on a mission full of hope.


The roots of that ghastly day snake back to and reach full stop at a scandalously inadequate geographic understanding, even among the ranks of those who influence the planet. The world is stunningly complex, with visible influence and hidden links far and wide. How can anyone hope to make good decisions about complex matters while ignoring the matrix of connections?


We need to see the broad patterns and fractal fabrics around us, grasp the relationships between conditions here and those over there, envision from all sides the Mobius strip connecting yesteryear and tomorrow. Without this holistic view, without comprehending the tyranny of distance yet still the web of connections over space and time, the road ahead is perilous, for each of us, and the world in which we live. Ignoring the lessons of geography, we become a braided stream of humanity, tumbling inexorably toward a cliff.


Ann and Joe lost their lives while working to build geographic understanding for all … young or old, teacher or student, rural or urban, American or global. It remains for us truly a mission in which failure is not an option. For those who live in anonymity on up to those whose decisions shape us all, understanding the power of place and past, and the gravity of patterns and relationships, is vital for navigating safely between the shoals of ignorance and apathy, toward a secure and sustainable world. Let us resolve to ensure that all gain experience in thinking geographically, and hail the disposition to do so about matters large and small.


Charlie Fitzpatrick, Esri Schools Program Manager
Link to Facebook group remembering Ann and Joe

Education means freedom, the chance to learn and grow and change. Unfortunately, life can include roadblocks. Many public school districts support “alternative schools” for students who may not have stayed on schedule at a “traditional school.” At Esri’s 2016 User Conference, students from such a school — San Andreas High School (Highland, CA) — with only a few months of GIS experience, presented their work to over 10,000 GIS professionals from around the world.


Working with educators skilled in teaching with technology (but still new to GIS), the students learned to ask geographic questions, acquire relevant data, analyze it, interpret it, and present it, to their peers at school, and before a massive crowd of professionals. The school had let them do, and you can see the results.




From the first click, GIS offers the chance to do — to engage and explore, to puzzle and ponder, to tinker and tweak, to reflect and perfect. With boundless data available, users can dive deeper, focusing on matters of personal interest, whether topical or technological. GIS offers alternatives: ArcGIS Online provides easy access and quick success, and the broader ArcGIS platform means limitless opportunity. At all experience levels, users must make decisions constantly, and learn incessantly. New tools, strategies, and data appear endlessly, and at an accelerating pace, yielding ever more choices.


At San Andreas, one teacher heard about the opportunity of GIS via Esri’s ConnectED offer, investigated on her own, brought in her colleagues, engaged the students (with pioneers becoming leaders of succeeding waves), sparked a revolution, and presented to the world, in under 18 months.


Alternatives matter. Students in alternative schools are typically just as bright, capable, driven, engaging, feeling, and thirsty for opportunity as elsewhere. The endless capacity of GIS means those most open to and supportive of engagement, critical thinking, and fostering the opportunity for students to make a difference (for themselves, the community, and the planet) will succeed. All students can succeed with GIS; San Andreas showed it.


Charlie Fitzpatrick, Esri Schools Program Manager

(This item posted also at

The ArcGIS Book offers “10 Big Ideas” about mapping, in hardcopy, free downloadable PDF, and free online in multiple languages. Equal parts coffee table book, text book, and workbook, some educators began teaching with it immediately after its release at Esri’s 2015 User Conference. It worked well having students reading on one screen (even a phone) and mapping on another.


The Instructional Guide for The ArcGIS Book now makes it even easier for educators to leverage the original. The Instructional Guide works like an outrigger, matching the concepts and technology of each section, speeding solid comprehension thru carefully designed activities. Linked movies launch chapters with an easy hook. Step-by-step guidance thru a bank of scenarios ushers even novices steadily into the power and flexibility of online mapping, via generic tools in browsers, browser-based apps, and mobile apps. End-of-chapter tasks summarize the fundamental ideas and skills. Many activities can be done without logging in, but many valuable ones require the powers of an ArcGIS Online organization account, and the Guide shows how educators in different situations can acquire such an account.


Coupled with the original volume, the Instructional Guide for The ArcGIS Book is a terrific resource for educators who want to see and employ true GIS power with online tools. And, especially for educators in Career/Technology Education (CTE) programs, or anyone who wants to see STEM in GIS, this demonstrates powerfully how online GIS can be engaged in day-to-day scenarios relevant to many different industries.


Charlie Fitzpatrick, Esri Schools Program Manager

(This item also posted at

Jane Goodall. The name conjures images of science, documentaries, jungles, crowded auditoriums, and visions for a better world. Jane’s work and passion have captured minds and hearts across the globe. For 25 years, young people have engaged in community projects through her “Roots & Shoots” organization, learning that they can make a difference, at home and across the globe.


Roots & Shoots makes it easy to start, with a 4-step formula: Get engaged, make a map, take action, and celebrate. This year, Roots & Shoots added ArcGIS Online to the mapping alternatives, so now projects can combine digital mapping, collaboration, and analysis. Is it powerful? See the video featuring teachers and students of the Math, Science, & Technology Magnet Academy of Roosevelt High School (Los Angeles, CA). See also the youth leader blog on the Jane Goodall Institute page; leaders from across USA visited Esri and learned about adding ArcGIS Online in their work and outreach.


Projects are not just the most powerful way for people to learn GIS. They are also the best way for people to see that they can make a difference in the world, no matter their age. Roots & Shoots projects epitomize “service” — something done for the benefit of another. Roots and shoots help plants spread out and grow, and Roots & Shoots projects can allow young people to shape their world and their future.


Charlie Fitzpatrick, Esri education manager

(This item also posted at

Think back to your early map reading days. Do you remember using an index or reference grid — rows and columns of letters and numbers — to find a zone in which to look for something? These grids are really helpful for many learners and many purposes. Now there is an app (still beta, but robust) with which to generate such grids as needed.


It’s simple. Log in to the app with your ArcGIS Online credentials (publishing privileges are required), pan and zoom to the region of interest, set the desired number of rows and columns, click a button and drag a box, and a graphic grid appears. If you don’t like it, just hit the trash button and try it again. When happy, click the button, and the system generates a feature layer in your contents for you. It works at all scales I’ve wanted to try — from a parking lot to a continent. (Naturally, local level minimizes issues of cartographic distortion.)



Some educators have wanted a grid atop a portion of their school grounds in order to assign data collection tasks, or even to reference player positions on an athletic field. Others have wanted a grid atop a state map to support teaching about features and locations. The grids can be generated quickly for ad hoc processes, and can be labeled, symbolized, and filtered by attribute.


I like to put a grid atop just the topographic basemap, save the map, share it, and open the map in Explorer for ArcGIS. Try it, and I think you’ll agree: grids rule.


((This blog also posted at

Want to do a simple crowdsourcing activity? Want to engage students in exploring areas around school, across the state, or spanning the country, using both demographic and landscape data? Want to make it an activity based on your students’ choices? Want to use the analysis powers in an ArcGIS Online Organization? Try the “Community Round Mile.”


By dropping a point, creating a circle of a certain distance around it, and enriching that buffer with particular data, you can get some fascinating “apples to apples” comparisons. But it takes a little planning to do more than once. The Community Round Mile activity is a three-part process that walks you through creating some simple data, sharing that data, and then expanding.


Community RoundMile

This final part relies on Survey123, which just acquired some exciting new powers. Try this to “crowdsource data” among your classes. Enterprising states might even coordinate a state-specific effort emphasizing data of special interest. Check out the Community Round Mile!


Charlie Fitzpatrick, Esri Education Manager

(also posted at

In spring of 2016, Minnesota announced an ArcGIS Online competition for high school and middle school students across the state. From initial discussion to completion was barely three months, but they had over 200 entries from 25 schools across the state. Hearing Minnesota’s initial announcement, Arkansas created a twin event. On the strength of these successes, it’s time to take the idea up a notch.

Esri invites all U.S. states to conduct a state-based ArcGIS Online competition in 2017. For each state formally participating, students can submit to their school an ArcGIS Online presentation, web app, or story map about something inside the state borders. Schools can submit up to five projects to the state. Esri will provide each state ten prizes of $100, to go to five high school and five middle school projects. These ten awardees per state will get national recognition, with one each high school and middle school entry advancing to a top level competition. The best high school and middle school projects will earn trips to the 2017 Esri Education Conference in San Diego, CA.

USK12GIS map

ArcGIS Online maps and apps help users of any age discover/ explore/ display data, show analyses, and present interpretations. Project-based learning experiences such as these help students build the essential problem-solving skills and in-depth background content knowledge needed for college, career, and civic life.

GIS professionals abound across the country (Map#4 above)! They can help educators present ideas and strategies, establish an Organization account, and help students grasp the deeper learning available with GIS. Keep an eye out for opportunities to connect these valuable community resources to learners. Check out the competition!

Charlie Fitzpatrick, Esri Education Manager

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In spring of 2017, Esri is hosting a network of US state competitions for grades 4-12. Successful pilot events occurred in 2016 in Minnesota (MN) and Arkansas (AR). “Students had a lot of fun with it and liked the freedom of making any type of map they wanted,” said MN teacher Kyle Tredinnick. A high school student said “This project was one of the most rewarding things I have done. It makes me respect the amount of work people put into their maps and information because I have now gone through the same process.” MN event co-leader Scott Freburg said “One teacher commented ‘Students who were doing poorly in most of their classes were absolutely loving this competition and thriving.’”


Competitions spark extra creativity and individuality, and students everywhere love that. MN students chose topics of personal interest ranging from commonplace to exotic: demographics, food, crime, pollution, health care, urban art, even Bigfoot sightings. The open-ended design yielded products ranging from more pictorial to more analytical.


MN’s professional GIS community jumped in quickly, offering to judge, and providing special T-shirts to all entrants and their teachers. The competition was highlighted at the state’s annual conference for GIS professionals; interested teachers were supported to attend a day of training, and contest awardees spoke to the more than 300 conference attendees at lunch. The state geography teachers’ conference also provided special recognition to winners.


(Top: MN co-leader Jim Hanson and some winners.
Bottom: Teachers and competition winners at GIS conference.)


Esri’s 2017 event has school, state, and national tiers. GIS professionals can help their state participate and serve as mentors or judges. Ultimately, one high school and one middle school winner will present at the 2017 Esri Conference. See the announcement for details.


Charlie Fitzpatrick, Esri Education Manager


(This item also posted as

Story maps ROCK! Ever since their initial appearance, they have driven huge attention. Everyone wants to see a story map about their special topic; some want to make one. Good story maps take time and expertise to construct, just like writing a meaningful letter, generating effective images, and building powerful maps. A good story map is all three at once.


story maps


One way to start being a good maker of story maps is to practice being a good consumer of creations by others. Just as riding around in a car helps us learn principles of driving, thoughtful viewing of other people's story maps helps us become effective creators. My colleague Joseph Kerski just wrote an excellent example of questions one might ask on a specific story map. But there are also questions that you and students can consider, no matter what the topic is. Here are my top five things to explore:


  1. FOCUS: After only a two-second view of the opening display, write your instantaneous one-sentence synopsis of what the story map documents. Then, after going thru it, write a two-sentence summary of (or take-away from) the story map. Do your before and after impressions match?

  2. POINT OF VIEW: After studying the story map, what can you tell about the creator's association with the content or topic? Is the story presented as "straightforward facts" (e.g. listing of local businesses) or is a particular perspective about the topic included?

  3. LOCATION: What location does the story concern? Where is it? How large an area is being addressed? Is the location central to the story (e.g. Rebirth of the Elwha River) or could the story be replicated easily in other places (e.g. Roadside Attractions in Minnesota)?

  4. GEOGRAPHY: What significant geographic patterns or relationships are on display in the story map? Are they presented to the viewer, or left to the viewer to discover?

  5. TECHNICAL: Describe any technical elements of the story map that you as an "editor looking over the shoulder of the creator" might want to point out as a possible issue. What items make you want to ask about how it was accomplished?


There are hundreds of powerful learning aids waiting for viewers to dive in and learn. A speedy scan can show lots of different content and techniques quickly, but a slower and more thoughtful examination helps viewers of all ages become better creators. Building a good story map requires having a good idea of the end product before even starting. Like any creative process, authors will make a lot of edits, but having a clear vision of what makes an effective story map will help make one's creations powerful.


Charlie Fitzpatrick, Esri Education Manager

When an experienced teacher retires, the loss can be huge. Fortunately, some stay engaged, learning insatiably and sharing more widely. So it will be with 8th grade geography teacher Dave Casey of Buffalo Middle School, in a small town just beyond the northwestern suburbs of Minneapolis. After decades of over 150 kids a day, with a bum knee getting replaced, Dave decided it was time to "retire." But he has big plans to help others learn to teach with GIS.


Dave started with ArcView 3.3, "as soon as I switched from teaching history to teaching geography, maybe 10 ... hmm ... well, I guess 15 years ago now. In 30-some years of teaching, GIS is the best thing I've ever come across ... by far the best education tool I've ever used. The one complaint I hear most often from kids, why they don't like these things I do with them, is that it forces them to think. It's preparing them for the future too. It forces them to use higher level thinking, and that's where I see kids who are struggling in school do really well with this, and bring it over to other areas of study."


His colleagues are learning the ropes of the school's ArcGIS Online Organization... "Right now we have over 400 in the Org, close to 500. I probably use it most but others are starting. I've introduced science teachers and they're doing it. Once they got to Online, they were hooked. I used GeoInquiries, sometimes building things to add to them. I wanted the kids to be on computers as much as possible. What I've been doing a lot of now is building a presentation, and they really like that. They do it on their own machines, they have to look at the map and I'll have like 26 questions. Kids are so tech-savvy... We used to have to show them everything but they can figure things out so fast now, they teach me things. That's the biggest change in education; they want instant gratification, but with GIS they have to think.


"GIS really evens the playing field. Some of the kids who were not the so-called gifted kids, they perform much better with GIS; they look outside the box to solve problems. Some of the kids with whom we had the most discipline problems, they're the ones who probably did the best job with GIS. They're engaged, and it really forces them to concentrate. Even the kids who are the second language learners are able to do quite well with GIS.


"I just talked with one parent, the kid got into building story maps, and he's now going into GIS in college, getting a GIS degree. On parents night, I said we'll use a lot of GIS, and a bunch of parents said they use it in their work ... city administrators and people in businesses ... They wrote an article in the paper about me using GIS, and I got an email from another student who said how cool it was that we were using GIS because he's now with the CIA and that's what he does, using Esri."


Many experienced educators who have watched big changes are still passionate about kids, education, science, understanding the world, and solving problems. GIS can be a challenge for educators not yet comfortable with teaching. But there are some fabulous resources out there, skilled educators who know GIS, and still want to save the world, even after they hang up their gradebook.


Dave Casey (right) shares with another teacher at Esri's T3G Institute in 2013.
Dave Casey (right) shares with another teacher at Esri's 2013 T3G Institute.

Despite the changes our world has experienced this year, GIS is still here.  In fact, GIS is more important than ever.  The pandemic has raised global awareness of the relevance of GIS as a decision making toolset that enables people to build healthy communities, resilient cities, and a more sustainable planet.  Thus, GIS can be justifiably celebrated as never before, as an essential technology for applying geography and spatial thinking.  One of the ways to celebrate GIS is through hosting a GIS Day event. View the essay below and this video for ideas on how to do exactly that. 


GIS Day banner.


Since 1999, GIS Day has served as a way to help others learn about geography and the real-world applications of GIS that are making a difference in our society. It's a chance for you to share your accomplishments and inspire others to discover and use GIS.  This year, GIS Day will be held on Wednesday 18 November 2020, although you can certainly choose another day to celebrate what your organization is doing with GIS.  


Realizing that many GIS Day events will occur online this year, how can your government agency, school, university, company, or nonprofit organization host such an event?  Whether you Zoom, Skype, Facebook, YouTube Live Stream, Google Hangout, Adobe Connect, GoToWebinar, or use another method, see below for a selected list of resources and ideas.  


If the high attendance figures for online GIS-based conferences over these past 6 months are any indication, your audience this year for GIS Day could be much larger than in face-to-face-only events of the past. Use this opportunity to go big!  Think creatively about how to highlight the good people in your organization, how you use GIS, and the positive difference it is making to your community, and hence why it will matter to your audience. 


Consider using engaging tools such as ArcGIS Hub, the ArcGIS Experience Builder, or a story maps collection as the front page for your event!


Teach a hands-on workshop!  Focus on a tool that you are excited about, or perhaps a data set that your organization is proud to have created.  Need additional ideas?  Try this GIS Day story map.   Show off some of your favorite maps in the ArcGIS Living Atlas of the World.  The Mapping Hour is a series of hour-long videos that you could use as is, or for ideas on tools and approaches to teach and instructional guidelines.  Each Mapping Hour video focuses on how to use an aspect of the ArcGIS platform, such as Survey123 or ArcGIS Online, in teaching and learning.  GeoInquiries and Learn ArcGIS lessons provide additional content.  


See these stories here and here that I compiled from a few of the 1,500 GIS Day events held last year all over the world to discover what people have done to make this day extra "spatial".


Make it interactive!  Create a map-based quiz, or use the existing ones that I created such as Name That Place, Sounds of Planet Earth, or Weird Earth.  I created each of these using the capabilities of ArcGIS Online, such as the presentation mode.  Some are in story map form, such as this Wyoming Map Quiz.  Try this fun and engaging collection of Treasure Hunts.   You could even use Kahoot or another fun online quiz format in conjunction with maps and images. 


Show this new Pioneers of Geography and GIS Treasure Hunt quiz.   Solve a series of 20 questions--each focuses on a geography or GIS pioneer and hints at a location somewhere in the world where the pioneer was born or worked.  To answer the question, frame the solution within the viewfinder using the map's pan/zoom functions.  You could use it for an icebreaker, a contest, or as a fun break in between longer presentations. 


GIS Day pioneers quiz.

GIS Day pioneers of geography and GIS treasure hunt quiz.


Put your GIS skills to the test with this new GIS-themed crossword puzzle.   Consider these clues:  16 Across:  A spatial term denoting features that overlay, or ‘cross’ each other.   40 Across:  Type of thematic map in which areas are symbolized in proportion to a variable that represents a summary of a geographic characteristic within each area.  69 Down:  University of Kansas cartographer George, who devised the natural breaks classification.  295 Down:  The standard deviation of the residuals (prediction errors).  How are you doing so far?  Use this crossword in your event as a contest, awarding kudos to the person or team to get the most clues in, say, 5 minutes.   A GIS themed crossword puzzle.

GIS crossword puzzle--hundreds of clues from easy to difficult are included to test your GIS expertise!


The resources pages on the GIS Day site provide additional lessons, posters, videos, and other items you could use.  


Need more inspiration?  OK, how about 101 more ideas including sending a thank-you note to a GIS or geography teacher and producing a GIS Day song.


Once you've gathered your team, and planned what you will do, register your event here.  With your registration, you will receive a software donation (5 ArcGIS for Personal Use licenses to each GIS Day host for you to give away as you see fit), and event support (help with any questions or resources).


If you don't want to host an event, no problem!  You could use the web map to find an event of interest to you, and join that event!


Stay tuned, follow us on Twitter, and visit the GIS Day website often to hear more about opportunities for the global GIS Day community to come together to celebrate GIS Day virtually with Esri this year.


Hosting virtual GIS Day events.

What will you do for your virtual or face-to-face GIS Day event this year?

Whether you need a quick video tutorial or activities for a semester-long course, Esri has learning resources to meet your needs.  Esri Academy, Esri Press, and Learn ArcGIS offer resources that suit a variety of learning styles and that cover a range of topics (geography, environment, business, health) and capabilities (mapping, analysis, data collection). Learn about the hundreds of resources available to educators and students. 


Esri Academy provides hundreds of free e-learning resources


Esri Press publishes books about the science, application, and technology of GIS


Learn ArcGIS provides guided lessons based on real-world problems


A GIS Crossword!

Posted by jkerski-esristaff Employee Aug 4, 2020

Think you could do pretty well at a GIS-themed crossword puzzle?  Consider these clues:  


  • 16 Across:  A spatial term denoting features that overlay, or ‘cross’ each other.
  • 40 Across:  Type of thematic map in which areas are symbolized in proportion to a variable that represents a summary of a geographic characteristic within each area.
  • 69 Down:  University of Kansas cartographer George, who devised the natural breaks classification.  
  • 295 Down:  The standard deviation of the residuals (prediction errors).


Still feeling confident?  Good!   Now you're ready to tackle the crossword and show the world your GIS knowledge!


This essay's attachments include everything you need, including the following documents:


1.  The GIS crossword - blank.  Provided in Excel and PDF formats.  Why Excel?   So you could use the template to create your own customized GIS crossword in the future!

2.  The GIS crossword solution.  Provided in Excel and PDF formats.   Open these only if you are really stuck and, after talking with your GIS colleagues, need a "lifeline."

3.  The clues to the crossword.  Provided in MS Word and PDF formats; again, so you can modify to create your own quiz tailored to your particular field of GIS, your region of the world, or your native language. 


Over 400 clues exist in the crossword, so it should provide some hours of enjoyment!  You could use this as a set of quiz questions for GIS Day.   You could show this at another event that you are hosting or participating in.  How many answers can individuals or teams come up with in, say, 5 minutes?  10 minutes? 


Need some help?   Network!  Consult with your GIS friends!  During these travel-restricted times, holding a puzzle-solving session in Zoom might be a fun way to interact with your colleagues.  I encourage you to try it without consulting any external documents. But if you truly need some resources, consider these lists of GIS acronyms:   From LandInfo, from the University of California Berkeley, from Shasta County California, and this general acronyms list.  The ArcGIS Pro documentation might also come in handy.   But you'll do fine on your own.    For more, watch this video:  Announcing a GIS crossword puzzle - YouTube.


Have fun and ... no peeking! 


Solutions:  40 Across:  Choropleth.   69 Down:  Jenks.  (Rock Chalk!).   The others?  You will need to solve them!


A section of the clues for the GIS crossword.

A section of the clues for the GIS crossword.

A section of the GIS crossword.A section of the GIS crossword.

Join us Friday, August 7, 2020 from 12:00 PM - 1:00 PM (PDT) for the Higher Education Social Hour during the 2020 Education Summit. We’ll have virtual rooms where you can connect with your peers around specific topics (curriculum and learning resources, pedagogies for online learning, etc.) You can ask questions, share what has worked for you, and revitalize your connection with the GIS Education Community. Turn on your camera and connect with colleagues and friends!


There will be four different social hour options to choose from which you can access via Zoom links in this blog (links coming soon!). Feel free to drop into any one of these during the virtual social hour:


  1. Best Practices for ArcGIS Administration
    [Link expired]
  2. Pedagogies for Virtual Classroom
    [Link expired]
  3. Curriculum and Learning Resources
    [Link expired]
  4. Campus Operations
    [Link expired]


During the social hour there will be a moderator facilitating questions and attendees will have to option to openly chat with other. We encourage you to stop by so you can:


  • Connect with peers
  • Ask questions
  • Chat with the education community
  • Learn more about GIS in higher education


We are excited to see you there (virtually).


If you have not already registered for the 2020 Education Summit, you can register here.

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