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34 Posts authored by: cfitzpatrick-esristaff Employee

GeoInquiries are free, short, pre-constructed classroom activities on standard classroom content using ArcGIS Online. They are easy for teachers to use as is or to adapt. "Level One" activities require a device with internet connection but no install, no download, no login, just choose and use; "Level Two" activities require at least one login with publishing privileges in order to do analysis. GeoInquiries work in a vast range of learning situations, from the one-device-plus-presentation classroom on up to totally individualized approaches.


GeoInquiries video


A newly revised 6-minute video introducing GeoInquiries is now viewable and downloadable. It provides guidance sufficient so even those brand new to ArcGIS Online can teach effectively with GeoInquiries.


Anyone seeking to modify GeoInquiries, or construct locally-focused versions, or see other strategies for using them, should see the GeoInquiries zone on GeoNet. It's also a great place to ask questions or post ideas for designers.


Share the video with colleagues! Help them discover how to take advantage of great content and tools, all free for schools and enticing to students.

A transect is a path across an area. Geographers, both formal and informal, often follow a transect across an area to explore the changes between here and there. Sometimes the changes are close together and dramatic; other times a transect must cover a long distance before yielding a significant change in landform, land use, building style, population density, and so on.


Educators can't always go on actual field trips. Limits in time, spending, and permissions may constrain what a class can do in real life. But a class that knows how to use ArcGIS Online can conduct a virtual transect, looking at many characteristics visible in the field and some that are invisible in the field. The Virtual Transect app shows you how.


Virtual Transect app


First, look at the example, a tiny town in central Washington, then think about building your own. Mark a corner of the school grounds with a map note, then create rings of a distance that one might experience on foot (0.5 miles), by bicycle (2 miles), or in a car (10 miles). Using the imagery layer (as basemap or as an added layer), mark out changes in the land radiating outward. Then add some layers from the Living Atlas to find additional changes in the patterns of land and people.


I did a similar description of this process years ago, when ArcGIS Online was just getting started. It is so much more powerful now, with more data, more analysis tools, more presentation options, more collaboration possible using an ArcGIS Online Organization. These tools let explore, analyze, illuminate, and describe patterns, and then determine actions to make the world a better place. While the best experience is clearly from mixing the real thing with the digital, you can begin right there in the classroom, doing a Virtual Transect.

GeoInquiries(TM) have revolutionized “teaching with GIS,” by making this remarkable technology accessible even to teachers with modest technology, tech skills, and instructional time. In 2014, Esri started offering ArcGIS Online accounts to every US K12 school for free for instruction. Launched at the same time, GeoInquiries collections have grown to nine sets of 15-20 lessons (150 in all so far), presenting standards-based content through ArcGIS Online. GeoInquiries combine concise two-page documents with unique prepared maps using the standard ArcGIS Online Map Viewer interface, requiring no download, install, or even login for initial activities. (See short intro movie. “Level 2” activities require an Organization-based login with publishing privileges to do analyses.)


GeoInquiries website


With varied instructional strategies, teachers can cover key content in bite-sized chunks through interactive experiences. Provided instructions follow an inquiry approach, to leverage curiosity and engage students as powerfully as time and conditions permit. Over time, we have seen teachers use stylistic variations.


Mini-Lecture: Some teachers know their subject matter very well, and need simply a way to illustrate quickly a few geographic patterns and relationships in a few minutes. They project from their computer to a screen at the front of the room. Some teachers even do this to present in multiple classrooms at once -- in their regular classroom and simultaneously in another across town (even across the state), where there isn’t a teacher available to teach the course.


Guided Discovery: It takes a little more time and attention to the teacher instructions to ask a steady stream of questions designed to entice responses from a whole class at once and steer students collectively toward discovering fundamental goals of a lesson. But even for teachers doing this multiple times in a day, unique class makeup can yield very different paths from one session to the next.


Worksheet World: Some teachers provide students a custom worksheet and, after a quick intro, ask students to go step-by-step. Some teachers aim simply to have learners document factual responses, but building student engagement by incorporating higher level questions at different points (either at a specific step or at a common time) often yields more active students.


Weather GeoInquiry


Teacher Tryouts: A few teachers issue copies of the unedited teacher page and ask students to go through the activity within a specific time period, following the specified structure, and preparing to respond to follow-up questions or to craft their own powerful questions, or, for fun, “stumpers.”


Meandering for Meaning: Some teachers ask students to open the map and explore the content without much guidance beyond an overarching idea or concept. With riveting content this can be effective, but insufficient guidance can permit less focused students to meander much farther afield. (See “Presentations” below.)


Presentation Power: To reduce digital meandering, exercise analytical thinking, or expand creativity, some teachers engage “Presentations.” After a quick intro to the content, students save the GeoInquiry into their own account, explore for perhaps 10 minutes, then take about 15 minutes to construct their own “3-slide presentation” focused on their own view of the big idea of the lesson. Sharing their creation with two other students before assessment by the teacher can support big ideas while stimulating some creative designs. (See blog about this,


Level 2 GeoInquiry


Teachers can mix and match these modes even within a single lesson. Whatever the strategy, GeoInquiries offer teachers the chance to engage students with dynamic content, often on their own devices, helping them identify patterns and relationships, which build more solid background. With a few GeoInquiries under their belt, students and teachers may be ready for deeper dives, doing analyses with "Level 2 lessons," or going beyond pre-structured content into custom projects. GeoInquiries offer a powerful on-ramp to learning, thinking, building, and doing with technology, which is an essential skill for today's learners at all ages. See the collections at

A true craftsman uses skill developed deliberately, with attention to detail, and often with signature elements. Lyn Malone is a craftswoman. A teacher of social studies in grades 7-12 from 1970-2002, and provider of professional development since, Lyn designed lessons, activities, and projects used by thousands that covered key content, but did so with the eye of an artist and mind of an analyst. Even her casual conversation uses complete sentences that vary in structure.


"My Bachelors degree was in history, and my Masters in American Civilization, which is much more interdisciplinary than straight history." Her early teaching career spanned the breadth of the social studies, all in senior high. "But I always loved geography, always loved maps. I went down to Middle School in 1983, and started going in evenings to Rhode Island School of Design," building over the years a certificate in scientific and technical illustration. She started doing maps, and illustrations of historical artifacts, but that industry shifted to digital faster than could a full-time teacher who was also working with the new Rhode Island Geography Education Alliance.


As with many educators in the 1990's, GIS did not come easily for Lyn. "I went to at least three full-day workshops introducing GIS, and loved them, but couldn't make anything happen. That's why the 1998 institute" [an intense, two-week, day-long, GIS boot camp for teachers] "was such a huge boost." What followed were new activities, interdisciplinary, sometimes in concert with colleagues in other departments, schools, and even states, and built always from the perspectives of both designer and analyst. "I loved working with data, especially about population. Not so much building it, but finding and discovering what could be done with data others had assembled."


In 2000, Barrington Middle School won the first "Esri Community Atlas" contest, which challenged students to craft a website with simple but powerful maps portraying the community. Lyn and three students from grades 7-8 were invited to present their work on stage at the 2000 Esri User Conference. It was so well crafted and delivered that Roger Tomlinson ("the father of GIS") stood in line to talk with them, General James Clapper congratulated them and handed each student a commemorative coin, and Esri president Jack Dangermond whispered "We have to do this again," launching what has become a regular UC Plenary highlight.


With signature panache, Lyn models the latest in GIS vocabulary at T3G,

and dons foul weather gear to model GeoNews for a class.


Those attributes earned Lyn a spot co-authoring a ground-breaking curriculum package, Mapping Our World (in several versions), followed by Community Geography. In 2009, Lyn helped launch Esri's educator institute, Teachers Teaching Teachers GIS (T3G). Numerous events in New England and far beyond, for educators and the wider public, have featured her activities and presentations, always models of focus, detail, and elegant design.


Describing T3G as "Part boot camp, part religious revival," Lyn captures the essence.


Eventually, though, even artisans slow down. With almost five decades of instruction behind her, Lyn is looking forward to a little more leisurely travel, reading, art, and maybe classes, with fewer deadlines. But the many thousands who have engaged with her lessons stand a chance of seeing a complicated world more clearly, with geographic patterns and relationships illuminated through GIS. Thank you, Lyn!

At the 2018 Esri User Conference, two teachers received the "Making a Difference" award. They teach social studies and English at the Math, Science, and Technology Magnet Academy of Roosevelt High School, in Los Angeles. Watching the 11-minute award video, which included the premier of a brief video about the research project, provides a quick glimpse of the power of GIS in instruction and the impact of a meaningful project. But for those of us who watched class after class engage in this fashion, this video is the proverbial tip of the iceberg.


Students engage deeply, powerfully, in a justice-based topic they choose. They conduct authentic research, seeking patterns in the data, and relationships between the topic and the lives of those around them. These "maptivists" invest many hours learning GIS technology, struggling with data, establishing time management habits, designing effective presentations for public display, growing team sense while gaining a sense of self, becoming empowered.


MSTMA Maptivists mapping data with ArcGIS Online


A new YouTube playlist presents a quartet of videos (shortcut: (1) the quick synopsis from the 2018 Esri Conference, (2) a profile of a single student a year after the experience, (3) an interview with entertainer and entrepreneur who introduced Esri to the school, and (4) a deep dive into the design and conduct of the research project. Watching the full award ceremony video and then playlist segments 2, 3, and 4 will show the immense power of good tools and methods in the hands of good teachers.


Any school can have these GIS tools for free. Any teacher can learn these approaches. Every student deserves the chance to immerse in such rich learning, often. Please watch, learn, and share.

Students love projects. They dive into challenges of their own design, following their own route, building capacity, solving puzzles, constructing answers … learning to learn. That's the magic of the ArcGIS Competition for High School and Middle School Students. Students might be able to do some work on it in class, but most students work on it outside of class, according to their interest.


Needing to examine a topic inside their state's borders, most pick an issue they already know something about … a local industry, town feature, watershed, or problem from nuisance to nightmare. They investigate, gather data, and build a Story Map. The best from the school go to the state, and from there to the national level. The ultimate winners attend the Esri User Conference and Education GIS Summit in San Diego, CA.


Winners of 2018 Competition


In 2018, 11th grader Keeli Gustafson from Duluth MN saw a local problem born a century back, and traced its path to today, including the intersection of cultures. 8th grader Andrew Wilson from Lincoln NH, like a modern Sherlock Holmes, spent hours tracing a historic railroad and lumber company. Together, they presented their stories in the User Conference Map Gallery, to GIS users from across the planet. They followed up by regaling mentors anxious for inspiration and ideas to help educators and students in their own communities. (See the full results from 2018 and 2017, and states already in the hunt for 2019, by clicking below.)


Results from 2017 and 2018

Students will face daunting challenges tomorrow. Every opportunity they get to dive deep, study the interplay of forces, analyze the patterns and relationships, and present the story, builds hope that situations can be understood, and problems can be solved. Thousands of young scholars in every state would relish the chance to follow their own course. Help the students and teachers in your community dive in as part of the 2019 competition, underway now.

The 2018-19 school year marks the third year for Esri's "ArcGIS Online Competition for High School and Middle School Students." It is also the second year for Esri's "Teacher Video Challenge." Both "tests" deserve serious consideration.


The student competition offers a lot of opportunity. In participating states, students (singly or as a team of two) do research and submit a presentation in the form of a Story Map or other web app. This can be done as part of school or outside of school (e.g. individually or through a club), but gets submitted through the school (high school for grades 9-12, middle school for grades 4-8). A school can submit up to five entries to the state, which chooses up to five each HS+MS projects to receive $100. These ten get national recognition, and one each at HS+MS get entered into a final competition, and a trip to Esri's User Conference in San Diego, CA, to present to GIS users from around the world.


School Competition diagram

The teacher challenge lets K12 educators describe their use of ArcGIS Online. Teachers create and share their own one-minute video as an entry, and Esri chooses one story per month for a more in-depth video interview, with a $500 honorarium. This collection shows the breadth of content areas, grade levels, teaching styles, school environments, and implementation strategies through which teachers can engage ArcGIS Online. Past awardees range from more traditional to decidedly non-traditional situations, but all teachers demonstrate real craftsmanship as educators.


Teacher Video Challenge awardees

ArcGIS Online has vast capacity, but even at its most basic it can be enormously powerful. In both the student and teacher challenges, what matters is implementation. It's far more impressive doing powerful things with basic tools than basic things with powerful tools. Learners and leaders who understand their focus area deeply make impact. See how by looking at the collection of student winners and teacher challenge awardees. Then plan your entries!

"It's the work of freedom." These words by history teacher Mariana Ramirez near the end of the education section of the 2018 Esri User Conference plenary summarize the power of teachers helping students investigate their world. The Math, Science, & Technology Magnet Academy at Roosevelt High School, in the Boyle Heights neighborhood of Los Angeles, presented their work on Esri's stage in 2013, and two teachers (Ramirez and English teacher Alice Im) were brought back in 2018 to receive the "Making a Difference" award, because the work their students do is such a powerful model.


Theirs is not a "simple research project" that could be replicated immediately in any given week, or even a month. Teaching under-privileged youth in an inner city public high school sometimes involves helping students facing serious personal responsibilities and family distress, working with English language learners, overcoming difficulties in reading and math, wrestling with layers of "administrivia," coping with inadequate resources, all while covering classroom content. How then does one help students build substantial background knowledge and long-term life skills?


MSTMA at Esri UC 2018

Amid exploding reams of data, often conflicting or unbalanced sources, and shifting and confusing scales of attention and value, what matters is not accumulation of facts but ability to learn -- to ask good questions, handle varied inputs, derive substantive meaning, think critically, make good decisions, and act, singly and in concert with others. Teaching these skills takes all the time, energy, empathy, attention to detail, coaching skill, content expertise, pedagogical experience, planning and adaptability, capacity to tolerate risk and withstand failure, and multi-tasking that a teacher can muster, for dozens of students at a time, typically over 100 on any given day. The best teachers know that education is a process of engagement, not simply delivery. They teach people, not content, and so tweak their interactions scores of times per minute, at once speaking, listening, looking, feeling, cataloguing, digesting, planning, and reacting … explaining here, asking there, cajoling one, praising another … all while helping to erect the scaffolds of knowledge and skill, and the trust with which students frame their view of the world.


MSTMA presents to Esri

Because of its capacity for incorporating limitless types, amounts, and scales of data, GIS is a powerful tool for learning. The MSTMA teachers help students build their skills, then turn the focus to the world they know, asking them to dig deep, seek the data, analyze it, and present their conclusions. It takes time to build the requisite skills, conduct the research, and present to their peers, their teachers, their community, and the broader outside world. But the students recognize the rewards, inside and out, often very quickly, occasionally only over time.


"One person can make a difference … and everybody should try," says Esri president Jack Dangermond at the close, echoing the words of President John F. Kennedy. Anyone in doubt, or anyone simply seeking affirmation, need only watch the video, and then share it. "It's the work of freedom."

Results are in for the 2018 ArcGIS Online Competition for High School and Middle School students! Congratulations to the national winners and honorable mentions at both levels, and to the 34 other state winners competing for the grand prize -- a trip to the 2018 Esri Education Summit. Congratulations also to the 101 other awardees who, just like the state and national winners, each earned $100.


2018 Competition participation

The displays and documentation of all 137 awardees are visible to the public, via an ArcGIS Online Map Viewer Presentation, with six frames. For both HS and MS, the national winner and honorable mention projects were very good, about very different topics, with very different approaches, so see both their Story Maps and documentation. The other state winners at each level reinforce the breadth of topics and approaches available to anyone.


2018 HS Winner

The competition did not require teachers to allocate significant in-class time or instruction, although some did provide it. With the array of instructional resources freely available, students can learn a lot on their own, but they need that first exposure to the technology, and need an account with which to explore, build, save, and share. Esri offers all schools and clubs free instructional accounts, plus lots of classroom-ready content and project starters, and links to local mentors (see Map#4) and instructional opportunities (see Maps #6 and #7), so there is no reason for any student to be left out.


2018 MS Winner

In 2018, 28 states participated. In the 22 states receiving entries, 126 came from 46 high schools, and 180 entries came from 41 middle schools. Of the 306 total submissions nationally, a third happened in just one state -- Minnesota. Think what students will show when all states actively support students investigating and reporting on their world, thinking critically and making a difference, using GIS. Start working now to support the 2019 ArcGIS Online Competition for HS+MS Students!

The best teachers share a few characteristics. First and foremost, the students as individuals are more important than the subject, so you have to know and understand each kid deeply to help them. You need to know your subject matter intimately to engage different kids in different ways. You need to organize activities that challenge kids at a reasonable level, and kids don't handle all challenges equally. There are often ways to meet irksome rules while still meeting more important missions. And you must remain adaptable. In today's education parlance, the first three elements are generally called "differentiated instruction" or "whole child education." But the teachers who stand out grasp and implement the last two elements as well. And because of those, the teachers are sometimes called "mavericks." Retired but tireless teacher Randy Raymond, from Detroit, is a "maverick."


Randy got his BS and MS degrees in science in the early 70s, then did research on Isle Royale, the big island in Lake Superior. "We took the first boat out in May, and the last boat back in October." He did some teaching in northern Michigan, and ran a landscaping business. "But my first real teaching began in 1981, with 6th grade science in Detroit Country Day School, where I started addressing kids' needs, especially those needing something other than typical classes. I began an 'outdoor field study' program. All day every Friday, no matter the weather, every class period was outside field study for that hour. Kids liked coming to school." Prominent people liked the special projects underway, and found ways to support these with money or technology. And Randy made more connections with people in business, government, and nonprofits who could make things happen. "I saw GIS in 1987, ARC/Info on Unix, but didn't have the technology or time to cope with it, but knew it would be important."


With a reputation for success, Randy shifted to Cass Technical High School in 1991, teaching older kids. He earned more grants, and in early 1993, at the NSTA (National Science Teachers Assoc) Conference, Randy saw me in a booth, showing ArcView 1.0 for Windows. "I have money! I need to buy a school license!" It took Esri months to set up the mechanism, but Randy became the first teacher to buy this license, and his next 25 years became a blur.


With a special grant, "I got hardware and built a lab, and had students explore and tinker during the day, and taught adult ed classes in the evening." His students began doing projects. One group studied lead in the water in Detroit, mapping lead pipe water service; Randy had wondered if the problems some students exhibited with certain content, and thus on some critical tests, might be influenced by lead in the water. "Four good chemistry kids spent one year doing research, and the next year working out ways to relieve lead loading in the water that happens overnight." Available health data was not pinpoint geography, but showed over 6800 kids with blood lead poisoning. Randy and his students were set to present this at the opening of Esri's 1995 User Conference, but were diverted to the White House to receive the grand prize from the Seiko Environmental Youth Challenge.


GIS in K12 Education movie frames


Meanwhile, projects for Ford Motors and the City of Detroit earned even more attention, as seen in Esri's "GIS in K12 Education" video (1995) and Esri's book "Zeroing In" (1998). "Some kids and I worked on the city's $100m Empowerment Zone grant, downtown for four weeks every day after school, with our computer and printer there. On the day they had to submit it, I was putting the booklet together and they were holding a police car to get things to the airport and then to DC before the 5pm deadline. President Clinton said that, of all the proposals, ours was the most informative, especially in the first pages, with the maps."



Because of his GIS skills, Randy was moved in 1998 from Cass Tech to Detroit Public Schools Executive Services. "I did data and analysis, not politics." That made him extremely valuable, and students of any age with GIS skills very attractive. Randy taught GIS at colleges and Saturday academies at local high schools. "As a school administrator, I came with the background of a teacher who was accustomed to doing things that met needs, solved problems, and were possible even if not typical." Entrepreneurial associations grew, providing more kids experience with GIS, through collaborations between a mix of governmental, educational, non-profit, and private partners.


"In 2008, the city asked to collaborate on a lead study. We got 300,000 records from 1992-2008, with real addresses; 169,000 were really good, and 80,000 of those were currently in schools, across 13,000 blocks of the region. We published an article in 2013, showing 54% with lead damage when they were young. The results were so obvious that people asked if we rigged it, but we had a number of kids with tests from two or three different years, and we were clearly failing them. They were not being engaged in the special ways needed given the things that had happened to their bodies." (See Education Week's related article.) For publishing a study that exposed damage, Randy got in trouble, and retired in June of 2013.


For a quarter century, Randy has talked passionately, with anyone who would listen, about "purposeful applications of technology in school … It's what you do with the kids, that's more important than any subject you're teaching. Doing something good with them is always my goal… [GIS] is like a whirlwind, and some see the endless opportunities and dive in, while others just avoid it because they don't get it and just can't see the value … It's not magic. The longer they are involved with GIS in real world work, the more they get engaged in what they need to know and how interconnected things are, and they're iterating and editing constantly, making decisions to make something better. You don't just give an answer and have someone tell you that you got it right or wrong, you get the chance to investigate … Kids working with GIS get smarter even if you don't see it on a test … We want them to know that learning is a lifelong process and sometimes we stumble, and things change so we have to adapt … School is meant to be a 'terminal' thing, but learning is not; the more school is an end in itself, the less learning becomes the goal; we need to get people invested in learning rather than in school …"


And now? "The joy of retirement is that I'm only out of [a given project] if I want to be." His current mission is showing school and district administrators how to use GIS to enhance school safety. There are always new people waiting to be exposed and, fortunately, mavericks doing whatever they can to help people of all ages and roles grasp the power of GIS.

Randy with car and GISGUY license

"Workforce" is a prominent topic for state governors; every state is concerned about employability of young people after school … and even during school. And, every year, at Esri's User Conference, some GIS-using professional at a business, non-profit group, or government agency will mention to me the challenge they face "finding people with the right skills … even the beginning skills needed …" to work for them. Digging deeper, with governors and with GIS professionals, two skill sets appear: (a) job-specific fundamentals, and (b) "soft skills" of being a reliable worker, collaborating, working independently, communicating, making decisions and solving problems, being adaptable, thinking creatively, and seeking help when needed. I smile because all of these can be developed with "long-term" experience with GIS.


How do you document these things? A lot of schools run "Career and Technical Education" (CTE) courses that help students learn fundamentals in a line of work … cosmetology, public safety, diesel engines, biomedicine, network administration, GIS. Many of these courses involve independent tests on established principles, latest patterns, and current technology.


Esri offers certification about Esri software. But even the most basic -- "ArcGIS Desktop Entry Level" -- is no slouch of an exam. It is designed for GIS users with up to two years of applied experience. I can vouch for the breadth of its coverage; I took the Desktop Entry 10.5 exam a couple of weeks ago. The published info shows that it includes content about ArcMap, ArcGIS Pro, ArcGIS Online, and even ArcGIS Enterprise. The Certification Team has presented enough for someone to do a critical self-check about their readiness. Given the $225 cost of each exam, scouring these materials is time well-spent.


Esri Desktop 10.5 Entry Level Certification web page


Desktop 10.5 Entry Level guidance


Should secondary students take this exam? It is absolutely not designed for them. There are significant legal and logistical challenges to overcome before one can take the exam. Minors must complete additional paperwork weeks ahead. Still, some educators have steered their students toward it. There is a frightfully low likelihood that a high school student even with two years of hour-per-day classes will pass. (Again, the course was designed for the entry-level professional with up to two years … 4000 hours … of applied experience.)


Should educators take the exam? This makes much more sense, especially in a CTE class. Just as high school teachers get "content certified," it makes sense to earn a software certification if one is teaching what would represent entry-level GIS jobs. It may help the educator (re-)discover the lightning pace of software evolution, the breadth of the ArcGIS platform, and the difference between "just a map" and "a tool for analysis, communication, and problem solving."


So, does GIS even belong in schools, and especially CTE? Absolutely. The combination of "job-specific fundamentals" and "soft skills" can be built starting even in elementary school. Developing capacity to understand maps, create and analyze data, communicate powerfully, collaborate, solve problems, and so on, cannot develop sufficiently high in a single year of hour-per-day class. GIS has a home in every situation involving data and locations, whether learning U.S. history, analyzing local community situations, or modeling global threats. Educators need always to design appropriate and realistic measures of student capacity and achievement, clarifying student responsibilities, and building in their students scholarship, artisanship, and citizenship. (Thank you, Michael Hartoonian.) Documenting this with a digital portfolio, perhaps via a Story Map Journal, might be a useful model.

Some people are natural teachers. Kids (and even adults) flock to them because they are friendly, helpful, knowledgeable, hard workers, and effective communicators who deal with the people first and tasks second. They stand out like neon lights, and are found in all grade bands and subject areas. Science teacher Erika Klose, of Winfield (WV) Middle School, is one of those. But Friday was Erika's last day teaching her cherished kids. She is stepping up.


Erika and devices


As a middle school student, Erika became obsessed with the just-rediscovered Titanic, helped her father restore old houses, and expected to study art in college. After a geology course captivated her during first semester of college, she got a BA in earth science, then an MS in geology and geophysics … which included a class in GIS. That one GIS class (1999, command line ArcInfo) got her an internship at USGS Woods Hole. It was a "trial by fire" project on coastal vulnerability for the whole US, managing huge amounts of inconsistent data, with a presentation to give at a big international conference in just six weeks. It led to six years of seafloor mapping and data crunching. "I had two Macs, two PCs, and two Linux machines running constantly in my office … just me and six computers," she laughs.


"But one of my tasks was outreach, and I began going into middle schools … and LOVED it. I knew I had to make a change. I went to West Virginia, got my Masters in teaching, and the day I finished student teaching, my cooperating teacher resigned." She took over in January 2008, and has spent the last decade teaching science to students in grades 6-8, mostly 7th grade. "I have kids for a semester, about 160 per year. And last Thursday, I stood in the hall, and 147 kids got in a line one by one and hugged me. It was great, and awful, and I just came back in the room and cried." Because Erika is stepping up, for teachers across the state.


Periodic Table atop WV map


At an "Intro to ArcMap" training in 2010 for teachers exploring GIS, reluctant participant Erika was discovered in the back row quietly building the periodic table atop a map of West Virginia, in GIS. One of the leaders looked at her and asked "Who ARE you?" Since then, Erika has attended Esri's Teachers Teaching Teachers GIS Institute and led GIS instruction of teachers across WV (and other states), first in desktop and then online GIS. She has helped update some state standards to include use of GIS. She earned certification from the National Board for Professional Teaching Standards, is incoming president of the West Virginia Science Teachers Association, earned a $10,000 prize for her school via the Day of Code challenge, and was Esri Teacher Video Challenge awardee in September 2017. Then, in October 2017, she was a Milken Family Foundation award winner, one of 47 nationally (with a great surprise video).


So now? "Starting Monday, I am 'Coordinator for STEM and Computer Science' for the WV Dept of Education." She has to work on redesigning standards, upgrading current teaching, growing the pipeline of well-trained teachers, and bridging diverse communities. "I think my ability to solve problems is one of my greatest strengths. I'm not afraid of things, like breaking software (just uninstall it if you kill it), or building stuff, or getting dirty. My parents gave me that. They let me DO a lot of things … and, I'll have a lot to do here."


Geogeek Erika


So what of teachers and kids and GIS? "They are different as learners. Teachers come in with the idea they need to be expert to present it in their class, and that's a barrier that is really hard to break thru, because teachers are also coming at it from the logistical side … software, controls, data, institutional barriers. Really, they just have to learn just this much" [cupping her hands together as if to enclose a baseball] "and just let kids go. Kids just do it. They're not afraid. They focus on the contents and yell 'Look at this!', and don't care about the software. They just do it, and LOVE GIS!"


Will this new job be a challenge? "I'm ready for the challenge. I've said 'I'm a teacher' for so long that that's what I still am. My heart hurts leaving, but one of my friends said 'You're the one that should go and do this, for us, and for the kids.' So I'm ready. I'm there to make a difference, for all of 'em out there."

Across USA, a committed crew is making waves. In 2009, Esri launched Teachers Teaching Teachers GIS (or "T3G"), an Institute for educators anxious to help other educators use GIS for instruction. In T3G, exploring the latest tools goes hand-in-hand with investigating classroom content, modeling instructional strategies, discussing professional development, and sharing stories of problem-solving. Participants commit to spreading to others the power of GIS and Esri's free tools and materials, through workshops, presentations, mentoring, and beyond.


Online institute plus educator graphics


2017 launched the "synchronous online instruction" era for T3G (above). The 2018 event will be similar, with eight hours of activity spread over two consecutive Saturdays (July 28 and August 4). Participants need foundational comfort with using ArcGIS Online, teaching with technology, and providing professional development. T3G 2018 will boost participants' capacity to meld the three. The information page links to key resources for building those critical foundations in advance.


Requirements and resources


T3G 2018 registration opens March 1, with 60 slots available. Participation is free, and expects commitment to share with others during the coming years. T3G grads have taught educators across the country, amplifying the rising tide of users visible on the map of "ArcGIS School Bundles," building a collection of teacher videos, and encouraging students to engage in local projects and competitions. If you're anxious to help other teachers use GIS to transform education and improve the world, join us in T3G 2018!

ArcGIS Online presentations rock! They present viewers with an interactive set of content, in a linear fashion, all in a single map or scene, with minimal tools. Story Maps have taken the world by storm, but anything beyond the very simplest take significant time and "another app" to build. Presentations, however, are just customized views of a single map or scene, and a total novice with a saved map can build a reasonable presentation in just a few minutes.

Earthquake presentation


See this simple 2D presentation about earthquakes (from Row 5 of the ArcGIS Online Skillbuilder). Note the navigation tools, top left and bottom center: pan/zoom or choose your slide, and that's it ("identify feature" works too). Header text doubles as slide name. The creator gets to emphasize his/her info, sequencing the exposed and highlighted content, and the viewer gets to follow or explore but only as the creator permits. (For another example, see a presentation embedded in a web page, as the second graphic in the ArcGIS Online HS+MS Competition info page .)


Presentation setup


To build a presentation, one must be logged in (both Organization-based and public logins work) and have a saved map to work with. Let's try an example, using a specific GeoInquiry.

  1. Go to and click the "Elementary" icon.
  2. Scroll down to "08 - Where does the water go?" and click the lesson icon.
  3. Open the Map URL: (it's OK to use the current tab.)
  4. Notice that you cannot create a presentation until you own the map. Sign in, and then immediately choose to save the map in your contents.
  5. Once signed in and with map saved, "Create Presentation" appears next to your login. Click it.
  6. Click the green "+" button to begin creating a slide. From here on, it just takes deciding what you want to show, in what sequence.
  7. In the title box near the top, type some text, such as "My Watershed Presentation;" it shows atop the map.
  8. Pan & zoom to adjust the map extent as desired, then click the green "SET TO CURRENT" button to lock in the current map extent as the starting point for this slide.
  9. Turn layers on/off, and/or change the basemap as desired.
  10. Open a popup, and click the checkbox if you want it to open with the slide.
  11. You've completed a slide! Now just repeat steps 6-10 as desired. You can shuffle the slide sequence, and edit existing slides. Remember to SAVE your presentation, and hit the PLAY button to test it.


Presentation interface


It takes some experience to get good at building just the right presentation in the 2D Map Viewer, and the 3D Scene Viewer takes more, but they are very powerful for instruction. Using just a single map, a presentation forces the map creator to think critically about the design of their map, and about the user experience. There's no option for external media to complicate things. This is crucial, focusing the learner on the contents, how they are represented, and what are the most significant lessons … making presentations a nice little performance task for teachers who crave these.


Consider having your students build presentations using a GeoInquiry. In a 40-minute period, you could spend 15 minutes going through the lesson, then ask students to spend 15 minutes creating a 3-slide presentation, then have them spend 10 minutes sharing their creation with someone else, before wrapping up. The "tedious and time-consuming part" (creating the map) is already done, so teachers and students can focus on the most critical part -- what does it all mean? -- in the precious few minutes available in class.

[[Updated at bottom, Sept.30, 2018]]


Can you make sense of this table?


Fieldwork is a crucial student experience. Students need to gather data about situations with which they have personal experience, and explore that data in some depth, to understand issues of data quality: relevance, accuracy, precision, fidelity, resolution, currency, and so on. When students design the collection process, gather the data, analyze it, interpret it, and present it, they build the data literacy so essential today. But with instructional time limited, teachers sometimes shortcut the design/discovery and collection/assembly phases, at the cost of student comprehension. The ArcGIS School Bundle includes tools that can help students experience the full range of data work with nothing more than a web browser. Using multiple tools shows how technology can multiply (rather than just add) capacity.


Various technologies help educators and students design surveys to gather data (including photos or other attached files), but Survey123 adds the great power of geography: What is the location about which the user is gathering data? Then, what patterns differ between here and there? The data collector can rely on a mobile device’s GPS or choose the location on a map. However, K12 student data collection often needs to be done offline (out of wifi coverage, without consuming cell data; think “airplane mode”), and Survey123 does not currently include an easy, browser-only mechanism for acquiring and using a high resolution basemap offline ... but Collector does!


Survey123 and Collector


Survey123 and Collector are not identical in the data they handle and ways they do it, so a survey being planned for use with Collector needs careful attention to design. Collector handles well the most critical field types for surveys in schools: text fields, numbers (both integer and floating point), single choice (radio button or pull-down), file attachments, and point location. Any ArcGIS  Org login with publishing privilege may use Survey123 to design a survey with these components, publish it (which creates an editable feature service offering attachments), set the layer permissions for syncing, create a map with that service as a layer, and share the layer and map with a group. Group members with Collector on their mobile devices can access the map, download a relevant basemap, and be ready to use the survey offline.


Afterward, the collected data can be a layer in any number of maps in ArcGIS . Single choice and numeric items can be labeled, inspected, classified, filtered, symbolized, and analyzed, while open text items provide essential context.


Important considerations for schools in this workflow include:

  • Only the survey creator needs to be a publisher and familiar with Survey123, but building the survey with students as a group process helps them see why and how choices get made
  • All survey users need the Collector app on their mobile device
  • The map with the editable feature service must be shared to a group in the ArcGIS  Org, and all survey users must use a login that is a member of that group
  • The survey form should focus on the basic question types noted above, and flow through all questions from beginning to end without “branching”, so “required” questions and question sequence need to be considered and designed carefully
  • Question formats, hints, and defaults need to be planned and tested carefully so each question operates as expected
  • Downloading the basemap in Collector requires attention to map extent and zoom scale, to optimize utility while minimizing bandwidth consumed and storage space required
  • Uploading from Collector the collected data needs planning to minimize network strain (lots of people uploading lots of points with lots of high res images can tax even strong networks)
  • Careful testing and piloting of the entire process (even going through a complete but very small practice activity with students) is advised before embarking on a large project. Best-laid plans can be tripped up by a tiny mistake or overlooked element.
  • For examples of exploring data skills and the power of geography, see the ArcGIS  Skillbuilder (row46)


The process above can begin in Survey123 with just a browser on a laptop or tablet, for use in the Collector app on tablet or smartphone. Using ArcGIS Desktop to build a high quality data collection form for use with Collector is the focus of Teaching with GIS: Field Data Collection Using ArcGIS, an excellent course designed for educators, on Esri’s Training site. That course is free to anyone with a maintained Esri license, such as the ArcGIS School Bundle. The workflow in this blog is a more “minimalist” approach for the educator who wants to stay just within a web browser and mobile apps.


[[Update Sept.30, 2018: See also for more detailed descriptions, key updates, critical links, pre-built activities, and discussion.]]

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