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49 Posts authored by: cfitzpatrick-esristaff Employee

"WHOA! COOL!" is by far the most common phrase uttered when people do one simple step with a simple webapp I created for demos. Adults or students; I've tested as young as age 8. See this "comparison" app, which starts in Hawaii. When the app opens, look in the top left corner of the left map and click the "-" button 3 or 4 times: Open this example app:


Example app showing Hawaii in left and right panes


Comparison is a time-tested powertool for learning. Seeing two different presentations of the same location at one time is huge for proving that there is always more than one way to think about any given scenario, and nothing demonstrates at once more powerfully and simply this fundamental capacity of GIS. The left map is a 2D view (Web Mercator projection, standard these days, for better or worse), and the right is a "3D" scene (on a flat screen, starting in "overhead" view). The displays are synchronized, to the degree possible; both can pan, zoom, and rotate, but the right map (being a scene) can also "tilt." Both can swap the basemap with one in the lower right corner, expanding comparisons. This duo uses only basemaps and default tools. It took about ten minutes to set the basics, and another ten to test/tweak/save/repeat. The template can mix or match content types and locations, but coupling a 2D map and a 3D scene generated the desired impact.


Example app showing Hawaii tipped and rotated in 3D


  1. Make a basic map focused on the area of interest, and save it.
  2. Make a basic scene focused on the area of interest, and save it.
  3. Open the map, choose to share, choose to make a web app from a configurable template, choose the "Compare" template, and save the web app.
  4. Configure (this is the time-consuming part), save, and test the web app.
  5. Share the map, scene, and web app (all three items) alike.


Example app showing global versions and measure in left pane


The example above was done using a public account, with no special data or tools. Notice that, using the 2D measure tool, you can see that flying the shortest distance from the northernmost tip of Alaska to the southernmost tip of Africa would involve flying almost due north over the North Pole; you can, of course, confirm it using the line tool in the 3D display. For another situation, I did a similar 2D/3D comparison app using my Organization login, and focused on a single local watershed, showing a downstream trace from a special location and the upstream watershed, so users could tip and rotate and grasp the environment. Careful planning of layers in the map and scene can yield huge impact. Embedding the app in a StoryMap lets the creator provide a little context or instruction (for use in or away from class), and lets the user launch out into full screen.


Many effective activities and lessons are possible with "simple tools." These technologies are not simple under the hood, but their concepts are easy to explain (map, scene, basemap, pan, zoom, rotate, tilt, measure, etc), which lets the user focus on powerful content and instruction. It is much more impressive seeing educators do powerful things with simple tools than simple things with powerful tools. The ArcGIS School Bundle has a great array of tools, all available free to schools and clubs for instruction, around the world. Good teachers master the basics, including the power of simplicity.

In 2006, Esri UC featured a six-pack of 4-H youth on stage. The “emcee” of the team was 16-year-old (that day!) Emmaline Long, from Bergen NY. What has happened with her since her time with “plows, sows, and cows”? I caught up with her for an hour-long interview on a quiet Sunday morning this fall. I wanted to see what path her life had taken, and what role if any GIS was playing in her life.


4-H team on stage at Esri UC 2006


After two more years of high school, Long went to Cornell University, on a scholarship that came in part because of a project she had done mapping endangered orchids in a swamp, which had elevated her to a finalist in the Intel Talent Search. Her undergrad work didn't involve a lot of GIS, but she was interested in precision ag, and she turned that into her Master's thesis.


"I studied agronomy and geospatial sciences. My thesis was evaluating precision agriculture technology on self-propelled forage harvesters, checking to see if they are accurate in the attributes gathered, particularly moisture, measured by near-infrared reflectance. We aggregated data into truckloads (10-20 tons each), and found that they are accurate within the parameters of what the company says, if the farm calibrates. But after my Master's degree I didn't know what I wanted to do, because I like it all -- vegetables, field crops and grains, dairy farms. I found a farm near my home which grows everything and needed someone with my background. CY Farms LLC is a third generation family farm with 6000 acres of vegetables, grains, and forages, across 300 fields (of 4-170 acres). I can scout diseases of onions in the morning and be at the dairy looking at forage quality in the afternoon. I told them I'd give them one full year to try, and am now just finishing my sixth growing season."


Most of the farm work involves data collection.


"We have auto-steer machines, which create an ‘A-B’ line in tilling. Then we use that exact line to guide across the field for fertilizing, which lets us do variable rate fertilizing, according to prescriptions written in our spatial software, based on grid soil sampling data or soil types. Then comes planting, in our 24-row planter with sectional auto-shutoff, and we collect data every second, including how many seeds, the variety, the downforce, singulation."


Emmaline Long, 2019

All this data is sent to a cloud-based database for storage and analysis. Long and colleagues gather data on about two thirds of the acres every year, and then get the yield maps to overlay and look for patterns and relationships.


"Ag in general is good at collecting the data, but not quite as good at making decisions on the basis of that data. Companies make satellite data available, even a couple of times per week, but I have 300 fields spread across the landscape, in all different shapes and sizes, and a lot of things to do. Still, we can go back afterwards to study the data and see if we might have spotted something earlier that shows up later in the harvest, which can then influence the scouting I do in the fields during the next year."


So, when you were in school, and got started with 4-H, and they introduced you to GIS, did you gravitate to it?


"Ohmigosh yes! I'm a data mapping, visual spatial person. I can't remember numbers, but can picture the whole field and tell you about the spatial aspects; that's just the way my brain works. Give me an atlas to look at. And I still go geocaching. I can't be sure, but I think if I hadn't been in 4-H and hadn't been introduced, I would hope I would have found it some other way. I was just immediately drawn to it."


And are you still learning?


"We all have to. Every year, the job and responsibilities have evolved, with changes in crops, our technology, and the people we have access to. I love to learn; my employers value learning, and the industry offers a lot of opportunities for it, and people see it as essential. It's especially prominent in the winter. Last week, I went to two different variety trials; all winter long, starting in December, I'm not in the office 5 days because of meetings and conferences and workshops."


In 2006, six young people captivated the audience with their interest in geospatial tools, showing they recognized a wide-open door. In the intervening years, the career opportunities presented by GIS have multiplied, fed by each new technological advance, and by understanding that it helps people solve problems and design solutions. Any K12 school or formal youth-serving club can request ArcGIS software for instruction for free.

Students in many states are finding patterns, puzzles, and projects in the world around them, and turning these into adventures in learning, as part of the ArcGIS Online Competition for US High School and Middle School Students. After doing their research, they put together a Story Map or a web app. Five who do this well in their school advance to the state level, and those in the top handful at the state level win 100 bucks. And two students (or teams) from across the US get chosen to display the best in high school (grades 9-12) and middle school (grades 4-8) at the Esri Conference in San Diego, CA.


The ArcGIS Online Competition for US HS+MS Students


The competition is underway again, for school year 2019-2020. Teachers can start introducing students to the technology and the opportunity. But the teachers need also to pivot and point to state leaders, urging them to sign up the state. This is a binary event: Either all students get to participate or none do, and what ensures the former is a team of education-friendly, GIS-savvy, doers who step up and make it happen. In states with few student participants, high percentages have been award winners at the state level. And at the national level, even states with few participants have had winners. It just takes curiosity, vision, gumption, and tenacity … someone who is part Sherlock Holmes, part Jane Goodall, and part Katherine Johnson.


Winning teams meet Jack Dangermond at 2019 Esri Conference

 HS and MS student winners and their teachers chat with Jack Dangermond at the Esri Conference


The task for students is to research a topic of their choosing, within the bounds of their state, and present what they learn in the form of a web app or Story Map. Whether singly or as part of a team of two, this is a chance for unfettered exploration, observation, analysis, and tinkering, wrapped up in a presentation. The long-term rewards can be impressive. The short-term rewards could include sharing with 20,000 GIS users at the 2020 Esri Conference in San Diego.


Explore the opportunities, the guidance from 2019 winners and their teachers, and the whole collection of three years of award winners, at

Two excellent apps were released in summer 2019: ArcGIS QuickCapture and the Attachment Viewer web app template. Educators can use these powerfully! To test both, I decided to record notables on my morning walk.


iPhone showing QuickCapture display


Electric scooters have sprouted like fairy rings in my neighborhood. QuickCapture lets me capture the location (click#1) and a photo (click#2) and confirm the data (click#3), which auto-sends while I move poorly parked ("strewn") scooters out of the path of others. I created a point feature service with 8 elements to choose from, essentially converting an 8-item pulldown into 8 big buttons, which I laid out in two columns ("pain" or "joy") for each of four items (scooters, bikes, other human things, and natural things). With a little exploring and experimentation, I was able to configure the buttons and ensure each permitted a photo.


QuickCapture project


QuickCapture lets you tweak your "project" setup after creation, so I tested and adjusted things a couple of times, optimizing for data sufficient to play with behind the scenes, but not display on the map. Because I wanted to share the results focusing on the photos (with the map simply as context until I get enough data), I used the new Attachment Viewer web app template. This meant creating a view of my feature service (to protect the source data; create item 3 from item 1, below), building and configuring a map (item 4), and sharing it by creating and configuring a web app from a template (item 5). Ta-da!


ArcGIS Online contents of the project


The Attachment Viewer will work with any feature service used for data collection, so think Survey123 and Collector as well. The rather minimalist display gives enough space for map, context, and image. This will be ideal for educators and students after a data gathering experience! (See my neighborhood scooters!)


Attachment Viewer app


The GIS toolkit for educators keeps getting better and better. Take some time to try these apps. I have updated a document about Survey123 and Collector to include QuickCapture as well.


My morning walk has a new appeal for me, and even the irritation of hazardously placed or strewn objects now has a slight silvery lining for me.

Hans Bodenhamer is an unusual teacher. He doesn't use a cell phone, doesn't spend a ton of time on computers, and engages an "old school" approach to teaching: do projects. And his favorite location for study is distant, dark, dirty, and damp … underground, in caves. If this sounds familiar, you might have seen Esri's 2010 User Conference speakers from the Cave Club of Bigfork High School in Montana.


Esri 2010 User Conference stage

Bodenhamer used to be a traditional high school science teacher: four sections of biology, one of physics, one of geology. A field trip once included a cave, which led to forming a club, then making maps for local agencies, then doing presentations, then learning about GIS, and then the feedback cycles went organically into overdrive. Students saw GIS in class, did projects, joined cave club, fed passions for the natural world, and wanted to protect it. Local agencies lost employees, needed help, and service projects led to internships and jobs for young people with skills. A local college seeking a pipeline of students collaborated on a dual enrollment class. Cave club regulars earned scholarships, jobs, and experience; alums shared stories, expertise, and inspiration; and public attention grew.


It's not rocket science: engage students in activities that interest them. Seeing a small, confined, unique, and exceedingly fragile natural world, students want to protect it, which requires defining it. "Projects have helped kids feel engaged. It's probably true that Cave Club and GIS have gone hand in hand. Traditionally, we'd use a fiberglass tape, compass, clinometer, and clipboards. Now we use laser instruments to get distance, direction, and angles … but we still use paper. Then we recreate it back at school. And we use a similar approach above ground, like our projects out on lakes. Kids build a sense of a mission, and these local groups have discovered and latched onto that there's a small army of young people who can contribute locally and even wider. Once you get 'em hooked, they will drag you along…"


Map of two caves showing fragility and condition

Along with four sections of 9th grade science (blend of environmental science, ecology, and geology), Bodenhamer now teaches two sections of "Projects in GIS" to students in grades 10-12, many for multiple years. "And because I had some middle school classes for a while, I've taught some kids as many as six years in a row. Students can earn one semester credit at the local college. Most students taking the high school class take the community college credit."


"Cave Club and GIS have directly benefited students in getting great opportunities right out of school. Several received big scholarships. Students in cave club often graduate with over 200 hours of volunteer services and immediately applicable resource management skills (GIS being a big one). Some have received part-time jobs directly out of high school; two years in a row the National Park Service has hired interns directly out of our cave club and the year before a student was given a recreation specialist job with the Forest Service because of her involvement. A couple students have been hired for coveted wildlife technician jobs after high school and while in college as a result of connections they make in Cave Club. Many students who take a GIS class after high school say how easy the college GIS class is. Some end up tutoring other college students. They use specialized skills in our high school class, but just having lots of experience working with GIS makes it easy for them to learn new skills quickly."


Bigfork Cave Club


There are many good teachers making a tremendous difference to kids, the community, and the planet, with GIS. Their situations vary widely. But they recognize that young people want to be valuable, want to be respected, and want a world worth living in. GIS can help everyone make it happen.

Just as athletes specialize, so do many teachers. On the other end of that continuum is Dominique Evans-Bye, a teacher at Clark Magnet High School in La Crescenta, CA. She is the instructional equivalent of a decathlete. Her social media stream hints at this, as a medley of GIS, marine science, space science, biology, chemistry, design, conservation, education, and exploration.


Not purely science or technology or engineering or math, or even just STEM, Evans-Bye integrates everything. Her current course load is 6 classes in block schedule, with AP environmental science, biology, environmental GIS, and GIS & Remote Sensing, the last two as part of a CTE (career technical education) pathway, across grades 10-12, with some intros coming in grade 9. In each, she challenges her students to look outward, conduct research, engage in projects, and participate in competitions -- activities which also call for attention to social studies and communication, plus a bank of critical "soft skills."


Esri User Conference 2011 presentation


Students tackle leadership training from SkillsUSA interspersed with GIS activities (on Esri Academy and Learn ArcGIS) that build content background in their subject and beyond as well as essential tech skills. Opportunities to showcase these in presentations and competitions span the school year.  


Esri Oceans Summit 2018 presentation


"Although SkillsUSA doesn’t have any GIS technical skill competitions (yet?) my students have had a lot of fun and success with the Career Pathway Showcase. This competition involves a group of three students presenting a community service project in their subject area. Students can advance in local, state and national competitions. Judging by my student’s scores in the Nationals for the past two years, GIS has had quite an impact on the SkillsUSA community. Our first year competing, we made it to Nationals and won Silver. This year I had beginning GIS students win gold medals at the National SkillsUSA Championships by using a GIS story map to show the impact of marine debris on albatross."


Story Map on albatross


GIS is the perfect technology for integrators, and the best educators help students understand the world in a holistic fashion, building the skills and expertise to help make good decisions and solve problems. Far from generating one dimensional specialists, CTE teachers today whose students build GIS expertise tied to real world projects and competitive experiences help them prepare for tremendous opportunities ahead as problem solvers in a vast array of industries.

The ArcGIS School Bundle has grown! It now includes Insights for ArcGIS and Esri CityEngine, in license numbers matching the size of the Bundle in place. No special request is needed, these are now just built into existing and new ArcGIS School Bundles. And, like the previous elements, these are available to K12 schools and youth clubs at no cost for instructional use.


 ArcGIS School Bundle


The heart of the Bundle remains the ArcGIS Online Organization account, with its many built-in powers, "sidecar" apps, and connections to the entire ArcGIS platform, all accessible via internet connection. The second key online component has been ArcGIS Community Analyst, a powerful research and analysis tool with couple-of-clicks access to an immense wealth of demographic data (and more) all ready for mapping and analysis. The addition of Insights for ArcGIS enables intense exploration of data, in search of trends, patterns, correlations, and relationships, in a "card-based" operation, again all within a web browser.


On the Windows-based desktop side, ArcGIS Pro Advanced users continue building powerful skills in core 2D and 3D environments, enhancing those with powerful extensions, now including Image Analyst. The Bundle still includes the latest version of ArcMap, but desktop users in schools are largely graduating to the newer, more powerful, more connected ArcGIS Pro. The "new kid" in the School Bundle is Esri CityEngine, a powerful rules-based construction environment for creating large, interactive, immersive urban environments, long of particular interest to educators working with students anxious to work in the modeling and gaming realm.


Like most elements of the Bundle beyond the basic Map Viewer and Scene Viewer in ArcGIS Online, access to these new tools is established by explicit provisioning, typically according to the user's "type" and "role." These can also be managed individually, but handling more than a few in a manual and one-off fashion is inefficient and can be time consuming.


As with all products in the ArcGIS family, a host of resources are available for learning to work with them. See the product pages, the documentation, the Learn site, Esri Academy, and GeoNet for various forms of guidance.

Doing powerful things with basic tools is far more impressive than doing basic things with powerful tools. Dramatic results can come from even a wee bit of well-crafted field work. And good projects can become great by engaging the power of GIS. These were just three lessons demonstrated by the school group on stage during the Monday plenary of the 2019 Esri User Conference. Before a registered attendance of 19,000, students from the small town of Lurgan in Northern Ireland, as part of the Shared Education Project, demonstrated these and other lessons for teachers everywhere, all while showing nations across the world that historic differences can be overcome.


(If you did not see the session live and have not seen the video, please watch it now before continuing.)


Esri UC 2019 Plenary Students


For a few hours on a cold winter day, geography teachers from three schools took 45 students on a bus around town to visit 15 sites, where students were to record two pieces of sentiment data, their school name, a photo of the site, and maybe some thoughts for improving things. The students -- from a Catholic school for ages 11-18, a mostly Protestant school for ages 11-14, and a mostly Protestant school for ages 14-18 -- collected 475 entries, using their phones and a simple survey. They returned to one school and looked at the data together.


The facts above could be replicated by most schools: What do students think about their community? Giving students the permission to share their thoughts and feelings is an important practice by itself. But for greatest benefit, educators must craft the experience carefully, asking clear questions and making it easy for participants to generate good data. Then, explore the patterns and relationships, going beyond the simplistic to tease out the full richness that geographic analysis illuminates.


The skills detectable in this story are legion: project architecture including thoughtful geographic consideration; database design; technological preparation (here, instruction on how to access and use the survey); careful data gathering; exploration of the raw data; in-depth interrogation, geographic analysis, and interpretation of data; and planning of next steps. All these students participated in a life-altering experience, in a single day. They learned powerful lessons, going far beyond what might have come from "just another typical day in class," which will influence their lives and ripple far beyond, for decades.


Good teachers, designing activities to engage students in powerful ways, and employing the tools and practices of geographic analysis, can work what seem miracles. Every school has the chance to engage these GIS tools for free, and every GIS professional can help nearby educators learn to do such projects. Imagine a world where the differences we share are understood. Let's build it, together. As the video notes, "these students are not our tomorrow … they are our today."

The ArcGIS School Bundle is a powerful set of GIS software available to all K12 schools and youth clubs at no cost for instruction. The core component is an ArcGIS Online Organization (“Org”), with logins sufficient for all students and educators. With it, GIS is being used in all grades and subjects, on all manner of technology, across USA and around the world.


The US map of Bundle sites is a little deceiving when zoomed to a local level, as every site uses a common icon. Some locations implement the Org in a centralized fashion, from school district outward, serving a few to many schools under a single license; this is efficient and makes it seamless when students shift from one school to another, but it requires special attention to keep the organization tidy and powerful. The most common model across USA operates at the individual school level, generally with one or two teachers coordinating activities and optimizing the look and feel for their special needs; the challenge here is expanding awareness and use of the resources.


Future blogs will dive deeply into administering Orgs for schools. Effective administration is the difference between an Org that enhances instruction versus one that is simply a bank of digital lockers. These resources will help administrators understand the Org and how to take best advantage of it in instruction:


The current ArcGIS School Bundle has a fixed calendar, running through 31 July 2020. At that time, active licenses will be extended for another three years, perhaps shifting slightly in configuration to serve instruction even better. The ArcGIS platform continues to evolve, with new opportunities coming into view every few months. Esri is committed to providing the most compelling resources to K-12 schools (primary and secondary) at no cost for instruction through at least the most distant milestone currently visible for the Bundle — 31 July 2023. At the accelerating pace of evolution, it’s hard even to guess what will be possible then!

Results are in for the 2019 ArcGIS Online Competition for US High School and Middle School Students! Congratulations to the national winners and honorable mentions at both levels, and to the 40 other state winners competing for the grand prize -- a trip to the 2019 Esri Education Summit and Esri User Conference. And cheers to the 124 other awardees who, just like the state and national winners, each earned $100 and important skills for the future.


A Story Map about the competition includes all the 2019 results and links to the creations of all 168 awardees. All four national awardees demonstrated strength in the competition's three essential elements: good geographic analysis, good cartography, and good documentation. These students (three soloists and one duo) show how clear geographic thinking using GIS can clarify the patterns and relationships that build understanding, answer questions, and solve problems.


 2019 Competition Results


A number of other entries were also strong in their own way -- powerful, enlightening, entertaining, even endearing -- so see the creations by all the state leaders and other awardees. Exposing students to many examples is important, as there are innumerable topics, data sets, tools, techniques, and strategies for presentation. Teachers, club leaders, and mentors who want to help students build skills should explore these and talk about the overall challenge: identifying a topic, researching it, drawing conclusions, and presenting the results in a format that is focused, clarifying, engaging, and consumable.


Teachers need not allocate significant in-class time or instruction about the competition, although some did. With the array of instructional resources available, students can learn a lot on their own, but they do need that first exposure, and 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, links to local mentors (see Map#4) and instructional opportunities (see Maps #6 and #7), so all students can participate. This year's high school winners have strong GIS experience, but the middle school winners are new to GIS, so there are opportunities for all to engage and succeed.


The 2020 competition will operate much like 2019, with states applying to participate in the fall. Start planning now, with a visit to see the terrific work by high school and middle school students.

It's #TeacherAppreciationWeek, and Tuesday is #NationalTeacherDay. As if all the thanks teachers deserve could be distilled into one week, much less a single day. They don't do it for thanks, and certainly not for money. It is for most a calling, a drive to help others develop. They change the world, one learner at a time, 15 or 50 or 150 per year, with impact rippling out for generations. The best interweave knowledge, skill, art, backwards design, mind reading, Sherlock Holmes, and alchemy.


Esri has witnessed and documented this "magic," for all to see. It comes from social studies and English teachers at the Math, Science, and Technology Magnet Academy of Roosevelt High School, part of Los Angeles Unified School District. Roosevelt lies in the heart of Boyle Heights, a storied community of predominantly Hispanic heritage. MSTMA accepts students from beyond walking distance, and some ride multiple buses over an hour each way to attend.


MSTMA eleventh graders engage in a special project, begun by two teachers (now a quartet) who wanted students in teams to investigate deeply something of personal interest and local significance. Investigation and analysis, interdependence and independence, initiative and trust, persistence and creativity, empathy and intensity … it's all there, braided in daily social studies and English classes that start gently in fall, build like a river, and surge in spring toward each team's data, maps, paper, and diverse presentations to school, community, and professional audiences. Teachers orchestrate the big schedule, adapting on the fly, working with one to fifty at a time. They propose, point, question, listen, watch, coax, restrain, coach, highlight, critique, boost, and somehow manage the turmoil. The students, struggling against substantial challenges, somehow, come together in their teams, learning fundamental lessons, with outcomes they truly own and will never forget.


So, #ThankATeacher. See, celebrate, and share this video playlist on YouTube.


YouTube playlist of MSTMA

Administrators of an ArcGIS Online Organization account have important responsibilities. They control all permissions and settings in the Org, including invitations, entry, and privileges. So I am astonished when teachers seek assistance because the ONLY admin in the Org has left the school. I'm gobsmacked when I learn it happened months ago. Good Org management means there should always be someone who can get into the guts of the Org and do key administrative tasks within 24 hours. This is so easy to set up in advance, and so much harder after someone is gone.


Let's say Alex launches the Org. She invites 10 teachers into the Org, gives them Publisher status, helps them log in, and sets up single sign-on so all 7th graders can be Users in the Org. This is a good start, but not enough. Alex needs to find at least one helper, someone who can do tasks when she is out of contact. So Alex promotes Billie and Carly to admin. Done, right? Again, it's a good next step, but not enough, because Alex is still the only "primary admin."


Primary admins receive all important communications from Esri about ArcGIS Online in general or about this one specific Org. They receive emails when a user runs out of credits or requests a password reset. There is ALWAYS AT LEAST ONE admin set as primary. Any admin, and any number of admins, can be given primary status, or have it revoked, unless that admin is the only primary, and every Org should have at least two. To configure primary admins (shown below as "Designated Administrators"), follow the 1-2-3-4-5 click sequence in the image here.


ArcGIS Online Org admin setup


Esri is happy to provide an ArcGIS School Bundle free to schools and clubs for instructional use. It's a powerful instructional resource. But as fans of a certain "superhero web guy" know, "With great power comes ... great responsibility." Good ArcGIS Online Org administration is a process, not an event. See more essential considerations for good Org administration for schools at

Last week, Minnesota lost a key player in the rise of GIS in K12 education. Scott Freburg retired from the MN Dept of Education. But the state hasn't lost as much as it might seem. Freburg has been a difference-maker, and such folks often stick around, making more waves.


He had his first experiences with remote sensing and GIS in college in the mid-1980s, and started going to conferences and getting to know people. After doing GIS for several organizations, he joined MDE in 2006. In addition to building a strong enterprise GIS, over the years he has helped a number on staff get into using GIS regularly. A quiet and behind-the-scenes guy, he played a key role in getting a state license started for MN just as ArcGIS Online Organizations were becoming available to states.


His "cannonball into the swimming pool" event was in fall of 2013, talking to the MN GIS/LIS group, asking who might be willing to help local teachers by running a simple workshop. The next summer, 25 volunteers ran 40 events across the state, for almost 300 teachers. That wave still ripples today.


Scott Freburg

At Esri's 2014 T3G educator institute, Freburg temporarily closes the laptop to focus on tablet and smartphone.


In fall of 2015, Freburg's dream took a next big step, launching the Minnesota GIS Educators' Day, a one-day training for educators, during the school week, at the front end of the state GIS/LIS event. Teachers' substitute costs and travel costs are paid by the GIS community, and GIS professionals join the teachers for lunch, hear educators and students and mentors speak, and hear the call again to join forces. The 2015 event was a success, which grew in 2016, and again in 2017, and bigger still in 2018. Through quiet conversations, helping people over the years, sharing good ideas, and showing up, Freburg has fostered in Minnesota's professional GIS community a commitment to the K12 teachers who bring thousands of students into GIS.



Freburg (front right) and teachers at 2015 MN GIS Educator Day


"The GIS/LIS group had a scholarship fund for higher ed folks for years, so it wasn't hard to get agreement on allocating funds for K12 as well," he said. "Four of those scholarship winners in eight years have become teachers. And, y'know, one is the teacher whose kids won Esri's national high school competition both years. So it all comes around. It's gonna keep building." (See also AAG's GeoMentor profile.)


What's in store for Freburg? Maybe a little more baseball and golf, a little less database management. There's a first grandchild soon. But there are also teachers to visit, all over the state. "We'd like to visit all the state parks in Minnesota … and … maybe schedule some trainings around them." Could be even bigger waves ahead.

For over 25 years, students in school have learned "standard classroom content" using GIS. Some have honed their skills further through research projects as club activities, or submitted independent work to competitions. And students in elementary, middle, and high school have engaged in service projects, making a real difference in their communities. Occasionally, students have parlayed those skills into advanced personal opportunities. For 15 years, 12th graders in Virginia’s "Geospatial Semester" have earned college credit through a GIS elective class. Similarly, Hopeworks in Camden NJ has included GIS as an option in their training program. But it has been hard to find a situation in which multiple students stepped in, studied the technology on their own initiative, learned enough to seek an internship, and used that as a springboard into a job ... until now.


Michigan’s GRACE project is a statewide, multi-tiered effort consciously leveraging the software and training resources made available by Esri for free to any school. GRACE builds capacity among both teachers and students, with a special emphasis on getting students to climb a ladder toward internships. This has succeeded in locations across the state, with dozens of students getting multi-week paid internships. But in one location, it has gone farther, with students now in the local workforce, working steady part-time jobs as paid GIS technicians.


Head south from Detroit toward Toledo, Ohio, and before crossing the border you are in Monroe County. At Monroe High School, science teacher Russell Columbus had used GIS with students for over a decade, interacting with a county GIS manager early on to get some data. As a GRACE leader, Columbus posted flyers in school about internship possibilities, and handled inquiries. Students would be responsible for completing a set of Esri Training courses online, totaling over 30 hours, on their own, but following a pathway with suggested milestones. After students had earned the required course certificates, they prepared for interviews, which went well enough for several to earn paid internships, as had been happening across the state. But in Monroe, several student experiences were positive enough for both host and intern that all agreed to extend them into steady jobs for the county.


(Main: Monroe County maps using data from interns.

Inset: Vitale and stack of >4000 edited parcels.)


With a growing supply of local GIS talent, Jeff Boudrie, the GIS manager for the Planning Commission of Monroe County, says "We can now handle things that benefit the entire county ... work we couldn’t do before because we didn’t have the data." The students have been building the parcel map for the county, handling thousands of records, which in turn has supported numerous projects of economic value to individual citizens, communities, and the county. Now, other groups are adding interns, and Monroe County is able to help communities lacking their own trained local GIS workforce. Student/intern/employee Donovan Vitale will graduate from high school this year with almost three years of steady professional work experience, with the components of a digital portfolio that will turn heads, and a deep understanding of the complex relationships between land, laws, policy, data, transparency, publicity, and community development. (See this profile of the Monroe County story in Directions Magazine, and this webinar about the GRACE Project including interviews with GRACE leaders plus [starting at 20:00] Boudrie and Vitale.)


Students building skills sufficient to mold for themselves a future and even a career with GIS is a vision many people share. It can indeed happen, where students are responsible for their own learning, adults support introductory workplace experiences, and there are at least a few in the right places who grasp how GIS can galvanize problem-solving. There is a vast bank of work that schools and districts, plus business, government, and the non-profit sector, would like to have done. High school students are largely tech-savvy, willing to engage, and have "disposable time." Communities everywhere seeking opportunity to improve would benefit by spending an hour investigating the links, and deciding if they too can follow a treasure map.

Across USA, educators are changing the landscape. In 2009, Esri launched Teachers Teaching Teachers GIS (or "T3G"), an institute for educators wanting to help other educators use GIS for instruction. In T3G, exploring the latest GIS capacities goes hand-in-hand with attention to classroom content, demos of instructional strategies, discussions of professional development, and strategies for problem-solving. Participants commit to spreading to others the power of GIS and Esri's free tools and materials, through workshops, presentations, mentoring, and more.


T3G Online and resources


T3G 2019 is a synchronous online event, with four hours on each of two consecutive Saturdays (July 20 and July 27). Participants need to arrive already comfortable with the fundamentals of using ArcGIS Online, teaching with technology, and providing professional development. T3G 2019 will help participants merge the three. The information page links to key resources for building those critical foundations in advance.


Registration for T3G 2019 is now open, with 60 slots available. Participation is free, and expects commitment to share with others during the coming years. T3G grads have taught educators across USA (and beyond), growing the use of "ArcGIS School Bundles," building a collection of teacher videos, and encouraging students engaged in local projects and competitions. If you can help other teachers use GIS to transform education and improve the world, join us, at!

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