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Esri Frequent Contributor

What did you do for GIS Day 2020?  I hope you had a spatial time.   Over 1,200 events were registered and hosted all over the world, by universities, schools, government agencies, nonprofit organizations, and private industry.   In this article I list some of the events I was privileged to present in virtually, mention a few others, and ask you in the community what you were up to!   Many of these events used ArcGIS Hub and other innovative tools and ideas for advertizing and hosting their events. 


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Esri Contributor

If you have activated your Schools Mapping Software Bundle, use these resources as a best practice for getting your Organization up and running. Email with any additional questions.


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Esri Frequent Contributor

A new series of videos focused on the theme of "GIS Helps" is now online in the following playlist: 

These videos have been created in time for you to show at your upcoming GIS Day event, or beyond GIS Day, in instruction, or to your colleagues or employees, or in other settings.  During these times of health, wildfire, and other challenges, GIS is more needed than ever before, and hence the message that "GIS Helps" seems especially relevant. 


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Esri Frequent Contributor

We are fortunate at Esri to have a wide array of business partners that are helping us achieve a more sustainable and resilient planet.  One of these business partners is EarthViews.  EarthViews vision is to connect people to critically important aquatic and terrestrial ecosystems. EarthViews works with land, water managers and others to help achieve this mission.  To accomplish EarthViews' vision, they have developed technology to bring waterways to the desktop, mobile or VR device via easy-to-use, publicly available, 360 interactive virtual tours. These reality based maps have many uses for waterway safety, recreation, science, and conservation.


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Esri Regular Contributor

The ArcGIS Online Competition for US HS+MS Students challenges students in grades 4-12 to engage deeply with a local topic of individual interest, research it, and present findings in a StoryMap. At the launch of the 2019-2020 event, we dared to expect more states, more entries, and more profound work than ever. Students hit a big speedbump in March 2020 when Coronavirus interrupted school. Still, it was just late enough in the year that many students were well underway, and enough persisted to craft some very impressive Story Maps.


2020 results

Tumult continues into the 2020-2021 year, but students already have to be more independent learners than ever. The competition permits only solo or single partner work (see, so students with even moderate technology access and skills but driven by a question can have a field day, exploring options, tinkering with data, building crucial skills and understanding.


Esri encourages teachers to seize this chance to expose students to ArcGIS Online and start them on a long-term journey of their own design. This is ideal for those keen on physical, natural, and social sciences, but any student can pursue a local matter of interest. Addressing classroom content using ArcGIS Online (such as with GeoInquiries) in repeated experiences over months is a solid strategy for teachers to build curiosity and foster student skills in investigation, analysis, and presentation. Opportunity for a monetary prize or even a travel award should pale in comparison with building essential lifelong attitudes, skills, and knowledge.



But states hold a key for participation: states need a formal leadership team working with Esri to conduct the competition. This is the one challenge students alone can't beat, because it depends on a few GIS-savvy adults committing in advance to a little extra work on behalf of an unknown number of participants … from none to platoons. But just a few GeoMentors and education leaders willing to collaborate can launch a network exposing great opportunity to students (see


Today more than ever, we need students to build and demonstrate the ability to learn independently, tackle unfamiliar challenges, and see projects to completion. Esri's ArcGIS Online Competition for US High School and Middle School Students offers a perfect opportunity in the 2020-2021 school year.

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Esri Regular Contributor


Esri challenges US high school and middle school students (whether onsite, online, or hybrid) to create and share projects about something in their home states, striving to be among the best in the school, state, and nation. Esri's 2021 ArcGIS US School Competition is open to high school ("HS," gr.9-12) and middle school ("MS," gr.4-8) students in the US who can analyze, interpret, and present data via an ArcGIS storymap or web app.

Esri offers to all states the chance to participate, with grants to states supporting ten equal prizes of $100, for the five best HS and five best MS projects in the state. Schools can submit up to five projects to the state, and states submit to Esri up to ten awardees (up to 5 HS, up to 5 MS), with one project each at HS and MS tagged for a final level of competition. From across the nation, one HS project and one MS project will each earn a trip to the 2021 Esri Education Summit in San Diego, CA (if appropriate).

State Leadership Teams: Esri seeks state leadership teams to conduct each state's competition (limit of one team per state, covering all 4th-12th graders in the state). The team may consist of geo-savvy adults from schools, higher ed, informal ed, government, business, and non-profit realms; different types of expertise are important.

See the projects of all 2020 state awardees and previous years

ArcGIS Online School Competition Results Total

2019 HS+MS Competition Winners at 2019 Esri Conference

L-R: HS teacher Russell Columbus and HS winner Donovan Vitale, from Monroe, MI,

and MS winner Abby Ziehl and MS teacher Laurie Bohn, from Bloomington, MN

Click the pic to see their 8-min video interview from the Map Gallery at 2019 User Conference

2020-21 Contest Details

Elements below:

I. Eligibility

II. Entries

III. Awards

IV. State Registration, Mentoring, and Judging

V. Design/Judging Criteria

VI. Personally Identifiable Information (PII)

VII. State Leadership Teams

I. Eligibility

  1. Entrants must be pre-collegiate students, registered in grades 4-12 at the time of project submission, from public schools or non-public schools including home schools, who have not yet received a high school diploma or equivalent.
  2. Entrants must reside and be in school in the United States, including districts or territories, or attending a Department of Defense Education Association school: 50 states, District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam, Northern Mariana Islands, US Virgin Islands, American Samoa, and DODEA sites. (Thus, "state" in this document means one of these 57 units.)
  3. Students can work singly or in a team of two, but can participate in only one entry. Teams with one student in middle school (gr.4-8) and one in high school (gr.9-12) must be considered as high school. Entry level is determined by student's grade (MS= gr.4-8, HS= gr.9-12), not by school name (e.g Lincoln High School students in gr.7-8 participate in the MS competition). Student teams of two from different schools will be counted according to the school of the first student listed.
  4. Entrants may work on the challenge through a school, a club, an "educational pod," or independently, but entries must be submitted to the state from their primary school of record (a recognized school or home school), in case of engaging in activities at more that one location.
  5. Any school or home school program can submit to the state a maximum of five (5) entries total, counting the sum of middle school and high school entries.

II. Entries

  1. Entry forms (student/s to school, school to state, state to Esri) will be made available to state leads in January 2021.
  2. Entries must be from an ArcGIS Online Organization account (not a "public account"). Any K12 school (public, non-public, or homeschool) or formal youth club can request for free an ArcGIS School/Club Bundle (includes an ArcGIS Organization account).
  3. Entries must be in the form of a ArcGIS StoryMap ("new" template), or a Classic Story Map (any of the "classic" templates), or an ArcGIS web app (via template or builder).
  4. Entries must focus on content within the state borders. States may choose to refine the focus further, but the geographic scope of the project must be within the state. The project may reference data outside the state "for context," but may not extend the focus of the study beyond the state borders. For example, broader patterns of environmental characteristics or demographic movements may be referenced for context, but the focus must be on phenomena within the state.
  5. Schools must announce their own internal deadlines, in time to complete judging and provide information to the state by its deadline. States must announce their in-state deadlines, but can be no later than 5pm Pacific Time on Wed May 12, 2021. States must submit data to Esri no later than 5pm Pacific Time on Wed May 19, 2021.

III. Awards

  1. Esri will announce its awards decision by 5pm Pacific Time on Tue June 1, 2021
  2. If circumstances permit holding the 2021 Esri Education Summit as a physical public event, and if circumstances permit national awardees attending, Esri will provide a travel grant to one HS team and one MS team, each team consisting of the student(s) and at least one parent/guardian (could be teacher/rep). Awardee teams must agree to attend the Esri Education Summit ("EdUC"), arriving by 10amPT Sat July 10, and staying through at least 4pmPT Tue July 13, 2021. Awardees will be responsible for handling any tax implications, be personally identified including name and photograph, and post a graphic in the Esri User Conference ("UC") Map Gallery on Mon. Awardees will be recognized at EdUC and UC Map Gallery on Mon, and may have additional attention.
  3. Because only 1HS+1MS nominees from a state will be considered for the final national competition, in determining nominees for the national competition, states may consider, to the degree practical, the willingness and ability of awardees to attend in person the EdUC.
  4. Because it is impossible to foresee all circumstances, awards are subject to change or elimination.

IV. State Registration, Mentoring, and Judging

  1. States may determine but must announce in advance if they will require any form of "pre-registration" by schools as potential participants, and any cutoff date. Any such exclusive operation must be clearly announced and applied equitably.
  2. States are encouraged to establish an "Early Mentoring" option. In this scenario, states set an "Early Mentoring" deadline, recommended as no later than Fri March 19, 2021. Entries submitted to the state leadership group by the state deadline would go to state mentors for review and comment (but not scoring), so students might benefit from learned guidance. States would be responsible for constructing and implementing their own submission/ comment/ return process, ensuring adequate opportunity for mentors to review and respond, and students to consider and revise. Any such process should require "transparency," to foster good instruction and prevent inappropriate communication; only a student's parent/ guardian/ teacher/ leader should be communicating with the student; all other communication should be between adults. In considering this model, states are encouraged to seek early commitments from many mentors.
  3. States using an "Early Mentoring" process may determine but must announce clearly in advance if entries must have gone through the formal "Early Mentoring" process to be accepted for final state judging, and must apply the policy equitably.

V. Design/Judging Criteria

  1. Account: Entries must be from an ArcGIS Online Organization account, not a "public account." This can be an Org operated by, e.g., the student's school or club, the district, the state GIS Education Team, or similar group. The entry must be able to remain visible publicly without login through at least June 2022 (one year past the close of this event), ideally longer.
  2. Login: Entries must be visible without requiring a login. Entries engaging "premium data" (login required, such as premium content from Living Atlas) must set the display to permit access without needing a login. See helpful note.
  3. Originality: Entries must be "original work by students," conceived, created, and completed entirely by the student(s) submitting the entry. Class projects turned into an entry by one student, and teacher-directed projects, are not acceptable. Projects may use data generated by outside persons or institutions, within guidelines of "fair use." (Students are encouraged to use appropriate professionally generated GIS data, but these must be documented, and the integration, treatment, and presentation must be original.)
  4. Visual Supports: Because this is meant to be a "map-centric" exploration, analysis, and presentation of a geographic phenomenon, use of "non-map visuals" (images and videos) is limited. Exceeding the limits means a "progressive reduction in judged score." The limits are:
    1. total up to 60 seconds of video, and
    2. total up to two images not created by the project author (e.g. 1 historic portrait photo plus 1 historic landscape photo), and
    3. total up to five images created by the project author (replication of project maps as smaller/thumbnail images, and items visible as popups within interactive maps, do not count against these limits).
  5. Short URL: Entries must provide to the school/ state/ Esri two links in "short URL" format
    (e.g. "https;//"), where
    1. one link goes to the primary display page (the app or storymap), and
    2. one link goes to the item details page (the metadata page for the app or storymap). (A link to the item details page of a shared app will require a login if the Org does not permit anonymous access and the link uses the form "<my_org>;" to avoid this, change the link to the form "" before creating a short URL. Ad hoc short URLs can be generated at
  6. Scoring: The state can vary this, and even use different systems for HS and MS, but must apply the same system to all entries in a single grade band, and the system must be clarified for the entrants at the start. The national competition will use this system, and recommends it or something similar:
    "We look for a clear focus/topic/question/story, good and appropriate data, effective analysis, good cartography, effective presentation, and complete documentation. The element by element analysis in the 2020 national results presents good examples of what is sought in a project."
  7. Project Tips:
    1. Look at previous national winners and honorable mention projects, and especially the 2020 results. This is a "map competition." Entries should address an identified issue/ puzzle/ challenge, not just documenting what's where, but looking at "why it's there, and so what." Entries should be analytical in nature, map-centric rather than photo-centric or relying on too much text. Use of videos or static images generated by anyone other than the team members must be carefully documented, and such media should be used sparingly; outside content generally detracts in national judging. The project must emphasize student work; professionally generated GIS data generally does not detract from national scores this way. A good way to judge project balance quickly is to identify the amount of time a viewer would spend consuming the entire project; map-based time and attention should be at least two thirds.
    2. Good projects gently help even a viewer unfamiliar with the region know quickly the location of the project focus. Requiring a viewer to zoom out several times to determine the region of focus detracts from the viewing experience. (Pretend the viewer is from a different part of the country, or a different country.)
    3. Maps should invite interactive exploration by the viewer, not be static ("images"). The presentation should hold the attention of the viewer from start to finish.
    4. Maps should demonstrate "the science of where" -- the importance of location, patterns, and relationships between layers. There is an art to map design; too much data may feel cluttered, but showing viewers only one layer at a time may limit the viewers' easy grasp of relationships.
    5. Care should be taken to make "popups" useful, limited to just the relevant information. They should add important information, and be formatted to make the most critical information easily consumable. These popups can include formatted text, key links, images, data presented in charts, and so forth.
    6. Document the project thoroughly. The 2020 awardees highlighted for documentation, and preceding national winners, show good documentation: organized and thorough.

VI. Personally Identifiable Information (PII)

  1. Schools should consider issues around exposing PII. See for strategies for minimizing PII. Teachers and club leaders should help students minimize exposure of their own PII and that of others, including in map, image, and text.
  2. States must help potential entrants understand the level of PII required. Entries submitted to Esri for the top national prize (i.e. 1-HS and 1-MS) must agree in advance to expose student names, school names, and school city/state (homeschool students would be identified to closest city/town name).
  3. Esri does not seek, collect, or accept student names for any entrants other than the national prize entrants (1-HS and 1-MS per state). These and only these will have names exposed by Esri.

VII. State Leadership Teams

  1. Team leaders should apply using a form downloadable below. (There should be only one entry per state. Communicate with your in-state colleagues; collaboration is key.)
  2. State application deadline is Tue Dec.1, 2020. States submitting a complete application by Fri Nov.13, 2020, will get an "earlybird" email promotion from Esri to our connections in the state advertising the state's participation.
  3. The state leadership team is the key to student participation in a state. All students in grades 4-12 are eligible to participate if a state has submitted an application to and been recognized by Esri. If there is not a formal state leadership team, no students from the state may submit entries.
  4. State leadership teams can include anyone who is willing to help develop the state rules and apply things fairly for all students in the state. Team members can be teachers, education leaders, college instructors, GIS practitioners, nonprofit or for-profit groups, or any adults interested in students across the state being able to participate. (See this blog for a good example.)
  5. The tasks that must be handled by the leadership team are these:
    1. Decide state customizations: particular themes, dates, and participation policies.
    2. Submit appropriate paperwork to Esri, including the address of the state website and active email to which state participants may submit questions. The paperwork defines whom Esri will deal with on rules, participation, and grant funds.
    3. Post the necessary information, including state customizations, to a publicly accessible website. This can be quite elaborate, or not (see MN 2020 and CA 2021 examples); even just a single page of text works, as long as it is publicly visible and provides all the relevant info. (Good options are traditional websites, ArcGIS hubs, storymaps, etc.)
    4. Let schools, clubs, educators, and students across the state know about the competition, website, and email with active marketing. (Good marketing differentiates successful states from others. It is a process, not a single event; producing the web page is necessary but not sufficient.)
    5. Recruit and organize judges, and coordinate any "early mentoring option" communication.
    6. Post the state's official versions of Esri's template entry forms.
    7. Ensure the entries from school to state carry complete information.
    8. Submit to Esri complete information about participation and awardees from the state.
    9. Receive funds and distribute prizes


Email Charlie Fitzpatrick, Esri K12 Education Manager,

Shortcut to this page =

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by Esri Regular Contributor
Esri Regular Contributor

I wanted to explore scale and how it affects maps and share that with my kids. So we got out some white paper, drew some maps, and had some fun playing with how it worked. I've written about our exploration and encourage you to try it with your littles!

Draw San Francisco 

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Esri Frequent Contributor

I am frequently asked by the education community, "How can GIS be used to create quizzes that are interesting, that foster spatial thinking, that provide benefits to students and instructors?"


Let me begin by stating that I am especially keen on using quizzes if their primary benefit is to help students learn and provide students with a way to reflect upon their own progress.  I am less keen on quizzes that only benefit the instructor.  Research in a wide variety of disciplines from physiology to geography affirms the value of quizzes that enhance student learning as the objective.

The kind of teaching and learning that working with GIS fosters is best measured, I believe, by such means as (1) evaluating a portfolio of student work, which could include story maps, reports, and other documents that they assemble into a story map collection or other set of digital documents; (2) evaluating student asynchronous or synchronous presentations using a variety of media in a face-to-face or online course environment, where the student presentations may include you, the instructor, but also their peers, and even other students in a “colloquium” type of session; (3) map-based assessments that may or not include a rubric (such as these examples from the University of Minnesota).  

That said, quizzes still have their place in education.  Research affirms the value of quizzes that use interactive and engaging multimedia, which is exactly what GIS offers.  With some creative thinking, GIS tools and spatial data can be effectively used to create and administer quizzes.  These quizzes can be used in teaching about GIS, such as in a GIS, remote sensing, or GI Science course, or in teaching with GIS, in geography, sociology, environmental studies, history, mathematics, or other disciplines.  You can either screen shot specific map content and use those shots in your Learning Management System, PDF, PowerPoint, or other means, or you can create them in an interactive mode that takes advantage of web GIS technology such as ArcGIS Online.  In this essay, I provide examples of both.  I welcome your comments and look forward to seeing what you have created.

1.  Quizzes About Content and Skills.  The attached "week 3 quiz" document is an example of the type of quiz that I have found most effective over the years in instruction. In multi-week courses, I give one of these types of quizzes at the end of each week.  I have found such quizzes effective because (1) they are short, (2) they include a few questions on skills (GIS, presentation, data), a few questions on content (in this case, it is part of a cartography and geo-visualization course, so the content includes color theory, classification methods, and the like), and 1 question on "what was the most significant thing you learned this week, and why?", and (3) they are designed so that the student can focus on the important elements of that week and reflect on their own learning and progress. 

2.  Landforms Quiz using Esri Base Maps.
Let's a traditional quiz that is based on a resource that I and other earth science instructors used for decades, the Set of 100 Topographic Map Features.  See attached for this quiz.  Using the USA Topo maps layer in ArcGIS Online, which are derived from USGS topographic maps, you can capture any landforms that you wish to quiz students on.  See the attached matching exercise focused on some really fascinating landforms—tombolos, karst, drumlins, and more.   Another wonderful aspect about the topographic maps layer is that you have access to three scales:  1:24,000-scale, 1:100,000-scale, and 1:250,000-scale.  A natural extension of this activity is to use the 3D scene viewer in ArcGIS Online as you give a geomorphology quiz.  

3.  Imagery. Imagery captivates and inspires, and makes excellent basemaps from which you can create quizzes about issues, current events, phenomena, places, past processes, and current processes active on the landscape.   These include hurricanes, volcanism, fluvial processes, agricultural expansion, glacial retreat, urbanization and urban forms, coastal and soil erosion, and much more.  The ArcGIS platform, including the ArcGIS Living Atlas of the World, gives you access to a wide variety of imagery—UAV, Lidar, Sentinel-2, Landsat, high resolution current and historical visible imagery, and much more. 

4.  Pattern Recognition. Another type of quiz is to ask students to identify the pattern where they have to make a hypothesis of the variable that is being mapped.  I created the following choro-quiz (choropleth quiz) as an example:    Given the vast number of maps in ArcGIS Online, including, again, the ArcGIS Living Atlas of the World, there will be no shortage of maps you can use, for your country or for the world.  You can start with world countries and then include some choropleth maps on administrative units (states, provinces, regions) within your own country.  To make the quiz more challenging, consider zooming to your own city and mapping certain variables at the census tract, enumeration district, block group, or other statistical area appropriate for your part of the world.  Business Analyst Web, with its hundreds of variables including fascinating data on consumer behavior, makes another excellent source for such a quiz.  See if you can identify the variable among the three choices given in each; for example, the quiz begins with this question:The choro-quiz.

Part of the choro-quiz.  Do you know what the answer is?

5.  Using the ArcGIS Online Presentation Mode. ArcGIS Online includes a presentation mode that is simple and effective at creating quizzes.  In a matter of minutes, you can create your own, using your own maps, or maps already in ArcGIS Online, with text for the clues and answers.  Here are several examples that I created that I hope provide some ideas:  Name That Place includes natural places (such as famous waterfalls) and human-built places (such as cities with famous river and street patterns).   I created another quiz using this presentation mode focused on world islands, as well as this one focused on fun and interesting facts about 10 state capitals in the USA.    In each of them, I provide the answers.  A variation on this theme is my presentation quiz entitled Weird Earth, and as the name implies, it is designed to test student knowledge as well as foster curiosity about our amazing planet. Again, answers are provided.Quiz world islands

Part of the World Islands quiz, using the ArcGIS presentation mode.

6.  Use Multimedia! Today’s modern ArcGIS platform can incorporate multimedia, so don’t feel confined to maps and images only.  For example, my sounds of Planet Earth includes a quiz on 100 sounds, from pounding waves to crunching leaves, fr....  You could effectively use video, or images, as well!

Quiz sounds around the world.

Part of the 100 Sounds of Planet Earth story map.

7.  Photographs Tied To Maps. From time to time I create and use photographs tied to maps for quizzes to foster spatial thinking and considerations about landforms, vegetation, climate, and human impact, such as this Colorado Geography Quiz.    I embedded this quiz inside a story map.  Here is a similar one I created for a presentation I gave in California.  And another one with 8 points and photographs in Wyoming.

Quiz Wyoming

Part of a quiz asking participants to match the correct-photo to the correct location, in Wyoming, as part of a story map.

I occasionally use Street View images for these types of quizzes, asking students to identify the place based on what they can observe on the physical and cultural landscape.  However, I don’t have permission from Google for the images yet, and if I developed additional ones similar to this, I would seek permission or use Mapillary or my own images for the source.

8. The Platform Approach.  When you are using ArcGIS, you are using a platform.  Combine elements of that platform for some very creative quizzes.  As one example, you could create and use a Survey123 as a quiz, and you can embed that quiz inside a story map.  This is what the Port of Tacoma did for GIS Day 2018 – Survey, here.    My colleague Tom Baker used Survey123 and Google Forms for these quizzes, and also for this one on time zones, which are a part of a discussion on programmed instruction.   Along these lines, here is one of my own Google forms to test geography about coordinates and GIS

Quiz ports of the world.

A section of the Port of Tacoma’s quiz about famous ports of the world, with a survey embedded inside a story map.

9.  Treasure Hunts. As another example, with the help of the story maps team, I created a quiz on the pioneers of Geography and GIS, for GIS Day and beyond.  I provide the quiz here to spark ideas, but keep in mind that this was a custom application and is not replicable in exactly this same way.  Each question 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, you must frame the solution within the map viewfinder using the map's pan/zoom functions.

Intrigued?  Consider using these other quizzes in the “Treasure Hunts” theme.  Here is a collection of 10 treasure hunt quizzes … beaches, mountains, cities, places, foods, and more.  

Quiz pioneers of geography and GIS

Quiz pioneers of geography and GIS

Sections of the geography and GIS pioneers treasure hunt quiz.

Which type of quizzes do you think GIS is most effective for?  I look forward to your comments. 

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Esri Regular Contributor

What I would do, were I still teaching? My practice, even in benign times, was to contemplate "If this were my students' last class ever in this field, what would I want them to leave with?" Above all else, I wanted them to be integrative critical thinkers, disposed to asking questions and learning insatiably. Today would likely be no different, and because of that we would take deep advantage of two tools: storymaps and dashboards.

Storymaps (whether ArcGIS StoryMaps or Classic Story Maps) allow the creator to design a presentation of content. The components can be galactic in scope, so creators must exercise self-control. Maps, apps, text, images, and video can be integrated and choreographed to maximize impact. Users can navigate out of sequence, but generally follow the author's plan. Some templates support "more story," while others support "more maps for investigation."

Dashboards allow the creator to take full advantage of rich numeric and categorical data about a topic, but leave it to the user to determine the path of exploration. Well-designed dashboards give enough info for the user to grasp the content of an element, and simply invite exploration, so different users may follow wildly different routes.

StoryMaps and Dashboards picture

Storymaps, then, are ideal for presenting content and a vision, while dashboards are ideal for presenting content that emphasizes personal pondering and extensive investigation. Which is better? Both, of course! Like pliers and wrenches, still photos and videos, playlists and channels, each has advantages. Storymaps allow deep presentations; dashboards foster discovery. Were I teaching today, each would play a critical role in my classroom, whether focused on science or social studies, whether we were together in time and space or having virtual and even asynchronous interactions, whether students were younger or older. Building integrative critical thinkers, disposed to asking questions and learning insatiably, is what will help us survive and prosper.

Consider these examples:

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Esri Regular Contributor

"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.

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