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Esri Regular Contributor

See who is in and who is not yet in the 2021 ArcGIS Online Competition for US HS+MS Students, and see how to help all states participate.


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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

Does what you did in 7th grade affect you today? To software developer Nate Ebel, that's a "no-brainer." In July of 2002, after 7th grade at Jenifer Junior High in Lewiston (Idaho), Ebel was at Esri's User Conference, with a classmate and their veteran teacher, Steve Branting. All year, they had looked at real world situations, including the history of their community. The class won an Esri competition for schools to map and analyze their community, earning a trip to San Diego, and the chance to present on stage to thousands of GIS professionals.

Esri User Conference 2002. L-R: Nate Ebel, Ian Coleman, teacher Steve Branting

"We'd had a computer but I had never used it for more than a little typing and playing some games," said Ebel. "This was my first exposure to doing cool things, including GIS, on the computer. That sent me down the technologist path. I remember thinking I would be some kind of engineer, but didn't know what. From that work with Steve, I wanted to be technology focused, more GIS. Up until my senior year of college I planned to go fully into GIS, and was already in that role. In summer before junior year of college, I got a job as a GIS intern with Lewiston Public Works." It went well, so Ebel worked 10-20 hours per week during the school year and full-time in summer for two years.

Ebel was a geography major with GIS emphasis. He had tried but didn't like a general computer science and programming class. But he took a GIS programming class and realized "Here's how we can write code to make these GIS projects at work easier to solve. Solving real world problems clicked in a way the general CS instruction didn't. It was just like back in our original work with Steve." Applying these new skills, he showed up at work, two weeks into a GIS project that was expected to consume two people full-time for 6-9 months, and said "Hey, I think I've pretty much finished this project." It worked, saving a huge amount of time and money. "This is where I thought 'THIS is what I want to do now.' I was in school for two more years to get a masters in computer science, and then got a software developer internship at Esri in 2013. I spent the summer at Esri, finished up one last year of school, and worked for Esri again, for two and a half years on the Android development team."

Having started with GIS in 7th grade using ArcView 3, when Ebel began work at Esri he had already had ten years of GIS experience. "That really gave me a leg up. I had domain knowledge, and could contribute to discussions and decisions." Changes led Ebel beyond Esri to different companies. "I wanted to teach. I started doing some public speaking. I'm an engineer first, but went out of my way to host meetups, and help people learn to write Android apps. I really enjoy meeting people, sharing information, creating tutorials. Through all of this was the thread of GIS and computers."

As we talked, we looked at the project from 2002. "There! That DEM [digital elevation model], that's mine. I still really enjoy DEMs; doing the map probably piqued my interest. And seeing the marker that the town put up in the park after our work was so formative. Out of the 7th grade activity came this bigger project with Steve that kept me interested and active; every year we would work with Steve, to follow up on this, do more research, then travel places to speak. There are so many different skill sets beyond just sitting down at the computer and processing data."

That 7th grade class was not a GIS class per se, but "something like 'Learn to solve problems.' He got us to look at a problem from different perspectives. He trained us to look at things from all these different angles, to make inferences, to use data. The whole first part of the course was training us to think about solving problems. When I talk with people today, one piece of advice I give is that tools and libraries are not as important as they seem. There's all this attention to inputs and outputs, but I try to teach people that how you think about the problem is much more relevant, and more challenging than being able to sit down and write the actual code. That's what Steve was doing with us."

For info on using GIS with K12 students, for free, even remotely, see Esri's program for schools.

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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 Regular Contributor

Of all the remarkable collections of maps and apps Esri offers for exploration, one of my faves for a teacher is the Policy Maps collection. (See Fun with GIS 259 for background.) Not just a grab bag of maps, it is an environment in which users can study deeply, discover quickly, and share widely, exploring key patterns in their community, and do it all without login. Most maps have scale-dependent data and rich info waiting to be exposed by clicking on an area.

Wanting to create a resource for teachers in various conditions to use, I assembled a set of 28 from the hundreds available. Educators can explore, re-center to their region, subset, and distribute to their students via shortURL or email, all in under 10 minutes, giving students hours of investigation and discovery.

Policy Maps

In a single click, you have those 28 maps at your fingertips, without login (navigate using the panel at left or "<" and ">" arrows at top right). In seconds, you can recenter the map to your location in the 50 states, then export a different shortURL (for Twitter) or full email with contents and link.

My set centered on Minneapolis and St.Paul. Go to for this pre-built sequence:

  1. What is the most common race/ethnicity?
  2. Race/Ethnicity with Lowest Median Income
  3. How diverse is the US?
  4. What is the predominant income range in the US?
  5. How expensive are living costs in your area?
  6. Households who spend more than 30 percent of income on housing
  7. Emergency Expense Risk Index
  8. Ratio of People Living Above vs. Below the Poverty Line
  9. Children in Poverty
  10. Where are disconnected youth?
  11. Are Youth Learning, Earning, Both, or Neither?
  12. Where are young adults living with their parents?
  13. Where are the people who started college but did not finish?
  14. Population 25+ with Bachelor's Degree or Higher Education Level (ACS)
  15. People in Households with No Internet Access
  16. Where are households using a Smartphone as their only computing device?
  17. Where are the most socially vulnerable populations in the U.S.?
  18. Where are those aged 65 and older?
  19. Where are adults with limited English ability?
  20. Unemployment in the United States in 2018
  21. Where do People Have Medicaid/Means-Tested Healthcare?
  22. Where are the Uninsured?
  23. Females with Disabled Status
  24. Males with Disabled Status
  25. Supermarket Access Map
  26. Job Accessibility by Walking and Transit (selected cities)
  27. Where are the Households with No Vehicle Available?
  28. Where didn't people self-respond to the 2020 Census?

How could you teach with your version of this? Here are some ideas:

  • Pick any 4 maps. Summarize some key patterns noticed. What highs and lows are visible? Are there factors which seem to vary directly or inversely?
  • Challenge students to create their own subset (e.g. 5, which could include maps I did not choose) that highlight salient features of your region relating to a current issue.
  • Ask students to explore a distant target community of note (regionally or nationally) and highlight differences between your home and the target.
  • Explore local discussions about equity and how the data does or doesn't match what is being described publicly.
  • Have students take on the roles of residents, mayor, or community planner, and identify some targets to explore more deeply, and even some strategies for building solutions.

If a picture paints a thousand words, a single map tells volumes of stories, and the combinations of content have limitless potential, for uncovering the impact of yesterday's events and policies, or discovering ways to build a better world today. Where will you explore?

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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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