Fun with GIS 289: Try It

04-19-2021 04:38 AM
Esri Regular Contributor
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In 1995,  I worked with a handful of teachers once a week, two hours per time, for a month. These were motivated teachers from one district, spending their own time, spanning grades, with diverse interests, but all keen to use ArcView. On my third visit, one teacher arrived with two students in tow, who just needed to be somewhere after school, and whom she later described as "a typical 5th grader and a typical 3rd grader." They were invited to work at a spare computer. In the first 30 minutes, we reviewed highlights from my two previous visits. At the 15-minute mark, a teacher asked a question which we had covered in both sessions and already mentioned in the review, and, without hesitation, the 5th grader answered. As we reviewed a skill from late in session two, the 5th grader watched and immediately explored outward. At the 30-minute mark, as we turned to new tasks, the 5th grader started assisting the neighboring teacher. As I talked about why and how we were going to change symbols, the 5th grader clicked the button we would soon use together. I congratulated him, and paused. The teacher asked "What did you do?" The boy replied "I clicked the button." Puzzled, the teacher said "Why?" Confused by the question, the boy said "It's ... it's what you do with a button." Still baffled, the teacher asked "But how did you know to click it?" Exasperated, the boy pointed at the screen and exclaimed "It's just a button! I just clicked it!"

Over the years, I have been flummoxed that many teachers hesitate to explore while aching to use GIS. They typically have in mind a specific project, often involving what would be advanced techniques. Most want to know everything, instantly, and many say "I won't teach this until I know how to do everything, and can solve any problem a student might have." Their hope seems to be a strict protocol to follow, covering every situation. One bright friend begged me for "a simple flow chart to cover all situations." I replied "Think of GIS tools and capacities like musical instruments, and the geographic inquiry process like the music in your mind. It takes exploring and practice to get close to generating the desired result."

I encourage teachers to try something simple first. Don't begin expecting immediate mastery, any more than you would in music, cooking, or parallel parking. While it helps to have a goal -- a vision of what could happen -- one needs to build experience with which to pursue that goal. Test drive! Try something you can conceive, design, do, and assess in __ minute/s. I start with 1 minute, then 2, 5, 10, and 60. That first project has to be small, so you can isolate steps, and quickly see cause and effect. Then, go a little bigger.


Want a 10-second project? Right now, with one finger, point and air-draw the outline of the ceiling where you are ... Go! ... Done! Ready for the next? On a computer, go to, click Map, click Search/Find ... "Whoa, wait a second! New Map Viewer or Map Viewer Classic?" Oh, come on now ... Try the one with which you are least familiar ... Click Search/Find and type your postal code, or city. Success? Find that of a friend ... then a place you want to visit. Three times is key.

Believe it or not, it can be hard to get teachers to do these initial test drives. Do it once, twice, a third time ... it gets easier. Same with clicking a button, changing a symbol, saving a map, creating a survey, designing a StoryMap. Don't expect immediate perfection ... Try whatever it is ... once ... twice ... a third time ... it's what students naturally want to do ... unless their spirit of exploration has been drilled or starved into submission. Maybe we can even bring that back, too. Try it, okay?

About the Author
** Esri Education Mgr, 1992-today ** Esri T3G staff, 2009-present ** Social Studies teacher, grades 7-12, 1977-1992 (St. Paul, MN) ** NCGE Distinguished Teacher Award 1991, George J Miller Award 2016 ** ** ** Only action based on education can save the world.