Tom’s Recommendations for a Competitive HS+MS Storymap in 2020-2021

06-04-2020 02:30 PM
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I have been able to judge the ArcGIS Online Competition for US High Schools and Middle Schoolssince it began.  I’d like to offer some tips to teachers and students as they consider creating competitive projects for the 2020-2021 school year.

1. Start with a clearly stated question.

This isn’t a book report. It’s an investigation aided by maps. Tell readers what you want to know, learn, or are curious about. This frames the entire story map and may mention how you plan to tackle the question or problem.

If most of your story map is telling about others’ data, stories, or information, then you may want to reconsider your question.

2. Storymaps have always been more competitive than apps.

According to the competition rules, you can submit apps.  But one has yet to win.  They don’t compete well because they usually don’t tell a clear story without explanation.

Regardless, all maps must be understandable. Include a legend or clear narrative to describe a map’s content.

3. The best projects involve collecting some data outdoors.

The data might be environmental, historical, or social but there’s no mistaking the extra mile a student takes when collecting, mapping, and analyzing their own data in conjunction with other relevant GIS data.  If COVID-19 or similar is active during the 2020-2021 school year, judges’ expectations will respect public health guidelines.

4. Customize your map pop-ups.

Few things are more disheartening than seeing beautiful data only to be let down by pop-ups that aren’t configured - or image links that are broken.  In fact, broken images in map markers are probably as common as unconfigured markers/pop-ups.

5. Fill out the metadata!

The item details page contains the storymap’s metadata.  Fill it out.

6. Check the national rules from Esri about media inclusion.

If the national competition limits storymaps to two non-student created images, don’t use more.  Check the number of videos and length allowed.  These limits are in place to ensure the final story map clearly shows student work - and not just a collection of media from around the web.

Keep in mind that not all states judge based on the media limits, guidelines, and rules in the national contest.  A story map that does well in a state competition, may not do well in national judging.

7. Analyze some data

I’ve seen a lot of maps containing markers with a bit of text and maybe an image.  The maps can be beautiful and stories compelling, but fundamentally, geographic data analysis (visually or with tools in ArcGIS Online) will always standout.   A buffer has a starting point - but don’t stop there. 

Bonus tip: Optimize large datasets that you build.  If you post a map layer with many vertices and columns of unused data, consider optimizing the layer so that it loads quickly.

Good luck!

About the Author
Geospatial technologies in K-12, higher education, teacher education, and informal learning. Esri Education Team