Finding and Using Spatial Data Sources

By Seth Dixon, Ph.D., Assistant Professor of Geography, Rhode Island College

Data is great, but working with numbers can be intimidating. We have more data than ever before that is available to us, and graphs, charts, and spreadsheets are ways that data can be shared. If that data has a spatial element to it, the best way to visualize a large dataset might just be a map.

Many government agencies are seeking ways to make their data more accessible (see what I mean at Some have focused on educational outreach to engage the public around the information that is available, and you can even find ready-to-go lesson plans. (Check out the Library of Congress.) Diving into data, I’ve found that there are excellent social studies and math applications – a boon for those of us who seek ways to make real-world information relevant and interesting for our students.


Meet GeoFRED

The Federal Reserve Bank of the United States divides the country into 12 regional branches. One of those, the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, has lesson plans specifically for elementary school, middle school, and high school teachers. Utilizing FRED (Federal Reserve Economic Data), they have also created an incredible user-friendly website that allows you explore their economic geography data called GeoFRED. At the county or state level, students can explore the regional differences in categories such as unemployment rates, average wage, industry-specific wages, and home ownership rates.


On the global level students can explore GDP, fertility rates, infant mortality rates, internet usage, life expectancy, migration, population, and many other variables. This data can be mapped (and the maps are highly customizable for a free website) and put in charts that are easily exported into Word documents or as digital slides.


Watch the video below for a brief introduction on what you can do with GeoFRED:

GeoFRED also provides some step-by-step tutorials if you are new to using online data. Click here for more articles, maps, videos and resources about the importance of spatial data and how to use them—GeoFRED will certainly be joining this list.  We now live in the era of big data and fantastic visual tools–let’s make edtech a part of our pedagogical approach to prepare our students for the future.

Find Seth on social using @ProfessorDixon. Each week, we’ll be featuring his latest ideas on this blog as well as on @NatGeoEducation.

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