Sticky post

GIS in the Classroom: A Conversation with Ali Pressel & Kyle Tredinnick

In October 2019, Teacher Advisory Council members Ali Pressel and Kyle Tredinnick hosted a breakout session titled “StoryMaps: Building a GeoHabit” at National Geographic’s Education Summit. ArcGIS StoryMaps is a system that allows users to tell digital stories with text, interactive maps, imagery, and more. The two high school teachers value this skillset and geographic information systems (GIS) in the classroom as they prepare students … Continue reading GIS in the Classroom: A Conversation with Ali Pressel & Kyle Tredinnick

“Our World is All About Spatial Data”: A Conversation with Anita Palmer

Recognized as a “hero” in her industry, Anita Palmer has over 25 years pioneering the perception and education around the framework of geographic information systems (GIS). Anita is National Geographic’s first-ever GIS-focused Education fellow.  The growing field of GIS is continuously evolving and shaping the way we view geography beyond static maps. To further raise awareness and push the conversation around this focus, an annual … Continue reading “Our World is All About Spatial Data”: A Conversation with Anita Palmer

The Importance of Geo-Literacy

What is geography? Is it the memorization of capitals, states, and countries? Or has it evolved into a larger concept?
According to the National Geographic Society, geography education in modern times has evolved from its archaic definition of memorization, to one of a geo-literate populace. Geo-literacy, according to Daniel Edelson, Vice-President of Education for National Geographic, interrelates the interactions, interconnections, and implications that occur on our planet.
Video courtesy of NG Education and the Geographic Education Alliances.
Edelson has devoted much of his career to educating about the concept of geo-literacy and promoting its use in classrooms around the world. His research and writings are so extensive that we have created an entire collection of them on our website. Although just a small excerpt of Edelson’s work, they address critical issues in modern-day geography education, as seen from the perspective of the National Geographic Education Foundation’s Executive Director.

Continue reading “The Importance of Geo-Literacy”

Esri International User Conference: A Geographer’s Place to Be

Last week, I flew to San Diego to promote Geography Awareness Week at Esri’s International User Conference, the largest gathering of geographic information systems (GIS) users in the world. On a shuttle from the airport, a man in the back talking on his cell phone mentioned ArcGIS, and my ears pricked up. What a coincidence, I thought. I turned around and asked if he was going to the ESRI conference, and he looked at me like I had asked if we were on planet Earth. “Yeah…” he replied, hesitantly. I clearly had no idea what I was getting into. 
The conference started on Monday, and the streets, hotels and restaurants of San Diego were packed with folks from all over the world, proudly wearing their ID badges all day and into the night. The Convention Center where it was held is home to the renowned San Diego Comic-Con International, where more than 125,000 pop art fans, some dressed up as their favorite comic superheroes, had gathered just a couple of weeks before. Although Comic-Con is famous for the animated sub-culture it garners, I cannot imagine a crowd more enthusiastic than my GIS compatriots.
15,000 users – all self-identified “Geogeeks” – came together not only to learn about what’s new in the geographic information systems world, but also to boast of their geographic prowess. Such talents may be scoffed elsewhere, but here, they are revered. During one conference session, attendees were discussing preferred map projections and datums so heatedly that I would have laughed, had I not been just as excited as they. Despite the abundance of geographic knowledge present, I admittedly spent half of my time helping lost users figure out the map of the conference center. 
The other half was spent educating my fellow geogeeks about Geography Awareness Week. This group of GIS professionals can appreciate that data means nothing without solid geographic understanding, which is exactly what GAWeek is all about. As Jack Dangermond said during the conference, “geography is the platform on which GIS is exercised; GIS is simply a tool for better geographic understanding.” Mr. Dangermond, as you may know, is the President and CEO of Esri, and a rock star amongst the GIS community – a fact I was unaware of when I greeted him one day with a goofy smile on my face.  

Continue reading “Esri International User Conference: A Geographer’s Place to Be”

MIY (Map it Yourself) with GIS

Adam J. Schwartz is My
Wonderful World’s public engagement coordinator for New York City. He teaches Geographic
Information Systems and Global History at the Academy of Urban Planning in Brooklyn, New York, and is an historical tour guide for the Center for the Urban Environment.


We live in an age of maps.
According to author and cartographer Dennis Wood, over 99.9% of all maps ever
created were created during the last 100 years. They surround us in our daily
activities: in newspapers, on weather reports, and throughout our day. With
tools like Google
 and the National Geographic Map Machine  they
are available at the merest click. We are all map consumers, including our

Having a map at your
fingertips is an everyday luxury, but the fact is that someone has got to make
all those maps. That someone could be your students, or even you! Making your
own maps is a great option for teachers who want to create their own materials.
And for students it can be a hook for getting involved in geography and
geographic careers. Many of our students are already interested in technology. So
by showing them how they can apply that to making a map, you open up a whole
new potential career, in Geographic Information Systems (GIS).

So what’s GIS? GIS technology
is the nuts and bolts behind almost every map we use, and is vital for many of
the services we use everyday, both public (power and water systems) and private
.GIS is, at its simplest level, software that combines location and information
in a simple visual format.  And during the last few years, it’s
become easier to access than ever before.

More importantly, Geospatial
Technology, of which GIS is a subset, is one of the fastest growing
sectors of the technology industry
. If a student chooses GIS, the chances
are great that there will be a job waiting for them after college, or even

A tool for teachers and

Vocational education is not
what brings most teachers to GIS. And it doesn’t take any special training for
you to get started using it in your classroom.  I’m certainly no mastermind at GIS, I’m just a
teacher who loves maps, and making them! That’s what led me to take a short
teacher training course with Carol Gersmehl of New  York’s Regents Center for Geographic Learning. Beyond
that, most of what I’ve learned is from the same tutorials my students use. At
the Academy of Urban  Planning, I’m lucky to co-teach
with an experienced geographer, Josh Lapidus, but most of what I have learned
is on the job.

The most important lesson
I’ve taken out of making maps is that while it may be the “long way round”–as
compared to using published maps–you can get much more out of the journey.

As a teacher, GIS mapping can
be the simplest way to get just the right map. Yes, you can Google for hours
for just the right map for that special activity. Or, with a little practice,
you can make it yourself.  And whether
you give your lessons with an overhead, a projector, or a SMARTboard, the
multiple layers of a GIS map enable you to better explain any spatial

For our students, we all want
to make our activities more engaging. And most educators would agree that
students remember more of what they do
than what they read, see, or hear. And they are more interested, too.

Consequently, a student
making his or her own map can build new levels of understanding as they see how
borders change, and how topography, climate, and demographics interact to
explain historic or scientific processes. It’s a constructivist approach to
geography, with the students doing the constructing.

And best of all, when they
are finished with a GIS map, a student has the pride of printing it! These polished
artifacts not only celebrate what’s been learned, they look great on a wall, or
even better, in a portfolio. This year at my school, the Academy of Urban Planning, many of our students are submitting portfolios for colleges focusing on arts,
architecture, and design. And in each of those portfolios is a map they made
with me.

We don’t expect many of our
students to come out of our program as cartographers, but they all come out
with a greater mastery of real world computer skills, better literacy skills
(from all those tutorials!), and a more insightful understanding of the world
around them. I am lucky enough to teach a yearlong dedicated GIS class, but
everything we do is taught in connection with Science (Urban Ecology), AP Human
Geography, and US History. Along the way, our students also develop skills in
technology and geography.

Here’s how it works for us: After
starting with Google Maps and Google Earth, my students worked up to AEJEE, a
very basic GIS program (more on that below). They are currently following AEJEE
tutorials, in preparation for building their own mapping projects. The
published tutorials have dealt with settlement patterns in US history and the US Census. We
have also written our own tutorials on the 2008 election.

As for projects, we start
those in the spring. In past years, we have focused on environmental justice
and local history. This spring, we will be combining both themes by making maps
for a local environmental group that is working to clean up NYC’s dirtiest body
of water, Newtown Creek.

Of course, not everyone can dedicate the
time we do to mapping with GIS technology. But there’s a new place for
it in your classroom. It’s just a matter of getting started!

Continue reading “MIY (Map it Yourself) with GIS”