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On the Map with Natasha Parsons

Natasha Parsons is a teacher and avid ArcGIS user. Earlier this month, she attended both the 2023 Esri User Conference (UC) and the 2023 Esri Education Summit in San Diego. In this post, we will highlight her use of ArcGIS in teaching, and her conference experience and takeaways.

We met Natasha about five years ago through her interest in using ArcGIS as a tool in teaching. At the time, she was living and working in Ottawa. What struck us was her enthusiasm for maps and for making her classes more interesting and relevant with spatial technology.

Currently, she works at Aspengrove School in Lantzville, British Columbia where in the last year she’s taught grade 6-8 social studies, grade 9-12 geography and the new flagship grade 10 Adventure Program. She’s integrated ArcGIS in all her classes. Here are some of the activities she’s done with her students: 

  • ArcGIS StoryMaps were  part of an interdisciplinary project between Social Studies and Science to use and present spatial data  to create a disaster action plan for a country that suffers from tectonic hazards. 
  • To showcase the activities that the students participated in as part of the new flagship Grade 10 Adventures Program, they used ArcGIS Experience Builder and ArcGIS StoryMaps.
  • With ArcGIS Survey123, Natasha and the students used the survey tool to collect spatial data on the demographics of the school population.
  • To address an environmental problem as part of the National Geographic - Slingshot Challenge, ArcGIS StoryMaps was used.

Esri GIS conferences

This year, Natasha Parsons attended her first GIS conferences in San Diego, California. Both the Esri User Conference and Esri Education Summit bring together GIS professionals and educators using ArcGIS in their work in one place. It’s a great opportunity to learn what people are doing with ArcGIS and how you can integrate new skills into your teaching.

This image shows a woman smiling standing in front of a wall of map posters.

Natasha enjoyed her time at the Esri conferences.

Why did you want to attend the Esri UC and Education Conference?

There were a few reasons I attended the conferences. I wanted to connect with other GIS educators and learn how they implement GIS tools into their teaching. As the main GIS user at my school, I wanted to find out how best I could support my non-GIS colleagues.  In addition, I wanted to gain insight into new Esri products and other GIS initiatives that I might not know about and attend some technical workshops to help me troubleshoot my problems.

I attended many conference sessions. The ones I enjoyed most were:

  • The Education Summit Plenary:  Seeing the many ways GIS is used in education was inspiring.
  • K-12 School Instruction Special Interest Group (SIG): I loved chatting with Esri Education staff Charlie Fitzpatrick, K12 Education Manager and Jason Sawle, Global Schools Manager.
  • Creating the Future of GIS: What classroom courses don’t always teach.
  • ArcGIS Experience Builder: This was new to me, and I wanted to learn more! 

This image shows a crowd sitting and watching a man on stage with screens behind him.

The Esri UC is a great opportunity to connect with other educators and GIS professionals in a very map friendly atmosphere. Pictured here is the beginning of the conference with Esri’s president Jack Dangermond welcoming the attendees.

What were your top takeaways from the UC?

1. The collaboration between Esri and National Geographic, called MapMaker, is an absolute game changer for all teachers. Implementing GIS into the curriculum can be simple. Start small and have students explore maps that focus on specific themes. MapMaker is a great place to start. 

With your own ArcGIS Online account, you can create your own interactive atlas using the “Atlas app” (beta) from ArcGIS Instant Apps. This could be used as a unit on a specific theme. In fact, Esri Canada Education and Research has created an atlas called ArcCanada Atlas, highlighting data specifically about Canada. Look out for new resources on this.

This image shows the ArcCanada Atlas app.

Instant Apps allows you to create quick apps without coding required. You have many to select from. The Atlas app is an excellent choice for setting up an interactive atlas of your own just like the ArcCanada Atlas.

2. ArcGIS Experience Builder is a fantastic tool. It’s versatile and allows you to create apps specific to your needs. 

Here’s a great example of Experience Builder – The ArcGIS Living Atlas Indicators of the Planet provides a single point for finding the most timely information covering various environmental and social topics. Each GeoCard updates using the Live Feeds methodology and offers additional resources such as links to contributors, maps, StoryMaps, and Learn ArcGIS lessons.

This screenshot shows the Indicators of the Planet app.

Each GeoCard in the ArcGIS Living Atlas Indicators of the Planet, provide resources on social and environmental issues.

3. There is so much support out there regarding how to use Esri products at school. Use it. And give feedback through ArcGIS Ideas. The developers really value it. 

4. Every teacher should subscribe to National Geographic Education and Canadian Geographic Education to keep updated with their latest products and features. They’ve been partnering with Esri and Esri Canada for many years to create a whole host of learning resources which are accessible to both teachers and students who are new to GIS.

5. There are so many different organisations/initiatives (not just Esri) that you can join that will help you to integrate GIS into your classroom. Here are some of the ones that were featured at the UC that apply to Canadian educators:

Before we wrap up, let us know why you use ArcGIS in teaching.

Maps provide so much information for students in nearly all aspects of the curriculum. They can also be an inspirational tool and engage students in the world around them. ArcGIS allows students to develop their spatial thinking skills by interacting with and creating maps through programs such as ArcGIS Online, StoryMaps and ArcGIS Dashboards. This interactive technology also helps to develop their critical thinking skills through analysis. Our school is also working towards a more project-based learning approach to teaching the Grades 6-10 curriculum.

ArcGIS is a tool educators and student can use to integrate topics across all subjects in the curriculum. For example, students used StoryMaps when preparing a disaster action plan for a country suffering from tectonic hazards. This was part of a project-based learning course looking into tectonic hazards and how populations are impacted by and can prepare and respond to such events. ArcGIS has also allowed my Grade 11 and 12 students to create thematic maps necessary to display data in their Geography coursework. 

I also use ArcGIS in my work for displaying data, sharing information with colleagues, and showcasing work I have done in my classes. 

Natasha, thank you for sharing your GIS experience and giving us feedback from the Esri conferences.  We hope this post will inspire other educators to attend these conferences in California. We look forward to hearing from you in the near future. 

About the Author

Angela Alexander is a K-12 Education Specialist in the Esri Canada Education and Research group. She has over 15 years of experience working with educators across Canada. Angela focuses on producing geographic information system (GIS) and curriculum-specific resources, and conducting and creating custom workshops for educators. She manages the GIS Ambassador Program and is the Technical Chair for the annual Skills Ontario GIS competition. Angela also writes monthly posts for the Esri Canada Education and Research blog, highlighting K-12 educators and partners, new ArcGIS resources and GIS-related events.

Profile Photo of Angela Alexander