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On the Map with Chris Cocek

This month’s On the Map features Chris Cocek from Halifax, Nova Scotia. Discover how he’s using ArcGIS in a cross-curricular citizen science project to engage teachers in spatial technology.

As a valuable member of the Technology Integration Lead Team (TILT) at the Halifax Regional Centre for Education (HRCE), Chris supports primary to 12 (P-12) teachers in incorporating educational technology, pedagogical techniques, instructional strategies, and digital resources into their classroom activities. This support is aimed at enhancing student learning and progress.

The TILT team utilizes various tools in their work, including spatial technology with ArcGIS Online being one of them. All students and teachers at publicly funded schools in Nova Scotia can conveniently access ArcGIS Online through their GNSPES account. Additionally, a French subscription of ArcGIS Online is accessible, as well.

ArcGIS Online users also have access to many applications (apps) that extend learning opportunities for students. Some popular ArcGIS apps that are used by K-12 teachers and students include ArcGIS StoryMaps and ArcGIS Survey123.

An image of Chris – a man with a helmet on, smiling as he makes it to the top of a cliff while rock climbing.

Chris is part of the TILT group at HRCE that supports P-12 teachers in using technology in their classrooms.

Getting started with ArcGIS

Until about a year and a half ago, Chris and the TILT team weren't actively promoting ArcGIS because they hadn't invested time in learning it. However, after attending a session by a local GIS Ambassador, Craig MacLachlan from Esri Canada, Chris decided to prioritize learning ArcGIS. Now, he is comfortable supporting teachers with ArcGIS integration in classrooms and promotes it through their regular channels like the monthly TILT newsletter and X/Twitter (@ChrisCocek).

Earlier this year, he shared his ArcGIS knowledge at two provincial conferences, showcasing the benefits of spatial technology to teachers. Additionally, he started using digital mapping in a university-level course, actively promoting ArcGIS in that area, too.

Citizen Science with ArcGIS

I virtually met with Chris last month to learn more about his work and his goals for this school year. I was excited to hear about his use of ArcGIS for a citizen science project at HRCE. Let’s find out more from him.

Tell us about the project “NS Citizen Science with ArcGIS, Fall 2023” and its learning goals              

The citizen science project is multi-faceted. It introduces both teachers and students to ArcGIS Online, a web based geographic information system (GIS), and a valuable tool for teaching and learning. It also offers an entry point into the concept and involvement of citizen science projects. Moreover, it establishes connections to provincial school-based data, making relevant information easily accessible. Lastly, it fosters critical discussions and encourages contemplation of environmental impact, promoting a deeper understanding of the ecological consequences of human actions.

The learning goals specifically related to ArcGIS use in the citizen science project include measuring the available greenspace (in ArcGIS Online) at your school that students can access during recess or lunch, measuring the brownspace at your school, such as parking lots, that students cannot access, comparing and making critical connections between these two measurements, and finally, viewing and exploring school data from around the province while making further observations through critical conversations.

Screenshots of brown vs green space at a school in Halifax, NS.

Measurements in ArcGIS Online made in a demo from Chris’ video: Citizen Science – Walk through of ArcGIS

Add your content to the Citizen Science survey

Nova Scotia teachers can read more about the project, how to add their own information about available greenspace at their school and then add their data to the survey.

What is the grade focus and cross-curricular connections?

The grade focus is designed for P-12 teachers, in both French and English. I have provided teachers with instructions on how to implement this, whether in a lower elementary classroom (as a whole-class activity) or in upper grade levels (as an individual activity, followed by sharing and collaborative decision-making on which results will be submitted).

The main theme of the project is to promote environmental awareness, and it aligns with various curriculum areas such as science, social studies, mathematics, and language arts, making it cross-curricular.

Why do you think ArcGIS is a valuable tool for teaching and learning?

ArcGIS offers students and teachers a unique perspective on our communities. By enabling the addition and visualization of layers on web maps, it encourages the exploration of new, thought-provoking questions. These inquiries tend to be more profound and engaging for students, as they demand critical thinking and investigation. I anticipate that this citizen science project will shed light on the teaching and learning opportunities that ArcGIS can offer to Nova Scotia educators and create awareness about them.

What’s next?

My priority is to ensure the successful launch of the citizen science project and provide support to as many teachers as I can. My long-term goal is to create a series of citizen science projects for Nova Scotia educators! 

I have been actively using ArcGIS Dashboards to create a dashboard of the TILT support in our region.  It has provided me with a fresh perspective on my role and helped me gain clarity on where and how I was making a difference with various educational technology tools. I hope to expand my dashboard usage in some different ways this year.

Chris, thank you for sharing your work and plans with ArcGIS. Keep us posted on the citizen science project. We are sure it will be a success!

Feeling inspired?

Check out the following resources to get started with Survey123:

Survey123 for K-12 Education
Learn to create your first survey, collect data in the field and analyse results on a map in the classroom or at home.

Fieldwork Learning Path
Learn how you can create your own fieldwork project using ArcGIS tools (Survey123, Dashboards, Story Maps) available to K-12 schools across Canada.

New to ArcGIS Online?

If you are a K-12 educator new to ArcGIS Online, you can request an account for yourself and your students at

Check out the following beginner resources to get started with ArcGIS Online:

For Educators - Let’s get started with ArcGIS Online

Explore the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

For Students – Enroute with ArcGIS Online 

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