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On the Map with Dr. David Joiner

May’s On the Map features Dr. David Joiner, the Head of Geography at St. Andrew’s College in Aurora, Ontario and an avid GIS user and promoter. Learn about his love for geography and his advice for new teachers.

Dr. David Joiner is an outstanding educator featured in this month’s On the Map. He’s the Head of Geography at St. Andrew’s College in Aurora, Ontario and is part of the geography teaching community in Canada. We are thrilled to share his teaching experience and passion for geography and geographic information systems (GIS).

We’ve worked with David for over 10 years, through technical support cases, Ontario education conferences and events like the McEwen Entrepreneurship Fair at his school. We’re happy to catch up with him before he retires at the end of June. However, we know we will be in touch with him as he continues his volunteer work as a GIS Ambassador supporting the use of GIS in K12 education. 

Let’s find out more about David.

How and why have you used GIS in your teaching? 

GIS combines location with attribute information and permits the organization, analysis, and visualization of spatial data. Interrelationships, patterns, and trends are so much easier to determine and understand with GIS. 

At St. Andrew’s College, the geography teachers use ArcGIS tutorials in class to help students inquire and explore real-world issues. From understanding earthquakes and assessing their risk to human populations, to seeing how different physical or cultural factors are distributed in local communities or around the world. Our students use Esri data collection tools like ArcGIS Survey123 to obtain and share geographic information, and they often create ArcGIS StoryMaps for their summative assignments. 

Outside of the geography classroom, I have been invited into business classes to teach market area analysis skills. Our Middle School history and geography classes have learned how to use GIS for their projects (for example, sharing information about Fallen Andreans who lost their lives in service to their country). I have also used GIS in our grade 6 history classes when discussing patterns of migration. It's hard to think of anything that can't be understood more clearly with a GIS. 

While on the topic of ArcGIS, I would like to thank the Esri Canada K-12 Education team for their amazing resources and their availability to answer questions. Their assistance over the years has been greatly appreciated.

How did you decide to go down the teaching geography route and why it is so important to you?

I enjoyed geography in high school, but I started out in applied science in university. During my second year of engineering at Queen's University, I took a geography elective course and loved the "What is where?", "Why there?", and "Why care?" types of questions that were being asked. 

Realizing that I might be in the wrong program, I switched to physical geography and never looked back. Although I liked the earth systems research of my graduate degrees, it was being a teaching assistant and course lecturer that I found the work most rewarding. I enjoyed helping others see the world through a spatial lens in geography that has made it a wonderful profession.

A man holding a spinning globe in one hand in a classroom.

Taking an elective geography course while enrolled in engineering at Queen’s University led him to a rewarding career as a geography educator. 

Tell us about your teaching experience

My teaching experiences have included positions in both rural and urban areas, traditional and non-traditional settings (such as tutoring in Kingston-area prisons), co-educational and single-sex classrooms, public boards and private schools. As geography is everything, and it can be taught anywhere! 

I have also learned so much from other knowledgeable and interesting geography teachers in organizations such as the Ontario Association of Geographic and Environmental Education (OAGEE) and the College Board's Advanced Placement Human Geography program. I feel fortunate to have ended up in the supportive environment of St. Andrew's College, where I can share my love of geography with students from dozens of countries around the world.

A man speaking at a podium on a stage with students in the background.

David hosting SAC's School Championship of the Canadian Geographic Challenge in 2019 (photo courtesy of Joe Commisso).

The path to a PhD in Climatology

One summer I was fortunate to obtain a research assistant position with McMaster University's Department of Geography. They could have posted me at any one of a variety of projects, but I ended up in Churchill, Manitoba, studying the effect of changing sea ice conditions on the climate of the Hudson Bay Lowlands. Working in Canada's subarctic exposed me to a wonderful but less-visited part of our country, documenting climate change appealed to my environmental awareness, and partitioning the components of energy and radiation balances was a practical way to address my interest in mathematics and science. That summer job led me to do a M.Sc. and Ph.D. in climatology.  

What are your plans when you retire?

I would like to continue as an Esri Canada GIS Ambassador and volunteer with other geography-related organizations. I look forward to combining family history research with travel, and to having more time to share with family and friends. I also want to explore non-traditional teaching opportunities.

What advice do you have for new teachers?

For new teachers, remember to share with your students how geography links to your personal life, your community, and your world. When they see a passionate geographer looking at the world with this perspective, it will encourage them to do the same thing. In addition, connect with colleagues through professional organizations and professional development opportunities- you will not be disappointed.

Recognition and contributions

In 2018, David’s work as a geography educator was recognized by the Royal Canadian Geographical Society when he became a member of the College of Fellows. Throughout his teaching career, David has been an active member of OAGEE, serving for a while as a Special Representative for Independent Schools and co-chairing the OAGEE Fall Conferences at St. Andrew's College in 2011 and 2017. Over the years, he’s also been part of the Canadian Association of Geographers, the National Council for Geographic Education, and the American Geophysical Union.

David has had a rewarding career in teaching and his impact has been felt by so many. A couple of his colleagues shared messages with us on his teaching style and influence on others. 

Anne Mansfield, the President of OAGEE has known David for many years. She was happy to tell us “Dave’s a class act. A huge loss for Geographic Education in this province and particularly for the students at his school as he will be retiring next month. My true measure of an awesome geography teacher is whether I would want my daughter in his class. Absolutely! My only wish is that my daughter could have been taught Geography under his leadership. 

Dave has visited my B.Ed classes for years at Queen’s University, including my last class this year. I want teachers to see what is possible in Geography classes and he’s a fabulous role model for my pre-service students! He will be missed!”

Joe Commisso, a fellow geography teacher at St. Andrew’s College told us “Dr. Joiner is famous around our community for constantly telling people that ‘geography is everything’ and then proceeding to articulate the interrelationships he sees on a specific topic. His use of story maps and Esri products in general has helped show students how geography interacts with every other subject area. GIS has always been Dr. J.’s focus and something he cares about immensely since the technology allows statistics to be seen from a visual and geographic perspective. He's a true educator, who cares about nothing more than inspiring others to follow their passions and build their knowledge!”

David, we wish you all the best in this new chapter of your life. 

New to ArcGIS Online?

If you are new to ArcGIS Online, educators can request an account for themselves and their 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

Using ArcGIS Online and want to learn more?

Discover Story Maps
ArcGIS Survey123
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This post was translated to French and can be viewed here.

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