Engage kids in learning with fun activities using ArcGIS

July 8, 2020 Angela Alexander

ArcGIS can be used to create fun and interactive activities with your kids and students! A GIS Ambassador and teacher have shared with us their most recent projects. Let’s discover what they did to keep their kids engaged before the school year ended.

Even though school is over, we want to continue to share stories of teachers and GIS Ambassadors doing fun activities with their students and kids. We want them to inspire you to do some mapping over the summer!

Ryan Fortier
Geomatics Technician
Department of National Defence
Ottawa, Ontario

Let’s begin with GIS Ambassador and parent Ryan Fortier. He and his eight-year-old son Brayden had a fun time on their story map activity.

Tell us about your story map
My son Brayden and I created a story map documenting his hockey season. He had a lot of fun this year, and unfortunately like many other kids his season was cut short. Since he hasn't been able to see some of his friends, we felt like this was an interesting project to share with his team. This activity also offered a much needed break from home schooling, but it enabled Brayden to work on his literacy skills (creating stories for each section).

"I had fun working on it and sharing it with my teammates" - Brayden

What were some spatial thinking concepts that your son Brayden learned in this activity?
Brayden was able to visualize on a map the distances and routes between the arenas where his team played during the year.

Was it their first-time using story maps, AGOL, GIS tool?
This was his first time creating a story map, but not his first time looking at different mapping principles. I went into his class last year and did some activities with all the students.

What is planned for the next project or activity?
John Nelson, from Esri Inc. has a series of six activities titled Take your work to your kids day that we plan on tackling over the summer.


Tony Cushman
Grade 3 teacher
Rolph Road Elementary School
Toronto, Ontario

Teacher Tony Cushman recently completed a fun Family Artifact Project he introduced to his grade three students earlier this year. He has shared with us his students’ journey of writing and documenting the importance of their family artifact.

Tell us about the Family Artifact Project
In January, with the help of their parents, the students selected a family artifact that was significant to them to bring to class. The purpose was to provide students the opportunity to investigate their family culture and history, while building their narrative writing skills at the same time.

 I created a survey using Survey123 for ArcGIS  to collect information on the location of their selected family artifact. For example, students would enter the location of where the object was from or where the memory of it was connected to. The map linked to the survey allowed the students to quickly see the locations of these special objects.

The students placing the objects on a physical map for the Family Artifact Project.

Once, the students were done the writing component, their parents recorded them performing their finished stories. This was included in the ​Classroom Storytelling Podcast​!

Before school ended, I put together a story map to present the students’ artifacts and video podcasts and sent the link to the parents to view. The students were very proud of their work and it was a great way to end the year.

Story map highlighting all the family artifacts from Tony’s class.

What were some geographic concepts that your students learned in this activity?
We talked a lot about the importance of painting a picture of the story's setting with your words, using metaphors or similes to help bring that place to life. My students came to understand that the reader needs to be able to picture themselves in that place if they are expected to engage fully in the action of the story.

Many students chose to tell stories that occurred in faraway countries, a long time ago. Asking students to plot the location of their narrative on a world map allowed them to connect directly with their story's historical context. Publishing the finished stories on the map also provided students with a visual representation in which to make geographical connections between their classmates' stories (for example, that two stories both occurred on Normandy Beach during WWII). 

Was it their first-time using story maps, AGOL, GIS tool?
No, they were part of a school-wide project to that focused on understanding how students play during recess.

What is planned for the next project/activity?
I will be teaching summer school at Grenoble Public School in July. Since I will be teaching remotely, I think it doing the Family Artifact project with my students will allow me to get to know them a bit better. In my experience, ArcGIS tools are perfect for collaborating with students in a digital space!

Thank you, Ryan and Tony for sharing your inspiring projects with us.


Do you have a story to share with us? We want to hear from parents, students, educators and GIS Ambassadors. Send an email at us at  k12@esri.ca.

Looking for resources to try with your kids or students? Check out the following resources:

  • At-home learning during COVID-19 crisis and beyond
    Find out how to access ArcGIS Online so that K-12 learners can continue to ask, analyse and act on their learning from home.
  • Discover ArcGIS Online tutorial
    Learn the basics of ArcGIS Online with this quick tutorial.
  • Getting Started Path for Teachers
    Follow this beginner path to build your confidence with online mapping tools.
  • Six by Six Activity (choose your region)
    Six activities you can do in six minutes each - for ArcGIS Online beginners.
  • Getting to Know the ArcGIS StoryMaps
    Try the new ArcGIS StoryMaps builder experience.

If you are new to ArcGIS Online, educators can request an account for themselves and their students at k12.esri.ca/#access. Parents can request accounts for their children using the same link.   

About the Author

Angela Alexander

Angela Alexander is a K-12 Education Resource Developer on the Esri Canada Education and Research team. She has over six years of experience working with educators across Canada. Angela is responsible for producing geographic information system (GIS) and curriculum specific resources, conducting and creating custom workshops for educators and judging and developing the question for the annual GIS Skills Ontario competition in Waterloo, Ontario. Angela has a Bachelor’s degree in Geography and Sociology from the University of Western Ontario and completed the Applied Digital Geography and GIS certificate program at Ryerson University.

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