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A Skills Ontario GIS Competition: Connecting students with real-world GIS

Skills Ontario is dedicated to promoting careers in the skilled trades and technology sectors. Every spring, the organization runs a GIS competition that challenges secondary school students to answer a real-world question using GIS. Find out the results of this year’s GIS competition.

Every spring, secondary school students have an opportunity to test their GIS abilities at the Skills Ontario GIS competition. Using ArcGIS Online or ArcGIS Desktop, in teams of two, students are challenged to answer a question that’s focused on a current issue. Students are provided relevant data to conduct analysis, engage in critical thinking, and create maps based on criteria included in the question. At the end of the day, each team is required to present to the judges their findings in a series of maps.

This year’s competition took place at the Toronto Congress Centre on May 7th. The 2019 question was based on the issue of increased gun violence in the City of Toronto and its impact on the youth population. Students were tasked with identifying the priority neighbourhoods in Toronto that contain a child and youth population (0-24 years old) of at least 30% and a total average income of $50,000 or less. Students analyzed the services and facilities that are available to children and youth in those neighbourhoods and made recommendations based on their findings of the study. They mapped and analyzed data from Statistics Canada, the City of Toronto Open Data and the Toronto Police Service Public Safety Data Portal. This year, all but one team used ArcGIS Online to conduct their analysis. 

Students from TDSB presenting their findings to the judges at this year’s Skills Ontario GIS competition.

Who competed

Six teams from four Ontario school boards participated; the Peel District School Board, Toronto District School Board, District School Board of Niagara and Thames Valley District School Board. We were thrilled two teams included students who had competed in  last year’s competition.

Feedback from the students

Throughout the day students worked hard to stay on track with the timelines they were given. Even though they  found the competition question challenging, they thought the topic was interesting and  the experience was rewarding. Meeting judges who  are GIS professionals working in different industries, was an eye-opener for most of the students, and it gave them examples of GIS applications and career options to consider.

The Skills Ontario GIS judges at this year’s competition. From left to right: Rudy Stawarek is a Planning and Facilities Officer from Halton Catholic School Board, Christine Homuth is a Spatial Information Specialist from McMaster University’s Map Library, Debbie Verduga is a Crime Analyst from Toronto Police Service and Christopher Menary is a GIS Technician from Toronto and Region Conservation Authority.

One student, graduating this year from Agincourt Collegiate Institute in Toronto, said he enjoyed the competition, working in a team and using GIS to solve a real-world problem. He and his team mate are going into Urban Planning in the fall and are excited about their continued use of GIS in their post-secondary studies.

Thank you to all the students who participated in this year’s GIS competition.  You all did a great job.

Congratulations to the winning team from the District School Board of Niagara who used ArcGIS Desktop to answer the competition question and created a detailed, well organized map poster. The winners each received a $100 Cineplex gift card. We hope to see some of the students again in 2020!

Congrats to the District School Board of Niagara team for placing first at the competition. Their map poster included the 6 maps that were required for the final presentation.

GIS Ambassador support

Thank you to the GIS Ambassadors who volunteered their time to judge the teams’ work and made the competition a success! A special thank you goes to Debbie Verduga from the Toronto Police Service who helped us develop the question and provided some of the data required.  

If you are interested in getting your students involved next year, check out the previous competition questions and the Skills GIS Competition preparation document to prepare your students for the 2020 competition. If you have any questions, feel free to contact

About the Author

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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