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April’s GIS Ambassador: Sean Nugent

April’s GIS Ambassador of the Month is Sean Nugent, a high school teacher and adjunct professor in Vancouver, British Columbia. Find out how he’s supporting the use of ArcGIS with his student teachers at the University of British Columbia.

This month’s GIS Ambassador is Sean Nugent, a high school teacher and adjunct geography professor from Vancouver, British Columbia. Last fall, he began his ArcGIS journey with his student teachers at the University of British Columbia. We recently caught up with him to learn more about his experience and what he plans to do with his K-12 students.

Tell us about yourself and your GIS background

I divide my time between teaching high school geography and social studies at Lord Byng Secondary School and as an adjunct professor in geography education at UBC's Bachelor of Education Program.

I worked with GIS during my undergraduate work in the 1990s and found it, at that time, to be a challenge to use in a K-12 setting. I was re-introduced to GIS, and ArcGIS specifically, by a colleague last year as I was remotely teaching.

Man standing in front of maps in a classroom.

Sean understands the value of GIS in education.

How were your student teachers introduced to ArcGIS?

Last fall, Jean Tong from Esri Canada’s K-12 group facilitated a hands-on workshop on ArcGIS Story Maps. This gave my 31 teacher candidates from across British Columbia the opportunity to examine the power of spatial thinking through an easy-to-use software that they could share content easily and facilitate with their students during their teaching practicum and beyond.

Just before Jean’s visit, we focused on the importance and power of thinking spatially, and its role in geographical thinking in the classroom. They examined and made inferences on GIS maps of census data. This allowed them to gain a deeper understanding of the meaning of space and place due to its visual and interactive nature.

After the story map workshop, many of my students proved their proficiency and the effectiveness of the software by submitting story maps based on the curricula that they would be teaching on their practicum in the winter of 2021. I was really impressed by their outstanding work.

Something that was very telling was that they chose to take on this newly introduced teaching and learning platform at a very busy, online term in the teacher education program. I was very proud of them!

Here are some examples of story maps created by my teacher candidates at UBC:

The feedback from the students was very positive. Here's an example of how one student felt after the workshop.

“As a resource, the detail of the maps provided by ArcGIS Online is staggering. This is such a good resource with so many potential classroom uses. I’m feeling very optimistic and confident about implementing it across multiple lessons. There’s a geographic element to everything if you look hard enough.”
Lewis McGinn, UBC Education teacher candidate.

Why do you think the use of GIS is important in K-12 education?

As a  geography educator, I feel that the study of space and understanding of place are essential life skills. Spatial comprehension and awareness have as much importance as the study of time and culture in other parts of social studies education. Learning about space and place has an educational purpose and human meaning, so they are core to a student’s understanding of their world and worldview. GIS is a perfect way to imbue this in K-12 students. Its visual and analytical nature allows it to be both user-friendly and complex at the same time. Its multidisciplinary applications demonstrate the universal significance of spatial thinking and learning.

What’s next for you?

I am a strong supporter of using GIS in K-12 education. Even though things are constantly changing in both my secondary school and university classrooms due to COVID-19, my plan is to dive deeper into ArcGIS next year.  I would like to explore analysis and map-making with all my students.

I am really looking forward to introducing ArcGIS to my high school students. Ultimately, my goal, along with my colleague Hattie Chen who teaches human geography, is to share and facilitate cross-curricular applications of ArcGIS resources with other teachers at our school. I have the will but, as “the new normal” establishes itself, I hope to have the time to make this happen. Opportunities, such as GIS Day, online professional development and remaining connected to the K-12 ArcGIS experts will certainly help move this vision forward.

We will support Sean’s work again next year, as ArcGIS will be a workshop offered to his students at UBC. We are excited for new opportunities to support his high school students, as well.

New to ArcGIS Online?

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.  

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

  • ArcGIS Online Six by Six Tips and Tricks
    In this tutorial, you will learn tips and tricks for getting started with ArcGIS Online by completing six activities. Each activity takes approximately six minutes to complete.
  • Discover ArcGIS Online tutorial
    Learn the basics of ArcGIS Online with this quick tutorial.
  • Discover Story Maps
    Step-by-step instructions and videos on how to create your first story map.

This post was translated to French and can be viewed here.

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.

Profile Photo of Angela Alexander