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ArcGIS: A tool for teaching and engaging students

Matthew Resijan is a new teacher who discovered ArcGIS at preservice workshops at Brock University. Read about his introduction to this online spatial tool in his Teacher Education program and what he’s done with ArcGIS since then.

Matthew Resijan completed his Teacher Education program at the end of April. While at Brock University, he was introduced to ArcGIS Online and ArcGIS Story Maps at workshops conducted by Jean Tong, the K-12 Teaching and Learning Manager at Esri Canada. Since then, he's used ArcGIS in his teacher placements and has plans to use it when he is back in the classroom.

Recently, Matthew spoke to us about his ArcGIS journey.

Tell us about yourself

I grew up in Hamilton, Ontario, playing sports and guitar and doing lots of reading. I was always looking for an outlet to let loose and be creative. I attended McMaster University and received a Bachelor of Arts degree in History. I was in the Intermediate/Senior teacher program at Brock, and my two teachable subjects are history and geography. Both subjects have always been my favourite since I was young. I am passionate about these subjects, and I love sharing my knowledge with my students.

Young man standing in front of a wall map of the world.

Matthew noticed the teaching and learning possibilities with ArcGIS at the teacher workshops.

Tell us how you were introduced to GIS/ArcGIS Online?

I was introduced to ArcGIS Online in my ‘Teaching Geography’ course during my first year in the education program. The course instructor Jane Kerr-Wilson invited Jean Tong from Esri Canada, to come and talk to us about ArcGIS Online and ArcGIS Story Maps over two workshops.

I remember we were first introduced to the Esri Canada K-12 web site. Jean demonstrated to us the available educational resources. We had time to browse through the resources, and we were impressed and eager to explore them by subject areas. We then examined the various apps we have access to from the “waffle” as Jean called it. She showed us a super cool story map that highlighted Marvel Superhero Origins. I have shown this story map to two of my classes, and the students loved it! We were also given a guided tour of how to create our own story maps. The extension activity was to create a story map on a place where we would want to visit. I made that story map about visiting Rome, a beautiful city with a rich history. We explored the various design features and how to add or embed different types of media.

I found the two workshops so engaging and inspiring that I could not wait to use ArcGIS during my teaching blocks!

Why do you think ArcGIS is a valuable tool in education?

I believe ArcGIS Online is a valuable tool in education. It allows students of all ages to use an online program that is easy to use and engages them in their learning. It encourages students to think as global citizens and helps them develop their critical thinking skills through an inquiry-based learning approach. It also allows students to work collaboratively with their peers.

In my experience, using ArcGIS in the classroom made students feel connected to the topic we were studying and had them engaged in asking further questions. It is especially valuable for students who are in an online learning environment. When I showed students story maps about the topic we were studying or when my grade 10 history class made their own story map, they all said that the formatting always encouraged deeper exploration of the topic. They felt proud to create their story map.

How have you used ArcGIS in your teaching placements?

I have been using ArcGIS Online apps in my classroom regularly since November 2020. After teaching a grade 9 geography class,  I used multiple story maps during class activities. In my grade 9 Physical Geography unit, students completed a mapping activity about where volcanos and earthquakes happen by adding layers of plate tectonic boundaries. Students also completed an activity on Canada’s Atlantic Ocean and Fisheries that includes the collapse of our Atlantic Cod fishing. Students enjoyed exploring the map and found it very interactive as it incorporated images, graphs, a video and additional links. I used the inquiry questions provided at the end of each section to develop the case study activity.

A story map showing the ocean base map with text next to it.

Esri Canada’s activity explores the Atlantic Ocean, the collapse of the Atlantic cod, the current state of Atlantic fisheries, and sustainable management practices.

We did an activity called “Our classroom community” using ArcGIS Survey123. Students contributed by adding the location to a map of their family originates. The result was a map with dots in different countries across the world.

Are there any activities you want to share?

When I was teaching grade 10 history at Notre Dame in Burlington, I developed my World War 1-unit assignment using story maps. Students had to make a presentation based on one of the themes that we discussed. I provided a list of potential topics, a list of resources, and a step-by-step guide on how to use story maps from logging in to embedding media. Students used the Explorer Map Tour to complete the assignment. For each slide, they had to add a relevant point to the world map. Students chose various topics such as women during the war, battles, technological developments, and contributions of Indigenous peoples. I was very impressed by the content the students submitted.

I received feedback on this unit assignment since most students have never used it before. Two student responses included, “I liked the unit assignment because we had the freedom to choose a topic in WW1 that interested us, and story maps were cool as you can see all the locations on a map.” And “I thought the unit assignment was a fun and unique way for us to demonstrate our knowledge.”

What are some future plans with ArcGIS?

I know that I still have a lot to learn, but I want to explore more ArcGIS apps and do more with Survey123. I have plans to continue developing story map assignments in my future classes. I also would like to have grade 9 students create maps in ArcGIS Online, focusing on livable communities.

Thank you, Matthew, for sharing your ArcGIS experience, and we look forward to hearing about your future teaching adventures.

If you are new to ArcGIS Online, request an account to get started. Find free resources to begin your journey.

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