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December’s GIS Ambassador: Alison Katzko

This month’s GIS Ambassador is Alison Katzko, a teacher from Calgary, Alberta. Discover how she’s been using GIS for project-based learning and inspiring teachers at her school and board to use spatial technology to enhance their students’ learning.

Alison Katzko, a teacher from Calgary, Alberta, is December’s GIS Ambassador of the Month! She’s been using geographic information systems (GIS) to engage her students in project-based learning. She’s excited “as an elementary teacher, to be able to show how younger students can learn through GIS.”

Alison is also involved in the Alberta Teachers Association Specialist Council. She is on the Board of Directors and is a writer and editor for the Global, Environmental and Outdoor Council of Alberta (GEOEC) Connection Journal. Her articles focus on ideas for teaching geography that include ArcGIS Online and ArcGIS Story Maps.

A woman wearing a toque is smiling.

Alison is a passionate educator who is keen on supporting her colleagues and other teachers at her board in their use of GIS.

This blog post will highlight some of the interesting projects she’s done with her students that connect them to their learning through GIS.

The EdgeCast Project

In the 2020-2021 school year, with the support of a grant from the National Geographic COVID-19 Fund for Educators, Alison’s grade 5 class embarked on a project to make a difference for community members during a difficult time. The idea was to get people to connect through storytelling.

They invited speakers from across Canada to their class to virtually share their stories. The students recorded the stories for the podcast collection that would go into a story map. They also created a web map to include the locations of the speakers.

The students also had the opportunity to go outside to collect information about their local area. They created artwork of animals and insects and placed QR Codes on the artwork linked to the final story map. Finally, the students posted their creations around the community in outdoor spaces.

The students loved the idea of visualizing and creating a story map to share the voices of individuals from across Canada with their local community.

This set of images show some of the artwork created by the students (drawings made on wood of animals and insects), work being done students – a student exploring a map, and a pair of students working on a computer.

The grade 5 students created art for the EdgeCast project. Read Alison’s reflections on the project from the National Geographic Education Blog. “They had found that people from different backgrounds and places all had a connection with the outdoors and the resilience and hope that comes with it.”

Learn more about the project through the EdgeCast story map and the video below.

​In this video, Alison talks about the EdgeCast project.

Supporting educators in learning about ArcGIS

Alison has presented workshops to teachers about projects that incorporated the ArcGIS work she’s done with her students. During a recent workshop, she shared a project from a few years ago that her grade 5 class did on a local wetland. Her students mapped watersheds, water flow, and animal routes.

Dr. Lynn Moorman, a professor of Geospatial Education from Mount Royal University, supported the project.  Alison thanks Lynn for helping support her in her first steps towards learning more about how GIS is used in teaching and learning.

A digital map showing fish species around the Calgary, Alberta area.

Map showing fish species found in the Calgary area from the Wetland study.

It was a geo-inquiry project that focused on the role of wetlands in our schools’ local area. The students learned how citizen science, GIS, and remote sensing are used to map species, landcover, and explore the history and health of the wetland. Then, using web maps, students investigated watershed boundaries near their school, and performed analysis to see if  other schools were located close to wetlands throughout their city. They wanted to collaborate with other schools to look at – for instance -  how frogs are distributed across the city and compare collected field data.

During the workshop, educators were encouraged to think of ways to use ArcGIS in their classroom projects, as they saw how students used it to inquire about wetlands and make real-world connections to what they were learning.

ArcGIS is a valuable tool for teaching and student learning

Alison believes in the power of storytelling as “stories share truths, treasures, and knowledge.”  She enjoys using story maps, as a variety of information can be combined to create a visual story.

ArcGIS Online is a geospatial tool that Alison’s students used to make connections and predictions visually with the use of maps. For example, during a wetlands study, when looking at where the local wetland flows to, the students in her class were surprised to see the drainage went through a subdivision. Alison knows that the curriculum in science covers food chains and ecology. However, the “spark'' of the lesson came from the idea that the roadways impact where the animals could eat and interact with other species.

An image showing the Edgemont Wetlands in Calgary, Alberta.

Edgemont Wetlands in Calgary, Alberta, where students focused their study.

As young students, they are aware of the boundaries created by roadways. Their connection and meaningful learning came from their own questions, which led to their understanding of ecology. The curriculum suddenly has more depth for the students, as they were challenged to solve real-world problems in a collaborative, student-centred environment.

Alison shared that, “If you visit my classroom, you will notice that a great deal of the learning happens through big, cross-curricular projects that require students to apply skills from many different subject areas, to create something authentic.”

On-going class project

In teaching grade 4 this year, Alison’s excited to share the journey of learning ArcGIS with her new grade 4 teacher team and students. Part of the Alberta grade 4 curriculum focuses on the Story of Land.

This year, her class is working on a project called "Trail Stories from Nose Hill Park.”  The students have started learning about the history and geography of Alberta through the interviews, and stories of a local community park.

Alison’s students are learning how this parkland has changed over time. Like the EdgeCast story map, they will create a story map that includes walking routes that students will  use to complete interviews, artwork and information to share with people in the community.

She hopes that by the end of the project, the students will have gained a deeper connection to their local community and be able to use that context to understand the history and geography of Alberta.

The importance of being a GIS Ambassador

As a GIS Ambassador, Alison hopes to pass on support and encouragement to others interested in bringing ArcGIS into their class as it’s a great learning opportunity for their students. In addition, she enjoys assisting educators with the basics of ArcGIS Online and investigating the latest ArcGIS resources relevant to their course content.

Thank you, Alison, for your support in making learning with GIS fun, interesting and relevant for students and educators in Alberta. Keep inspiring and sharing your knowledge with others.

Read other GIS Ambassador of the Month stories. Request to connect with a GIS Ambassador today.

This blog post was written with the help of Alison Katzko. 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