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Discover student projects that dive into important issues using ArcGIS

Teachers are using ArcGIS to engage students in learning about current issues. Discover projects that two passionate teachers have done with their students.

Through my daily engagement with teachers, I am fortunate to hear about interesting projects that cover current issues. In this blog post, I am highlighting projects that two teachers have shared with me. Natasha Parsons and Brian Beard are avid ArcGIS users who are always willing to support their fellow educators through workshops and answering questions.

Let’s find out what they have been up to recently with their students.

Natasha Parsons
Grade 9 - Water Quality Survey
British Columbia

Natasha Parsons is a teacher and GIS Ambassador from Aspengrove School in Lantzville, British Columbia. Her grade 9 social studies class worked on a water quality project where they individually collected information around Nanaimo, B.C. using a survey. The idea here was to integrate the International Baccalaureate (IB) curriculum,  with the British Columbia provincial curriculum through a fieldwork project.

I asked Natasha to share information on the project.

What was the purpose of the project?
This project was tied to a unit on the Anthropocene where the students were learning about the impact humans, past and present, have on the planet. This included issues on climate change, pollution and environmental degradation.

In connection to the British Columbia curriculum, students developed an awareness of and responsibility for their social, physical, and natural environments by working independently and collaboratively for the benefit of others, communities, and the environment.

What ArcGIS tools did the students use for the project?
Students used a survey I created in Survey123 to collect information on the following water characteristics: odour, turbidity, temperature, pH level, dissolved oxygen and the presence of plant life. Each student visited a local water body and collected samples using tools from a school testing kit.

The students also used ArcGIS StoryMaps, to present their data spatially in web maps and the findings of their water study.

A map showing locations of water quality around Nanaimo, British Columbia. An image of a student collecting water samples is present.

This is a story map showing the locations Natasha’s students visited as part of the water quality investigation around Nanaimo. Each point has a pop-up that shows a picture taken at the location, and the results for that location from the survey. The image in this pop-up shows a grade 9 student collecting water quality data at Lost Lake, Nanaimo.

What was the outcome for the students?
Students learned how to gather data from the field and present it spatially using ArcGIS. They gained a deeper understanding of water quality and how to measure it. The result was knowledge of the condition of the local water bodies in their community. In addition, they were able to share their findings to other members of the school community.

What’s your next project?
My plan next year is to have the grade 9 social studies class map global conflicts and compare development indices of countries that have been affected by conflict using ArcGIS Online.

Brian Beard
Grade 10 &11 - Examining Health Issues in the World

Brian Beard is a teacher from Colonel By Secondary School in Ottawa, Ontario. He recently completed a project with his grade 10/11 International Baccalaureate (IB)/ Regional Geography class on health issues in different regions of the world.

Brian shared his information on the project.

What was the purpose of the project?
In keeping with the curriculum outcomes of the Regional Geography course, the purpose of this project was to get students to explore interrelationships between the land and people in a selected region as well as interconnections between this region and the rest of the world. Students selected a region of the world and examined the region’s environmental, socio-economic, and cultural characteristics and investigated issues related to natural resources, economic development and sustainability, population change, globalization, and quality of life.

A popup on a map is visible that shows child mortality data for Brazil.

A student story map on Latin America from Brian’s class.

What ArcGIS tools did the students use for the project?
Most students collected data they found online and created their own quality of life index in Google Sheets. Using ArcGIS Online, they joined the quality of life table to a data layer and created a new data layer. Web maps were created to display important information connected to their region of choice.

Using ArcGIS Story Maps, students presented their findings. They created slides that included maps and images to compare different topics and embedded story map tours and videos.

What was the outcome for the students?
The most rewarding outcome for the students was the ability to collect data and create their own maps. It allowed them to analyse and discover patterns and trends in their data.

What’s the next project?
Next year, I plan to get my geography students to use Survey123 to collect data on noise pollution and temperature from locations around the city. I want them to use ArcGIS Online to discover patterns and trends, and to answer the fundamental geography questions “What is where? Why there? Why care?”

Call out to all K-12 educators - share your teaching stories with us and we may highlight you in an upcoming blog post.

New to ArcGIS Online?

If you are new to ArcGIS Online, educators can request an account for themselves and their students at

Check out the following beginner resources to get started with ArcGIS Online:

For Educators - Let’s get started with ArcGIS Online 

For Students – Enroute with ArcGIS Online

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