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Engaging students with GIS: geography classes map garbage and graffiti for clean-up effort

A geographic information system (GIS) is an effective way to include field work into your teaching and to engage students in community projects. Find out how ArcGIS was used in a community clean-up project in Brandon, Manitoba to explore the impact of garbage and graffiti.

A geographic information system (GIS) can be used in community projects to engage students and encourage collaboration among teachers. Using the geographic inquiry process, students can explore a problem in their own community by collecting and analyzing data and then making recommendations for change.

Last month, Neelin High School in Brandon Manitoba participated in a neighbourhood clean-up event as part of a project to help students understand the impact of garbage in their community. After the entire school collected the garbage, students from the school’s Eco Club sorted it into different groups, which included waste, reusable, upcycling and compostable, and then weighed it. Over 500 pounds of garbage was collected!

Garbage collected by Neelin High School students in Brandon, MB for a community clean-up project.

The results were shared with Rob Langston, a geography teacher at the school. Students in his grade 10 Applications of GIS class mapped the results of the garbage collection in ArcGIS for Desktop. His grade 11 Geography students used the Collector for ArcGIS app to collect data on graffiti locations while they were helping out with the garbage clean-up. They mapped the graffiti data in ArcGIS Online and attached pictures to some of the locations they collected.

This map - created by a grade 10 student using ArcGIS for Desktop - shows the amount of garbage collected during the clean-up by area.

At the end of the project, Rob’s students discussed the patterns they noticed in their graffiti data. They noted that the majority of graffiti was found in back lanes and suggested that better lighting or improved sightlines from nearby houses would be a way to reduce the problem.

Neelin High School plans to run another clean-up event next year as it has proven to be a valuable experience for students in understanding the need for them to take care of their community and the environment.

Brandon Graffiti map created by grade 11 students.

Check out the following Esri Canada resources if you are interested in learning more about Collector for ArcGIS and to find out how you can integrate GIS into a community study.

  • Using the Collector App with an Empty Feature Layer Esri's Collector for ArcGIS application (app) allows you to use your smartphone to collect and update information in the field, log your current location, and use the data you capture so you can make more informed and timely decisions. This app is available for the iPhone and Android.  In this tutorial, you will create an empty feature layer and access the Web map through the Collector for ArcGIS app. You must have an ArcGIS Online Organization (subscription) account to complete this tutorial. Contact for more information.
  • Using the Geographic Inquiry Process to Understand Your Environment In this lesson pack, you will follow the geographic inquiry process to study the environment in your local community. You will use your smartphone and GIS tools available in ArcGIS Online to explore, analyze and act on your results.

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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