Skip to main content

Female students shine at the 2023 Skills ON GIS competition

This year’s Skills Ontario GIS competition was held in person after being virtual for the last two years.  The challenge was led by female competitors and winners ranging from grade 9 to 12. Get the update on the question and the results of this full day event.

2023 was an exciting year of firsts at the Skills Ontario GIS competition. ArcGIS Pro was a new software option for students to use to answer the question, students had to bring their own computers, female competitors outnumbered the male ones, and the top three teams consisted of female winners.

Nine teams competed from six school boards in Ontario. They included Toronto District School Board (TDSB), Dufferin Peel Catholic District School Board (DPCDSB), York Catholic School Board (YCDSB), York Region District School Board (YRDSB), District School Board of Niagara (DSBN), and Upper Grand District School Board (UGDSB).

The day began with students setting up their desktop computers and laptops with only half of the teams arriving by 7:45. By 8 am, all the teams were present and keen to get started with the competition question on locating at least two areas in the City of Brampton to build affordable housing.

The teams had approximately six hours to work on the question with a half-hour lunch break in the middle of the day. Each team had five minutes to present their findings in an ArcGIS StoryMap to the judges and a few minutes to answer any questions the judges had after.

The winning team of two grade nine students from YCDSB wowed the judges with their presentation and thinking outside the box by including additional criteria about the environment that no other teams considered.

A screenshot of a map showing vacant lots and natural heritage systems in the City of Brampton.

The winning team considered the environment in their decision of where to propose the building of affordable housing in Brampton.

Feedback from the judges included the following:

“Impressive correlation of data and geospatial analysis ability demonstrated.”
– Lindsey Carter, GIS Analyst, City of Brampton.

“Good work on the extra research on the demographic data and it was good you considered the environmental aspect in relation to the project.” – Larisa Johnstone, GIS Data Analyst, City of Windsor.

Two students working in front of their laptops during the GIS competition.

The winning team of grade nine students from YCDSB pictured here worked consistently throughout the day on their project and wowed the judges with their presentation and findings.

The second-place team were two female students from DSBN who did a great job on their project and worked well together. The third-place team were two female grade nine students from TDSB. Their day started on a rough note with laptop issues, but they persevered in the end.

Congratulations to all the teams for their hard work and an awesome job overall.

The 2023 Judges

GIS professionals/GIS Ambassadors from two municipalities in Ontario and a retired educator made up the 2023 judging team. Working in pairs, they worked throughout the day as they tackled the big task of evaluating the students’ work and findings on where to build affordable housing in the City of Brampton.

Image of judges standing in front of Skills Ontario GIS competition room.

From left to right – Lindsey Carter and Aaron DeBoer are GIS Analysts from the City of Brampton, Larisa Johnstone is a GIS Data Analyst from the City of Windsor, and David Brian is a retired educator from the Windsor area.

Two students presenting their findings at the GIS competition, 2023.

Each team had five minutes to present their findings to the judges and the other students.

Thank you to the judges Larisa, David, Aaron and Lindsey for volunteering your time to support GIS in K-12 education!

Thank you, Adam Commeford and Shane Collins, who made up the rest of the City of Brampton team that supported the development of the 2023 question.

A student standing in front of a screen displaying a map she is explaining to the judges.

Judges had an opportunity to ask questions after each presentation.

Why get your students involved next year?

Now that you’ve learned about this year’s competition, find out 5 reasons why your students should get involved next year! This information was originally used in the Skills wrap up post in May 2023.

  1. Answer a relevant question
    Annually, students in teams of two, answer a real-world issue using ArcGIS in about six hours. This year’s focus was discovering where to build affordable housing in the City of Brampton. The students presented their findings in a story map that included their project workflow, web maps and final conclusions.
  2. Use current software

All K-12 schools in Canada have FREE access to ArcGIS software that is used by professionals globally. During the competition, students use ArcGIS Online or ArcGIS Pro to visualize data, create and analyse maps and present their findings in an ArcGIS StoryMap.

  1. Learn from GIS Ambassadors and other GIS professionals

Judges involved in the Skills Ontario GIS competition include professionals working in different sectors who use GIS in their everyday work. Some are GIS Ambassadors who commit time throughout the year to support the use of GIS in K-12 education. At the end of the competition, each judge will provide written feedback to the teams. These documents are sent to the supervising teachers of each team.

  1. Teamwork

    Students get an opportunity to work with a classmate on a real-world project. In a matter of six hours, they will answer a question using ArcGIS and present it to the judges. Working in a team involves a set of skills that are important, like collaboration, time management, communication, listening, and problem solving. All of these are lifelong skills that will help a student in and out of their school and work environment.
    Two students sitting in front of their computers working on their mapping project.
    Through teamwork students gain skills that will last a lifetime.

  2. Valuable experience

This competition allows students to test their skills, but also discover if this type of work is something they want to do in the future. Being a GIS Analyst may not be for everyone. However, students get to use many skill sets beyond the analytical ones, like presentation, organization and writing skills. This experience can influence the type of work and higher education path these students continue to.

If you are interested in giving your students an opportunity to develop their critical thinking, data analysis and map-making skills, get them involved in 2024! Students can try out some of the past questions to prepare for next year’s competition.

Encourage your female students to get involved and share with them this inspiring story map Celebrating Women: Stars of Spatial Science from Esri Press. They will discover 30 remarkable, diverse women in STEM using geospatial technology to advance science and improve our understanding of the world.

Email us at if you have any questions.

Happy Mapping!

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