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GIS adventures with David Brian

David Brian’s a teacher at Académie Ste Cecile International School in Windsor, Ontario who’s been using GIS in his teaching for almost 20 years. Find out how he’s been using GIS for project based learning and to foster spatial literacy in his students.

David Brian’s a teacher at Académie Ste Cecile International School who currently teaches Grade 9, 11 and 12 geography. For almost 20 years now, he’s been using GIS in his teaching and to engage students in learning about their community and the world around them.

He’s been teaching at private schools in Hong Kong and Canada since 1987. He has primarily been a teacher of geography with extensive responsibility as Head of the Humanities Department and as the International Baccalaureate Middle Years Program Curriculum Coordinator.

We started working with David in 2016 when we connected him with Larisa Johnstone, a GIS Ambassador who actively assists K-12 teachers using GIS in the Windsor area. For a unit on livable and sustainable communities, David was invited to bring his class to the City of Windsor office where Larisa works. The planning group presented the importance of GIS in planning parks and livable and sustainable communities in Windsor. Larisa continues to support David and his students in their use of GIS.

In the fall of 2016, I met David at the Toronto User Conference. Teachers who attend these conferences are keen, hardworking and interested in finding out what the latest thing is in the field of GIS. They take what they learn from the conference and find a way to integrate it into their teaching.


Engaging students is no easy feat; that’s why David uses technology and project based learning to get them excited and involved in their learning. Using ArcGIS Online and ArcGIS Desktop, along with data collection tools such as Survey123 for ArcGIS and Collector for ArcGIS, students work on projects that cover topics from the Ontario curriculum. The use of GIS is also a great way to foster spatial literacy and critical thinking skills in students.

David happily shared with us some of the projects his students have done in his classes:

A sample story map of the Ojibway Park impact study.

This year, David plans to work on three projects that are connected to current issues with his students. They include:

1. Syrian refugee story map project 

David’s Grade 12 world issues students will work with teen aged Syrian refugees in the Windsor area to help them document their journey from their homeland to Canada, using story maps. As David has informed us, “the purpose of this project is threefold. First, it’s to provide the Syrian teenagers with a digital diary to document their journey which they can share with their new community - both in their school and with family members from afar - considering that it's their story which is the most powerful context for understanding. Second, it’s to introduce geo-technologies to the Syrians as a powerful tool for their own learning and sharing. Lastly, I want to provide my students with a contextual learning opportunity of what it means to be a new immigrant to Canada, as well as the power of story maps to help a new person integrate into their new setting.”

2. Gentrifying Detroit project

David’s Grade 9 geography class will use Collector for ArcGIS to collect field data on the rapidly changing Detroit neighbourhoods. They will create a story map to present the findings of their field report.

3.  Pre-European settlements of our Indigenous peoples of Essex County project

Students in David’s Grade 11 geography class will collect and map data on pre-European settlements of our Indigenous peoples of Essex County. They will research and map the settlement locations, looking at both primary and secondary data. Once the settlements are mapped, they will research the locational factors for the settlements and add this attribute information into the map. The students will also explore the concepts of reconciliation in the context of today, meeting up with the Caldwell Band in Essex County.

David’s committed to making learning fun and providing opportunities for his students to learn skills that are valued in the real world. This is apparent in the projects that he designs. He’s a passionate teacher who shines a light on important issues that students should be learning about.

“I am a firm believer and practitioner in experiential learning. It’s important to get my students and colleagues outside of the classroom and to provide a contextual platform for the curriculum being delivered and raise spatial literacy in the process.” As a result of his passion for experiential learning, David was recognized by the European Council of International Schools: ECIS with the Award for International Education when he worked at a private school in Hong Kong that was accredited by the ECIS.    

We are always looking for inspirational teachers like David to highlight. Please contact us to share your story. 

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