Skip to main content

GIS Adventures with Wade Leonard

Wade Leonard is a teacher at Granite Ridge Education Centre who’s provided his students with a rich learning experience through local projects using spatial technologies. Discover what activities they completed, and find out what they learned throughout the year.

Wade and his students, from left to right: Spencer Crain, Teacher Jamie McCullough, Tanner Meeks, Teacher Wade Leonard, Ryleigh Rioux, Nathan Lowery, Erica Thompson, Claudia Thompson and Zach Commodore.

Wade Leonard is a science and geography teacher who’s been working at Granite Ridge Education Centre, a small composite K-12 school in Sharbot Lake, Ontario since 2009. Last fall, nine students enrolled in his grade 11 course, Introduction to Spatial Technologies, with varying learning levels. The course included engaging activities such as drone flying, surveying and digital map making.

Throughout the course, Wade learned alongside his students collecting local data using a drone, processing the collected data in ArcGIS Desktop and displaying data on a web map in ArcGIS Online. Teaching a small group of students made up of different learners allowed Wade to find the strengths in each student, and he encouraged them to contribute this to the group. Some of the students became strong drone pilots while others were more comfortable using ArcGIS. The class was engaged in problem solving and decision making, and they gained relevant real-world experience through projects they did with organizations in their local area.

One such project was with the Malcolm and Ardoch Lakes Landowners’ Association (MALLA) that was involved with drone mapping Malcolm Lake. MALLA’s Lake Stewardship Committee (LSC) implements projects to monitor plant growth, identify invasive species and find ways to protect and improve the health of the lakes through data collection and research. The LSC group decided a local partnership with Wade and his class would be beneficial for both parties, as this would be a great way for them to monitor the health of the lake from a distance, without harming wildlife, and for students to gain experience flying the drone and learn about local issues.

A student web map created using ArcGIS Online and DroneDeploy.

The class also had the opportunity to work with Kevin Ferrell, a GIS professional from the County of Frontenac who acted as a technical advisor, and he provided invaluable support throughout the course. A data sharing agreement was established between the school and the county, as Kevin provided data from the Frontenac’s interactive mapping site and property boundary layers to help the students determine the location of boundaries for some of their drone flights. Wade plans on continuing his relationship with the county to collect imagery through class projects and to highlight the career opportunities that are available in spatial technologies.

Even though the class learned a lot over the course, it did not come without its challenges. Learning new software takes a lot of patience and troubleshooting when things don’t run smoothly. Even after over 50 flights, the class experienced some difficulty when trying to fly the drone around an airport. They worked with tech support and figured out how to move forward with the project.

As part of their culminating activity, students were asked to put together a course overview about what they learned. Course feedback from the students was very positive. One student wrote, “In this course you will become immersed in the world of unmanned aerial vehicles (UAV), GIS and radio licenses, as well as departing from school regularly for trips. I absolutely loved it and gained a lot of knowledge about not only UAV's but also about the theory of flight, mapping and surveying. We used many different UAV and mapping apps such as Litchi, DroneDeploy, ArcGIS Online and ArcGIS Desktop. We overcame many technical challenges with ArcGIS and DroneDeploy. The most difficult aspect of this course was learning how to use ArcGIS Desktop. Even though I faced some challenges during this course, it opened up my eyes to future job opportunities related to surveying and mapping.”

This experience allowed students to learn by doing, and they gained skills that they can use in the future. They did a lot of practical work outside of the classroom, as they were given the opportunity to make decisions on drone flying, and they learned GIS desktop and online software. Wade’s intention was to provide them with ideas for career options; he wanted to develop their skills and knowledge as it related to spatial technologies, and he wanted to show them how they can access and understand digital information about their local environment. The Vice Principal of Granite Ridge, Kristin Stevens, believes this course provided the students with “an incredibly rich authentic learning opportunity” that touched upon many areas. 

Wade is currently teaching the Environmental Science course. He plans to use the same tools for collecting and analyzing data, but this time it will be to investigate areas of environmental concern. His students will map local municipal dumps, wetlands and forested areas.

Wade, continue your great work! We hope your story excites others to use spatial technologies in their classroom. We look forward to hearing more about the amazing work you are doing with your students!

Share your story about an inspiring educator who’s using GIS to enhance their teaching and student learning at, and we may write a future blog post about it. We would love to hear from you! Share your thoughts about this post by commenting below.

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