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GIS Ambassador Joann Fox: Promoting GIS as a tool for spatial thinking

The GIS Ambassador Program is a great way to promote the importance of geographic information systems (GIS) to K-12 schools, educators and students. Read about Joann Fox, a GIS Analyst from the City of Edmonton, who’s supporting teachers in her community. Find out what Joann has done so far in her role as a GIS Ambassador to promote the importance of GIS and spatial thinking.

The GIS Ambassador Program provides opportunities for students and educators to work with a GIS user in the industry or higher education community to learn more about the educational value of spatial technology. In many cases, GIS Ambassadors make their first visits to schools where they already have a connection. This may be through a friend or relative who attends or works at the school.

Joann Fox is a GIS Ambassador from Edmonton who’s made visits earlier this year to the Bisset School where her husband teaches. She met with Sibin Ammanethu, one of the kindergarten teachers who showed interest in a class presentation to find out what she was going to be covering in her class in the coming weeks.

Joann Fox is a GIS Ambassador who believes GIS is a powerful tool to foster spatial thinking in students.

Using ArcGIS Online, Joann put together a story map about the Bisset School community based on input from Sibin. The resource highlights places of interest that were identified by the teacher. They include the school playground, park, school, hospital, library and police station.

Joann’s intention during the class presentation was to promote the use of GIS as a tool to foster spatial thinking in students. The students used a smart board to identify the places of interest in their community and learned how to navigate the map to find additional places in their school area. The students also explored the zoo babies story map where they could see where baby animals are located in the Smithsonian Zoo and where they are found in the wild.

GIS Ambassadors help promote spatial thinking and maps to students and teachers in their local community.

Sibin was impressed with the school visit and plans to have Joann make another visit next year. She believes “Joann's presentation on GIS mapping was a great hands-on lesson for students to learn about their community and the world around them. Students were engaged and excited when they were chosen to manipulate objects on the smart board. The best part of the entire lesson was having students make connections between the mapping lesson and places in their community. It was a real, authentic experience, and I would highly recommend this lesson to other educators!” 

Joann enjoyed her visit to Sibin’s kindergarten class to promote the importance of spatial thinking.

Joann has been using GIS professionally for over 12 years. In her latest role as a GIS Analyst, she uses GIS to determine equitable workload distribution and conduct spatial analysis. She was recently part of a team that leveraged Portal for ArcGIS with Business Intelligence.

Just as Joann uses GIS to make important decisions at work, she firmly believes that kids should use GIS to make informed decisions about issues that are happening in their community, city, country and the world.  As she has explained to us, “Since I am married to a teacher, I know how hard teachers work and are often looking for ways to combine core curriculum in different subject areas in their lessons. GIS is a perfect tool to do that, as it can be used to explore STEM subjects and to identify real world problems and to find solutions to those problems. Students benefit by interacting with the mapping, spatial technology while learning that that their school subjects are not mutually exclusive. It is a win for the teachers and the students alike.”

At the end of this month, Joann will be introducing the power of story maps to a couple of grade 4 classes at the Bisset School as a great way to get them to document their summer vacation. In the new school year, she’s also planning to work with teachers from other schools to help them integrate GIS as a teaching tool for core subjects beyond social studies.

We look forward to supporting Joann in her future GIS Ambassador endeavors. We hope that she’ll inspire others to volunteer their time too.  

Edmonton teachers and students have access to an ArcGIS Online subscription. Any teacher in Canada can request access to an account for themselves and their students at

If you’re an educator who’s looking to connect with a GIS Ambassador in your community, contact us today

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