Skip to main content

GIS Day 2023: Spatial Adventures in K-12 Education

Every November, teachers, students, and GIS professionals get together in person or virtually to celebrate Geography Awareness Week and GIS Day. This global celebration focuses on the importance of geography and the use of mapping to understand issues in our complex world. Let’s have a look at some of the cool events that occurred this year in Canada in support of geographic information systems (GIS) use in K-12 education.

Teachers and GIS Ambassadors shared what they did to celebrate geography and GIS this year.

Kelly Kamo McHugh, Aurora Research Institute (ARI)
ARI Outreach Coordinator, Northwest Territories

The Geography in the Beaufort Delta event for students and the community occurred on GIS Day. In this engaging educational session, students and residents delved into geography and environmental studies starting with the exploration of a giant floor map of Canada. They were introduced to various data-collection drones, including thermal camera, LIDAR, and eBee fixed-wing drones. The students also learned about permafrost and did a caribou collar tracking exercise from the Government of the Northwest Territories and a virtual reality (VR) tour of Qikiqtaruk Territorial Park. The session was enriched with further activities, collaboratively organized by organizations from the region, such as the Town of Inuvik and Parks Canada, providing a practical and immersive learning experience in geomatics and environmental awareness.

Students during the Geography event were engaged and excited to learn on GIS Day.

Students learned about mapping technologies and engaged in interactive activities during the Geography in the Beaufort Delta event.

Natasha Parsons, Aspengrove School
Teacher and GIS Ambassador from British Columbia

During Geography Awareness Week, grades 4-8 participated in the first round of the Canadian Geographic Challenge! The top three winners from each class received an Esri Canada swag bag.

Three students holding up their GIS Day swag with their teacher Natahsa.

Natasha with the winners of the Canadian Geographic Challenge at her school.
They are happily presenting their Esri Canada GIS Day swag.

On GIS Day, students celebrated Intercultural Day. Grade 6-10 students brought in food for lunch from a different country. The student organizers of the event created a survey using ArcGIS Survey123. This allowed students to map where all the food items came from. The students who participated in the survey also won an Esri Canada swag bag. 

Madoka Otani, Information Services Corp
GIS Ambassador from Saskatchewan

Madoka made her annual visit to a local school. She worked with students in grade 2, 3 and 4.  She discussed how maps have been used in the past, and how to find directions without a map or a compass.  The students traced an aerial imagery containing their school zone, creating their own maps on to tracing paper. After this, teachers will the map they created in their future classes to turn them into thematic maps and treasure hunt maps.

Students tracing maps.

Students traced maps during the GIS Day visit with Madoka.

Naiomi Borger, Smart Geographics
GIS Ambassador from Saskatchewan

On GIS Day, Naiomi presented the importance of satellite imagery and GPS technology and how these integrate with GIS. She also discussed how GIS is embedded in people’s lives and daily activities.

The image shows Naiomi presenting in front of grade 8 students in a classroom.

Naiomi with a grade 8 class in Regina.

Justin Kraemer, County of Bruce
GIS Ambassador from Ontario

In recognition of GIS Day, Bruce County and Grey County invited students in grades 7 and 8  from the region to learn about GIS by participating in a story maps competition. The goal of this event was for students to work in teams of 2-3 to create an ArcGIS StoryMap to answer to one of the two contest questions/options.

Option 1: The Distribution and Availability of Healthy Food Options in Your Community
Consider the following:

  • What’s in your fridge?
  • Where is it purchased locally?
  • Where could you source it locally?
  • Where is this food coming from?

Option 2: History of Natural Disasters in a Region
Consider the following:

  • What is the history of natural disasters in your area, province or country?
  • Where was the impact?
  • Are there trends?
  • Have they increased or decreased in frequency? Why?

Outcome of the contest:

  • Involved 10 schools with 20 classes that participated.
  • 475 student participants in total.
  • 203 teams involved with 2-3 students each and 6 students worked alone.
  • 9 Local GIS experts assisted 1-3 classes assigned to them throughout the contest period. The GIS experts were drawn from select staff at Bruce County and Grey County, Bruce Power, and some municipalities of Bruce County.
  • 107 Story Map entries were submitted for judging. The GIS experts selected the top 2-3 from each of their assigned classes using the evaluation rubric that Cory Munro, a teacher from the region built. He also created the contest story map that outlined the contest rules and other information.
  • The top three story maps are included in the contest story map.
  • Prizes for 1st through 3rd place were contributed by the sponsors - Esri Canada, Bruce Power and Bruce County.

A map that included in the winning team’s story map that show the county boundaries of Bruce and Grey Counties and the location of farmers markets and u-picks.

This map is from one of the top 3 story maps. The team mapped the farmers markets and u-pick locations in the counties of Bruce and Grey.

Graham Good and the Muskoka GIS group, District Municipality of Muskoka
GIS Ambassador from Ontario

Graham virtually presented the Muskoka GeoHub to three geography classes from three local high schools.  The geohub includes datasets and maps from the region of Muskoka that can be used by the general public and K-12 students for educational purposes. The session was recorded so that other students could watch it during their geography classes.

An image of Graham from the GIS Day virtual event. A man infront of a gis day screen.

Graham highlighted the Muskoka Geohub in his presentation to students.

An X post on the GIS Day event held by Muskoka GIS group.

Graham shared the X post about the GIS Day event.

It’s not too late to get a GIS Day event planned for this school year. Our group will be facilitating a series of ArcGIS workshops for a high school in Burlington, Ontario in the middle of December. Contact us at to let us know what your plans are, and we can send you resources (presentation, activities, and ideas) for your event.

Keep on 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