GIS in the classroom: An English teacher’s ArcGIS Online experience

February 24, 2015 Angela Alexander

Collaboration is a great way to learn from your peers. Find out how an English teacher discovered the possibilities of ArcGIS Online when she worked with a Geography teacher at her school.

Although ArcGIS Online can be used to teach many subjects, K-12 educators traditionally use it in the social studies, history and geography classrooms. So when I first heard an English teacher was using it, I was eager to find out more.

Stacey Bradley is an English teacher at Neelin High School in Brandon, Manitoba. She was introduced to ArcGIS Online by her colleague Rob Langston, a Geography teacher.

One day, the two teachers were discussing cross-curricular integration and ideas for their departments to collaborate when it occurred to Rob that ArcGIS Online could be introduced to the grade 9 English Language Arts (ELA) teachers. His idea was that they could work on an activity that would involve creating a story map, an easy-to-use application on ArcGIS Online that combines maps, multi-media (photos and videos) and words to tell a story. After Stacey was shown some examples of story maps, she was able to see how students could apply them to map literature and thought it would be an excellent way to engage students.

Stacey Bradley, ELA teacher at Neelin High School.

Stacey knew the next step was to learn how to use this technology and to convince all the other grade 9 ELA teachers that creating story maps would be a good fit for their grade 9 ELA project, too. Rob was invited to demonstrate ArcGIS Online to them and to discuss the possibilities the technology offered the students' project work.

Stacey found ArcGIS Online easy to use and she liked that it required no software installation because it was available online, and could be accessed using multiple devices from anywhere through the Internet. She believed a story map activity would allow students to show creatively their learning in a new and fun way instead of using a typical medium, such as writing an essay. In addition, Stacey believed since ArcGIS Online was easy to learn, students would still be able to focus on the learning, as opposed to having to spend a lot of time figuring out the technology.

Once all the ELA teachers agreed to move forward with the story map project, they planned out the activity that included all of the grade 9 students at the school. Using pictures, text and maps, the task was for the students to create a story map that presented the theme of resilience that they found in a novel of their choice. Most of the students worked in groups of up to three people. A number of the students were also taking geography with Rob, so there were some expert ArcGIS Online users in the bunch.

One of the "Resilience" story maps created by grade 9 English students at Neelin High School as part of the Story Maps Project.

Overall, the students enjoyed the experience of creating their story maps. The activity helped to build the confidence of a number of the students who provided assistance to their fellow classmates and teachers in the process. Some of the ELA teachers plan to make story maps an activity option in their classes next year.

Other teachers at the school have taken notice of the students’ work and a history teacher plans to use ArcGIS Online in her classroom in the near future. Stacey’s looking forward to sharing her expertise with this teacher and her students when the time comes.

Visit our Lesson Planner to find free ArcGIS online resources and to learn how you can create your own story map.

Read more stories about teachers who are using GIS in the classroom and share with us your GIS experiences.

About the Author

Angela Alexander

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.

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