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GIS in the Classroom: Colin Robertson

Integrating GIS into your teaching can be a great way to engage your students and bring current topics to the classroom. Find out why a teacher from Ottawa decided to use ArcGIS Online in his geography classes.

Colin Robertson is a teacher from Ottawa, ON who was introduced to ArcGIS Online earlier this year and, without a hitch, he successfully incorporated it into his teaching. He teaches grade 7 Science, grade 9 Geography and grade 11 Environmental Science at Elmwood School, an independent International Baccalaureate (IB) school for girls.

Recently, Colin told us the five reasons he decided to use GIS in his teaching:

  1. It develops students’ critical thinking skills.
  2. It allows students to identify and analyze patterns.
  3. It enhances the learning of many Canadian and global issues.
  4. It allows students to make decisions based on information they have analyzed.
  5. ArcGIS Online helps to develop students’ mapping skills and introduces them to the exciting and growing field of GIS.

Colin’s interested in teaching his students 21st century geography skills, which he believes is a blend of current online mapping tools and critical thinking skills. He believes ArcGIS Online allows students to gain a better understanding of geographic issues and develop the ability to make critical decisions. 

This past school year, his grade 9 geography students learned about the mountain pine beetle affecting the economy and the environment in British Columbia. Colin used Esri Canada’s Mountain Pine Beetle lesson pack to gain a better understanding of the factors that affect the spread of this insect.

An ArcGIS Online map, created by school teacher Colin Robertson, on the Mountain Pine Beetle from an Esri Canada lesson pack.

Colin’s class also worked on a project using ArcGIS Online in which they explored the connection between earthquakes and nuclear sites. The purpose of the mapping activity was to answer two questions:

  1. Should Canada continue to invest in nuclear energy?
  2. Should Japan continue to invest in nuclear energy?

The students used critical thinking skills as they analyzed the relationship between earthquakes and plate boundaries. They completed a series of querying and measuring tasks to help them gain an understanding of where the strongest earthquakes occur relative to Canada and the Ring of Fire, a large horseshoe-shaped area in the Pacific Ocean prone to frequent earthquakes and volcanic eruptions.

His students benefitted from using ArcGIS Online because it allowed them to make correlations and conduct analyses. Many of his students said the interactive program was fun and they learned new skills they can use in school and in the real world. Colin’s goal in the new school year is building on his understanding of ArcGIS to drive the learning even further in his classroom.  He wants to learn more of the applications so he can teach his students a wider range of mapping skills that will make his classes more engaging and interesting.  

We look forward to checking in with Colin later this year to see how he's progressed. Stay tuned to read about Colin’s new GIS projects for 2014 and 2015.

Read more about other teachers who have integrated GIS into their teaching and contact us at  if you would like to be highlighted in an upcoming blog post.

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