GIS in the Classroom: David Ast –Using ArcGIS Online to teach local and global issues

March 22, 2016 Angela Alexander

ArcGIS Online is a tool used across industries around the world to answer complex questions and to better understand connections between phenomena. In education, this online tool can be used in the classroom and in field studies to analyze and discuss real-world problems. Find out how a Toronto high school teacher uses ArcGIS Online to teach local and global issues and how he fosters student engagement through geospatial technology.

For three years now, David Ast, a passionate teacher from Harbord Collegiate, has been using ArcGIS Online in his teaching to explore important issues with his geography students. His decision to use this online software was two-fold. First, he wanted to expose his students to accessible and easy-to-use geospatial technology that would allow them to understand the importance of spatial significance related to any issue.

Using Charles Gritzner’s definition of geography: “What is where, why there, and why care?, ” David’s intent is to get his students to make connections between the WHAT of any given issue, to understand the WHERE of the issue, to consider WHY it’s happening there and finally, to reflect on WHY they should care about the issue.

Second, through the use of geospatial technology, he wanted his students to develop important skills such as critical and spatial analysis, map creation and the ability to make informed decisions.

David Ast, a passionate teacher who fosters student engagement through geospatial technology.

Using Esri Canada resources, David’s grade 9 geography students explored topics from the unit on Interactions in the Physical Environment that include natural disasters, climate change and natural regions. Leveraging maps and data available through ArcGIS Online, students were given the opportunity to look at human and natural systems in Canada’s natural regions and reflect on the future implications of climate change on these systems and regions. These students also created story maps that highlighted an everyday product by tracing its production, including what natural resources and industries are needed to create the product; and by reflecting on the product’s social, environmental and economic impact. They were also asked to think of ways this product can be more sustainable to reduce its negative environmental impact.

David’s grade 12 World Issues class used Esri Canada tutorials to create story maps that focused on the eight United Nations Millennium Development Goals and were tasked with looking at the successes and challenges to achieving each of these goals in eight regions of the world. This allowed his students to envision how they could use ArcGIS Online in their future post-secondary programs.

As most students have responded well to using ArcGIS Online, David plans to move on to using the Snap2Map app for his unit on Liveable Communities that’s part of the grade 9 geography course. This app will allow students to upload photos directly from their phone or tablet to create a place-based narrative as an interactive map tour story map. David and his class will conduct a walking excursion around their school to study the different types of urban land use and will use Snap2Map to capture information.

According to David, “I hope this will engage students to learn more about their school community, understand spatially where things are, reflect on what makes our community liveable and explore what changes are needed.”

This story map, created by a Toronto District School Board  (TDSB) student, highlights the production of coffee and tea in the world and explores the sustainability of these products.

It’s a pleasure to learn how educators across Canada use geospatial technology to enliven their classes with interesting and relevant assignments. We look forward to hearing more about David’s ArcGIS Online adventures with his students. We’re sure his passion for geography will continue to inspire his students now and into the future.

To read other blog posts on inspiring educators, visit the GIS in the Classroom page.

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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