Skip to main content

GIS in the Classroom: Greg Neil’s ArcGIS Online Journey in a Year

ArcGIS Online is a great way to bring inquiry into your classroom. It helps to engage students and fosters critical thinking. Find out how Greg Neil, a teacher from Calgary, successfully used ArcGIS Online with his grade seven science students and how he plans to integrate GIS into his lessons in the New Year.

Implementing new technology into your teaching can have many advantages, including increased student engagement and fostering important skills such as critical and spatial thinking. Let’s find out how Greg Neil integrated ArcGIS Online into his teaching and how his year has gone, so far.

In January, Greg’s school was one of the first recipients of the GIS in Education Grant. Soon after they received the software from the Grant, Greg learned how to use ArcGIS Online and figured out how he was going to apply it to a class project.

Greg teaches Math and Science at the Connect Charter School in Calgary. The school’s mission is to “promote innovation and the ongoing development of exemplary learning, teaching and leadership practices within an active inquiry-based learning community.” Since ArcGIS Online is an effective way to bring inquiry into the classroom, Greg knew it would be perfect to use it in his teaching.

In the next few months, Greg’s grade seven science class used ArcGIS Online to study the social and ecological impact of the proposed Northern Gateway Pipeline project. The students drew and measured the route of the pipeline in ArcGIS Online. They also added relevant data to their maps, including First Nations communities, Ecozones and population density, so they could gain a deeper understanding of the area covered by the proposed route. By the end of the project, the students created a series of maps and a Web application showing the project's ecological impacts along the pipeline route.

Greg Neil's class used a story map to compile and present the findings of their study of the Northern Gateway pipeline project.

When everything was completed, Greg surveyed his students that studied the Northern Gateway Project and found:

  • 95% of his students either agreed or strongly agreed that they found the work engaging and meaningful.
  • 100% either agreed or strongly agreed that GIS was a valuable tool in helping them develop a stronger understanding of issues related to energy and the environment.

In May, a group of his students presented their Northern Gateway Pipeline Project at the Calgary Esri Canada User Conference to a room of GIS professionals. The audience was amazed by the students’ work and what a teacher was capable of doing with GIS in the classroom. Afterwards, Greg was approached with questions by many of the attendees.

With a background in Environmental Science, Greg always looks for ways to connect curriculum to environmental issues that he believes are meaningful and relevant to students. He says, "Students need to develop an understanding of the complexity of environmental issues by exploring the numerous factors that influence the outcomes. GIS enables this type of work, as students increase their geographical awareness and interact with layers of information to develop informed opinions based on evidence."

Greg Neil hiking with his daughter.

In September, Greg posted a YouTube video on the inquiry his grade seven class completed on the Northern Gateway Pipeline project. Our group promotes this impressive video because it’s a great way to show educators how GIS can also be used in the Science classroom.

It’s now the end of the year and Greg has started his preparation for an upcoming project that will focus on the Yellowstone to Yukon Conservation Initiative (Y2Y Initiative). He plans to use ArcGIS Online to explore the importance of the initiative by getting students to focus on human factors, such as resource development and tourism, which has fragmented wild spaces and prevented the natural movement of wildlife.

Greg’s work is inspiring and as a Canadian Geographic Education Representative for Alberta, we know he values education. We look forward to hearing about the outcome of his new projects in the New Year.

If you want to learn more, check out the ArcGIS Online resources to help you get started with the technology today!

Find out what other educators are doing with GIS in the Classroom and contact us at if you know someone who you think should 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