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GIS in the Classroom: Ralph Hepperle – A GIS Mentor

A talented teacher inspires their students to want to learn through class engagement and focus. Find out how a teacher from Toronto's East York Collegiate has been influencing some of his students to study geographic information systems in their post-secondary endeavors.

I met Geography teacher Ralph Hepperle at one of my Introduction to ArcGIS Online workshops over four years ago. Since then, I’ve been in contact with him through tech support-related emails and resource questions.

Ralph’s been teaching with geographic information systems (GIS) on and off for about 15 years at East York Collegiate Institute in Toronto. He currently uses GIS for inquiry-based learning and real-world problem-solving. His GIS applications using ArcGIS for Desktop include population and demographic studies, urban and racial patterns in the United States (“White Flight” in Atlanta), business analysis (coffee shop location factors), flood disaster mitigation, terrorism evacuation planning, health studies (HIV/AIDS and malaria in Africa), urban municipal planning, ethnic retirement home planning, crime analysis in Washington, DC and volcanic danger in Java, Indonesia. In a final culminating project, his students explored the school's property and marked things that needed repair on a map.

Ralph Hepperle, a teacher and mentor.

He’s been teaching the grade 12 Geomatics course for about six years now. This course—taught at only a few schools in the Toronto District School Board (TDSB)—is important because it provides students experience in using geotechnologies (e.g., GIS, remote sensing, global positioning systems, Web mapping) to develop solutions to real-world problems involving physical and human geography. For many of Ralph’s students, this class is the first time they’re introduced to GIS, and it's inspired some to continue their post-secondary studies in this area.

Rodney Bisnath is one such student. He recently shared some memories with me about Ralph’s pilot Geomatics class. Rodney found Ralph's teaching style fun and interesting. He told me Ralph didn’t lecture: he interacted with his students. He helped and inspired his students by acting as both a teacher and a mentor, showing them the many applications of GIS in the real-world. He kept the class interesting and engaged his students, allowing them to stay focused. Rodney fondly remembers looking forward to this class because it was hands-on and he enjoyed the project-based, problem-solving environment.

Rodney graduated recently from the Ryerson University Geographic Analysis program. Now he works as a Research Analyst at the Canadian Out-of-Home Measurement Bureau (COMB), where he uses GIS for indoor and outdoor advertising and other technologies to find ways to improve efficiency in the current advertising methodology used at COMB.

Map of Java Volcanoes, created by a student in Ralph Hepperle's grade 12 Geomatics class.

Through his inspirational teaching and mentoring, Ralph has influenced a good number of his students to study GIS in their post-secondary studies. In the last six years, at least 15 East York graduates have gone on to study GIS and Geomatics in programs at Ryerson University, The University of Guelph, The University of Waterloo and McMaster University.

Keep up the great work Ralph! Maybe one day we’ll be working with one of the geomatics students you influenced at East York.

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

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.

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