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Jonathan Fletcher: A Teacher Who Took the Unbeaten Path

Are you an educator who's interested in using ArcGIS at your school, but you’ve encountered some obstacles along the way? Well, read this inspiring story about Jonathan Fletcher, a teacher who was determined to update the GIS lab at his school. Find out how he successfully did it.

I first met Jonathan Fletcher at the Geotechnologies Summer Institute at Ryerson last August. At the workshop, he was a keen student, thinking of ways to incorporate what he just learned into his teaching. He asked a lot of good questions and told me about the challenges he faced getting his GIS lab up and running at his school.

Jonathan has been teaching geography at Port Colborne High School in the Niagara Region since 2006. He started using ArcView 3.2 when he began working with Gerry Bell, a fellow teacher at the time, who encouraged him to include GIS in his classroom and was a mentor to him. At first, Jonathan used the GIS resources developed by Gerry, but soon he was creating his own lesson plans and starting new projects with his students that involved critically thinking about real-world issues.

Just before Gerry retired, Jonathan met with a GIS Specialist from the City of Port Colborne in the hopes of giving his students some professional hands-on experience. Unfortunately, the software Joanthan was using had limitations and the collaboration with the municipal GIS Specialist was unfulfilled.

This didn’t stop Jonathan. He was determined to get the school computers up-to-date so he could run the ArcGIS for Desktop 10.1 software included in the Ontario Ministry license.  With a shoestring budget, Jonathan discovered he was able to upgrade his computers with the help of Renewed Computer Technology (RCT), who donated the hardware.  He took a crash course in information technology and was able to set up his own GIS lab with 30 desktop machines and 25 laptops running ArcGIS for Desktop 10.1. Finally!

Jonathan’s tenacity is rooted in his belief that GIS is a valuable tool in the classroom. Students gain skills in critical thinking, inquiry and analysis. As Jonathan says, “if education is meant to prepare students for life after school, then students should be taught using the technology that is being used in the real world. GIS has allowed my students to use cutting-edge technology to think about and try to solve real-world problems.”

Currently, Jonathan is using ArcGIS for Desktop 10.1, ArcGIS Online and the The Collector for ArcGIS App in his lesson plans and continues to introduce interesting and relevant content to his students. He is planning to connect with the City of Port Colborne again and continues to invite GIS professionals, including former students into his classroom to speak about careers in GIS and other spatial technologies.  

Over the last seven months, a few of the K-12 members of the Esri Canada Education and Research group - including me - have developed a great working relationship with Jonathan because he sends us interesting tech support questions and keeps us in the loop about what he’s doing with his students.  Jonathan, keep up the great work and we hope you will inspire other educators to become GIS leaders at their schools, so they too can work through the hurdles that may appear if they take the unbeaten path like you did. 

Figure 1.1: It's a success! Jonathan Fletcher's GIS lab is up and running at Port Colborne High School.

If you are an educator looking for new GIS resources, visit Jonathan’s YouTube channel to view his video tutorials and visit Esri Canada’s Lesson Planner for other educational resources.

Contact if you know an educator with an interesting story to share about using GIS in the classroom.

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