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Karen Talbot: Using ArcGIS Online to engage students in their Indigenous history and much more

Teacher Karen Talbot uses ArcGIS Online to engage her students in learning and understanding their history and their community. Find out how Indigenous students in Kashechewan, Ontario have used ArcGIS Online to gain a deeper understanding of Treaty 9 and to learn more about the world around them.

Karen Talbot is a grade 8 teacher at Francine J. Wesley Secondary School, located in Kashechewan, a First Nations community near James Bay, Ontario. She has shared with us the ways she’s using ArcGIS Online in her teaching and for student learning.

Last fall, Karen first introduced her students to ArcGIS Online to engage them in learning about their community. The students travelled outside the classroom to measure distances in their community. Back in the classroom, they created maps to display the features they had physically measured. This helped students to understand the length of a kilometre and what that distance looks like on a map. 

Karen’s students measured routes in the real world and then created web maps to display those routes. This exercise helped them understand how long a kilometre is in the real world and how that distance can be represented on a map.

Karen believes that “through this activity, students connected ideas of distance in a more meaningful way. Once meaning was attached to concepts learned in class using ArcGIS Online, students could recall information regarding measurement and provide closer estimates of distance when asked questions on distance in other measurements such as the distance from their school to their home or from their home to other communities.”

For the next activity, Karen’s students used ArcGIS Online to learn about their Indigenous history in a meaningful way and to incorporate other components of the curriculum. The idea came to Karen during the school’s observance of Treaties Recognition Week last November. Since the community of Kashechewan is in northern Ontario, a region that’s been affected by Treaty 9/James Bay Treaty, Karen thought this would be a great opportunity for the students to learn about their connection to this historic treaty.

Karen explained: “It was ArcGIS Online that inspired me to create an interactive relationship between the Treaty 9 document and the route that was taken by the government during 1905. Instead of just reading the Treaty 9 document, students could create a map, which provided a relationship and connection to the people involved, through pictures and actual information added to a web map. My students became engaged through a visual representation of this journey and could develop a more meaningful connection to the communities involved during the time of the Treaty 9 agreement. The cross-curricular activities that can be covered through this program are limitless. As a teacher, using this mapping tool, I was able to cover literacy, math, history, geography, technology and art within a time span of four to five weeks.”

Teacher Karen Talbot uses ArcGIS Online to engage her students in hands-on and minds-on learning about their history.

Throughout the year, students continued to use ArcGIS Online to learn about the world outside their community. By exploring data on global population growth and morality rates on a map, students visualized connections and differences between regions in the world. They also used story maps created by the Esri Canada Education and Research group that focused on history such as the Underground Railroad connections to Canada.

Karen explains: “I intend to use the ArcGIS program in other areas of study and hope to further expand my own knowledge of this program. I enjoy the engagement it brings along with the relationships and lasting connections the program provides for my learners.”

In an upcoming project this year, Karen’s students are going to explore the Albany River waterway located in their community. They will map the length of the waterway connecting to the continental divide and learn about the importance of the watersheds and tributaries.

Teachers continue to find creative ways of using this mapping technology. If you would like to share your story or if you know a teacher who’s doing cool things with GIS, contact us at

Go to to request your ArcGIS Online account and to find resources to get started.

About the Author

Angela Alexander is a K-12 Education Specialist in the Esri Canada Education and Research group. She has over 15 years of experience working with educators across Canada. Angela focuses on producing geographic information system (GIS) and curriculum-specific resources, and conducting and creating custom workshops for educators. She manages the GIS Ambassador Program and is the Technical Chair for the annual Skills Ontario GIS competition. Angela also writes monthly posts for the Esri Canada Education and Research blog, highlighting K-12 educators and partners, new ArcGIS resources and GIS-related events.

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