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March’s GIS Ambassador Natasha Parsons promotes GIS use across curriculum

This month’s GIS Ambassador is a teacher from Aspengrove School on Vancouver Island, British Columbia. Read about how Natasha Parsons is promoting the use of GIS across curriculum at her school.

Meet Natasha Parsons, March’s GIS Ambassador of the month. This tech savvy teacher from Aspengrove School on Vancouver Island, British Columbia, has been advocating for the use of Geographic Information System (GIS) across curriculum at her school.

As promoters of GIS use in K-12 education, we believe Natasha is a great example of what educators should be doing in Canada. Recently, we had an opportunity to ask Natasha some questions about her work at Aspengrove School. She shared with us why ArcGIS Online and ArcGIS StoryMaps are a great way to advance geography in British Columbia and how she’s sharing her knowledge with her colleagues in hopes of getting them to use ArcGIS technology in their classroom.

Natasha is excited about getting her colleagues using ArcGIS for their classroom activities.

Tell us about your professional background

I have a postgraduate certificate in GIS from the University of Leeds, England. I am currently working on my master’s in education from the University of Exeter through distance learning.

In the United Kingdom, I worked as a geography teacher for 5 years prior to moving to Canada. I taught social studies for three years at Blyth Academy in Ottawa, Ontario. Now I teach Grades 8 – 12 at the Aspengrove School close to Nanaimo, British Columbia.

Why do you use ArcGIS in your teaching?

As geography is not a prominent subject in BC, I feel that my students lack spatial awareness, as well as general global geographic knowledge. I believe ArcGIS Online and ArcGIS StoryMaps is an interesting and student friendly way of getting students engaged in GIS and geography as a whole. 

How are you getting the other teachers at your school interested in using GIS in their teaching?

At Aspengrove, four times a year, the staff share ideas/projects/technologies that they think will be of benefit to their colleagues in a professional development program called Wisdom Wednesday. In the January session, I facilitated two, 1-hour long workshops introducing my colleagues to ArcGIS StoryMaps and the benefits of using this application in the classroom. The sessions were well attended and well received, with many teachers requesting one-to-one sessions on how to integrate story maps into their teaching. In April, I am going to run another Wisdom Wednesday workshop on the basics of ArcGIS Online. They will learn how to search and access different layers to create their own web maps and how to symbolize their data to compare a range of variables.

What are some of the projects your students have been working on?

My grade 8 students are working on a geographical inquiry project where they are investigating a theme of their choice. Using story maps, they will present their findings. Notable investigations include mapping the spread of the Australia Wildfires, Ocean Plastics, the spread of the Corona virus, deforestation in the Amazon, and the Ebola epidemic. 

A grade 8 student presenting his story map on undersea fibre optic cables. He’s showing his group the Express Map that he created which outlines the different stages of the SEA-ME—WE 3 - the longest submarine telecommunications cable in the world - 39,000km long, connected to 39 different landing points, in 3 different continents and across 31 different countries!!

A grade 8 student showing her story map on the global distribution of the 2014 outbreak of the Ebola Virus. Here she has used the sidecar function to illustrate her narrative of the causes and impacts of Ebola. 

In April, my grade 10 students will be starting a World War 2 module. Using ArcGIS Online, they will analyze key events and locations in the war and create a “flyover tour” using story maps. 

What are some of your future plans?

In the summer, we will be doing some cross curricular investigation by mapping the growth of trees on our school property. In a joint geography and biology collaboration project, Grade 11 Biology students will be using Survey123 to collect data concerning the growth of trees on our school grounds. We will then use ArcGIS Online to analyze the locations of the trees and compare different variables. 

Natasha will be providing support to teachers at the school who are integrating ArcGIS Online and story maps into their student activities and teaching units.

She shared with us the feedback she received after the Wisdom Wednesday sessions she facilitated in January:

"Story maps is such a cool way to promote spatial thinking skills. It is really interesting to see how we can integrate this type of technology into all subjects. I am looking forward to seeing what collaborative projects we can make across subjects." - Science Teacher: Grades 8 - 12

"I really like how the platform has a number of features which make it both accessible to our younger learners, but also provides more complex functions for those wanting to develop their spatial skills further." - Grade 4 teacher 

"I am really looking forward to trying story maps out with my Grade 7 class in our Ancient Civilizations Unit." - Social Studies Teacher: Grades 6 and 7 

Natasha’s enthusiasm in sharing the educational value of GIS with others is undeniable. We look forward to learning more about the progress at her school.

Teachers working with a GIS Ambassador, contact us at to share their work with us. GIS Ambassadors let us know how you are supporting the use of GIS in K-12 education and you may be selected as a GIS Ambassador of the Month later this year!

Read about other GIS Ambassadors supporting educators across Canada.

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