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Michael Li: Promoting GIS to First Nations Community Schools Across Manitoba

GIS is a tool that can be used to foster spatial literacy, cross curriculum learning and support project-based learning initiatives in classrooms across the country. Find out why and how a technology facilitator at The Manitoba First Nations Education Resource Centre Inc. (MFNERC) is promoting the power of GIS to teachers, school administration and students in remote First Nations communities.

Michael Li is a Technology Specialist at the Manitoba First Nations Education Resource Centre. He works with teachers, school administrators and students from grades 7-12 in many remote areas across Manitoba. He also facilitates workshops at local conferences that highlight the use of technology in First Nations education. Michael serves as the first point of contact for schools seeking technology integration in the classroom. Having taught in the past, he understands the need for student engagement and motivated learning settings. Michael looks for opportunities to take the use of technology in education to the “next level,” by connecting classroom learning to real world applications.

Michael and I first spoke two years ago when he emailed me to find out how he could use ArcGIS Online in his workshops. He had been using ArcGIS Desktop as a tool for project-based learning, cross curriculum teaching and teaching data management and processing for students who wanted to obtain a half course in high school computer science. He was open to trying something new for students and teachers to learn. During our conversation, I spoke to him about story maps and he quickly identified how it could be used to map and share Traditional Knowledge with others.

Michael working with a group of students on a global positioning system (GPS) activity. The students collected data on their community and then mapped the information in ArcGIS Online.

Since First Nations traditions are taught by the elders through storytelling and hands-on learning, Michael believes ArcGIS is one of the best ways for these communities to record, collect and share information about their traditions. The younger generations from these communities would benefit from the use of GIS technology, as information on their culture, language and heritage will be documented and available to them in a format that they can learn from.

I finally met Michael in October when I was in Winnipeg for an education conference. We chatted about his work and the importance of developing a community maps program in the remote First Nations communities he works in. As well, he told me that he’d like to use the work he does with the schools as a way to promote these communities.

Michael and I at the Manitoba First Nations Education Resource Centre Inc. in October.

The student-created maps are a way for the young people to connect with the elders in their communities. These maps provide information on traditional fishing and hunting grounds, the history and language in the area and the location of important cultural landmarks. Through the ArcGIS Online training Michael has provided, students have created some story maps and web maps that highlight important information about their communities. The maps are then shared publicly to a larger audience.

Sagkeeng First Nation Historical Sites story map created by a student in the community.

Michael has received positive feedback from teachers and administrators at various schools. Edwin Beardy, a Native Study teacher at Chief Sam Cook Mahmuwee Education Centre, from Tataskwayak Cree Nation (Split Lake) believes, “GIS is a good educational tool that expands the students' knowledge about the geography around them. It is very unique and intriguing when you can add global positioning system (GPS) points about one's own community onto a map. It is also very helpful to add photos to GPS points associated with it. GIS should be a course offered to High School students in Manitoba.”

According to Wilson Fallorin, the Principal, Science, Math, Computer and Resource teacher at Little Saskatchewan H.A.G.M.E. School in Little Saskatchewan First Nation, “The students really enjoyed using GIS, as they were able to use it to create a story map of their community. On three different occasions, they worked on a geocaching activity wherein everyone learned how to use the GPS units to find caches and to create way points; this is a fun-filled learning activity for them and they are looking forward to a similar activity in the near future. The teachers at the school believe that GIS is a good tool in making a project related to math, science, social studies and English language arts in a cross-curricular context. Both students and teachers said that GIS is exceedingly useful and user-friendly!"

We look forward to hearing more about Michael’s important work in these First Nations communities and we hope that his community map vision will grow to include all the schools he works with in Manitoba.

Little Saskatchewan First Nation community story map created by a local student.

If you are interested in contacting Michael, contact us at Share your GIS adventures with us and we may highlight you in a future 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.

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