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October’s GIS Ambassador: Melissa Lavoie

Meet Melissa Lavoie, this month’s GIS Ambassador who supports the use of GIS in Northern Ontario communities. Working with Indigenous youth, she uses spatial technology for traditional land-based learning. Let’s find out what’s she’s done with CreeGeo Education to enhance students' geospatial learning.

This month’s GIS Ambassador is Melissa Lavoie, an educator with CreeGeo Education, “a project dedicated to building the geographical knowledge and capacity of teachers and educators in Mushkegowuk communities in Northern Ontario, with the aim of enhancing students' geospatial learning." Melissa integrates GIS into traditional land-based learning.

Based out of Timmins, Ontario, Melissa supports teachers and students in the Mushkegowuk Territory. She shared with us the work she has done in the past year, including her plans for the near future.

Tell us a little about yourself and your GIS background

I am an Ontario Certified Teacher with 13 years of experience teaching grades 3-7. I recently graduated from the University of British Columbia's Master of Educational Technology program, and for the past two years, I have been employed by Mushkegowuk Council as a GIS Education Specialist. I have learned so much from the Information Services department and the educators and students I have met during this time. It is here where my GIS journey officially began. While I do not have formal GIS schooling, I continue to utilize educational resources, courses and webinars from Esri and Esri Canada to find ideas for workshops and to build on my own skill set so I can better serve educators.

CreeGeo Education’s visit to Weenusk First Nation at Matahhamao School. Through the CreeGeo Mush Guardians program, students learned how to use GPS and plot a research site for consistent monitoring.

How have you supported the use of GIS in the Mushkegowuk territory in Northern Ontario?

As part of the CreeGeo Education team, we provide GIS and traditional land-based learning/GPS workshops for teachers and students. One of the programs we offer students is the CreeGeo Mush Guardians. This is a citizen science initiative for Mushkegowuk youth to collaborate with Elders, community members and Western scientists to learn about the environment and identify Indigenous place names and its history. CreeGeo Mush Guardians use ArcGIS technology including ArcGIS Online, and field apps, Collector for ArcGIS and Survey123 to document instances and effects of climate change in their communities by observing and monitoring environmental changes on the land and water, non-Indigenous species and weather. The students work with local Elders, stewards and harvesters to establish research plots using GPS. This is where consistent monitoring and data capture will take place, and we will be building activities in each community and for each season as we move forward.

GIS in action! Mush Guardians workshop at Matahhamao School in Peawanuck, Ontario.

Why do you think it is important to be a GIS Ambassador/supporting the use of GIS in k12 education?

GIS supports a wide variety of curriculum expectations and provides a platform that allows for rich and relevant problem-solving experiences for students. GIS is introduced into the Ontario Geography curriculum in Grade 7, and Esri Canada’s free ArcGIS for Schools program offers the software and support for educators looking to integrate the use of GIS into their subjects. GIS Ambassadors can provide that bridge from technology provider to educator and lend support where they are at - geographically and pedagogically.

Esri’s suite of powerful GIS tools includes mobile apps such as Survey123 and Collector, which students can use to design surveys and collect data based on predetermined school projects or their own ideas. They can then use the data collected to make and share maps in ArcGIS Online, analyze the data and finally visualize their work using web maps, story maps or dashboards. GIS is not only limited to geography but can be used for all subject areas!

What are you plans for the fall and GIS Day?

I am in the process of finalizing a learning exchange between Mushkegowuk Council and McDowell Lake First Nation. We will exchange best practices as it pertains to our Indigenous Guardians initiatives involving youth, Elders and land users. A councillor and youth representative from Attawapiskat First Nation will be present so that we may determine ways to implement the CreeGeo Mush Guardians initiative into existing programs and curriculum for educators and students.

For GIS Day in November, CreeGeo will be presenting to a grade 11 “Introduction to Spatial Technologies” class at Delores D. Echum Composite School in Moose Factory, Ontario. They will be there to promote GIS and career opportunities, and the students will do a hands-on mobile data collection activity called Trash Trackers, a CreeGeo initiative that involves a community cleanup event where students track and record different types of waste using Survey123.

CreeGeo Education visited Chapleau Cree First Nation to conduct a Trash Trackers community cleanup initiative where students used the Survey123 app to track trash type, the location of trash and categorize the recyclability of items.

Students will also learn about the various types of waste and discuss the recyclability of items. An Operations Dashboard was created to track all waste items and update participants on their collective efforts in real-time. Following mobile data collection, students will bring the data into ArcGIS Online where spatial analysis tools will be used to look at the points gathered and determine patterns and next steps. A hotspot analysis can be created to help students see where the greatest concentration of garbage has been deposited in various areas of their community, that will allow students to address the areas of concern (such as placing waste and recycling bins at these areas to help mitigate the littering at these locations).

Thank you, Melissa, for sharing your work with us. We look forward to learning more about your projects throughout the school year and we will continue to support your work.

Teachers can connect with a GIS Ambassador in their community and begin or continue their GIS journey! Read other inspiring stories about GIS Ambassadors who are supporting schools in their region.

Are you a K-12 educator who’s new to ArcGIS Online? Sign up for an account at Get started with a tutorial and find other resources at

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