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On the Map with Craig Brumwell

June’s On the Map features Craig Brumwell, a high school teacher from Vancouver, British Columbia who is retiring at the end of the month. This post will highlight Craig’s dedication as a passionate and recognized educator in Canada.

We have known Craig for over a decade now, and we had the pleasure of working with him on several occasions. After hearing about his upcoming retirement, we wanted to inspire educators with his story.

In his 35-year teaching career, Craig has always been a person who’s in search of educational tools and opportunities to grow his personal and professional skills. We first met him through his interest in using geographic information systems (GIS). Throughout the years, ArcGIS has become one of his trusted tools in teaching geography and history.

Let’s find out more about Craig and his accomplishments in his long and rich teaching career.

A man standing, smiling with his hands crossed in front of a stand of trees and grass.

Craig at his home on Salt Spring Island, 2023.

How did you decide to teach geography?
My path to becoming a geography teacher stretches back to watching the National Geographic specials on TV in the 1960s. The opening theme song signaled that I was about to learn something very interesting about another part of the world.

As a teen, my interest in places, people and culture was sealed on a trip to Europe with my family. My dad and I spent three days in the British Museum exploring artifacts of faraway places. The trip allowed me to connect with my own family history, imagining myself living in those locations of my ancestors and wondering about their lives and what made them decide to move to Canada. In retrospect, my interests were branching out to how identity connects to place and transforms over time.

A man in front of a class of students pointing at a map displayed on the wall.

"Craig Brumwell is a truly exceptional educator. His passion for teaching is evident in how he engages with his students and seeks to inspire them to reach their full potential. I had the privilege to visit his classroom and see his innovative teaching methods and dedication to his craft, which have impacted countless students' lives. His contributions to supporting GIS in education in BC and across Canada are truly remarkable." – Jean Tong, K-12 Education Manager, Esri Canada

My plan was always to become a teacher. In 1986, I graduated from the University of British Columbia in Physical Education with a concentration in geography. Dr. Graeme Wynn and his historical geography courses had a big influence on me. We studied Canadian societies through evolving landscapes. I focused on housing changes and civic activism in the Vancouver neighbourhood of Kitsilano. As chance would have it, I was hired two years later at Kitsilano Secondary School where I have taught since 1988.

How were you first introduced to GIS?

In 2004, I attended a geotechnical summer institute at St. Michael’s University School where teachers Cheryl Murtland and Kirsten Davel introduced us to engaging projects, data collection and field studies, all visualized with ArcView 3.0 – a desktop GIS. I was hooked. The experience set my path for teaching geography using GIS for the rest of my career.

As ArcView evolved to ArcGIS, I’ve been using ArcGIS Online with ArcGIS apps ArcGIS Survey123 and ArcGIS StoryMaps with my students. In fact, they produce their final geo-inquiry capstone project using ArcGIS tools.

What are some of your favourite K-12 ArcGIS projects your students have done?

My favourite introductory ArcGIS project is the Family Geo-Journey. Students conduct a geographic inquiry by focusing on the reasons that family members decided to immigrate to Canada. In the process, they learn to make maps and approach research through a geographical perspective by interviewing relatives and exploring their family archives. The final product highlighting their family’s history is presented in a story map.

I adapted the family journey activity for history where students investigate the movement of Canadian soldiers during the First and Second World Wars from their homes, to training camps in Canada and Britain, to the battlefield. During our schools Centennial Celebration in 2018, students selected alumni from Kitsilano who died during the wars. We coordinated all the story maps onto a master story map entitled, Kits Fallen.

A map showing locations of past students who fought in the World Wars.

The Kits Fallen story map highlighted the past students who became Canadian soldiers in the World Wars.

The students in my Human Geography 12 class, used Survey123 to collect, map and analyze data on plastic waste in the neighbourhood between the school and nearby commercial strip. They are challenged to address the inquiry question, “How can we reduce plastic waste in Kitsilano?” using ArcGIS Online analysis tools. The resources available from Esri Canada’s K-12 Education group help to scaffold these skills through tutorials such as Six-by-Six British Columbia, Buffers and Overlays, and Proximity and Hot Spot Analysis.

Senior students conduct a geo-Inquiry study of their own choosing that broadly connects to the main content topics of the course in the last month of the semester. It is really rewarding watching them grow their geographic knowledge and learn new skill sets by using ArcGIS, as they make maps, collect and analyse data, and use their creative skills to address an issue facing humanity today.

A screenshot from a student story map showing a child’s hand holding an adult’s hand.

A geo-inquiry study created by one of Craig’s senior students. The story map was focused on Period Poverty.

Student Feedback

"ArcGIS Online was a little intimidating at first but once I got the hang of creating maps it was easy. I found the information callouts that describe the analysis tools really helpful and a quick reference. It all comes together in the story map which is very intuitive to use and creates an impressive presentation." - 2022/2023 Kitsilano student

Tell us about your personal and professional learning

Art, Design and Geography

A turning point for me was completing a Bachelor of Fine Art from the Emily Carr University of Art and Design in 2012. I was introduced to a wide range of courses where I was able to think and learn in a completely different way in a richly creative environment. I developed confidence using traditional and new media and gained important collaborative skills in design thinking. I extended my geographic interests into a focus on memory embedded into cultural artifacts that were connected to places through time.

Master of Educational Technology (MET)

The following year, in 2013, my increasing interest to integrate technology into my teaching led me to being accepted into the fully online Master of Educational Technology (MET) at the University of British Columbia. The program was demanding, enriching, and above all rewarding. I used ArcGIS Online extensively in the design of my digital educational resources.

You have received recognition for your teaching and a project called Dilemma 1944. Tell us the project you created and the awards you received.

While in the MET program, I designed a “situated documentary” called Dilemma 1944 which was set at my school during the Second World War. This place-based interactive story allowed students to move through various locations in the school and surrounding neighbourhood where historical photos, film footage, maps, and conversations were triggered on their phones to enrich the narrative.

I am honoured to have received the following awards:


An image of Craig with PM Justin Trudeau at the 2018 Prime Minister’s Award for Teaching Excellence ceremony.

Craig with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, 2018.

I am grateful to have learned alongside my students and talented colleagues from all over Canada. Esri Canada Education’s team and in particular, Jean Tong have been a tremendous support over the years. I have fond memories of Jean visiting my classes in Vancouver in 2017, then giving me a tour of Esri Canada’s operations prior to the GIS in Education Conference at the University of Toronto later that year.

How have you shared your work with other educators?

I have enjoyed sharing my work at my school and school division, conferences, summits, workshops and webinars over the past decade, including presentations at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, Ottawa, Winnipeg and Vancouver.

I have also made it a priority to build my knowledge and explore ideas online and in person as an attendee to similar events. I have also been fortunate to work as an educational consultant on a number of projects with my friend and colleague, Neil Orford and his historical organization, Defining Moment Canada, an Esri Canada Education Partner.

Feedback from a Colleague
“Thank you, Craig for guiding me on my educational journey for the last two decades.”
- Stefano Pella, Kitsilano Secondary School, Vancouver BC

A man presenting about a project on a stage with students behind him

Craig with his students presenting their ArcGIS project at the Esri Canada Vancouver User Conference, 2018.

What’s next for you?
I am retiring on June 30th and moving home to Salt Spring Island. I’m keen to get back to my art practice and spend time with my family exploring the rich history, active culture, and many outdoor pursuits in the Salish Sea region. I’ve been very fortunate to have a job that has allowed me to combine my interests, creativity, and appetite for technology to design learning experiences and environments where students can learn about their world.

What advice do you have for new teachers?
My advice is to stay curious, follow your interests, and always be searching the horizon for new ways to engage your students. Inspire them to get outside, wonder, inquire, and be part of a solution. Take advantage of emerging resources and professional development opportunities available from organisations such as Canadian Geographic, National Geographic and Esri Canada, and most of all - keep learning!

An image of Craig sitting on a stationary sleigh.

Craig enjoying Ottawa’s amenities, 2016.

Thank you, Craig for sharing your work. We are so impressed by all the professional and personal development you have done to improve and gain more knowledge as a teacher. We wish you all the best in your future endeavours in this next chapter of life. 

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.

Profile Photo of Angela Alexander