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On the Map with Shawn Hughes

This month’s On the Map features Shawn Hughes, a teacher from Ontario. Let’s find out how he’s using story maps in his destreamed geography class and the Learning and Life Skills (LLS) program.

We’ve had the pleasure to work with Shawn Hughes over the last 15 years in his role as a teacher and president of the Ontario Association for Geographic and Environmental Education (OAGEE). We want to share what he’s been up to.  We hope it will inspire more educators to use ArcGIS in their teaching.

What grades/courses do you currently teach?

I teach grade 9 Geography of Canada and the LLS program that is designed to offer students with developmental disabilities opportunities for growth in numerous facets of their lives.

I enjoy teaching geography at Crestwood Secondary School. However, in my over 20 years of teaching here, I find the most rewarding part is working with students in the LLS program and having the opportunity to share my love of geography with them.

A man conducting a geography class in front of a white board.

Shawn engages students in learning through fun and interesting topics.

Tell us about some of the activities you did in the last school year.

I used a few story maps to cover the Concepts of Geographic Thinking (What is Where, Why There, Why Care) from the Ontario grade 9 geography curriculum.  They include Marvel Superhero Origins, Patterns & Trends: What is Where, Why There, Why Care?, and GIS in Sports.

A web app showing the Concepts of geographic thinking.

The Concepts of Geographic Thinking story map is a great guide for teachers.

Marvel Superhero Origins

Students investigate the birthplace of the Marvel superheroes. Using the Marvel Superhero Origins (created by the ArcGIS StoryMaps team) map to identify any patterns, students quickly pinpoint a large concentration of Marvel Superheroes born in New York City (What is Where?) and attempt to explain the pattern (Why There?). 

Questions like “Who created these fictional superheroes?” help to prompt the students during their investigation. They often discover that Marvel Headquarters is in NYC as were many of its original writers. The writers were simply writing about an area that they were very familiar with. 

An unexpected implication of this discovery (Why Care?) occurred during Black History Month when the students also identified that most of the heroes in Marvel Superhero Origins story map tended to be white males. This led to - what assumptions can be made about the race and home of many early American writers and illustrators? 

This activity continues to evolve as students create a graph of the first appearance of the characters in the Marvel Superhero Origins story map and attempt to identify and explain any trends with the debut of popular Black Marvel Superheroes such as Luke Cage, Black Panther, and The Falcon. 

A screenshot showing the birthplaces of the Marvel Superheroes.
This web map shows the birthplaces of the Marvel Superheroes.

Tim Hortons activity

ArcGIS Online - Using GIS to Understand the Location of Tim Hortons In Canada 
Spatial Significance, Interrelationships, Patterns & Trends, Geographic Perspectives

This authentic activity was created and shared by teachers Dave and Darryl Scott at Huntsville High School. These brothers are constantly producing, updating, and sharing their amazing geography and ArcGIS resources. 

Explore the spatial distribution of Tim Hortons in Canada and use the appropriate vocabulary to describe the pattern (eg. concentrated, linear, outlier, etc.). Students suggest reasons for the pattern and find interrelationships between Tim’s Locations and other variables (eg. major roads, population density, Coastal, etc.). This new learning is then applied to the real world as students determine the best location for a new Tim’s in their hometown and describe the spatial significance (human and natural features) of their chosen location. Students recognize that most stakeholders would be viewing this issue from an economic perspective (eg. money, jobs, etc.) 

A screenshot showing the Tim Horton locations in Canada.

This web map shows the locations of all the Tim Hortons in Canada, 2023.

GIS in Sports

I came across the GIS in Sports app from a listserv post on The Spatial Thinking Virtual Classroom resource collection. I decided to use it to explore financial literacy and healthy eating habits.

A screenshot showing the collection of spatial thinking resources for K-12 educators.Explore these spatial thinking resources created by the K-12 group at Esri Canada.

Explore Financial Literacy and Healthy Eating Habits at Ballparks in the US.

The Ballparks app used shows venues hosting the 30 teams in Major League Baseball (MLB) each have their own unique menu items. Our Learning Life Skills (LLS) students explore the food choice (e.g., Crab Fries, Dodger Dog, Cheese Coney) from each ballpark. This analysis includes financial literacy and budgeting as students graph the price and highlight the most expensive stadium foods. In addition, students review healthy eating habits and note the calories of these stadium foods and how it affects their recommended daily calorie intake. 

A screenshot showing the Ballparks app.

Discover where the Ballparks are and what type of food are available there.

Why do you think ArcGIS is a valuable tool for teaching and learning? 

ArcGIS has provided a broad set of learning opportunities for students that have a wide range of ability levels. This includes the students in a destreamed geography class as well as students in our Learning Life Skills program. Students have been able to make connections between these activities and their community and their everyday lives. 

We can tailor the depth of the analysis to accommodate our students with special needs. For example, several of our students in the LLS Program are very engaged in viewing images of and learning about topics they are interested in, like the Marvel Superheroes. Some students in the class can identify patterns while others can make good observations and conduct sufficient analysis.  

What's Next?

ArcGIS Online -Coastal Erosion in PEI.  Spatial Significance, Patterns & Trends, Interrelationships, Geographic Perspectives. 

In a preliminary activity, students will review the four concepts of geographic thinking early in the grade 9 geography course and explore how the loss of Arctic Sea Ice is both a pattern and a trend. We can map spatial data and graph temporal data to visualize how the landscape has changed and the loss of sea ice over time. Students investigate why that location is changing and what caused the change.

In the main activity, students will look at Canada’s smallest province, Prince Edward Island, as it is getting smaller due to coastal erosion. We’re going to apply a similar investigation to PEI’s receding coastline and gather the appropriate data to illustrate the change in the island’s area spatially over time through maps and graphs (Patterns & Trends). The coastline of the island largely consists of sedimentary rock (Spatial Significance - Natural Feature), which is greatly affected by the waves, winds and storms caused by climate change (Interrelationships). There are many interesting perspectives to explore with this issue including the municipal government, local residents, insurance companies, new home buyers, etc. 

I’m very proud to have served on the OAGEE council for over 20 years now. Our dedicated volunteers at OAGEE truly believe in the importance of geographic education and work tirelessly to provide current and relevant resources for teachers. Our upcoming 2023 OAGEE Fall Conference will be held on Friday Oct 13th at York University. There will be a wide variety of incredibly useful workshops including several that highlight ArcGIS Online, ArcGIS Survey123, and ArcCanada Atlas as valuable tools for teaching and learning. 

Shawn, thank you for sharing your work and we look forward to hearing more from you later this year. Continue your commitment to geographic education.

New to ArcGIS Online?

If you are a K-12 educator new to ArcGIS Online, you can request an account for yourself and your students at
Explore the Esri Canada K-12 Resource Finder to find other resources for your class.

Check out the following beginner resources to get started with ArcGIS Online:

For Educators - Let’s get started with ArcGIS Online
Explore the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)
For Students – Enroute with ArcGIS Online

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