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September’s GIS Ambassador: John Chittaro

September’s GIS Ambassador is John Chittaro from Holy Names Catholic High School in Windsor, Ontario. Find out how this teacher is supporting the use of GIS at his school and board.

John Chittaro is September’s GIS Ambassador of the month. He’s a teacher and the department head for Social Science/Canadian and World Studies at Holy Names Catholic High School (HNCHS) in Windsor, Ontario. Let’s find out how he’s been supporting educators at the Windsor-Essex Catholic District School Board (WECDSB) as a GIS Ambassador.

For the last four years, John’s been using geographic information systems (GIS) to teach the curriculum to his geography classes. He also trains HNCHS colleagues and student teachers during teaching placements at his school in using ArcGIS Online.

We caught up with him recently to find out why he’s so passionate about GIS, what he’s done so far in helping educators and what his plans are for this school year.

Man with short brown hair smiling in a black shirt.

With the support of his principal, John is training educators in ArcGIS Online at his school and board.

Why do you think GIS is important in education?

GIS is an important tool in education, particularly in geographic study, because it provides a unique learning experience based on spatial thinking.  By thinking spatially, students learn the complexity of issues related to the planet and humans' use of its resources. GIS has changed the way I deliver course material. The focus is inquiry-based learning rather than “sit and get.”  Students are challenged to solve real-world problems in a collaborative, student-centred environment.  GIS is a tool that helps develop geographic thinking skills embedded in the curriculum.  For example, students answer the questions; What is Where? Why There? And Why Care? Using GIS to run analysis, filter data, and draw conclusions.  

Why did you want to become a GIS Ambassador?

The opportunity to share my experiences teaching with GIS is the number one reason I wanted to be a GIS Ambassador.  When an educator sees the power of GIS technology to deliver the curriculum, they want to use it more. 

I enjoy assisting educators with the basics of ArcGIS Online and investigating the latest GIS resources that are relevant to their course content.  In addition, I think professional development (PD) days throughout the school year should focus on GIS technology so all educators can use this limitless resource with their students.

Earlier this year, you mentioned to us WECDSB has a STEM Academy and program. Can you tell me more about it and how you are involved?

At the secondary level, we have a STEM Academy at three schools that have been running for 4 years now. The schools are HNCHS, Villanova Catholic High School, and St. Anne Catholic High School. 

Our new director at WECDSB initiated a STEM program for a handful of schools at the elementary level, including robotics, coding and GIS in grades 7 and 8. 

ArcGIS Online will be part of the STEM program in grades 7 through 12. I have volunteered to assist educators in the elementary and secondary panels with developing and implementing ArcGIS Online into their teaching.  Specific resources for these educators include material covering physical and human geography.

To date, I have led ArcGIS Online workshops for 25 elementary and 10 secondary educators. The PD was very basic and served as an introduction to ArcGIS online for 99% of these educators. The goal is to continue PD throughout the year to promote GIS to more teachers and allow interested educators to continue learning.

Prior to COVID, I had a few meetings with a Geospatial Learning Specialist from the Great Lakes Institute for Environmental Research & School of the Environment at the University of Windsor (U of W). The idea is to set up a connection between our STEM students and the GIS department at U of W. It would be great to have projects that my students could assist with and opportunities to visit the university and learn from the U of W students. I hope this will become a reality someday soon.

What are your plans in the fall with facilitating ArcGIS professional development (PD)?

I have reached out to the educators from the spring PD with some reminders about GIS content and my availability to assist.  I hope to offer another workshop in late October or early November and then again in the spring.

Throughout the year, I am a resource at the board to help any educator interested in integrating GIS into their teaching.

Thank you, John, for your dedicated work in connecting ArcGIS Online to the STEM program at WECDSB schools. We look forward to supporting your efforts and are happy to help in any way we can.

New to ArcGIS Online?

If you are new to ArcGIS Online, educators can request an account at

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

For Educators - Let’s get started with ArcGIS Online

For Students – Enroute with ArcGIS Online

This post was translated to French and can be viewed here.

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.

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