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Skills GIS Competitions 2017: Challenging students to think critically

The annual Skills GIS competitions in Manitoba and Ontario challenge secondary school students to think critically about a real-world problem. Both competitions have come and gone for this year. Find out the challenges the students engaged in and who the winners were.

The annual Skills GIS competition in Manitoba and Ontario are great opportunities for students to use GIS to answer a real-world problem. Using their time management, teamwork, critical thinking, communication and higher order thinking skills, students prove their ArcGIS knowledge and technical ability, as they are given four to six hours to complete a project.

GIS is a tool that can be used in cross-curricular, inquiry based learning in K-12 education. There’s also a wide range of applications that GIS is used for outside of education. GIS is used to understand and to solve local or global issues such as identifying connections between climate change and the health of coral reefs.

At the Skills Ontario GIS Competition, students use ArcGIS software to answer a real-world problem.

This year’s Skills Manitoba GIS competition question was a fun challenge for the students. Teams are made up of individual competitors. Using ArcGIS Desktop, they had to determine the most efficient escape route to a “safe zone” after the City of Winnipeg’s hit with a Viral Zombie outbreak. All the secondary school competitors were from Neelin High School in Brandon, Manitoba. Congratulations to Gold Medalist Emily Hill!

Students work in teams of two at the Skills Ontario GIS competition. This year, teams came from Peel District School Board, Toronto District School Board, Upper Canada College, Thames Valley School Board and the District School Board of Niagara. They were given a choice to use ArcGIS Desktop or ArcGIS Online to determine the wards in the City of Hamilton that require a boost in access to healthy food options and recreational services available for children and youth.  Congratulations to Cameron Lacelle  and Aidan Hawkins from the District School Board of Niagara for winning gold!

Map poster created by the winning team at Skills Ontario 2017.

A big thank you to Adam Munro from the City of Hamilton for helping the Esri Canada K-12 group create this relevant question and judge the competition along with all the other judges — Ian Bowles from the Ministry of Advanced Education and Skills Development, Nicholas Pulsone from Ryerson University and Richard Paola from the City of Hamilton — who volunteered their time to help support the use of GIS in K-12 education.

Congratulations to all the students that competed in both the Ontario and Manitoba Skills GIS competitions for their hard work. We encourage teachers to promote the importance of the Skills competitions to your colleagues and students. We hope to see you again next year!

Find previous competition questions and the Skills GIS Competition preparation document to prepare your students for the 2018 competitions. If you have any questions, feel free to contact

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