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July’s GIS Ambassador: Jonathan Fletcher

Jonathan Fletcher from Port Colborne, Ontario is July’s GIS Ambassador of the month. Discover how this teacher has been supporting GIS use in K-12 education in and out of the classroom.

July’s GIS Ambassador of the month is Jonathan Fletcher, a geography teacher from Port Colborne High School in Port Colborne, Ontario. He’s been keeping his students engaged in learning using geographic information systems (GIS) for over 10 years. This blog post will highlight the work he’s done in the last year to provide his students with a range of learning opportunities.

Jonathan’s students get to do “hands-on” geography through fun and interactive activities completed in and out of the classroom using ArcGIS. They do not explore Atlases or colour paper maps. They work on professional level mapping projects that support local organizations and the general public. One such project was completed last year that supported an education centre in Niagara.

Mapping the DSBN Adventure Campus

In the spring of 2019, Jonathan and his grade 11 Introduction to Spatial Technologies students were involved in a project to create maps of the DSBN Adventure Campus for use by staff and visitors. This campus is part of the District School Board of Niagara’s (DSBN) Walker Living Campus – a learning centre that provides a unique opportunity for outdoor and environmental education for DSBN students.

The data collected for the maps included the location of assets, such as trails, buildings, bridges, a boardwalk, staircases and trail markers.

This web app shows the data points that were collected.

The students used ArcGIS Survey123, and the Trimble Catalyst with ArcGIS Collector for data collection to get high accuracy on the locations of the park assets.  Jonathan and his students collected data on the trails and then cleaned up the data using ArcGIS Desktop back in the computer lab at school.

Collecting data at the Adventure Campus. Jonathan (left) with a couple of his students (Anandi and Aidan).
“I enjoyed getting to learn how to use the equipment. Seeing that I could use the data collected with the Trimble Catalyst in my maps was exciting. I realized how the data our class had been using in other projects would have been collected and I had not understood that before:” – Anandi

This was one of the maps that was created for the Adventure Campus education centre that is used by staff and visitors.

Jonathan is part of the small group of Canadian teachers who are avid ArcGIS Desktop users as he has the knowledge and a lab to run the software. Most educators in Canada using GIS in their teaching are using ArcGIS Online, as there is no set up required and it’s easier to pick up.

Nickel Beach Clean-up

In the fall/winter of 2019/2020, Jonathan’s grade 12 Environment and Resource Management class were involved in a beach clean-up that included mapping garbage that they found on Nickel Beach in Port Colborne. Using a survey created by Jonathan, the students collected “the location of 113 pieces of garbage they found, including a photo for each item.” This project was documented in a local newspaper.

The web map displaying students data points showing where garbage was collected and documented on Nickel Beach in November 2019 and January 2020.

Through these learning experiences, students discover the importance of GIS in decision making, data analysis and skills attainment, like critical and spatial thinking and they gain knowledge of how GIS is used in the professional world.

GIS Competitions

Some of Jonathan’s students have been participating in the annual Skills Ontario GIS secondary school competition that’s held every spring in Toronto. This event is an opportunity for the students to test their GIS analytical skills by working on a real-world question that they have to answer using ArcGIS in the span of six hours. They are expected to present their findings on a map poster or a story map to the panel of judges.

The DSBN team that included Aidan Hawkins and Hannah Walker won first place with this map at the Skills Ontario 2019 GIS competition.

For the last four years (2016-2019), the DSBN team has won gold. Jonathan prepares them in advance of the event to ensure they are ready for the challenge. One way is by running a competition at his school board before the final one in May. Students get to not only hone their ArcGIS skills, but their presentation and map making skills, as well.

At the 2020 Esri User Conference, a final map poster created by Hannah Walker and Aidan Hawkins from the DSBN Tech Skill Competition was selected for the Virtual Map Gallery.

Giving his students different learning opportunities is important to him. "I want my students to learn geography as authentically as possible.  GIS provides the means to visualizing the theory or concept to help explain what is going on in the world.  I create assignments that are meaningful and incorporate geographical thinking and geospatial technology. Often, they hook many of my students, as my classes challenge them using the concepts and GIS technology." - Jonathan

Jonathan has influenced former students to go into the field of GIS in their post-secondary studies. Once such student is Aidan Hawkins, a recent graduate and winner of the Skills Ontario competition from 2017-2019. He shared his thoughts about his former teacher with us.

“I was fortunate to be coached by Mr. Fletcher in preparation for the Skills Ontario GIS competition. I won a gold medal in three competitions at the provincial level, enabling me to meet endless contacts and continue to learn. I believe his passion and real-world approach to teaching has led me to my chosen post-secondary path at the University of Guelph to study Geography where I plan to branch out into the field of GIS. Port Colborne High School is so fortunate to have Mr. Fletcher and his amazing dedication and knowledge of geography and spatial technology which he eagerly passes on to his students.”

GIS Ambassador and OAGEE support

Jonathan supports teachers in and out of his school board who want to adopt GIS in their classroom. He has helped some teachers create projects and activities for students using GIS.  He’s led training workshops at the school board’s professional development days.

In his role as the Ontario Association for Geographic and Environmental Education (OAGEE) Vice-President of Geo-technologies, Jonathan gathers and promotes GIS related resources. He does this by supporting initiatives such as resource development and writing lessons and columns for the OAGEE journal The Monograph.  He also facilitates GIS workshops at teacher education conferences.

Jonathan (far right) and his students getting ready to do some field work.
“Geography is the subject that helps explain virtually why all of the Earth’s problems exist and holds the key to making things better. I can’t see myself teaching anything else.  Teaching my students how to use GIS helps bring validity to what they are learning and why they are learning it. “ - Jonathan

Upcoming projects

In the new school year, Jonathan plans to develop activities using ArcGIS Drone2Map – an app that will be available to all K-12 schools later this summer. Drone2Map will allow Jonathan and his students to collect data using drones and then bring the data into ArcGIS Online easily to create their own imagery data, web maps and to conduct data analysis.

We look forward to hearing about Jonathan's Drone2Map activities and other projects he will be doing in the fall. Thank you, Jonathan for your inspiring work! If you want to connect with Jonathan, contact him directly at or follow him @Geo_Fletch

Read about other GIS Ambassadors who are doing great work in supporting the use of GIS in K-12 education.

Happy Mapping!

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

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