Skip to main content

On the Map with Dr. Poh Tan

Meet Dr. Poh Tan, a multifaceted educator in this month’s On the Map. Originating from Vancouver, British Columbia, and with Nyonya heritage, she is bridging nature, science and education through her work with the Vancouver Botanical Gardens Association, an Esri Canada Partner in Education and ArcGIS StoryMaps.

Poh stands out as a remarkable individual, having successfully defended her PhD in Education in February 2024, complementing her first PhD in Experimental Medicine in 2008. Beyond her roles as a scientist, researcher, author, and entrepreneur, she is a committed educator who, regardless of her demanding schedule, recently made time to share insights into her work with us.

Since 2020, Poh has worked with the Vancouver Botanical Gardens Association's (VBGA) education team and volunteers, through her fellowship at Simon Fraser University. Despite the COVID-19 closures, she collaborated closely with Dr. David Zandvliet, her doctoral supervisor and Chantal Martin, the Director of Education at the gardens, focusing her science education research on innovative teaching, specifically decentering dominant ways of teaching sciences that incorporate other ways of knowing and learning. Her interest in how Hawaiian culture and hula dancing, a practice she's pursued for over 20 years, can deepen our plant connections has inspired her work on a project at the Bloedel Conservatory (part of VBGA) to enhance human-plant relationships. An image of a woman smiling in front of a beautiful garden.

Poh enjoying a beautiful day in VanDusen Gardens, in Vancouver, after conversations with the learning community.

We had the opportunity to ask her a few questions about her work supporting K-12 education and her experience with ArcGIS StoryMaps.

Tell us how you have used ArcGIS StoryMaps and why it is a valuable tool for your work with VBGA?

I was first introduced to ArcGIS StoryMaps about three years ago.  At the time I was looking for ways to tell stories about my learning experiences in Hawaii.  Quickly, I learned this ArcGIS Online app allows you to access different data layers. I was intrigued that you can connect personal and community stories about non-native plants in British Columbia and trace its origins back to its native ecological place through the power of maps.  This was a great discovery, given that my research and endeavors in science education and environmental literacy are deeply rooted in community engagement, land and place-based practices, and Hawaiian epistemology. At the heart of this approach is the concept that relevant and responsible storytelling is fundamental to learning.

Storytelling is a way to learn about science that connects what we are learning with why it is important to learn.  Using Story Maps, I was able to share community stories about people’s experiences with plants found in the Bloedel Conservatory and to connect with the origins, history, science, and economics of those plants.

A virtual learning tool during COVID and beyond

During the COVID pandemic, it was a challenge for many schools to get to the Conservatory, due to constraints with transportation, funding, and parent participation.  That’s why story maps are a great platform for not only connecting people to plants, but also as a tool to address some accessibility challenges to the gardens. 

Through this research fellowship, collaboration with the VBGA educational team, the community and my hula sisters, I created Bloedel Conservatory's first virtual classroom visit for K-7 classrooms.  The Conservatory's virtual experiences were created with a combination of story, performance, and curricular-aligned lesson plans and activities.  These experiences ensure videos are created to allow school populations located in areas with limited Wi-fi bandwidth and without access to an urban garden can still learn and feel involved.

The virtual classroom field trip experiences have been used by teachers, non-formal educators, and parents to enrich, supplement, and add to their teaching pedagogy.

An image of a woman smiling sitting at a desk.

Poh is pictured here working on story map content to build virtual classroom field trips of Bloedel Conservatory.

What are some of the “virtual classroom experience” resources that you have created?

These resources are specifically tied to the British Columbia curriculum, but they can be used in other provinces and territories.

In 2016, BC revised its school curriculum, introducing five key updates: core competencies, a concept-based framework, foundations in literacy and numeracy, an assessment-as-learning model, and the inclusion of First Peoples Principles of Learning. This revision aims to streamline the learning journey for students and offer teachers more pedagogical flexibility.

The goal of the virtual field trips is to provide educators with a teaching resource that is curriculum-aligned and connected to the five key updates to the curriculum.

Educators are invited to explore and incorporate the virtual experiences in their classroom. Here are the links to these great resources:

Welcome to the Bloedel Conservatory
Join us on a virtual field trip under the dome to connect with plants, animals, and people through storytelling.

An image of a ginger plant from the story map.

Learn about “Turmeric and Ginger: Spices that travelled the world” in the Bloedel Conservatory story map.

A Hibiscus Experience A grade K-3 virtual classroom field trip under the dome to connect with plants, animals, and people through storytelling.: A Banana Experience A grade K-3 virtual classroom field trip under the dome to connect with plants, animals, and people through storytelling. An image of a banana plant from the story map. Discover the world of bananas in your own classroom or at home with this story map.

Blended Field Trip
Take your Grade 3-5 class to the conservatory to connect with plants and animals.

Experiencing False Creek
Let's go back in virtual time to learn about impacts of colonization and industrialization on a once ecologically rich site.

What’s next?

I am excited to share that I will continue to use story maps to further build, enhance and expand on the Bloedel Virtual Field Trips.  I will also conduct workshops for pre-service and in-service teachers on how to use story maps to build their digital stories connected to culture and biodiversity.  These projects will be published and presented at the 13th edition of New Perspectives in Science Education International Conference in Florence, Italy next month.

Thank you, Poh, for sharing your educational insights with us. We look forward to hearing more about your work in the future.

Discover more about Poh and feel free to contact her directly on her website.

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