Skip to main content

On the Map with Jennifer Rasp

This month’s On the Map features preservice teacher Jennifer Rasp from Queen’s University. Let’s find out what insight she gained from using ArcGIS in her three-week placement with Esri Canada’s Education and Research group that she will integrate in her teaching.

In March of this year, we met Jennifer, a fifth year Bachelor of Education student with a major in English and a minor in Geography at Queen’s University. Having some experience with ArcGIS, she was excited to learn more, and to understand how it could be used in teaching communication in English courses.

Woman smiling while sitting down.

Jennifer was a great addition to the K-12 group at Esri Canada. She gave us constructive feedback on our resources that we will incorporate in our revisions later this year.

Recently, we asked Jennifer to reflect on her experience and work in March. Here’s what she had to say.

What were your responsibilities during your three-week placement at Esri Canada?

My three-week placement at Esri Canada was known as my alternative practicum. It was an opportunity to explore an area of educational interest within a context that is different from that experienced during the regular in-school practicum components and is consistent with the candidate's concentration. My concentration was in assessment and evaluation, so a lot of the work I did with Jean Tong, Manager of K-12 Teaching & Learning, was to evaluate the compatibility of existing resources with use in the classroom.

As a preservice teacher, I viewed the resources from the perspective of someone bringing in mapping platforms and spatial data visualization interfaces into the classroom for the first time. Thus, my feedback was intended to make the tutorials and lessons as intuitive as possible for someone with no background in geographic information systems (GIS). Those who already have industry or higher education experience will have no difficulty implementing these tools in their practice; however, the challenge is to make it accessible to teachers who would otherwise dismiss the possible benefits to uphold the existing pedagogies. Additionally, many individual education plans and board mandates necessitate classroom activities to meet relevant disability, accessibility, and universal design criteria, so I helped design materials like checklists to satisfy those requirements.

Resource for English courses

I also developed an activity called “The World of Symbols” using ArcGIS StoryMaps. One of the biggest challenges with teaching symbolism to students is articulating how word and image connotations are dependent on cultural and spatiotemporal context. As a result, this seemed like a great opportunity to experiment with ArcGIS software and apps to visually represent how interrelationships between people, place, and environment vary spatially and temporally across and between locations. This approach shows how the social sciences and humanities do not operate independently of place and environment but are thoroughly grounded in them. While I acknowledge that English teachers are not the target demographic for ArcGIS, I do want to see innovation change the way we impart knowledge and skills in an educational context. It is imperative that we find new ways to make students see more than just themselves, their classrooms, and their immediate environment represented in the work they complete.

A screenshot of the World of Symbols activity shows a black background with a bouquet of flowers in the foreground.

Jennifer’s activity “The World of Symbols” is a great addition to our resource collection for the subject of English.

What interested you about this role at Esri Canada and what did you like about it?

I was interested in Esri Canada because I didn’t have the opportunity to do a practicum placement in a geography classroom during my teacher education program, so I hoped to grow my understanding of GIS in a non-traditional setting. I had used ArcGIS software before, but I didn’t consider myself to be proficient in it. It was a great opportunity for me to go through the Esri training catalogue and start learning more as part of my professional development.

I had a lot of fun expanding my worldview with this placement. Even though I was working remotely, I was (digitally) travelling across Canada to compile data on educational institutions and sitting in on meetings with people occupying different parts of the country. I learned that there are so many stakeholders and skills involved in the creation of a resource and the larger system it exists within and everyone has something to contribute to the execution of ideas. The work I did with the K-12 group is especially dear to me because it was done with the betterment of students in mind, and it’s impossible to measure the impact of that. It was purposeful work, and I was very fortunate to be doing it with a team of great people.

Why do you think ArcGIS is a good education tool/beneficial for teaching and learning?

After being in the classroom for several months, I have observed that many young people don’t truly comprehend scale and location. We live in unprecedented times where we have access to more geographic information than ever before; yet, at times this exposure can at times be superficial, and it’s hard to grasp the reality of what and where things are occurring around the world. ArcGIS helps with visualizing and exploring places we don’t know and gives us perspective.

Speaking as an English teacher, I believe that students should not only have reading and writing literacy, but digital, media, and cultural literacy, too. I taught Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner during one of my practicum placements and in the novel, the protagonist and his father flee his home country of Afghanistan during the Soviet-Afghan War, a journey that takes them to Pakistan and eventually the United States of America. It’s difficult for our brains to comprehend and process what that looks like and how it mirrors the reality of millions of refugees in today’s world. However, if you were to use software to map how many kilometres were travelled, what modes of transport would be available, and the geography of the landscape, the scope of what the characters had to achieve becomes much clearer. For many, it would seem contradictory to be using maps in an English classroom, but I think that there should be cross-curricular transfer. I want my students to be digitally and geographically informed citizens that don’t see the world in isolation. Maps can take you to a place you have never visited before or broaden your perspective to have more empathetic insight; as such, they have intrinsic value to all disciplines, not just STEM subjects. The first thing students do with a map is look for home, and in today’s society that could be almost anywhere around the world. Our curriculum needs to be reactive to the students it is addressing, and ArcGIS is the vehicle through which larger conversations can be had about the meaning of place.

Tell us about the Science Rendezvous event you attended

In May 2023, I represented Esri Canada at the Science Rendezvous, a one-day event where people in science, technology, engineering, the arts, and mathematics meet to inspire people of all ages to participate in discovery, experimentation, and exploration in all areas of science. I introduced GIS to most of the students (ages 10-18) I spoke to during the event.

The activity at my station was titled “Where Wear.” This story map included ArcGIS Survey123, ArcGIS Online, and ArcGIS Dashboards. Visitors could scan the QR code on display to complete a survey about the materials and origin of the clothing they were wearing, which was recorded and displayed on the interactive map and dashboard.

A screenshot displaying the Where Wear dashboard highlighting data collected during the Science Rendezvous event.

Where Wear includes an ArcGIS Dashboard to highlight data collected by students at the Science Rendezvous event.

Many of the students who visited my booth could name China as a popular clothing manufacturer but couldn’t place the country on the map nor provide any context as to why it was the preferred destination for the relocation of global manufacturing facilities. These are skills we need to be cultivating in the younger age demographic, and the ArcGIS suite is a great way to illustrate spatial relations and gain location intelligence. This comes in addition to the transferable skills that ArcGIS products give students, such as having the knowledge to synthesize information collected from geographical inquiry to make judgements, being able to make evidence-based connections about the interrelationships between phenomena, and the ability to read spatial data.

What are your plans to use ArcGIS in the future?

I am at that scary point in life where I am about to graduate and am standing at the crossroads of several different career paths. During my undergraduate, I found a love for urban and regional planning that I might one day pursue at the postgraduate level. I also have the choice of continuing with education and becoming a certified teacher. Regardless of where I end up though, data visualization and spatial analysis skills will be an asset. I have already recommended Survey 123 to many of my colleagues because it’s an efficient tool for collecting and interpreting data, and I see myself using it well into the future. There is everything to gain from a familiarity with ArcGIS, and it’s why I’m a big promoter of it. I want to share this information with as many people as possible, and I hope they will glean benefits from it, as I have.

Thank you, Jennifer for your input on our resources, especially your perspective on assessment and evaluation. Your new activity on World Symbols is a great addition to our resource collection. We look forward to getting your feedback on our ArcGIS Preservice Education Hub coming out next month.

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 resources for your class. 

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