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On the Map with Tony Cushman

December’s On the Map features Tony Cushman, an elementary teacher from Toronto, Ontario. This post will highlight the unique projects he’s done with his students using ArcGIS including a collaborative project called Kindness Mappers that Canadian teachers are invited to try with their students!

This month’s On the Map highlights Tony Cushman, a teacher who’s an avid ArcGIS user. We hope you will be inspired to get started or go further with ArcGIS after reading this post!

As the year is wrapping up, we have saved the most interesting projects for last. Let’s find out what Tony’s been up to.

A man with glasses smiling at the camera.

Tony is an avid ArcGIS user who engages his students in school wide projects that cover different areas of the curriculum.

What grade are you teaching this year?
I am teaching Grade 3 at Rolph Road Elementary School in the Toronto District School Board (TDSB). I am also on the TDSB’s Combatting Hate & Racism task force, working with TDSB superintendents and teachers to develop resources and initiatives that promote equity across our school board.

Tell us about your latest projects
So far this year, I have worked on two projects. The first one is about spreading kindness and the second one is tied to equity and understanding students’ experiences at school.

The Kindness Mappers Project
The purpose of the Kindness Mappers Project is to encourage elementary students to explore the geography of their neighbourhoods and spread kindness in their local community. This cross-curricular project aligns with so many areas of the curriculum and is perfect for teachers to use in class with their students!

The Teacher Tools section features detailed lesson plans, annotated curriculum connections by subject, student instructions with visuals, and printable resources to use for the student artwork.

A screenshot of the Kindness Mappers map.

The Kindness Mappers Project encourages elementary school kids to create art and share a positive message with other students in Canada.

Kindness Mappers – how it works and the purpose of it:

  • Kids design artwork featuring a positive message and secret Kindness Mappers symbol 
  • They install their art in a busy place in their neighborhood
  • They use ArcGIS Survey123 to instantly post their design to a shared map of Canada
  • They build geographical knowledge by exploring everyone’s landmarks of kindness on the collaborative map

Add your message and share this project with your colleagues!

An image of Tony and his colleague Molly Jamison.

“I designed an earlier version of this project in partnership with my friend and talented educator Molly Jamison in 2021. We were both teaching remotely at the time due to the pandemic and we wanted to find a way to bring our students together. My class loved collaborating with Molly’s class on the project and exploring each other’s artwork on the map. This expanded Kindness Mappers project that now allows all students in Canada to collaborate on this project together! “ – Tony

The Data Mosaic Project
This is the second project I have worked on this year using ArcGIS. In this school-wide project,  that I designed with my colleague Alexandra Stefanoff, every student at Rolph Road Elementary School had the opportunity to apply their mathematical and artistic skills to contribute to the school’s improvement process.

Tony and 2 of his students presenting about the Data Mosaic Project.

Tony with a couple of his students describing the Data Mosaic Project at the Esri Canada virtual GIS Day event.

Using Survey123, data were collected on students’ identity and their experiences at the school. Every student at the school answered each of the 14 questions/statements in the survey. The questions/statements included “Do you feel included during recess?” and “My teachers care about me.” Each question included a single-choice answer of Never, Sometimes and Most of the Time.

A screenshot of the survey the students completed for the project.

Each student at the school answered the 14 questions/feelings in the survey. This was the data for the mosaics.

An image of 2 students on the floor in front of their math counters.

Students used counters to understand the data they collected.

After the data were collected and analyzed, we had to figure out how to present it on a mosaic. This began with entering the answers in a Microsoft Excel spreadsheet and running a few formulas to calculate the number of pieces required for each mosaic.

A screenshot of the Excel spreadsheet showing the calculations of the student responses from the survey.

Before creating the mosaics, students had to figure out how many mosaic pieces they required based on the students’ responses. This was figured out using formulas in Microsoft Excel.

Then the students were able to create their paper models of what they were going to create with the glass pieces.

An image of a paper model of a mosaic

A paper model of a mosaic that represents the question: I am comfortable sharing the ways that I am different.

Finally, the students worked with professional mosaic artist Mehtap Mertdogan to transform these data into beautiful glass mosaics. Each of the 14 student-created mosaics (tied to each of the questions/statements asked in the survey) is both a mathematical representation of school data and an artistic representation of student visions for the future of the school.

Students working on their mosaics on the floor.

The students had fun creating their beautiful mosaics and they learned a lot along the way.

This project is a great example of what is possible with ArcGIS at the elementary level. It ties in math, literacy, art, and collaboration in one project. Tony presented this work at Esri Canada’s virtual GIS Day event in November. Watch the video to learn more.

Why do you keep using ArcGIS in your school projects?
I first discovered ArcGIS when I was leading a school-wide research project examining student interactions in our playground at recess. In this Playground Fieldwork project completed in 2019, my grade 3s used Esri’s software at every stage of the inquiry process, from constructing a survey (Survey123), to analyzing results (ArcGIS Dashboards and Map viewer), and then to sharing conclusions with our school community (StoryMaps).

A map showing patterns based on the Rolph Rd survey in 2019.

Tony’s class created and conducted a school-wide survey that shook the playground at Rolph Road Elementary School in 2019.

ArcGIS tools unlock so many amazing learning opportunities for my young students, and this is why I have been integrating them in a wide range of cross-curricular classroom projects ever since. Students have gone much deeper than simply exploring the physical geography of their school community, as they have investigated the culture of the place where they learn, and then used these data to design student-led school initiatives that make Rolph Road School Elementary even better. 

ArcGIS has transformed the learning in my elementary classroom, and I believe all Canadian educators will benefit from integrating these tools in their classrooms!

What’s next?
With the support of members of the K-12 group at Esri Canada, I am developing a comprehensive resource that will allow principals and teachers in Canada to create their own version of my Playground Fieldwork project at their own schools. I am looking forward to presenting this work, and our Kindness Mappers project, at Esri Canada’s GIS in Education and Research Conference on March 1st, 2023, in Toronto. 

Please feel free to contact me at if you have any questions or want to learn more about these projects.

Thank you, Tony, for sharing your wonderful projects. We look forward to continuing our work with you in 2023.

New to ArcGIS Online?

If you are new to ArcGIS Online, educators can request an account for themselves and their students at

Explore the Esri Canada K-12 Resource Finder to find other resources for your class.

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

For Educators - Let’s get started with ArcGIS Online
Explore the Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ)

For Students – Enroute with ArcGIS Online

Using ArcGIS Online and want to learn more?

Discover Story Maps
Creating ArcGIS Dashboards 


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