In June 2013, President Obama issued a challenge to private industry to help U.S. K-12 education engage all students in digital learning under the ConnectED initiative. In 2014, Esri President Jack Dangermond answered that challenge in a massive way, committing to offer an ArcGIS Online Organization subscription to any U.S. K-12 school for instruction.
Use of the system is spreading, and in 2015, Esri will expand its efforts again, supporting a series of educational workshops that will launch this spring and summer in a number of states, and providing even more instructional materials, called GeoInquiries, to educators throughout the year.
ArcGIS Online had been around for a couple of years, providing an easy to use, fun environment for building maps, analyzing data and exploring the world. A few pilot schools had been using ArcGIS Online Organizations for as much as a year. Seeing success with ArcGIS Online in K-12 education, Dangermond made the commitment to expand the technology to any school in the nation. Even with support from Amazon Web Services on this effort, it's a dizzying offer.
There are about 50 million K-12 students in the US, in about 115,000 schools —roughly 90,000 public schools in about 15,000 districts, and about 25,000 non-public schools — and perhaps 2 million home school students. Because ArcGIS Online Organizations were already being used at high school, middle school and elementary levels, all schools and all grades could take advantage.
K-12 education is an enormous universe to which change does not come quickly or easily, but progress is already happening. This Esri story map allows users to see which sites have received an ArcGIS Online Organization for K-12 instruction:
Zoomed out, the map shows gratifying progress; zooming in highlights some interesting stories.
The states with densities that catch viewers off guard are Arkansas and New Hampshire. The EAST Initiative in Arkansas has engaged GIS for years at all levels, and the presentation by Sonora Elementary at the 2014 Esri Conference is a sterling example of what young students can do with GIS. In New Hampshire, strong collaboration between users in federal, state and local government, higher education, K-12 schools, the state Geography Alliance and 4-H have built a robust network of projects, instruction and mutual support.
The map shows local pockets that might be expected with an understanding of U.S. population patterns, but one school district deserves a closer look. Just west of Washington, D.C. is Loudoun County, VA., where there are 85 public schools and 85 ArcGIS Online Organizations. The district's lead geospatial technology instructor, a veteran of Virginia's Geospatial Semester program, and its science supervisor have demonstrated that just a couple of people with vision and courage can launch a change affecting many thousands of students.
What else is happening? The other maps in the Esri story map, above, hint at the efforts. GeoMentors are reaching out, and some teachers —though not nearly enough — are reaching to connect. The Association of American Geographers is ramping up GeoMentor support, and the GIS Certification Institute is rewarding GIS professionals who help schools. Esri also will host the 7th annual Teachers Teaching Teachers GIS, or T3G, professional development event at its headquarters in Redlands, Calif. this summer.
What can you do? Explore Esri's ConnectED page. Talk to a school teacher or administrator. Become a GeoMentor. Support technology-based education for all kids in your state, not just the fortunate ones, and help more educators understand how GIS can help students today, tomorrow and into the future. Our collective future depends on it.