7 Ideas for Bringing GIS into the K-12 Classroom

September 13, 2023

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School has started up again. Wouldn’t it be great if students were exposed to GIS in school? Kids gravitate toward interactive learning technologies and the project-based learning that GIS makes possible. However, GIS has a steeper learning curve than most learning technologies and few teachers were ever introduced to it. You can support teachers.

How can GIS professionals help?  Here are some ideas to get you started:

  1. Talk to the teachers to learn about what topics they are covering. What resources do they have available? Use your spatial thinking skills and GIS background to suggest interactive data that relates to this topic. Make sure it is easy to access without processing and isn’t behind a paywall.
  2. Ask what type of experience would work best: a demo/lecture, hands-on, a one-time visit, or a longer project? Have the students used GIS or digital maps before? Usually, having some hands-on exploration time will engage the students and give them time to learn on their own. Give the students some concrete suggestions of what to explore and what they’ll see. Then, be open to talking about what they find interesting. It might surprise you!
  3. Offer to come into the classroom and show kids some cool interactive maps. Again, find out what content students are covering, and find some maps that they can explore. If the students have their own devices, you can let them explore on their own as well as having a directed experience. Suggested sites: NASA WorldView, the Living Atlas, MapMaker
  4. Go local! Students love to explore where they live. Pull together aerial imagery of your town, whether on Google Maps, Google Earth, ArcGIS Online, or elsewhere. Find some from different time periods, especially if there have been big changes in your area. Let students explore the maps. Give them ideas of places for which to look, and compare how it used to look to how it looks now. Discuss how looking at places from above is interesting!
  5. Connect to the weather and the news. Find layers that are constantly updating, such as earthquakes, wildfires, or hurricanes. Is there a controversial topic in your area that has a spatial component? Find data and have students explore the different angles of the topic.
  6. See if the teacher is interested in a career day. Depending on the ages of the students, you can talk about how to learn GIS and what your day-to-day job entails. Be sure to talk about other opportunities with a GIS career.
  7. For a grab-and-go option, use a prepared experience, such as the Esri GeoInquiries, the new MapMaker, the Map in a Minute activities or ArcGIS Puzzles. Working with a math class? Have students create graphs and charts with the Bridging Mathematics, Statistics, Geography & GIS through Analyzing the Coefficients of Determination activity. Have students explore the story of the place where they live. Bigger projects can involve student gathered data using tools like Survey 123. Students could map their favorite ice cream stores, where they play sports, or map their emotions. Have the students take action on a topic important to them, such as using maps to explore climate change projects, or issues of racial justice, for example. Turn students on to doing Open Street Map projects.

If the school has an Esri School Bundle, offer to show them how to work with ArcGIS Online, StoryMaps, and the GeoInquiries. If the school does not have a School Bundle, offer to connect with the school’s technology team to get an account. They are free for K-12 schools!

Most importantly, just show them how fun it is to work with maps!


Catch this author in an Upcoming Webinar  - Learn How to Help Kids in Your State Create Competitive GIS Projects


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