Author: Barbaree


Boldly Going Where No Maps Have Gone Before

Some critics say the online mapping tools and free mapping tools are like chasing a moving target.  Well, warm up your running shoes and pack extra arrows in your quiver, because the latest version of ArcGIS Explorer Online is worth the effort to chase it down!

Those of you who have been involved with the effort to integrate geospatial technology (GIS, GPS & Remote Sensing) into the classroom environment for the last 10 years or so know we’ve been through many changes in terms of viable solutions.  Didn’t you love ArcVoyager and it’s prescribed modules…so nice, and then AEJEE with it’s closer-to-the-real-thing features.  We began to embrace ArcGIS Explorer (now ArcGIS Explorer Desktop) virtual globe with it’s improving features.  As new tools came along, old ones die away…rules change.  The pursuit could be frustrating or invigorating depending on your tendency towards a glass half-full or half-empty mentality.  As things changed, you had to remember that these tools weren’t always built with educators and classrooms in mind, rather designed for business, industry and the general public.  The creative educators were utilizing the cools tools.  Well, the game is changing again.  Gone are the concerns for whether you have a Mac or a PC! (cue those hilarious commercials  Run it all in your internet browser!  Woohoo!

So what’s possible?  Queries and shapefiles and map notes…oh my!

I’ve created some examples and posted a collection of links to maps and data that are residing in my account space (for free) at There are samples of old lessons that are still on my website and in ArcLessons as well as some new ones, such as T.S. Spivet and Plessy v. Ferguson.

I think the real treasure in these tools is more flexibility. As an educator, I can create the beginnings of a map and prompt students with the expected handouts; then, my students access that map, add more data and analysis to it AND…(drum roll, please) create a presentation using the built-in presentation features to assess their knowledge, thinking and communication skills.  We’re teaching many more skills than GIS with this tool and its features.  We expose students to course content, subject analysis, directed research, critical thinking, problem solving, story telling, persuasive writing and public speaking.  I challenge you to find me a tool that does all of that…in a web browser!

There are great tips and information at the Esri blogs for each product.  Also the Esri Education Team’s blog has great educational insights and some step-by-step entries on using the tools as well as implementing the tools.

Check out the blogs:
Esri Education Community
ArcGIS Explorer Desktop
ArcGIS Explorer Online

Thank you to Bernie Szukalski & the Esri team for bringing us a great set of tools!

Caching into Writing

Geocaching isn’t just for science class or the serious geography geek! A cache is simply a hiding place, and caching is hiding something like a treasure. Nature is full of treasures waiting to be explored. A popular movement called “geocaching” gets folks outside with their GPS units to find treasures hidden by other geocachers. If you haven’t tried it yet, it’s great fun! ( Folks are geocaching all over the world!

Many educators are taking that idea to the classroom to do campus investigations. Now you might expect that it’s the science teacher out looking at nature, but surprise your students in English Language Arts class with an outdoors writing assignment! Realizing that not all classrooms are created equally, here are some low-tech options as well as the spiffy high-tech ones. Either have students locate specific cached items or let them explore the landscape for surprises. Anyway you do it, get creative and allow the students to explore their creativity.

Low-Tech1. Create a map of your site with destinations. Use a hand-drawn map with destinations or use a tool like Sketch-A-Map ( to create your map for students.
2. Students can create a poem or story based on the destinations on the map. Nature is an excellent way to pull more adjectives out of a student. I used a similar activity with my students in my book, Reading, Writing and Thinking around the Globe: Geospatial Technologies for English Language Arts Classroom and Beyond ( where students create topographic and geographic definitions for words. Visualizing vocabulary can help cement those words into a student’s personal dictionary.
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