GIS and Applications for Education

GEO 565 Oregon State University  Summer 2007

Annotated Bibliography

by Julimarie H Thomas

Integrating GIS into Secondary Science Education: An ArcIMS Approach


Elizabeth K O'Dea


Geographic Information Systems should be as familiar to schools as the yellow school pencil because of the benefits it brings to education such as enhancing curriculum with spatial reasoning, problem solving, data analysis, and inter-disciplinary real-world subject matter. (Dr. Robert Downs, 2001.) Due to th elimited knowledge of educators with GIS, the cost of the software and hardware requirements and the time commitment devoted to implementing a GIS curriculum, the pace at the K-12 level is extremely slow as compared to the rapid growth of GIS in the professional sector. Highly motivated teachers to dedicate their time to learning the software and designing real-life applications are the few success stories.  But using local data presents even more challenges. ArcIMS (arc Internet Map Server) is a less completed GIS development that provides the basic functions of GIS software but is accessed through the internet with datasets. The Tahoma Virtual Atlas was created from using ArcIMS.  This customizing of a local area allowed teachers who desired, the opportunity to incorporate GIS with their current curriculum of local field studies. Problems that had to be worked through were from converting data file formats  into ArcIMS formats (shapefiles), converting the various projections of data a matching overlay projection, resolution of some data, combining layers of data.  Once the data was established, the next obstacle became the computer component installations. This proved to be very tedious but well worth the efforts. The final web page of the Tahoma Virtual Atlas was demonstrated to teachers who realized the power of this new tool in teaching about GIS and geographic concepts. Although limited in its functions, ArcIMS is a start to providing students with the current technology that they may use in their future careers and it minimized the time commitment needed to implement a GIS Curriculum.  It is a great place to start in making GIS the "yellow pencil" of the 21st century schools.


O'Dea, E. K. (2002). Integrating GIS into Secondary Science Eduation: An ArcIMS Approach. Retrieved August 23, 2007, from (pap5025).


An Investigation of GIS Workshop Experiences for Successful Classroom Implementation

Alan Buss, Patricia McClurg, Lydia Dambekalns


With state and national educational standards calling for relevant examples of real-world applications using inquiry or problem-solving skills, GIS is the ticket to meeting those standards. Since GIS is mainstreamed in the workplace of today, the exposure to GIS is essential to our youth.  The way to get to the students is to go through the teachers first. A five year study in  Wyoming to determine what support would be needed for teachers to successfully implement GIS into their classrooms began in 1995.   Since ArcView is now a product that is easily adapted to personal computers, the limitations of a huge database and prohibitive cost of software has been overcome. In the study, professional development opportunities were provided to to educators.  They were offered incentives such as stipends, software, lessons, resources, special access to data, time away from the work-place and expert knowledge of a facilitator.  In exchange, they were to integrate GIS into their classrooms. What started out as long-distance partnerships the first year, culminated in teacher workshops that had five sessions for teaching and learning.  Support was given to each workshop participant.  The outcome of the experience showed that the vast majority of teachers, elementary to high school, art teachers to science teachers, were able to use GIS to develop useful and appropriate lessons that resulted in a product by the teacher and student that was a visualization of the data. (spatial-location.) The overall attitude of teachers toward using GIS to support learning scored a 7.72/10 ("extremely positive.")   Although a very complex task at the start, the learning curve was tremendous for the experts and the teachers.  Professional development must be provided in a way that expertise, support learning and encouragement though incentives is most effective. "Aprofessional development would allow teachers to learn how to manipulate GIS and how to apply it meaningfully in the classroom setting."




Buss, A. , McClurg, P., Dambekalns, L. (2002). An Investigation of GIS Workshop Experiences for Successful Classroom Implementation. Retrieved August 26, 2007, from (pap5075).

Spatial thinking, Education and the Workforce

Learning to Think Spatially: GIS as a support system in the K-12 Curriculum


Ann Johnson


In 2005, US National Research Council published a report stressing the importance of spatial thinking in science and in the workplace. GIS is the to9ol that allows students the opportunity to visualize complex spatial relationships. GIS allows students to ask questions and test hypotheses incorporating real-world data for real-world problems.  Geospatial technology has been identified by the George W. Bush High Growth Job training Initiative as one of the top areas for job growth. Yet a huge gap is developing between students and their ability to move into the workplace using the GIS technology.  Educators need to develop GIS curriculum to expose the youth to a potential career field.  But how?  The University Consortium for Geographic Information Science completed the Model Curricula Body of Knowledge published in 2006.  This document defines ten knowledge areas as for GI Science and Technology which are further divided into titles and definitions, topics and educational objectives for each topic. Certification form other organization is occurring from use of this model. More work must be done to introduce the power of GIS across curriculums.  Grants from the National Science Foundation (NSF) are being offered to encourage educators to develop materials that enhance the use of spatial concepts.



Curricula Body of Knowledge 



Johnson, A. (2006). Spatial Thinking, Education, and the Workforce. Retrieved August 26, 2007, from

Applications of GIS in the K-12 Science Classroom


Thomas R. Baker


The factory-style of model of teaching and learning is still a tradition in American education.  The teacher is the disseminator of knowledge and students are the receptors. This style of learning is artificial Most students learn though an inquiry process where they ponder a question and investigate it using their own method of research with a hands-on approach.  GIS technology allows students to learn though this "constructivism" style as they become life-long learners.  Teachers become mentors and learn along side their students in a resource rich environment. Students ask the questions, gather background information, establish research methods, collect and analyze data and draw conclusions. This style is not commonplace but easily could be if the the class has internet access.  KanCRN (Collaborative research Network) is a US Department of Education curriculum project that attempts to reform science technology education. "Hands-on, minds-on" is the motto.  Design activities that investigate a few questions in depth connecting school science with the everyday world of the student.  The student test their ideas and shares their results peers. Teachers are slow to change to GIS because it requires a shift to a project or product based authentic learning assessment that may be an uncomfortable shift for them from their paper and pencil assessment. And there is the need for hardware, software and application knowledge of software for GIS applications.  KanCRN allows all of this to be met providing a map-based visual of the students data so they can observe and analyze the data. They can create maps with the data they collected, they can add thematic layers using very basic resources. The pathway of using digital mapping in the classroom is a sequence called Presentation-Exploration-Analysis-Visualization. It is hopeful that support will be provided to encompass a broader scope and sequence of the applications of GIS in education.


Link  KanCRN


Baker, T. R. (2000). Applications ofGIS in the K-12 Science Classroom. Retrieved August 26, 2007, from (proc00).


Revolutionizing Earth System Science for the 21st Century


Martos Hoffman & Daniel Barstow



Earth Science curriculum is taught is K-12 education across America but it is often considered a less rigorous course than other sciences.  This perception that Earth sciences are not as important than the life or physical sciences of chemistry and physics, is leading to a poor curriculum that does not encourage students to pursue knowledge in the Earth Science domain.  One thought is that the tools used to teach the Earth sciences are antiquated.  If we start using 21st century tools [such as Geographic Information Systems] and use inquiry based approaches to teaching and learning about the earth, then literacy in the geology, oceans, atmosphere, weather, climate, and environment will increase.  The need for a systematic reform of Earth system science that presents the earth as a set of interacting systems (instead of stand alone systems like meteorology and oceanography) is essential in K-12 education.  One of the recommendations to improve Earth system literacy is to ensure that web-based access to data and analysis tools is usable by the entire K-12 education community. Establish that Earth system science is a science course that is  equally or more challenging then the classic high school biology, chemistry and physics.   Earth science should be considered a DYNAMIC INTERACTIVE system. And Earth science should be explored using technology of today and the future (space-age) and researched through inquiry-based teaching to meet the criteria of NOAA's specific domains -ocean, weather, climate and environmental literacy across the nation in all grades.


Hoffman, Martos and Barstow Daniel. April 2007. Revolutionizing Earth System Science Education for the 21st Century, Report and Recommendations fro a 50-State Analysis of Earth Science Education Standards. TERC, Cambridge MA.


Students & Farmers Become Citizen Scientists


Karen Dvornich & Dan Hannfious


At the 2005 ESRI International User Conference Plenary Session, three fifth graders presented an ArcView demonstration as an example of how they and 123 other students used GIS technology in their school curriculum and field activities. It started in 1993 when a 4th and 5th grade teacher, (Diane Petersen and Cathi Nelson) from Waterville elementary in Washington state, brainstormed how to actively engage their students in more meaningful science inquiry related to endangered species. The traditional tropical rainforest from Brazil did not interest the majority of the students nor did they have ownership of the quest to save the species on the endangered list.  The teachers discovered the NatureMapping program that was designed by regional biologists and provided teacher training and guidance to implement a scientific-inquiry based curriculum by VERIFYING the ACCURACY of range distribution maps for every terrestrial vertebrate in their state. In the beginning, the horny toad which they became familiar with on their farms, showed up in the range maps as not suppose to be there. The students along with their teachers and local scientists reviewed literature about the horny toads, developed questions and designed a 22 attribute spreadsheet that they collated in a spreadsheet and managed on a GIS database.  This lead to Adopt-a-Farmer program.  Farmers were asked to collect data on horny toads on their farms with the help of a set of instructions and habitat descriptions and classification codes to enter into the spreadsheet.  In the fall the farmers would come to the class and share the data from their field. Community members were also invited and a slide show made by the students was shown.  This opened up a plethora of questions about GIS, ESRI, ArcView and technology that was once thought to be used only by professionals being useful and meaningful to elementary students. Teachers began to see a genuine enthusiasm created by engaging the students in learning about local issues.  What stasrtedout as 96 historic records eventually lead to 600 new records from farmers and students. This program is successful due to a GIS mentor who was available anytime students were using ArcView, support from school administrators , scientists, and farmers in the community. Teachers learned to use GIS applications to make shapefiles, layouts, and queries as well as understanding the technical, geographical, scientific and mathematical information necessary to connect the students to the state curriculum requirements. The quest to find more community GIS mentors and scientists has lead to teachers in higher grades being encouraged to find ways to incorporate GIS into their curriculum.  Projects now range from 4th grade to 8th grade and involve bird inventories, healthy and diseased trees in the city, water quality and quantity issues to mention a few. This is just a peak into the power that can be unleashed by providing  technology and projects that are relevant to students to help them visualize the data and inquire about the patterns or distribution.




Dvornvich, K.  and Hannafious, Dan. (2007). Students and Farmers Become Citizen Scientists. Retrieved August 20, 2007, from (0207/horny-toad).


Integrating Geographic Information Systems (GIS) into  Secondary Education: A Community-Based Learning Experience


Cherie Northon, 2003


Community-based learning in Anchorage, Alaska was developed to "combat geographic illiteracy among the K-12 population."  University students engage in an outreach program to local schools to apply their knowledge to the subjects they have been studying. Application of their textbook  knowledge and experiences is now the quest. A grant was written for a senior level cartography class called GIS 458- Design and Management of Spatial Data. Five upper division students started by taking on a middle school south of Anchorage and ESRI donated an educational package of ArcView 3.2 and digital airphoto of south Anchorage was provided by Aeromap, Inc. Topics were devised to the high achievers of middle school "to provide a coherent and logical introduction to GIS using local data and resources." Commuting to the middle school class from the university and setting up 40 minute presentations  once a week for several weeks, the 30 some middle school students seemed uninterested. The journal reflections written by the university students allowed them to brainstorm the glitches and respond to them firsthand.  This was a real life experience for the university students because one day they may experience something in the workplace that does not run smoothly without any hitches and they will have tools to draw upon to "fix it."  The next year moving up to the high school level and with a very motivated, enthusiastic and energetic teacher who brought real world issues to his classroom of students, the GIS 458 class embarked on its second adventure of Community-based learning.   Five students were selected from Mike's class to go to the university and work with the five university seniors. This time instead of using "canned" tutorials, Alaska and anchorage data was used to  learn about GIS, metadata, map projections and careers in GIS. In five weeks of attending the 2 hour classes, the five students created presentations of their products which include map overlays of the Aleutian Volcano, Historic Fires and Spruce Beetle Kill Map. The enthusiasm and knowledge acquired by these students was huge.  So was the experience gained by the university students. In year three, the lessons were extended from 2 hours to 3.5  hours once a week. Modifications were made in the extent of the GIS technology that could be covered in five sessions.  More graphics and visuals were used over words.  What was learned that the mature students from high school were very capable of understanding a complex software such as GIS. Discovery, excitement and accomplishment are what await the right group of students who have an opportunity to learn GIS technology with the assistance of a community expert.  GIS is "so different than their daily school routine that they hardly realize they are involved in learning."


Northon, Cherie. (2003) . Integrating Geographic Information Systems (GIS) into Secondary Education: A Community Based Learning Experience. EDRS, SO 035 166.


GIS in the Classroom

Forward by Charlie Fitzpatrick


Marsha Alibrandi


"We don't do social science.  We do social studies! Anyone who can name all the president's gets a B for the year!" This is a response from a junior high teacher! But if we were to tech social science the way science is taught inquiry-based then we would turn on students s to discovering, analyzing, evaluating, interpreting, synthesizing, integrating, questioning about spatial data and information. Implementing GIS into the social science classroom permits students to "wrestle with information and questions."nbsp; They learn to treat the information scientifically in geography and history class.  GIS is a tool that emphasizes PROCESS like science. Students can become actively engaged in finding answers to their questions  Teachers are rarely the experts and get a chance to learn along side the students. Ideas for involvement of GIS and social science--examine the school attendance zone boundaries and explore alternatives.  What impact do the changes have on the community? Mapping of invasive weeds, explore their avenues of seed dispersal, model the impact on the community. Fitting timberwolves with transmitters and watching the GPS satellites display the transmission traveling far and wide though forest, farm, suburb, rivers and highways.  What implications are there on the protected wolves traveling these distances? As students create data and turn their data into visual products, they can share and present their findings to the community and solicit community involvement in planning and decision making.


Alibrandi, M. (2003). GIS in the Classroom/ Forward by Charlie Fitzpatrick (pp. vi-viii) . Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.


Developing a GIS Curriculum

Ann Johnson


The University Consortium developed a Body of Knowledge that is proving invaluable in the geospatial industry. The goal of the National Center for Geographic Information and Analysis was to design a core curriculum to use for Geographic Information Science and Technology.  The two year study involved identifying duties and tasks of GIS professionals and then defining the competencies and skills needed by employees in the geospatial workforce. The Model Curricula has  undergone some change from its initial project lead by Duane Marble  in 1997.  By 2003, Marble had put together a Body of Knowledge (BoK) for GI S & T divided into 12 Knowledge Areas (KA) which were divided into topics and then units.  In 2004, David DiBiase, revised the Model Curricula  and reorganized the units into 10 Knowledge Areas (KAs.)  These areas focus on concepts, methodologies, techniques, and applications of the content area.  The book is now being used for more than its conceived tool for academics.  It is used for certification, accreditation, employee screening for GIS fields.




Johnson, A. B. (2006). Developing a GIS Curriculum. Retrieved August 20, 2007, from (curricula).


GEODESY: An Educational Series for Youth


Susan Lindell Radke


In 1994 Berkley Geo-research Group (BGRG) along with NASA developed a remote sensing application for K-12 based on ArcView 2.1.  Data being critical, was determined to have to be of local origin for the schools involved in order to maintain student interest.  GEODESY integrated local data sets for each school and its vicinity. The initial objective was "to enable teachers and students to explore the basic geographic elements within a digital environment." The different tools involved in the GEODESY included Air Photo Browser, Satellite Imagery, GISToolkit.  After studying the digital photos, exploration of the physical and human systems in the local environment followed. These were converged into a graphical screen where individual elements could be studied and when combined, patterns could be further explored. These lead to studying geographic relationships  and geographic phenomena. The scope of GEODESY is "to enable educators and students to learn about the tools employed to study the environment and to use them to study the basic physical and human elements of their community."




"GEODESY: An Educational Series for Youth." ESRI, San Diego. 1996. 28 Aug. 2007 <>.


Testing Protype K-12 GIS Software: The Case of GEODESY


Susan Lindell Radke


Three schools were invited to evaluate GEODESY in 1994 (one each--a CA elementary, a LA private middle and a LA magnet high school.) Each school was given ArcView and local datasets. All three levels received the same level of software and data but the background knowledge base was written t three grade levels to accommodate the learners. Each grade level used the application the way they best suited them for their ability and developmental level. In 1996, the formal evaluation showed that most of the workbooks were only partially completed. The teachers or students did not have enough time to explore the program in detail with regret. Constructive criticism was received and helped define the glitches such as buttons not doing what they expected, resolution issues, more on-screen instructions needed. Although workbooks were not successfully completed, the level of complexity that was grasped by the elementary students was awesome.  They could locate geographic features in their local region and comprehend use of points, lines and polygons used to represent them. They were able to interpret vector information but combining geographic elements to understand their geospatial world and its relationships eluded them at first.  With proper coaching they were able to piece together that geospatial  relationships meant located in the same place or not.  This eventually lead to having them discover what kind of relationships existed. The final component of GEODESY us in developing a project-based learning module for student-generated data.  The future of GEODESY relies on the internet.  K-12 GIS is an expense that goes beyond the school budget.  If GEODESY can become a web based program, then it can deliver to many schools and become the interactive geographic inquiry-based system that engages students in learning about their environment and about the relationships of the worlds they live in.


"Testing Protype K-12 GIS Software." ESRI, San Diego. 1997. 26 Aug. 2007 <>.


2005 ESRI Education User Conference

Title: Web-based and Mobile GIS for High School GIS Career Awareness

Ming-Hsaing Tsou and Anthony Howser


A NSF-funded project, "A Scalable Skills Certification Program in Geographic Information Systems" has recently put high school students in touch with GIS concepts and techniques which were once limited by cost and complexity to only post-secondary and graduate students.  ArcIMS, a web-based GIS and ArcPad, a Mobile GIS minimizes the issues with time and cost requirements, complexity of software installation and maintenance of the traditional GIS training. The San Diego Educational GIS Consortium received a grant from NSF to develop a certification program for an entry level range of jobs in a GIS related field. The GIS competencies in the certification programs were determined by industry and employers. The certifications allow students a springboard into an associate, bachelor or advanced degree in the field of GIS. Obviously, one of the major components of this project is to encourage students to pursue a career in a related GIS field. This goal was pursued by creating a web-based GIS Career program with GIS Learning modules geared mostly for high school students and educators. Reducing the cost of traditional GIS education was done by the powerful strength of the internet and by combining the GIS tools and functionality, map display, and multimedia presentation to create modules such as "Earthquake Chasers" and "San Diego Bay Marine Monitoring Study."nbsp; These modules explore geology, biology and mathematics and lend themselves to being easily integrated into high school science courses.  Trying to create and implement a new GIS curriculum at the high school is difficult because it does not align with state and federal standards but developing modules to supplement existing courses with GIS technology is a bridge that connects high school teachers and students. The next step is to teach ABOUT GIS to combine both "teaching with GIS"nbsp; and "teaching about GIS." Hopefully then, high school teachers will embrace the GIS technology as a teaching tool and help meet the goals of the Web-based GIS careeer awareness program.    The next step beyond the web based GIS to to move to Wireless Mobile GIS using PDAs, Pocket PCs and smart cell phones and GPS systems. This will allow field data acquisition and validation with greater ease unleashing a great potential for GIS careers and jobs in the workplace after completion of the certification programs.




Tsou, Ming-Hsaing  and Howser, Anthony (2005) . Web-based and Mobile GIS for High School GIS career Awareness. Paper presented at 2005 ESRI Education User Conference., San Diego, CA.

Julimarie H. Thomas

North Medford High School

500 N. Keeneway Drive

Medford, OR  97501


Contact information

                 Being an educator of 24 years, I was turned on by the GIS technology and still hunger for the knowledge of using the GIS programs. I see the value in exposing students to fields in GIS.  I chose to research how to use GIS in education: pros and cons.  In these articles the same themes occur over and over.  GIS is fascinating and it allows geography to be discovered like a science instead of learned through memorization. However, the limitations of the cost, time and software expertise put a damper on incorporating GIS wholeheartedly into K-12 education.  One promise of the future is the invention of web-based (ArcIMS) and Mobile GIS.  If the internet can accommodate the student-generated data, then they can begin to visualize their data and seek answers to questions that evolve from the data distribution. In doing so, they connect themselves to the ever changing, dynamic world of geospatial technology.

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