Wednesday, October 31, 2007

Geotechnology implementation in Canada

Toronto: N: 43º 39.391' W: 079º 22.833'
During the two days I have been in Toronto I have been checking out the spatial technology scene in Canada to see if the commentary will be any different to what I found in the US in regards to the implementation of GIS into schools. Whilst the story seems slightly different much of the discussion still revolved around the difficulties in getting the use of spatial technology integrated in a meaningful way across the curriculum and the difficulty in getting teachers up to speed with the technology.
This morning I ventured out on the subway to the ESRI Canada offices to meet Jean Tong, ESRI Canada K-12 Industry Manager. Like Mick Law in Australia, Jean is a teacher who has recently taken the plunge out of the classroom to work in the area of GIS education within the spatial industry. Jean arranged for one of the key players in GIS Education in Canada, Mark Lowry to meet with us over lunch and back at the office. Mark is the Geography, Geotechnology and Civics Instructional Leader with the Toronto District School Board. As well as developing teaching materials, writing courses and training teachers in GIS across Ontario, Mark has also been working in Hong Kong and Jordon in the Middle East developing GIS based curriculum and training teachers. The breadth of Marks involvement in GIS education over many years was a real eye opener and his philosophy meshed very well with what we have been thinking in Australia about the place and approach to spatial technology in schools. Mark and Jean shared their thoughts on the successes, limitations and future of spatial technology in Canadian schools. Here is a brief summary of the discussion:
• Ontario is the eighth largest school district in North America with over 2 million students. Hence the fact that the Ontario District School Board has purchased a state site license is a great start. Other states with a state wide license are British Columbia (600,000 students), Manitoba (200,000 students) and Nova Scotia (35,000 students). In Australia our states have not broached the statewide license with ESRI but it certainly would provide a head start if each school had access to the software without convincing the school budget committee that it is a necessary purchase.
•The ESRI Canada website is well used and provides enormous support to teacher implementing GIS. It is worth having a look at the site at Plenty of lessons, free downloadable data and resources at
•Jean and her education team have been involved in producing a really useful DVD provided to all ESRI site license schools called ArcCanada 3.0. The DVD provides heaps of Canadian and world data for the classroom. Another CD available to Canadian schools using ESRI products is the Atlas Ontario product ( which provides a collection of data and lesson ideas aimed at supporting the new Geography curriculum in Ontario.
•The Ontario District School Board has overtly written the knowledge of GIS into the 6-12 curriculum which has provided to a certain extent the sanction and stimulus to train teachers. For example it is quoted saying "... identify and describe the technologies used in geographic enquiry e.g.geographic information systems, gps etc"
* Mark went through the new Geography 11-12 curriculum which has a wide variety of geography course options. One of these is called Geomatics and focusses on the use of spatial technology. For more information on these courses go to
*Year 8 and 9 geography and Year 10 history is mandatory in Ontario ( This gives plenty of opportunity for all students to be exposed to GIS. Interestingly much of the same language and focus is evident in the curriculum documents to what we have in Society and Environment across Australia (as was the case in Hong Kong as well). There seems a universal history, geography and civics educational “speak”. It seems the approach is where the difference often exists and in turn teacher interpretation of the document and resulting pedagogy.
* Even though GIS is overtly mentioned in the 6-12 curriculum documents the reference can involve only a cursory treatment of spatial technology by schools if so desired. GIS is not an assessment item and the treatment is not specified in any way other than awareness of the technology and not necessarily its application in the classroom.
* With Year 10 history being mandatory very few schools do Year 10 geography.
* Even though there is a plethora (16 courses in total) of great geography/history courses available at year 11-12, 85% of students choose the 'World Issues' and 'Travel and Tourism' units. Geography numbers are holding in year 11 and 12 but not increasing.
* Mark and others have been busy training teachers but there is still limited penetration across the teaching spectrum. Again, the training is mainly of the motivated and energised with many teachers finding it difficult to find the time to commence the learning curve. Sounds a familiar tale for this blog!
The future
* We spent some time looking at the free downloadable ArcGIS Explorer programme. Although the coverage of data for Australia is limited, shapefiles can be imported into the programme to cover Australia. This is a great programme free for those not aware. It can be downloaded from Although free at the moment it seems very likely that the future of delivery to schools could be via such a webserver facility (data already is being made available to schools via the ESRI webserver as mentioned in a previous blog posting). Naturally such a download would be at a cost to schools but able to be frequently updated, easy to use instead of complex installation and cheaper for ESRI to deliver as a product and hopefully cheaper to schools.
* We also talked about the need to focus on spatial literacy and visual literacy skills and not just mapmaking by students. Such skills require a framework of problem solving and creative methodology by teachers as has been frequently discussed by others on my journey. Hopefully a focus on spatial literacy and associated teaching methods is the wedge to convince schools to take on spatial technology as a tool for learning. More on that later!

Tuesday, October 30, 2007

A weekend in New York

New York: N: 40º 44.475' W: 073º 57.222'
On the way to Toronto to view GIS in Canadian schools I had to go via New York. So why not stop for the weekend! I had a great weekend just walking around Manhattan from 8am till 10pm on both days. Even then I feel like I have just seen the cursory. I caught the subway from 28th Street where I was staying to the Brooklyn Bridge, had a look around lower Manhattan and Ellis Island and then spent the next two days wandering back up to 103rd street and back to 28th Street. I have a stiff neck from taking photographs of the amazing architecture and the skyline in general. I thought it best just to describe the things which will forever be my impression of Manhattan.
* Walking over Brooklyn Bridge in the rain and considering the wonder of the structure when it was built.
* Looking back from Brooklyn Bridge, the rain and mist making the top of the buildings seem in the clouds.
* Looking at New York at night from the viewing platform on the 86th floor of the Empire State Building.
* The great museum at Ellis Island and just imagining the human stories.
* An old sail ship in the harbour in front of the skyscape.
* Walking through Central Park on a sunny Sunday with thousands of joggers (they still jog a lot in the US), walkers, musicians, rowers, painters, frisbee throwers and soccer players all enjoying nature.
* Grand Central Railway station being everything I imagined.
* Broadway at night, all abuzz.
Two days in New York just wet my appetite to go back one day. Naturally I have the same geographical questions I had in Hong Kong about how to sustain such a megalopolis but it all seems to work well for the moment. Compared to Hong Kong, New York is ordered, safe, clean, little air pollution and relatively calm (with the exception of sirens and bibbing taxis). Maybe if I got out to the Bronx and Queens it could be a different story but I am sure it would not compare to the smells, pollution and buzz, as are the streets of Hong Kong. Toronto feels very different to the US cities I have been in. Ice Hockey is in the bars instead of gridiron and baseball for starters! However it seems that Canada has the Halloween tradition with the US. People are dressed up in all sorts of costumes and even houses/units decked out in cobwebs. Any excuse to go a little crazy! I think the big night is on Wednesday just before I leave for London.
Now back to work and see what is happening with GIS in Canada. Tomorrow I meet with Jean Tong from ESRI Canada and a few other people she has organised for me to meet.

Fairfax County School District in Virginia – support from above

Arlington: N: 38º 53.281' W: 077º 06.515'
It was time today to visit the Fairfax County Public Schools Office to discuss the support that has been provided to schools to introduce spatial technology. As most people reading this blog know, the drive to introduce GIS into the classroom in Australia has come very much from the grassroots. That is, motivated and innovative teachers have become early adopters and in cahoots with Australian geography teacher associations have developed the resources and training for teachers to use GIS in the classroom. Whilst there have been instances of system support via curriculum development and in Queensland the ICT Innovation Centre, overall there has been minimal investment by educational authorities in terms of license purchases, teacher training, advisory support, hardware purchases and teaching material development. The situation is quite reversed in the Fairfax School District of Virginia, with the District investing enormous amount of energy and money into GIS implementation in its high schools and trying to take teachers and schools with them to the promised land!
Here are a few facts to set the scene:
* The Fairfax County Public School District is the 14th largest in the US containing 29 High Schools.
* The district office is considered as a progressive system open to innovation and change.
* All the way back in 1992 the district redeveloped Earth Science as Geosystems with a systems approach and GIS as the keystone technology. It was considered that GIS would provide a visualisation capability which would enhance the learning of the students in the area of earth science education.
* In 1996 the state of Virginia bought a statewide ESRI license for ArcView 3 and the Spatial analyst extension. This enabled all 6-12 schools to have access to the ESRI product and as a first stage of implementation they equipped all High Schools with Geosystems labs.
* The cost of the statewide license in schools was dependant on the number of schools and students. In Fairfax District it involved 889 teacher and student seats according to the license agreement. With each computer alone costing approx $800 this alone was and significant investment in the technology by the district.
* The Fairfax County GIS Department gave the school their local Virginia data for classroom use. This data plus all the supplied ESRI data means that schools have access to 4.5 gigs of data for their programmes.
* Each lab was equipped with 15 computers, scanners and at least 8 GPS units.
* Teachers were also given laptops to use at school and home to learn the programme.
* The District also bought 3 support packages from so as to provide technical support to teachers and technology personnel in schools.
* The establishment of Geosystem labs was supported with an extensive teacher training programme with the expectation that all Geosystems teachers to be trained.
* All schools in the Fairfax District have appointed a School based technology specialist who has the brief to train staff in technology and be a trouble shooter in the school. These specialists must have teacher registration. They are not the information technology technician but rather teacher support by a teacher.

As can be seen this was an expansive programme with significant coordination and investment. The person I talked to in the District Office was Yvonne Griggs, the High School Instructional Technology Specialist ( Yvonne has been intimately involved in the process over the past years and in 2006 began a new push to speed up implementation. As a result new labs have been established and the ESRI ArcGIS 9.2 programme has been rolled out to all schools in association with a new teacher training initiative. The training and teacher resource material have been predominantly established by Kathryn Keranen and Bob Kolvoord, my hosts of the past few days. The teacher training has involved 5 night time sessions called Academy classes (this is PD tied in with the renewal of teacher registration). The training course includes work on the provinces of the US, weather, DEM models, plate tectonics, climate, GPS and a school based projects. As is the case with many of those involved in driving the GIS initiative in schools, Kathryn has enormous passion and energy for the implementation of GIS in schools. Kathryn was kind enough to give me copies of her 5 CD’s titled ‘Geospatial Instructional Applications Workshop’. These will be interesting viewing to see how Kathryn’s approach compares with ours in Australia to teacher training. Kathryn can be contacted via Have a look also at the Towson University Centre for Geographic Information Sciences at to get an idea of Kathryn's involvement in GIS training and resource development. Yvonne also said as part of this new push that it is hoped to introduce GIS into the middle schools over the next year.
I found the meeting at the Fairfax County Public Schools Office with Yvonne and Kathryn to be of enormous value as a model of system implementation. Such support is what many of us in Australia who are trying to implement from below dream about! However despite all the support, I think Yvonne and Kathryn would agree that the uptake by teachers and schools is still spotty and much more needs to be done in the area of teacher training and curriculum integration. As mentioned in previous blogs, the introduction of the SOL testing in US schools over recent years has slowed down the implementation process and in some places actually put the skids on the innovation of GIS into classrooms. A meeting is actually being held at James Madison University tomorrow with the folks I have met and other key players such as ESRI to discuss the future of GIS in schools in Virginia and the established programmes in particular. I am sure with the energy and commitment of all of those I have met over the past 4 days in Virginia, the implementation curve will continue to happen in Virginia.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Geospatial technology classes in Virginia

Colonial Heights, Virginia: N: 37º 47.846' W: 077º 54.660'
Dr Bob Kolvoord continued his visitations of geospatial schools in Virginia today and I was fortunate to tag along to see the progress of the programme. Bob and Kathy are working with 13 High Schools across Virginia who have volunteered to be part of the programme supported by the James Madison University in co-operation with local education authorities and participating schools. The schools are visited at least once a fortnight by Bob or Kathryn to mentor and support the participating teachers and students. This is an amazing effort considering the schools are spread over an enormous area and traveling time is considerable. The students range from 16-17 years and by doing the programme have the opportunity to enrol in the James Madison University specially developed school based GIS course called ‘Geospatial tools and techniques’.
We started the day visiting Jay Ruffa at Hopewell High School. Jay has a very innovative GIS programme underway where his students have done some high level project work such as developing an emergency plan for the city planning department and geocoding the seats in the school theatre and the school bus routes for school use. A very useful GIS technique Jay was teaching his students for comparing layers was using the ‘Swipe’ tool in ArcGIS. This is a great way for students to see similarities and differences between layers in a fun and simple way. To access the tool go to the ‘View’ toolbar → ‘Toolbars’ → ‘Effect’→ drag ‘Effects’ on to the map and begin swiping between layers. There is so much to learn with GIS, we tend to only skim the top of the iceberg but when a tool is demonstrated it makes one wonder what else we can find out about!
At Colonial Heights High School we met with Bill Ryan who had a very focussed and capable class who were doing the template project on a chlorine spill in an effort to develop a personalised adaptation of the evacuation techniques for emergency services in the community. Bills students were also working on maps of planning zones for the local community. Again, everything very community orientated and accountable.
The final school for the day was Western Albemarle High School in Crozet. The teacher Paul Rittenhouse had the students out in the field using the high tech Trimble Recom GPS units. This was an amazing effort considerable it has rained heavily all day and the students were soaked. Despite the conditions the students were willing to get wet and do the work outside. An amazingly motivated and happy group of GIS students really enjoying their work. Paul showed us the project his students undertook last year in mapping impervious surfaces, comparing the raster and digitising techniques.
Several points about what I observed at all the schools today:
* All the geospatial schools must present their projects to a community meeting at the end of the course. This certainly makes the students accountable for their work.
* At all the schools visited the students work had been printed on plotters and laminated to make their work look highly professional.
* The teachers I have met using GIS are predominately Earth Science teachers. I am yet to meet a geography teacher as we know them in Australia.

A very busy day with over 6oo kilometers covered. A huge effort by Bob and Kathryn and to think they visit these schools every fortnight!

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

School visits Virginia

Rappahannock, Virginia: N: 38º 39.689' W: 078º 13.193'
Harrisonburg: N: 38º 25.301' W: 078º 51.047'
Today I had the good fortune of Bob Kolvoord from James Madison University to take me to Washington-Lee High School ( in Arlington to meet Ryan Miller in his Geospatial class and Ron Vickers teaching his Geospatial Technology Programme at Rappahannock County High School in Virginia ( ).
Ryan started his lesson (after the oath of allegiance by the students facing the US flag in the classroom and a moment of silence by the class - done every day in the school via the TV intra-school system – a little different to the start of home group in Australian schools!) showing a news item on the Californian bushfires presently raging on the west coast of the US- described as the perfect storm by the news coverage. After the film Ryan asked the students to develop a list of GIS attributes they could acquire for insurance, environment and fire fighting purposes. I thought this was a great way to link the GIS skills the students were learning into a real life situation.
Ron at Rappahannock showed me the great maps his students have produced in the area of Civil War History, stream heritage criteria and school routes. Again it was evident that the GIS was 'real' in Ron's class because all the student projects were linked into the local community and demonstrated a team problem-solving approach. I also participated in a GPS activity outside the classroom to determine the circumference of the earth. It is becoming evident that GPS is used extensively in these types of GIS courses from a very early stage, so as to engage the students in the technology whilst teaching them some very important spatial concepts.
From Rappahannock Bob and I had a lovely drive through the Virginia countryside with the autumn leafs in their full glory as we traveled to James Madison University. At the University I observed Bob's GIS and the environment course. I found particularly interesting the students presentations on good and bad maps and their project development discussions. For more information on Bob's impressive work in the University and with K-12 schools go to the following sites.
* - James Madison University Geospatial Technology page.
* - a project on fire assessment
* - science and mathematics based use of GIS

Of particular note is Bob's site at This site has some great classroom materials developed for using GIS in the classroom under various topics. Much of Bob's work over the past ten years has been in the area of teacher training and he and Kathryn Keranen have trained over 400 teachers in the techniques of introducing spatial thinking and skills into their K-12 classrooms. If interested in the work of Bob go to

More schools in Virginia tomorrow!

Washington DC: Pictures say it all!

Washington: N: 38º 52.281' W: 077º 07.515'
Big, patriotic, white and security. Had a great day just walking around Washington DC and then back to the hotel in Arlington on the Metro underground.

Oklahoma City: a tourist day

Spatial Worlds Website

Oklahoma City: N: 32º 57.589' W: 095º 55.408'

After the conference finished I just wandered the city of Oklahoma City for the day. This is the quietest city centre I have ever seen. Even at 1pm on the Friday the streets of the city were virtually deserted. As you can see from the pictures above there is plenty of big building but the people are just not in big numbers in the city centre. They must all be out in the suburban centres. Yes, we saw plenty of people come in for the Breast Cancer Fun Run on Saturday morning and students attending a Christian concert on the Friday night but otherwise the city centre was spookingly quiet. As a tourist I wandered the city visiting the Oklahoma City National Memorial, The Capitol Building (Parliament House), the Oklahoma History Museum and the oil industry display.
Here are some observations about Oklahoma City, a place not usually on the tourist itinerary:
1.The Capitol Building was an amazing building but as you can see the dome was funded by private Industries. As you can guess the oil industry is pretty big here as a benefactor but funding the building of the parliament is interesting?
2.Great History Museum. Really interesting to learn about the history of the American Indian populations forced migrations and most importantly the really positive and proud representation of the Indian culture and history throughout the city, in the Parliament building and across Oklahoma in general. The Oklahoma flag has as its centerpiece an Indian shield and the parliament building has Indian statues and paintings throughout.
3.Oklahoma is presently celebrating its centenary. I was surprised it was so young as a state.
4.The Oklahoma Bombing site is now the National Memorial in Oklahoma City. The site is very peaceful and well done as a memorial with an amazingly comprehensive museum in the building next to the destroyed building. In particular the museum had a very interesting section on the origins of home grown US terrorism and the reasons why.
Overall a day as a tourist in Oklahoma City was worth the effort, with lots to learn and see.
5.Amazingly, directly out the back of the Parliament (Capitol) building is a working oil pump! Oil must be everywhere in that area of the earth. Texas tea I guess!

Tomorrow I move on to Washington DC and Virginia to meet with Bob Kolvoord from James Madison University and Kathryn Keranen, a GIS educator to visit schools in DC and Virginia

The National Council for Geography Education (NCGE) Conference Oklahoma City

Oklahoma City: N: 32º 57.589' W: 095º 55.408'
The National Council for Geography Education (NCGE) Conference
Oklahoma City, October 18th-21st.
Coincidently this conference was on at the same time that I had planned to visit George and the others in Dallas. The council is the long established mouthpiece and professional body for geography educators in the US and each year conducts an incredibly detailed and comprehensive conference. Even though the conference theme was focused on the Native American Culture the workshops covered a wide range of geographical content, methodology and aspects. Go to the NCGE site at for information on the conference programme. Naturally I spent most of my time in the GIS and technology workshops and found them very valuable. In particular I enjoyed the workshops on the free web mapping software, ESRI AEJEE free product, podcasting and related technology and the demonstration of a practical approach using GPS with free Internet mapping software. I also attended at 6.30 on the Friday morning a discussion group on GIS education research which was exploring the question of what are the research needs for the implementation of GIS in education and spatial thinking in particular. What amazed me from this discussion with the key GIS players in the US was that they were facing the same difficult questions of how we get teachers and educational authorities to embrace the technology and see spatial thinking not as an add-on but an imperative when discussing the needs of citizens in the 21st Century. ESRI US held the discussion group because they are considering supporting a range of research in an effort to highlight the nature of spatial thinking in schools and the needs for a coordinated and effective approach to the area of GIS implementation in the classroom. In particular they are looking for supporting research which will show that spatial technology does enhance spatial learning for students. No answers from the discussion but again affirmation that in Australia we are asking the same questions and hopefully finding some of the answers. Such research would be very useful for us to convince educational authorities in Australia about the need for spatial thinking skills for students and the associated use of spatial technology.
One of the highlights for me at the conference was viewing the work of the 4H students who have worked on GIS projects in their community. 4H is a US Government youth community based programme which was developed in 1907 to enhance leadership, citizenship and life skills amongst youth. Go to more information on 4H at The students were so enthusiastic and had done some great work on local recreational facilities, bushfire precaution via hydrant locations, mapping of heritage buildings and rubbish location. What was impressive is that all their projects are linked into the local councils who see the students work as a way to improve their local government area. The students came from all over Oklahoma and had a really unique way of presenting their ideas and thoughts on the use of GIS.
Instead of just writing up the workshops in detail I have selected 10 of the top things I learnt from the conference in terms of resources, observations and perceptions.
1.The US standards in education expectations and national assessment (called standards in US) procedures are making it very hard for schools to innovate and introduce spatial technology into the curriculum (these are called TEKS in Texas and stands for Texas Essential Knowledge and Skills at
2.The early adapters of GIS in US schools talk about the difficulty of getting teachers to learn the technology due to it not being formally in the curriculum and embedded in Standards. Again teacher training and the need to do so is a huge issue. Even at this conference of 600 geographers, I would estimate no more than 50 participated in the excellent GIS workshops provided.
3.I met Dr Shannon White from the University of Florida. She is doing some very interesting work traveling Florida on a weekly basis with a traveling technology roadshow show, training teachers in the use of technology in the classroom. This includes not just GIS but also podcasting and many other innovative technology ideas. For more information on Shannon’s work go to and The initiative is supported by Florida education authorities and seems an interesting model of technology diffusion. Whilst checking out Shannon's materials also view the work of Barbaree Duke at who is a GIS teacher/consultant in Louisiana who was also at the Oklahoma Conference and had plenty of interesting thoughts on GIS integration as well.
4.Here are some great webmapping sites all free and very applicable to the classroom. Some are US focused but still of great use. Lists are found at and
5.Although I had a quick look at AEJEE when Mick Law mentioned it in August I have not sat down and done the tutorial work. This is a great resource that does as much as many classes require with the exception of creating and manipulating data tables. This is a great free programme for primary schools and junior high schools to use if they do not wish to invest in GIS technology. Great data is included in the download. Just go to the ESRI Edu Community at for more info on AEJEE and the free download pathway.
6.Whilst on the ESRI Edu community (, this site just continues to grow in value for teachers. In particular the blog the ESRI Education team (George Daily, Charlie Fitzpatrick, Tom Baker and Joseph Kerski and others) are doing on a regular basis is just full of ideas and resources which should be looked at on a daily basis. For the blog go to Also take the time to look at ( all the data which exists on the site – amazing.
7.Here are some sites which are some must check out locations with a brief description for each:
* and shows all world earthquakes every day.
* - a great technology innovation site clalled Technophilia.
* an amazing collection of maps available for free on this site
* -Tech-ease, quick answers to classroom technology questions and tons more resources for the use of technology in the clasroom.
* - an interesting programme called Geophoto.
* - Spatial podcasts available called "Very spatial"
8.Of special mention is the USGS site of Landsat image over time. These can be ordered for free via and . Also download the free global visualization viewer called TerraLook at These free satellite downloads provide images over time which is great for change analysis.
9. Check out the 'Geography Network Services hosted by ESRI' on the Interent at This is a great resource to use data directly from the Internet. Go to for a description of how to use this wonderful data source.
10.The GIS community is really a very supportive group of motivated and passionate educators. I really enjoyed the opportunity to immerse myself in their world in the US and be accepted so readily as one to share ideas and resources. Their enthusiasm is infectious. The day after the conference some of them were heading off on a confluence excursion as if they were off to the latest “Wally World”. With such enthusiastic individuals heading up GIS education in the US I am sure eventually the powers to be will start listening. Particularly with the ever increasing focus on ICT, homeland security, environmental management/monitoring and the need for engaging methodologies in the classroom.

A great conference well worth attending for the learning and social networking.

Friday, October 19, 2007

Dallas to Oklahoma City

Dallas: N: 32º 46.913' W: 096º 48.340' to Oklahoma City: N: 32º 57.589' W: 095º 55.408'

A road trip to Oklahoma City (170 miles)with George, Anita and Roger and a little rock noodling in the Arbuckle Range on the way. Then registration and the opening address at the National Council for Geographic Education 92nd Annual Conference. Workshops look really interesting for the next two days.

Thursday, October 18, 2007

A day in Dallas schools

Dallas: N: 32º 46.913' W: 096º 48.340'
Schools in Dallas with Roger and Anita Palmer – Early adopter innovators.
Many Australians know Roger and Anita and are aware of their GIS consultancy work and authoring efforts. In particular those who are users of the “Mapping our world” books will be aware that Anita was also one of the authors of the books. Roger and Anita live in an amazing housing development in downtown Dallas (only 2 kilometres from Dallas centre) which is in an old warehouse building. The area is one of urban renewal and the development Anita and Roger live in is a wonderful example of taken an old building and creating a thriving urban community of over 1000 people all living in harmony with a real sense of association. The block even has a pool and gym on the roof where regular movie nights and events are conducted. Pictures of the development are shown above. Roger and Anita work out of their lovely apartment office and I had the pleasure of doing my blog as they worked and would you believe listening to a John Williamson album. Roger and Anita are busy writing the next set of ESRI publication books on the use of GIS in the classroom called “Analysing Our World Using GIS” and “Mapping our World book 2” . These books look like they will be a really valuable adjunct to the resources available to teachers in schools and I am really looking forward to their release. The other aspect of Roger and Anita’s consultancy is running workshops with teachers in the US and also organizing teacher trips to places such as Costa Rica to enhance the use of spatial technology. At the Oklahoma City NCGE Conference I went to several of Rogers and Anita’s workshop and really found them valuable. In particular the workshop on using GPS in cahoots with the website was a really good example of teachers teaching teachers in a really clear and purposeful way.
I visited several schools of good practice with Roger and Anita. They were Emmett Conrad High School and the Ted Polk Middle School. Both of these schools showed great use of GIS in the classroom and most impressively the integration of the class activities with the community.
Jennifer Stitt at Emmett Conrad gave some excellent insights into the present difficulties with implementation when she said:
“The major impediments are:
a.Money (funding)
b.Lacking of communication and information from admin to teacher. Most of the administration doesn’t understand what GIS is.
c.Lack of content specific professional development for teachers. Most of the professional development offered and required deals more with classroom management, dealing with English language learners, and how to start a club. We are not offered any career or content specific training. Although it is out there, but he school districts will not fund the money.
d.Lack of teachers trained in the technology.
e.Being able to control your own computer lab and being on a separate server. I know when I worked in Industry we had a separate server with our Aerial photos for the county. That data is very heavy and requires a GIS IT professional to keep it up and running. Maybe there needs to be equipment IT specific element that keeps GIS labs running in schools. You know most of the government levels, city, county and state, have GIS departments, it only makes sense for the school district to have a GIS department. One side of the department could run the actual school district needs and the other be the helpers to implementing the class inside of schools and keep it up and running. That way maybe even our senior level students could learn ArcSDE, ArcIMS, etc.”
Jennifer went on to say that despite the impediments as listed, she thinks
“there is a lot of positive buzz surrounding GIS. However, if teachers don’t understand what it is, and a professional tries to explain it to them they just sort of nod and smile. I have a lot of passion behind GIS and I try to give good examples how it fits in to every teacher’s content. I don’t think there is any negativity behind GIS in schools, just a lack of information about what it can do for a school. Maybe we need to address the higher powers that be and “sell” the idea to them, so it comes down from the government into classrooms. Again only small pockets of spatial education occur in Texas. I think selling the idea to the larger powers may be the way to go. We could start with City, then move to State government and then beyond.”

What was impressive at the Ted Polk Middle School was the week long ‘GIS Summer Camps’ the school conducts for students and the innovative way that the school is trying to get students and teachers involved in using GIS in their work. The Summer Camps have been a huge success but such summer activities are embedded into the education approach in the US and I cannot not see a real application to Australia other than the general out of school programme they conduct at the camps.

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Bishop Dunne Catholic School in Dallas.

Dallas: N: 32º 46.913' W: 096º 48.340'
I have spent the day at Bishop Dunne Catholic School, a school of 620 students committed to providing a high quality education firmly integrated with the use of technology. Bishop Dunne has been frequently mentioned to me as a great example of using GIS, so the opportunity to visit the school for a day was a necessity when visiting Dallas. The Principal of the school is an Australian, Kate Dailey who just happens to be the wife of George Dailey my ESRI contact in the US. Kate, with the assistance of George has been able to develop a great GIS programme at the school headed up by Brad Baker. I visited Brad's class in the morning and saw first hand the excellent problem solving work of his students. This week they are, believe it or not, mapping an historical grave site using Ground Penetrating Radar (GPR technology. The project is a real community effort to make sure that an area of historical significance containing graves is not developed without due care. The students have gone out to the site and collected the data of the possible grave locations using GPR technology and are presently producing maps to represent their findings. Brad's class is also using aerial photographs of a lake to do some real CSI work on a crime scene from the 70's involving a truck and body. What I was impressed with Brad's work is that his students are involved in real problem solving GIS in the community and builds on much of the other work he has done with the Dallas Police Department. If interested in the work of Brad's students go to
Although not GIS alone I was also pleased to see the smart technology called synchroneyes which enables the instructor to block the computers any time to ensure that students turn around and listen to instruction when required. That pesky habit of students (and teachers during training)tapping away when you want them to listen is solved! What a good idea. The technology is cheap and available at
Also of interest to those interested in a free GIS programme download to get started is unlimited download for fgis found at The fgis programme is a great option for those just wanting to do some basic GIS activity at no cost.

During my visit I also had the pleasure of visiting the class of Kyle Stephens who is using some great technology in his classes. Of particular interest is the class blogging site of To get the class involved this technology is a great way to encourage discussion on issues within the class and across the globe. To see an example of Kyle's class blogging go to Kyle also mentioned the Discovery Channel site for some great teaching resources with the students are using IPods in a wide variety of ways. Kyle is also using photostory for story telling and project work, which is available as a free download from
I would like to thank Kate Dailey for organizing a lunch time meeting with key teachers in the school related to technology. The session involved chatting about the use of GIS in the classroom and some of their observations about the uptake of the technology by teachers, the response of students to the technology and perceived futures. I would also like to thank Christine Voigt who works at Bishop Dunne for showing me around on the day. Christine is one of the authors of the ESRI “Mapping Our World “series which is used in hundreds of schools across Australia.

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Brookhaven College: Geospatial Technology Program

Today I visited Scott Sires at Brookhaven College. Scott works in the Geographic Information Systems faculty, Mathematics/Science Division. The facility I visited is in the Ellison Miles Geotechnology Institute (EMGI) and the programme Scott is involved in is the Geospatial Technology. It was a real eye opener to view the great resources available for teaching GIS at the Institute. As a year 13/14 College the Institute provides an enormous number of courses focussed on the use of GIS. Courses such as GIS for educators, GIS for golf course management, GIS for landscape management, GIS for engineers and GIS for municipalities particularly caught my attention. The Institute normally conducts the courses after 3pm and Scott has developed an excellent GIS laboratory with all the hardware and equipment one would dream about in their classroom. From what I can gather such a college is somewhere between TAFE and University in Australia and offers a stepping stone to either employment and/or University. For more information on the programmes offered at EMGI go to Whilst checking out the Brookhaven GIS courses a quick look at the College of the mainland in Texas City at is worthwhile to augment ones understanding of the diversity of GIS courses offered at this level.
While talking to Scott we explored issues of teacher training and the complexities of teachers embracing and in turn learning the technology. Scott emphasised the need to work from where teachers are and take well considered and achievable steps. The brochure advertising the courses refers to the opportunities in the Geospatial technology area includes those in real estate development, land use, homeland security, environmental security, social services, emergency management and municipal agencies. Go to for more on the demand for GIS technicians.

Monday, October 15, 2007

Dallas: a different world

Dallas: N: 32º 46.913' W: 096º 48.340'
I am finally in Dallas and had the day traveling around the city with George Dailey in preparation for three days of GIS and schools. Having just come from Hong Kong the differences are incredible. Differences such as:
* Where are all the people?
* Where is the bustle, noise and smells?
* I can see blue sky?
* How can one family live in such huge houses? Just like in Hong Kong, how can one (or more) families live in such small flats?
* Big people and so much food everywhere but the animals nowhere to be seen!
* Where is the public transport? Everyone is driving a big car.
* Steets so clean and even mechanical street sweepers and people washing down pavements.
* The huge Dallas type mansions versus small multistory cramped apartments. Room to breath!
* What happened to the smells?

I am sure there are many more differences from Hong Kong but the same questions of consumerism and sustainability have still to be asked. The difference is that everyone in Dallas has a bigger ecological footprint but the resources are still be chewed up.

By the way petrol is only 60 cents a litre here but what do you expect in Texas.
Had the opportunity to go to the JFK museum in the school depository store. An excellent museum and rather amazing to see the grassy knoll etc which have we have read so much about.
So much of being a tourist, now time to check out GIS in schools in Dallas.
Just for interest check out the Star Alliance site at which shows as a screen saver the flights around the world each day (not all but for many of the airlines). An interesting view of world travel and people movement on a daily basis.

Friday, October 12, 2007

A visit to Hong Kong University: a lot happening!

Hong Kong: N: 22º 12.646' E: 114º 01.775'
GIS in schools in Hong Kong
As mentioned I have previously had contact with Dr P C Lai from the Geography Department of Hong Kong University. Dr Lai heads up an innovative and passionate group of post graduate geographers who are using GIS in a wide range of applications. Dr Lai has done an enormous amount of work in trying to encourage schools in Hong Kong to take on GIS as part of their teaching programme. If we go back to the post about the South Australian experience, Dr Lai has been involved in Stage 1: Basic awareness of the motivated in particular. Over the past few years there have been 5 pilot schools which have done some great work on GIS with their students in Hong Kong. In fact many of those motivated in the pilot schools are Dr Lai's students from Hong Kong University who are now teaching in Hong Kong schools. Over the past few years the Education Management Board of Hong Kong (Education Bureau) has taken the lead in writing the use of GIS into the new geography curriculum. To this end the new geography curriculum to be implemented in 2009 has a requirement of schools to use GIS in the teaching of geography.
Go to to have a look at this new geography curriculum for 2009 with overt references to GIS.
As was the case in South Australia in 2003 when GIS became a compulsory part of Year 11 geography, this curriculum initiative (Stage 2 of implementation) has caused a frenzy of teacher training and in some case anxiety about the ability of teachers to embrace the technology considering the plethora of demands on their time. That is where the similarity with the process in South Australia ends. In South Australia Stage 3 was teaching the teachers by teachers but with little system support in real terms. In Hong Kong there is system support with funds allocated for resource development, tenders for teacher training by private companies and the University and funds to support the technology requirements. This last resourcing factor involved the Education Bureau negotiating an ESRI license for all Hong Kong schools. At this point it is worth noting that those involved in the Hong Kong implementation of GIS are just like us in South Australia; concerned about the learning curve and extra difficulties associated with the use of ArcGIS 9 compared to Arcview 3x. In Australia it has been an ongoing debate about the merit of pushing ArcGIS onto schools considering the increased complexity of the programme. As a result ESRI Australia has continued to supply ArcView 3x to schools. In Hong Kong ESRI HK has not supplied ArcView to schools for many years and ArcGIS has been the only option. Whether this issue is a significant impediment to implementation is still debated but it seems in Hong Kong that it is a non-issue considering the stance of ESRI HK. A Chinese proverb comes to my mind in relation to this situation; "You don't need to kill a chicken using a knife to kill a cow". Think about it!
Dr Lai's team is presently writing some great materials for schools to help teachers and students to learn GIS and already I am pleased to say they have incorporated some of my GIS teaching materials/ideas into the resource package. I hope we can continue to cooperate with Hong Kong teachers as they battle the learning curve as we have continued to do so in Australia. This material will go up on the Hong Kong Education site (early in 2008, so it would be worth Australian teachers keeping an eye out for them (if accessible)

Presently the education Bureau is running a comprehensive training programme for teachers (3 day workshops and after hours) and it is envisaged that by implementation day in 2009 the 2000 Hong Kong geography teachers will be trained in GIS. An ambitious task and I wish them well.

The work of the Hong Kong University Geography Department

During my visit I was also fortunate to view the work of Dr Lai's team and a brief summary of the projects gives an insight into the enormous variety of GIS applications.
The projects are:
* Poets footprints: Tracing the journeys of the poets from the Tang and Sung Dynasty and describing in the maps the geography indicated in the verse.
* Mapping air pollution: mapping respiration diseases such as asthma and trying to correlate the disease levels with air pollution (particulate matter levels)
* Study of the environmental factors on elderly falls: mapping where elderly people fall down and identifying hot spots (wet markets, uneven surfaces and female public toilets)
* Spatial epidemiology: Using GIS to study to study disease distribution and then trying to correlate with socio-economic factors as well as environmental factors such as transport networks and pollution.
* Obesity and the relationship to distance from school and adjacency to fast food outlets etc.

Dr Lai also pointed me in the direction of these two sites which are certainly worth a look to see some fantastic example of GIS applications.

In the first site, an animation of the 2003 SARS outbreak:
User name: kernel Password:flash

Another useful site from the UK is:

Finally I would like to thank Dr Lai and her colleagues for their time on the day and the lovely lunch in the University refectory. A great group of really talented and motivated geographers.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Out and about in Hong Kong

Some questions from a geographer

As I walk around this amazing city I find myself asking questions such as:
Where does all the food come from to feed all these people?
Can so many people continue to live on top of each other and for disease not to impact (i.e. the SARS scare)
How do they keep the meat and fish fresh in the open air in the wet markets when the temperature is 32 degrees?
Is there a solution to the shocking air pollution which gets worse every year as it blows in from the Chinese factories?
How come most people seemed so happy when so crowded?
Will Hong Kong one day just be gridlocked no matter how many subways/highways they build?
How much energy does this place use up with neon’s, air conditioners and office lights to name just a few?
Is such a city really sustainable as it consumes enormous resources and the Chinese from the mainland continue to migrate?
Despite all this there is something very attractive about Hong Kong with its vibrancy, energy, safety and obvious community spirit.

As the next blog will show, the geography department at Hong Kong University is using GIS to help find some answers to some of these questions (or least try to manage)

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Hong Kong: A similar story but very complex

During my stay in Hong Kong I have visited the Hong Kong International School and the Hong Kong University (HKU). Doctor Lai from the HKU Geography Department has been involved in encouraging schools to use GIS in their geography teaching since 1999. Her comments on the situation mirrors much of what has been happening with GIS implementation in Australia but naturally more complex because of issues of population size, the role of vendors and language barriers. More on that in a minute. Firstly some quick comments on my visit to the Hong Kong International School on Monday, October 9th.

On a previous visit to Hong Kong I made the acquaintance of Pauline Bunce a Geography teacher from Perth who teachers at the Hong Kong International School. Pauline is keen to embark on the GIS learning and implementation curve but as yet HKIS has not got GIS up and running. When she knew I was coming to Hong Kong Pauline asked if I would run a session with students showing them the applications and potential of GIS. So first thing on Tuesday morning I went out to HKIS to meet Pauline and her students. The sessions with the students were enjoyable but what did strike me was the resources and atmosphere in the school. It certainly was a different world, with coffee shops, refectory, full size pool, data projectors in the classrooms, incredible gymnasiums and an amazing view over the harbour from the classroom windows. A few photos from around the school are above.

Although not answering any of my project questions it did confirm to me that the implementation of spatial technology is not just about resources. Here is a school with all the 'bells and whistles' providing a great education for its students but the GIS learning curve is still to be negotiated. Implementation needs are really about teacher awareness and willingness to embrace the technology and its worth. Those in the know are convinced of its worth and in many cases presume all others are equally up to date with this societal and all-pervasive technological tool in our society. That certainly seems to be not the case with teachers around the world. Already on my trip I am hearing the same comments relating to the difficulty of teachers embracing the technology. Furthermore in many cases students are aware of the technology and indeed use it but are not aware of it societal use and application. It also seems that students are also not aware of how the technology can enhance their learning in a range of subjects. The trip to HKIS was an eye opener to how schools can be resourced and also confirmed my belief that the work ahead with implementation is to convince teachers and administrators in schools of the worth of spatial technology in the school setting. As I was to find out the next day, in Hong Kong they actually now have curriculum and resource support from the Hong Kong Education Bureau in real terms. However, as is the case in Australia many teachers are still needing to embrace the technology as something not only desirable but essential to the teaching of geography in the 21st Century.
Thanks to Pauline Bunce and the Hong Kong International School for having me visit and meet their students.

Wednesday, October 3, 2007

The South Australian experience

In South Australia since 1996 we have gone through several implementation stages for spatial technology in schools and consider we are in what can be termed the “teacher networking stage”.

The Spatial worlds website

Adelaide: S: 34º 52.846' E: 138º 35.411'

The stages of implementation can be summarised as:

Stage 1: 1996-99: Basic awareness of the motivated: This stage involved groups of highly motivated teachers participating in GIS training provided by the University of Adelaide and University of South Australia under the auspices of the Australasian Urban & Regional Information Systems Association (AURISA). The training purely focussed on training teachers so as to encourage their participation in the AURISA “GIS in Schools” Competition. This training was conducted during the holidays and developed a core group of “true believers” and provided the groundwork for the introduction of GIS into South Australian schools.

Stage 2: 2000-2001: Curriculum involvement: This stage saw the incorporation of GIS into the school curriculum via educational bodies such as the Senior Secondary Assessment Board of South Australia. Such initiatives were very important to give spatial technology credibility and a support base that geographers in schools could use as a “wedge” when requesting training and software. An example of this curriculum support is evident in the following quote from the SSABSA Stage 1 (year 11) curriculum document:
“By using computer technologies, including spatial information systems, students explore and present complicated data in a meaningful way, show relationships and flows between systems, and appraise and report on consequences of decisions made, on geographical and environmental matters. They select, integrate and apply spatial concepts and techniques, using and analysing social and environmental data and information.”
This stage saw the continued training for the AURISA competition but it was only when the new curriculum was launched that the next stage of comprehensive teacher training could be initiated.

Stage 3: Training of teachers by teachers: 2002-5: These years saw over 600 teachers across Australia trained in spatial technology and associated classroom applications under the direction of the Geography Teachers Association of South Australia (GTASA). The involvement of the GTASA and in turn the Australian Geography Teachers Association (AGTA) was very important to bring the area of spatial technology to the attention of teachers. This stage, with the support of the curriculum statements as mentioned, saw geographers convincing their schools to “invest” in spatial technology in the form of buying GIS software, data and participating in available training. The training formats varied from 1-5 days and focussed on the concept of ‘making GIS achievable in the classroom’. The aim of the training was to ensure teachers could go back to their schools and get started in some way using spatial technology in their classroom. Part of this stage involved GIS Roadshows in major centres across Australia which aimed at raising awareness and identifying GIS champions in as many regions as possible. This stage also saw the development of resources and the acquisition of data to support teachers when they went back to their school after attending training. To this end the following resources have been developed by TECHGEOG and the GTASA in South Australia: ‘Making GIS happen in the classroom’, ‘GIS in the Science classroom’, Historical GIS’, ‘Virtual tourism’, ‘GIS in the field’ and ‘Technology in the classroom’. Over 700 schools across Australasia have purchased these products and are using them to support the introduction of spatial technology in their classrooms.

Stage 4: Teacher networking: 2006-7: Having established a relatively large group of “GIS friendly” teachers and implementation ’champions’ across Australia, the process of supporting these teachers and networking was underway and is what we are presently working on. This stage involved the establishment of on-line communities such as the GTASA information newsletters and Meegan Maguire’s Spatial Technology in Schools on-line community in Queensland. An important part of this stage was the ‘ESRI user education Conference’ conducted by AGTA in January, 2006 in Launceston. This event was critical in getting together GIS ‘champions’ and teachers to plan co-operative activities in the future. Throughout this time training has been conducted by the GTASA and in 2007 the GTASA pioneered the CENTRA on-line training with teachers across South Australia. The GTASA has also conducted hub-group training session in regional South Australia throughout 2006 and conducted workshops at all national and state Geography, Science and Computers in education conferences. An initiative of considerable note is the Education Queensland Spatial Technology Expo which has been conducted since 2006. As part of this stage the GTASA has continued to work with curriculum bodies and TAFE to establish overt support for spatial technology in schools. The most significant of these initiatives is the VET Certificate 2 in Spatial Information Systems course which is being delivered in South Australian schools. The GTASA has been given the responsibility to train teachers interested in delivering this VET course in schools. The GTASA considers that much work still needs to be done at the systems level as well as the teacher/school level to ensure that spatial technology is implemented in a coordinated and equitable way in the future. The GTASA under the auspices of AGTA has also been working with the spatial industry by being an active member of the Spatial Science Institute Education Advisory Committee in Canberra.
Hopefully this spatialworlds project will give us some ideas about what works, what does not work and where to next with the implementation of spatial technology in schools. Maybe the next stage is:

Stage 5: System support in staffing and monetary terms’: 2008- ?