The ESRI GIS software tools and curriculum create opportunities for young people to engage in their communities in concrete, meaningful ways. Projects range from community mapping to global investigations, with technology employed as a tool in a learning process that is interdisciplinary and, to varying degrees, learner-driven. Developed by ESRI, a company that has a long history in geographic information systems, the education community portal offers educators an array of free or low-cost resources. These include curriculum for Community Atlas, a community mapping activity for groups; ArcExplorer Java Edition for Education (AEJEE), a free software product for Mac or PC that can be used to introduce spatial concepts and GIS basics; and the Our World GIS Education book series.
Geography, Social Studies, Parent & Community,
Handheld Technology, Science, Life & Social Skills, Career Exploration,
Costs: Some curriculum and software products are free; others available for purchase.
The costs shown were accurate at the time of the review. Please check the publisher's web site for current prices.
Publication Date: 1996–2008
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The resources comprised in ESRI's GIS education community portal give users the software tools and lessons to follow a process of geographic inquiry. A set of introductory documents explains the basis for using GIS technology in educational programs. Among other benefits, exploring geographic data in both local and global contexts promotes critical thinking skills, community engagement, and global awareness.
ESRI's materials help educators engage youth in authentic learning experiences. For example, in the case of the Community Atlas project, groups investigate community nature, community conservation, or community history, and then create a presentation documenting what they've learned. Community Geography, a book from ESRI Press, chronicles case studies and gives educators ideas about how to facilitate projects on tracking water quality, reducing crime, and more. These lessons integrate older technology, but they can be adapted. A forthcoming publication, Thinking Spatially Using GIS, is volume 1 in a book series that supports inquiry-based learning, addresses curriculum standards, and is user-friendly, regardless of the experience level of educators. Volumes 2–3 of the series guide users through increasingly sophisticated investigations using GIS technology.
- Activity Types: Project-based learning, collaboration, online research, media production
- Materials/technology required: Computer with Internet access; GIS software (optional)
- Program Length/Duration: Varies, depending on the project. Community Atlas is a long-term project, requiring multiple sessions over several months. Other activities can be done in a more limited timeframe.
- Site Adoption: Schools, homeschoolers, 4-H, Girl Scouts, Boys & Girls Clubs, other youth-serving programs
- Special considerations: It is not necessary to purchase GIS software for these activities. Community Atlas and many of the other projects or lessons can be implemented using online resources or free downloads from the ESRI site, such as AEJEE.
The ESRI resources highlighted in this review, especially Community Atlas and the Community Geography book, foster project-based learning experiences. They are grounded in real-world contexts, and ask learners to pose real questions about their world and the communities in which they live. They also appeal to different learning styles. If educators seek to build technical skills, a number of lessons and support materials linked on the ESRI website guide users step by step in working with GIS technology.
Consideration of Special Student Populations
Because GIS technology and mapping activities are contextualized and made culturally relevant through the learning process, they are accessible to learners of different ages, different cultures, and different interests.