Getting the GIS-t of GIS

Map with flood plain

Top of my department’s development plan is to increase the use of GIS (Geographical Information Systems) in our curriculum. Personally, I am a strong advocate for introducing it to students at all levels – it is a tool that is being used in many exciting industries and students should be confident with using it.

Google Earth is a simple and easily-accessible form of GIS. However, I have been using ArcGIS Online (a school subscription costs just £100 per year) as it allows students to explore and create maps using either their own data, or the myriad of data already preloaded onto the platform. Here are 3 of the ways that I am using ArcGIS in my lessons:

2. Indices of Multiple Deprivation

In Year 10, we study the variations in social deprivation of urban areas. Using the ‘Index of Multiple Deprivation 2010 for West Midlands’ layer which you can find on the ArcGIS database, the students create a choropleth map to show the variations across their local area. They then describe the pattern shown on the map and suggest reasons for this pattern.Indices of multiple deprivation

2. Global change in carbon dioxide emissions from 1990-2012

In Year 9, we use a layer from the database called ‘global change in carbon dioxide emissions from 1990-2012’ to analyse which countries have been successful and unsuccessful in curbing their emissions. Tasks include asking students to justify the selection of an appropriate base map, changing the icon to show the data better and changing the amount of classes in the data presentation.

Changes in carbon dioxide emissions

3. Make your own map

In Year 11, once my students are more familiar with the software, as a creative and independent learning activity, each student is given free choice of layer of data to put onto a map. After exploring the interesting layers available on the ArcGIS database, they select one that links to the GCSE specification. Many pick the occurrence of natural hazards and plate boundaries, but others choose population data, river data and retreating coastlines. They then use the theory we have covered in class to explain what their map shows.

How to get started

There are so many opportunities to integrate GIS into your classroom teaching. Even though in our increasingly busy lives as teachers it may be hard to find time to get familiar with the software, there are many things you can do to save time and learn more about the capabilities of the platform:

  1. Attend the Esri UK annual conference and follow the ‘Education’ stream
  2. Take part in a free online course
  3. Read the online lessons and walk-throughs

I have seen the benefits of introducing the software into my classroom and am teaching my students a skill which many of them may come across in their future careers. I love making geography relevant, up-to-date and educationally valuable – I believe GIS is definitely a way to do this!

Rebecca Priest photoRebecca Priest is a Geography Teacher at King Edward VI High School for Girls in Birmingham. She is currently studying for a MA in Geography Education at the Institute of Education and presented a session on ISM at the GA’s 2015 Annual Conference. 

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