Story Maps and Geospatial Fun at Esri EdUC 2016

Story Maps and Geospatial Fun at Esri EdUC 2016

A Louisiana State Story - Utilizing Story Maps to Teach State History

Join me Saturday, June 25, 2016, 1:30-2:45pm in the Coronado room!

If you can’t be there, here is my storymap/presentation for you.

Chat maps and such!

Stop by the GISetc booth in the EdUC expo!

Buy a book!

Starting Sunday, June 27 throughout the week, you can pick up two of my books in the Esri Store!

Story Maps #3: Using Esri’s Story Maps to Address Common Core Reading Standards

Story Maps #3: Using Esri’s Story Maps to Address Common Core Reading Standards

Story Map Index for the 10 Common Core Reading Standards

Story Map Index for the 10 Common Core Reading Standards

Reading and thinking are skills that we expect students to master and hone throughout their education careers and beyond.  Good readers and thinkers are lifelong learners. As a former English teacher, I appreciate the pressure on educators tied to testing and standards alignment. I have been on the front lines with my students.  As a curriculum writer, I realize we must utilize a myriad of tools to garner the most student engagement as well as content uptake.  I love the versatility of GIS with any subject.  How interesting that a tool which displays points, lines and polygons (boundaries) does such a beautiful job with helping curricular content boundaries dissolve!

Esri has a wonderful set of pre-designed Story Maps (  One day while admiring them, I discovered some excellent ties to what’s being called the “rigor of common core.” I don’t think the rigor of reading and writing class has dramatically changed; however, the emphasis on purposefully utilizing a variety of reading content has certainly made the education headlines and has many curriculum departments giving their practices and methodologies a second look.

I submit that you can use several of these story maps and the accompanying analysis to suit the Common Core Reading Standards quite nicely (and those writing standards too).  I even created some sample activities for you to show how I would use these strategies in my own classroom. Explore the Common Core with a new perspective!

Q & A: How can I hold students accountable for reading?

Q & A: How can I hold students accountable for reading?



A great online resource, We Are Teachers, often posts questions for the general community to assist our colleagues.  With Common Core, NCLB and other initiatives, we need to get creative and push our students to think more.

Here’s the question posed on their site and my suggestion.  Do you have a good idea? Share your comments!

Question: How can I hold my students accountable for reading our novel?

Answer: In this electronic age, kids using online resources is inevitable; however, I say push them beyond the facts to rethink the facts.  Using the book details to connect to other things…keeping dead authors and dusty books fresh is important to students.  This helps them see purpose.  If we pick on ol’ Tom Sawyer, then we might assign an internet article on grave robbers, and then have them read that chapter.  Perhaps we tie geographic elements to map out the story.  If you have to make a map of where Tom goes and how they’re connected…you need to understand what happens and more.  Pick a funky word deep in the chapter (a different one for each class) and have them use it all day. When I taught, 7th grade I used to do something different with each chapter to keep the kids guessing.  Asking open ended questions, gives much more interesting answers and pushes students to THINK, THINK, THINK.

What Do GIS and Short Stories Have in Common?

What Do GIS and Short Stories Have in Common?

These two concepts might not be considered close cousins at first glance but surprisingly they have quite a bit in common, making GIS an excellent tool for telling and analyzing stories.  A few years ago I shared this concept at the Esri Education International Users Conference.  Given the improvements in online mapping and the uptake of story maps, I thought a reprise of this concept was in order.

So…most US literature classes do a nice job of presenting the short story and its anatomy, pictured here. Some of my favorites from William Faulkner, O. Henry, W. W. Jacobs or Edgar Allen Poe are staples of the classroom and give easy ways to teach the anatomy and begin to understand problems and how we might craft and retell our own stories more efficiently and elegantly.










Many students have difficulty relating to these stories and cannot fathom creating their own.  Tools like GIS give those students ideas and wings to be creative and still present compelling facts. Visualizing this concept (see below) is powerful for student uptake.

GIS problem solving graphic










I believe that this notion of connecting ideas that we already teach with 21st Century tools will give our students skills, experiences and simply…give them something to talk about when they are stuck.

This also gives some great opportunities to integrate Common Core Reading Standards with GIS. (I’m presenting about this in July at the Esri Conference.)

Also check out what Sugata Mitra has to say about school and learning in TED talks.  My favorite quote from his talk…“It’s not about making learning happen.  It’s about letting it happen.”

Here’s hoping that you spend your summer letting learning ideas happen as you prepare for the next year’s adventure!

Feel free to share your cool thoughts and ideas too!

Story Maps #2: What’s Your Dinner’s Story?

Story Maps #2: What’s Your Dinner’s Story?

I love the idea that we are story telling with maps.  Most people enjoy a great story.  Good stories have a central theme or motif (fancy English teacher word).  With a guiding motif, we can add items to our story that  express emotion, inform and provoke discussion.  In a conversation recently, we were plotting and laughing about food’s role in getting people to attend events…even in a virtual event, just the “talk” of food elicited more responses from folks. So let’s chase that rabbit…what stories can maps tell centered around food?

It makes sense to start at the beginning of food, agriculturally.  Where is it grown? How is it processed?  What foods are produced most?  What other uses do food plants have…other than filling your belly? The good folks over at Esri Story Maps have created a great story on this topic. “Feeding the World” Where did your breakfast come from? Visit the 20 Minute GIS Portal for that map.

If you want to use ArcGIS desktop then have a look at Survivor Agriculture!  It gives students a chance to imagine an apocalyptic scenario where food is valuable trade as well as necessary sustenance. What an interesting story students can build here!

Perhaps students would like to explore data and build their own maps…create a unique story from their perspective.  Go to and search for “food.” You’ll find many layers that relate to all aspects of food and agriculture.

I like the idea of telling family stories centered around food.  Even foodies out there can appreciate the location of that perfect meal.  Maybe it’s the smell of Grandma’s apple cookies or the adventures with a friend around the country that create amazing memories around food!

So don’t let a good story pass you by!  What story did you live today?