Geographic Information Systems in the Classroom

Student GIS work on display.

Student GIS work on display.

Student GIS work on display.

Student GIS work on display.

Student GIS work on display.

Student GIS work on display.



I was first introduced to GIS as an undergraduate student at Kwantlen Polytechnic University, and at first I found the discipline challenging, I found learning to use the soft-wear difficult as ArcGIS seemed counter intuitive at first.  it wasn’t until I started a summer student position with SOS Children’s Village BC 6 months after my first GIS course ended that I began to see how it could be used in the real world. I was asked to help determine where the SOS BC donors were located geographically, this project began in the summer of 2011 and came to it’s final published form in spring 2015. I was using GIS to solve real world problems and do something that matters in the real world. This project lead to the eventual publication of my research titled ” Investigating Donor Patters” in the recent edition of Western Geographer, it is available for free online here.   ” Investigating Donor Patterns. Younger, A., 87-101.

As I used ArcGIS for more “real world” applications I started to become passionate about using it. I enjoy finding the patterns and relationships in maps and using the tools in the software package to help my analysis.  I had the opportunity to apply my GIS skills to a number of real world problems during my undergraduate degree, from food security to local food and mapping local social services providers. The more time I spent working with maps the more I began to see the patterns and relationships not just in my own self created maps but in those I encountered in other places.

As I prepared for practicum I began to wonder how I could infuse my love of GIS into my classroom. Did it have a place at all in the elementary classroom? How would I make something so complex accessible to my grade 4/5 students? I decided to give it a try and see how it would work. I had been reading a book that inspired me to bring what I was passionate about into my classroom and share my passions with my students. I found a way to work my passion into the curriculum, under the mapping PLO, I took this concept and made it my own and applied my own understandings to the PLO’s. I created a unit that began at the basics of mapping and what is a map and progressed through students using GIS and doing their own GIS analysis. I knew during my practicum that my students were very young to be using ArcGIS and found that there were limited resources available for using GIS at the elementary level, most resources are for university students. I ended up creating many of my own resources for students and modifying the instruction.

In order to give students the best experience possible with GIS I started Guided GIS Groups. I would introduce a GIS skill on a class map demonstrating what the students would be working on in their groups. Students were in groups of 2-3 with each group having chosen a province or territory so we would create a set of maps to show all of Canada. Each group came to meet with me in their groups at my computer, I would walk them through the skill I wanted them to work on that day as well as talk with them about what information they want to display. My students only had a few requirements for their maps:

  • An appropriate title
  • A legend
  • A Scale
  • Compass Rose
  • The out line of the province
  • The major water bodies and rivers
  • The capital city.

The students had many different layers or pieces of information available to them including:

  • Cities and towns
  • Roads
  • Highways
  • Railways
  • Parks
  • Ecosystems
  • Historic Sites
  • Points of interest


UBC’s Educational Technology Services published this blog post about our GIS project. UBC ETS Blog Post

In July I had the opportunity to present the GIS work I had done on my practicum with my students at the Ed-Tec Expo at UBC. This was a great opportunity to share my learning and get feedback from other teachers.  I enjoyed the experience and was inspired to share my learning further. Both my presentation and brochure from the Ed-tec Expo are available below.

G is for GIS

GIS brochure


I am excited to continue to explore how I can use GIS in the classroom. I am beginning to get involved in conversations with GIS professionals and teachers using GIS across Canada to share ideas and hopefully get some pointers for making GIS effective in my classroom. I am also hoping to continue working with my mentor from my undergraduate degree to get his continued support in GIS and learn new techniques and strategies from him.



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