Shaping K-12 learning experiences with online mapping activities


Maps tell stories, explain, illuminate and inspire. Students of all ages and across subject areas can benefit from using interactive maps to gather, analyze and interpret data, and gain insight into our world.

In a recent webinar, Charlie Fitzpatrick, a K-12 manager at the GIS software company Esri, and Mike Wagner, a teacher at Loudoun County Public Schools in Virginia, shared how online mapping can shape learning experiences for K-12 learners.

Pulling apart a map, we can see they are composed of individual layers of like things, such as cities, lakes, landmasses and states. The world around us can also be seen as a series of layers covering a range of scales — from neighborhoods to entire countries — which can be mapped and explored in detail online. Schools can use these online mapping systems to teach powerful classroom content spanning across subjects and grade levels, and they can get started with free resources for online mapping activities from

Elementary students can participate with activities that track and map noise levels across schools, or predict and study migration patterns of animals. Middle and high school students can engage using exercises to explore Charles Darwin’s observations on the Galapagos Islands, or learn more about the battles fought during the Civil War. Entire schools can even collaborate with activities that map the county-wide progress of flower bulbs and work together to find correlations in the data. At any grade, mapping activities can get students to think more critically and make decisions based on evidence.

Science and social studies teachers may be the first to use online mapping technology, but there is plenty of opportunity for teachers of other subjects to get involved. Language instructors may work with data about the areas that speak that particular language, or even look at content in that language. Math teachers can find real-world examples about challenging math concepts for their students, or perform analysis with data. Language arts students can bring their reading to life by creating detailed maps for locations and characters from a book.

“Think about the places that you can go, the things that you can learn, by getting students to be working with data in a map,” Fitzpatrick said. Maps can be used to learn standard content, work on group projects, or conduct research projects, and do not have to be limited to an age or subject. Ultimately, mapping exercises can improve students’ abilities to think critically, communicate, collaborate, create, and contribute.

About the Presenters

Charlie Fitzpatrick is a K-12 education manager for Esri, maker of geographic information system (GIS) software. He works with students, teachers, local and state education coordinators, teacher educators, and education influencers across the United States. He supports Esri’s offer of free GIS software and learning resources to every K-12 school and formal youth club for instructional use. Before joining Esri in 1992, Fitzpatrick taught social studies in grades 7-12 (mostly 8th grade geography) for 15 years in Minnesota and helped educators of all levels teach with computers.

Mike Wagner is the GIS teacher lead for Loudoun County Public Schools and the in-class GIS teacher at Heritage High School in Loudoun County, Virginia. Wagner has been teaching GIS as a project-based course since 2005, as part of the Virginia Geospatial Semester, a dual enrollment program.

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This edWebinar was hosted by and SETDA.