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Official February newsletter


Andy Funnell

My route into GIS

Getting to grips with GIS had been on my teaching bucket list for a long time. I still get a cringey feeling (the same one when you watch poor David Brent in The Office) when I think about my fuzzy responses to GIS-related questions on previous job applications.


My curiosity for GIS resurfaced when I entered the Twittersphere during the first lockdown. Highly visual and truly beautiful maps were appearing on my thread, bringing data to life and with such a vibrance that made me want to click and learn more. It got me thinking that this powerful mapping must surely be infectious on students too. I wanted to learn more and I’m so glad I did.


In June I sent out a tweet that started it all…


Five replies: a recommendation of someone to follow; an invitation from said someone to his GIS webinar; a link to register my school for ArcGIS; a DM containing a treasure trove of GIS ideas and ready-made tasks; and a link to a free online training course. Wowsers.

From here I was taken on two similar yet separate CPD trails, both of which can really enhance the ability and capabilities for you to create a sense of place and spatial awareness with your students. Below is a reflection of my way into GIS and maybe something you can use to get started:


A) Case Studies with Google Earth

Alistair Hamill recommended to me (and I can now verify) that a good point of entry into GIS could be to have a go at creating a case study using Projects in Google Earth. This powerful platform can effectively launch you and your students out of the classroom and into the heart of case study locations. There is the availability to add text, images and clips to the stunning 2D & 3D views, making for a highly interactive experience for the students.


Exploring disparity and favelas in Rio de Janeiro

To say I got hooked was an understatement; I have recently launched Earth Case Studies with a view to having a collaborative space for geography teachers to share and have access to a plethora of tours and case study destinations.


I honestly don’t think I will teach a case study with powerpoint ever again.

B) ArcGIS Online – An Entry Point

People often joke that geography teachers love colouring in. ArcGIS takes things to a completely new and brilliant level. It’s a game-changer. I still can’t quite believe it’s free (for schools in the UK & Ireland). Whilst the capabilities are endless I believe it is relatively straightforward for anyone to equip themselves with the basics and be ready for teaching. I have a very long way to go with ArcGIS and I find that I’m learning something new each week but I suppose that’s the beauty of it, and I know I am one of many who thoroughly enjoy the journey of exploring the endless teaching & learning possibilities.


Step 1: Learn the Basics


Step 2: Register your Department/School

  • Share this link with your HOD and register for your school licence.


Step 3: Follow on Twitter

For me, tracking down and following the expansive GIS Twitter tribe has been the most crucial step. I am particularly grateful to the following for their support and encouragement whilst on this CPD journey and therefore I fully recommend you follow these people yourselves and immerse yourself in the incredible work they are doing:

Trust me when I say that, if you send out a tweet for assistance you will get a generous reply from any one of these people by the end of the day.


Step 4: #ArcGISPlay!

“Were you up late playing with that GIS thing again?” is now a standard question from my wife. For me, ArcGIS is like a tube of Pringles and I know not to open it up if I’m planning an early night. Once you have the foundations you are ready to spend many hours clicking on various buttons whilst watching powerful and highly visual maps come into fruition. Just by experimenting you will be expanding on your own knowledge of the platform. One of your initial questions when planning a new topic will soon be “Is there a potential GIS activity in this?”



Another Tip:

With GIS it is often the case that you don’t have to start from scratch. The basic induction training outlined in Step 1 will show you how to find and utilise GIS layers created by others. Be sure to keep checking Twitter for colleagues who post activities (completed maps with tasks & worksheets) which you can download and try with your own classes.


Speaking of which…

I read somewhere that CPD for teachers has recently been “democratised” in these current times and I believe that it has certainly been a good thing for anyone wanting an entry point into GIS, with ideas bouncing around the airwaves on a daily basis. Each day I log into Twitter and find more quality offerings. I can’t get enough of it and I honestly think I have received some of the best CPD of my career in recent months.


I hope to see you all hooked into the GIS community very soon. Enjoy the journey!

Andy Funnell

Head of Geography in a school in Northern Ireland


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