Teaching GIS in Elementary School

Mark Altaweel


GIS is composed of skills that are often taught at high school levels or later. For larger companies such as Esri and school education in general, there is an incentive to start education about GIS at earlier levels in elementary or primary school education.

Attempts to enhance education have included directly linking researchers with K-12 students, where graduate-level researchers work closely to educate students about GIS.[1] Major firms such as Esri have made a large push to further education for K-12 students.

Events at the annual Esri conference include sessions for young students at the K-12 levels. This includes pitching GIS as part of STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) education.[2] Esri’s ConnectED initiative focuses on K-12 education, although few data and applications are geared for those less than grade 4.[3]

Research on how to best implement GIS education for K-12 has looked at the use of web-based GIS and data that is understandable at different levels. The pitch of this education, such as using games or other interactive approaches, has also been tested.[4]

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Tools that have been applied to enhance teacher awareness in pedagogically meaningful ways have been shown to allow them to best communicate and demonstrate geographical awareness and capabilities that even simple spatial analysis might bring about topics dealing with population, history, and other areas.[5]

The benefits of a pedagogical emphasis are not only demonstrated for schools in the United States but also for other countries.[6]


[1] For more information on how graduates work with K-12 students, see:  Bruce, L. M., McNeal, K., Radencic, S., Pierce, D., & Schmitz, D. (2014). Inspire: Linking graduate students with K12 teachers to address remote sensing educational needs (pp. 1584–1587). IEEE.

[2] For an example document on Esri’s approach to K-12 education, see:  https://www.esri.com/library/ebooks/advancing-stem-education-with-gis.pdf

[3] For more on ConnectED, see: http://www.esri.com/connected

[4] For an example article on K-12 teaching methods and GIS, see:  Henry, P., & Semple, H. (2012). Integrating Online GIS into the K–12 Curricula: Lessons from the Development of a Collaborative GIS in Michigan. Journal of Geography, 111(1), 3–14.

[5] For more information on pedagogical approaches, see:  Doering, A., Koseoglu, S., Scharber, C., Henrickson, J., & Lanegran, D. (2014). Technology Integration in K–12 Geography Education Using TPACK as a Conceptual Model. Journal of Geography, 113(6), 223–237.

[6] For more information on other countries’ experience with K-12 education and GIS, see:  Kim, M., Kim, K., & Lee, S.-I. (2013). Pedagogical Potential of a Web-Based GIS Application for Migration Data: A Preliminary Investigation in the Context of South Korea. Journal of Geography, 112(3), 97–107.

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About the author
Mark Altaweel
Mark Altaweel is a Reader in Near Eastern Archaeology at the Institute of Archaeology, University College London, having held previous appointments and joint appointments at the University of Chicago, University of Alaska, and Argonne National Laboratory. Mark has an undergraduate degree in Anthropology and Masters and PhD degrees from the University of Chicago’s Department of Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations.