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Spatial Thinking and Analysis


What will your students learn by using GIS or other mapping tools?  They will gain analytical experience in spatial thinking with real-world data.  Spatial analysis with geographically-oriented data can reveal patterns where other types of analyses are inadequate.   Students can engage in problem-solving with data they can find themselves, tailored to the subject.  GIS instruction would need to be incorporated into a course, but internet-based mapping tools can be used effectively with existing online tutorials.

ESRI’s GIS.com is a great “getting started” web site which explains what GIS is and how and where these tools are used. In addition, the web site offers self-guided tutorials such as Learn ArcGIS and the ArcGIS Book.

ESRI’s Education Community goes a bit deeper with many more educational resources, including GeoInquiries, which "concentrates on introducing, developing and reinforcing spatial reasoning and analysis skills."

ESRI’s Education Curriculum Development Manager has written an article on “Developing Spatial Thinking Skills in Education and Society” which offers several useful definitions of spatial skills.

From SERC at Carleton College, browse a collection of resources related to understanding spatial thinking in the geosciences.

Here is a tutorial on Spatial Thinking from Columbia University which addresses the issue of “why some students have trouble with maps and spatial representations.”

Penn State University has produced The Geospatial Revolution, “an integrated public service media and outreach initiative about the world of digital mapping and how it is changing the way we think, behave, and interact.”

For the more technically-minded, Penn State offers an online course, “The Nature of Geographic Information.” The foundational text on Geospatial Analysis is now available online in several different formats.

Data visualization refers to the techniques used to communicate data or information by encoding it as visual objects (e.g., points, lines or bars) contained in graphics. The goal is to communicate information clearly and efficiently to users.  It is one of the steps in data analysis or data science and includes (but is not limited to) spatial information.

The following sites might help you to think about visualizing information:

If you haven’t run across them yet, take a look at the now-classic works of Edward Tufte.

Jason Davies’ site features his work in freelance data visualization, including a slew of incredibly innovative maps, including this amazing animated map projection tool.

Last updated: July 6, 2021

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