Exercise 1: Introduction to spatial data – mapping the classroom with paper and pencil

Barbara and David Tewksbury, Hamilton College


Students map the classroom twice using paper and pencil, the first time on different pieces of paper and with essentially no instructions and the second time on a base map with coordinates for one corner of the room with instructions about what to map and make a table of information about what they are mapping. *Special thanks to Dennis Johnson, Juniata College, for the basic idea for this activity!* You might also be interested in our Full GIS course with links to all assignments.


Type and level of course
Entry level GIS course for geoscience students.

Geoscience background assumed in this assignment

GIS/remote sensing skills/background assumed in this assignment

Software required for this assignment/activity:

Time required for students to complete the assignment:
One and a half class periods plus homework.


GIS/remote sensing techniques students learn in this assignment

Other content/concepts goals for this activity
To provide a pencil-and-paper experience with the concepts of scale, location, resolution, spatially referenced data, data layers, data attributes, metadata, and coordinate systems.

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity

Description of the activity/assignment

This is the first assignment/activity in a semester-long GIS for Geoscientists course. You can find the other exercises in this series on the course summary page or by typing Tewksbury GIS Exercise into the Cutting Edge search engine.

When a GIS course plunges directly into computer-based GIS, students typically don't have a good visualization of what they're doing. Having students do a simple paper-and-pencil mapping exercise in two different ways helps them develop this sense and gives them something to refer back to for analogies when they are doing computer-based GIS. In this activity, students make two paper-and-pencil maps, one with few guidelines and one designed to more closely mimic working with spatially referenced data.

Map 1: Each student receives a piece of paper of different size, shape, and color, and each student makes a map of the classroom. They only have 20 minutes to create their maps, and they can show whatever aspects of the classroom and its contents that they choose. When everyone is done, we compare the maps and talk about what people chose to map plus the challenges involved if we wanted to combine the data sets or send the maps off to someone else and have them extract meaningful information.

Map 2: Each student receives a piece of overhead transparency with identical outlines of the classroom, plus identical scale bars. They also receive coordinates for the SE corner of the classroom from a handheld Garmin GPS unit. Each student is assigned to map a particular subset of the items in the classroom and make a separate list containing information/data about the items that he/she is assigned to map. The same items are assigned to more than one student. Map 2 is begun during class and finished for homework. At some point after class, I go in and move some of the movable items that students have begun to map during class.

At the start of the next class, students stack their transparencies and compare maps. We talk about why there are differences, what would be involved in combining the maps, what the information lists provide, etc. We also talk about what information is important to know about for a given map in order to evaluate the information it contains (e.g., who made it, when, by what methods, how the corner coordinates were determined, etc.).

As we go forward in the class, we can refer back to this exercise as we're talking about metadata, attribute tables, data layers, resolution, scale, the issues involved in providing the coordinates for where something actually is in the world and portraying that location on a flat map, etc. Having had the paper-and-pencil experience give students something concrete to visualize.

Determining whether students have met the goals

Students receive credit for completing the assignment. They are assessed later in a number of different assignments when they are asked to reflect back on this paper-and-pencil activity and correlate it wtih what they are doing in a particular computer-based GIS task.More information about assessment tools and techniques.

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Exercise 1: Introduction to spatial data – mapping the classroom with paper and pencil -- Discussion  

In this activity, students make two paper-and-pencil maps, one with few guidelines and one designed to more closely mimic working with spatially referenced data. https://unblockedgamestop.weebly.com


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