Exercise 6: Cartography

Barbara and David Tewksbury, Hamilton College


In the first part of the exercise, students examine a variety of ArcMaps to work out what data sets and techniques were used and to develop a list of the characteristics of effective, attractive, and complete maps. In part 2, students explore a GIS tutorial of cartographic techniques. 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
ArcMap layout, projections and coordinate systems at a minimum. To do the analysis of data sets and techniques for existing maps, students need to have experience with the GIS techniques reflected in the maps chosen for the exercise. The specific maps chosen could easily be tailored to a particular course; the ones chosen for this exercise reflect techniques learned in this class in exercises 1-5.

Software required for this assignment/activity:
ArcGIS 9.3 (ArcView license level)

Time required for students to complete the assignment:
2 class periods plus homework.


GIS/remote sensing techniques students learn in this assignment
Cartographic techniques; requirements for effective and complete maps.

Other content/concepts goals for this activity

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity
Analysis of existing maps to determine data sets and techniques used plus assessment of effectiveness and completeness of maps.

Description of the activity/assignment

This is Exercise 5 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.

Exercise 5a: Students take a bit of a break from learning and applying new GIS analytical techniques to examine a variety of ArcMaps to analyze the data sets used, how the analyses were likely done, and how the maps were made. This gives students a chance not only to study a set of ArcMaps in detail but also to discover that the techniques that they have been learning are ones that "professionals" use all the time.

In addition, students determine what the good and bad aspects are of each map and assemble a list of the elements of a complete and effective map (rather than just getting a list from a book or a web site).

Both parts of 5a form the basis for a class discussion, and the class arrives at a composite list of the elements of a complete and effective map.

Exercise 5b: Students learn about GIS tutorials that are available on line from a variety of sources and in the resources at the ESRI Mapping Center. Students work through a Yale tutorial on classic cartographic techniques in ArcMap and a how-to described in one of the examples in the ESRI Mapping Center. The tutorials and how-tos are fun, and students also become aware that there are a whole lot of great GIS tutorials and how-tos out there on the web that can be found using a Google search. Students create an ArcMap using one of the techniques that they have learned, and the class critiques the maps during the subsequent class.

Determining whether students have met the goals

Students are assessed both on their answers to the questions for part 5a and on the quality and completeness of their posted maps.
More information about assessment tools and techniques.

URLs and References

All relevant URLs are included in the assignment handouts.

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Exercise 6: Cartography -- Discussion  

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