Teach the Earth > Urban Geology > Teaching Activities > Introduction to GIS Using ArcExplorer and Brooklyn Data Sets

Introduction to GIS Using ArcExplorer and Brooklyn Data Sets

Rebecca Boger
Brooklyn College
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This activity was selected for the On the Cutting Edge Reviewed Teaching Collection

This activity has received positive reviews in a peer review process involving five review categories. The five categories included in the process are

  • Scientific Accuracy
  • Alignment of Learning Goals, Activities, and Assessments
  • Pedagogic Effectiveness
  • Robustness (usability and dependability of all components)
  • Completeness of the ActivitySheet web page

For more information about the peer review process itself, please see http://serc.carleton.edu/NAGTWorkshops/review.html.

This page first made public: Mar 7, 2008


The lessons introduce students to ArcExplorer GIS using publicly available online GIS data sets of Brooklyn, and water quality data of Prospect Park with locations taken by GPS receivers. In this way, students learn field and GIS lab skills using a familiar place and a topic, water quality, of interest to them. Although ArcExplorer has a steep learning curve, starting with ArcExplorer helps students transition to the more complex ArcView software.

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Introduction to GIS for undergraduates Designed for a geophysics course

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered

None, although helpful to have an understanding of water quality testing and how to use Excel spreadsheets

How the activity is situated in the course

The activity includes a sequence of exercises. It is used at the beginning of the course or during a workshop.


Content/concepts goals for this activity

Students will learn how to use ArcExplorer, AEJEE
Students will begin to apply GIS concepts such vector and raster data models and map projections.
Students will be able to create a map using AEJEE.
Students will use a GPS to locate water sampling sites

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity

Identifying/analyzing spatial patterns in water quality data.
Formulation of hypotheses based on data exploration.

Other skills goals for this activity

In this activity, students could be provided with water quality data or have the data given to them. They are encouraged to work in groups. If collecting water quality data, then they will work in groups to decide where and when to sample the water. Students also learn how to access data on the Internet and merge web data with field data.

Description of the activity/assignment

To learn ArcExplorer GIS, students perform these four exercises using data sets of Brooklyn and water quality data collected at various locations in Prospect Park, Brooklyn. Through these exercises, the students gain an understanding of how GIS works and what can be done. Ideally, the students should collect the water data and locate the sampling sites using a GPS. If lab time is limited, water data and site locations can be provided. Combining field data with existing data sets helps make the GIS applications more understandable and relevant to the students. As a final product, students create a map using a variety of GIS data layers. They also examine spatial patterns and use GIS to generate questions and hypotheses. Uses online and/or real-time data Addresses student fear of quantitative aspect and/or inadequate quantitative skills

Determining whether students have met the goals

By turning in their homework, specifically:
1. creating a map
2. describing spatial patterns
3. developing questions/hypotheses for further research

More information about assessment tools and techniques.

Download teaching materials and tips

Other Materials

Supporting references/URLs

ESRI AEJEE tutorial
1. New York City Department of Parks and Recreation—Prospect Park
A wonderful source of information about Prospect Park. Explore the web interactive mapping now that you are familiar with GIS concepts.

2. New York City Department of Information Technology and Communications
Many free downloadable data sets of New York City.

3. New York City Department of City Planning (more info)
Many free downloadable data sets of New York City.

4. US Census Bureau information for Kings County
A great source of data about Kings County.

5. New York State GIS Clearinghouse
Many data sets available, although file format may require ArcView for raster data sets

6. Hofstra University, Department of Geology
Great information about the geology of Long Island

7. NASA—Land Cover Change, New York City
LandSat data from 1990 and 2000. Tiff files available for true-color and false color images. NDVI and change detection images are also available.