From Joseph Kerski, ESRI Education Manager

When beginning any new class, you seek to encourage the students to get to know each other so that they can start building learning relationships. An increasing number of GIS tools can help make this “getting to know” activity even more fun and geospatial at the same time.

One tool I rely on is ArcGIS Explorer ( to map the workplaces of teachers in the GIS professional development classes that I teach. While participants are introducing themselves, they enter the workplace and birthplace into an Excel spreadsheet. The first column in the first row is populated with the name, while the second and third columns are designated city and state, respectively, one person per row. They save and export it as a text file, which will look similar to the following: 

Name workplace_city state
Adam Oskaloosa IA
Beth Dubuque IA
Carmen Des Moines IA
Devynn Council Bluffs IA

 …and so on.

In ArcGIS Explorer, use Tools, Import File, find the file you wish to map, and indicate that it is a tab-delimited text file, with city and state for the geocoding fields. Choose a symbol and map the data points.

The image above represents the workplace location of participants in a recent GIS institute that I conducted in Iowa. I added state boundaries and cities from ArcGIS Online. While a few outlying points exist (including me out in Colorado), the concentration in southeastern Iowa is evident. Based on the spatial pattern displayed, can you guess where the institute was held?

If students attending your school are mapped, street addresses should be used for finer detail. How would the spatial pattern and extent of students be different for a middle school versus a high school, versus a magnet school, or a university? Extensions of this lesson include the mapping of birthplaces, mapping of parents’ birthplaces, and mapping other data from newspapers or other sources.

This is a simple yet powerful activity that I encourage you to try with the next class that you teach.

–Joseph Kerski