GIS Starts Here

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This resource aims to help teachers introduce and develop GIS work with students in both primary and secondary schools. It acts as a portal to existing resources on this and other websites, rather than as a self-contained programme of guidance and activities.

In each section, we've listed useful resources along with introductory text to help you find the most useful materials for your needs.

What is GIS?

We can think of a geographic information system (GIS) as an advanced and interactive map. It is a tool which allows us to organise and visualise data in new and highly practical ways. It allows us to place layer upon layer of data over a basemap made up of real-world localities. It enables us to calculate and even predict the intricate phenomena that make up our world and make intelligent decisions based on very complex data.

Many industries have benefited in some way from GIS, and its ability to unravel global and social issues is increasingly being recognised. In short, it is overwhelmingly likely that your students will come into contact with some kind of GIS during their lifetime and thus an early familiarisation with it is fast becoming essential. We hope that this guide helps to get you and your students started on your GIS journey.

Aspects of GIS

Work using GIS involves three related aspects:

  • developing ICT techniques and understanding GIS principles to work with GIS software
  • understanding how to process, analyse and apply data from GIS sources
  • developing an appreciation of wider questions relating to the collection, sharing and presenting of data using GIS techniques

These aspects are summed up in the phrase 'to learn with and to learn about GIS' that is part of the NC Orders for Geography at KS3.   

Starting points and progression

Starting points will be different, depending on the prior geographical and ICT experiences of both teachers and students. It is important, however, for all teachers to consider how progression in the use of GIS can be achieved for their students and the part they can play in developing this progression. The following represents some baseline objectives for teaching GIS work in different Key Stages.

  • KS1 and KS2: all students should be familiar with some basics of digital mapping using drawing programs or a starter GIS program.
  • KS3: they should develop their knowledge, skills and understanding, using at minimum, a range of online GIS resources. They should also develop some initial competence in the use of specialist GIS software.
  • KS4: they should further develop and apply their skills in the use of GIS software, using it as a tool for increasingly complex enquiries and problem solving.
  • GIS use for Post-16 students should extend so that students develop the competence to use a wide range of mapping and processing tools in GIS software, providing them with the basis on which to apply GIS to vocational or higher academic work.

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