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Science, technology, engineering, and math—commonly called STEM—education is a multidisciplinary approach to improving education, the workforce, and national competitiveness.

Whew. That’s a mouthful—and those are huge goals. But we’re up for the challenge, thanks to our new Atlas laptop and a partnership that’ll turn the world into a classroom.

The education of exploration

Let’s throw it down: If you know anything about Bak USA, you know we’re not out to cram consumer-grade gadgets into classrooms. Other tech companies are doing a fine job of that.

We don’t believe in it.

We believe in empowering students and teachers to take ownership, overcome challenges, and create opportunities in any setting. We think education is about more than memorization—it’s about exploration.

Bring GIS to the classroom with Esri's ArcGIS Online software.

Our friends at Esri share those beliefs. Esri makes software called ArcGIS, the world’s most powerful mapping and spatial analytics platform. In response to President Barack Obama’s ConnectEd STEM initiative, Esri made its ArcGIS Online tool available free to teachers and schools.

Their goal? To exponentially increase teachers’ capabilities and enable them—and their students—to explore the world using problem-based learning. And that gives us all the feels.

You too? Awesome.

What the heck is GIS?

First things first: GIS stands for geographic information systems. In broad strokes, GIS is a mapping system designed for capturing, storing, checking, and displaying data related to positions on Earth’s surface. It enables people to easily visualize, analyze, and understand patterns and relationships. With me so far?

Now, when you think about GIS and mapping, you probably don’t think about the classroom. You might think about field work. Outside work. Work that happens far from civilization. Work that takes you to the ends of the planet and back again (hopefully).

The classroom? Not so much.

Redefining the classroom

But here’s the thing: Modern classrooms don’t always have four walls. Students and teachers are finding creative ways to push those boundaries and redefine the classroom. Students are no longer trapped behind their desks listening to someone talk at them about the world. Now they’re out in it, experiencing it for themselves.

Bring GIS to the classroom with Esri's ArcGIS Online software.

That’s a beautiful thing. And that’s exactly why we built the new Atlas. It’s a laptop, yeah—but it’s built for exploration. It’s durable. Practical. Engineered to enable students to get out there. And when you pair it with Esri’s ArcGIS Online software, the possibilities are just about endless.

How, you ask? Allow me.

Learning real-world skills

Education, as a whole, is full of different schools of thought. (See what I did there?)

One of them is called problem-based learning. It’s an approach to classroom inquiry that begins with an open-ended question. Students independently gather data and perform analysis as a means to answering that question.

Bring GIS to the classroom with Esri's ArcGIS Online software.

GIS teaches students how to best visualize the data they gather and use that visualization to analyze the data, find relationships between data points, and draw conclusions. They learn critical thinking and spatial thinking by interacting with the world around them.

These are real-world skills that are immediately transferable to the modern workplace. And that’s huge.

How the world becomes a classroom

Let’s bring it closer to home, shall we? There are teachers using Esri’s ArcGIS Online to do some really creative things in the classroom. Want a list? Oh man, have I got a list.

  • For her senior project, Elizabeth Vidaurre, a student at Olathe North High School in Olathe, Kansas, used it to identify clusters of children in Haiti who lacked access to clean water. Her work helped identify the best locations for new wells. She was later able to travel there and see the impact of her work firsthand.
  • Students in Penny Carpenter’s class at Lubbock Independent School District in Lubbock, Texas, used it to track instances of H1N1 infection in counties across the state. Their work ended up on the evening news, helping viewers across western Texas understand the local impact of H1N1.
  • Students at the Harbor Discoveries Summer Camp in Boston used it during Sea Lab, a camp module that’s focused on budding marine scientists in the eighth and ninth grades. Their research helped the New England Aquarium track crab population dynamics.

That’s barely the tip of the iceberg. I could go on.

Want more on each of those stories? Yeah you do. Get the goods here.

Bringing GIS to your classroom

With the summer months ahead, now’s the perfect time to dig in and find out how Esri’s ArcGIS can revolutionize your classroom. The best part? You don’t have to be a GIS expert.

Start here to learn about Esri’s education initiatives and find out more about teacher training options.

When you’re ready to start thinking about lesson plans, head this way. Esri has put together an incredible list of resources and lesson plans for students beginning in the fourth grade and progressing through high school.

Some of the options?

  • An exploration of time zones using map visualizations
  • Learning about elevation across the United States using Lewis and Clark’s route
  • Understanding plate boundaries and the dynamics of tectonics
  • Exploring the relationships between temperature, pressure, and humidity as they relate to weather
  • Understanding globalization as it relates to advances in technology and transportation

How’s that for getting your creative juices flowing?

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Esri’s ArcGIS Online—and all of the lesson plans featured here—will work beautifully on our new Atlas. It was engineered for the classroom and comes loaded with smart, practical tech. It’s the perfect tool to teach students real-world GIS mapping and data management, if we do say so ourselves (and we do).

Wanna take it to the next level? We’ve designed a STEAM Starter Kit add-on that’ll transform each student’s Atlas into a mobile laboratory.

Wanna see the awesome power of our Esri partnership in person? Visit Booth #2408 at the Esri User Conference, scheduled for July 10-14 in San Diego, California.

Wanna learn more about our relationship with Esri? We’ve got your back.


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Kristen Johnson