St. Michaels University School uses GIS to bring geography to life

November 19, 2008 -- Victoria, BC – ESRI Canada recognized St. Michaels University School with the Award of Excellence at the Regional User Conference in Victoria earlier today. Myron Doherty, BC Regional Manager for ESRI Canada, presented the award to recognize St. Michaels University School’s wide-ranging integration of GIS into its academic programs, which has served to greatly benefit students.

“It is an honor to recognize St. Michaels University School with the Award of Excellence today,” said Myron Doherty, BC Regional Manager. “St. Michaels has worked tirelessly, providing students with an opportunity to build fundamental GIS skills and embark on unique, thought-provoking projects that enable students to learn about the world around them.”

Located in Victoria BC, St. Michaels University School is home to over 900 students, ranging from kindergarten to grade 12. One of the school’s main objectives is to effectively prepare students for university and for life and to encourage students to excel in all areas of their lives. St. Michaels University School was first introduced to GIS over 10 years ago, when Kirsten Davel, Head of Geography, was selected as 1 of 25 teachers across the country to attend the prestigious ‘Geography for the 21st Century’ Summer Institute for teachers. Kirsten quickly recognized GIS as a vital technology for the modern geography classroom and successfully gained the support of Bob Snowden, Head of School to purchase an ArcView license.

St. Michaels originally used ArcView to build maps as part of their involvement with the Canadian Communities Atlas and also began to incorporate the technology into geography, geology and computer studies classrooms. GIS was then leveraged in history classrooms to carry out a number of unique projects such as mapping slavery and underground railway routes in the US and building a map to illustrate the origin of immigrants to Canada using StatsCan data. Once it became clear that GIS could serve as an effective learning tool across disciplines, St. Michaels University School hired a new full time staff member with a passion for GIS and purchased an ArcView 9.1 license to help broaden the application of the technology.

“By bringing GIS into the classroom, we witnessed a change in some of our students who suddenly became very engaged in their projects,” explained Kirsten Davel, Head of Geography. “The self-paced, learner-centered nature of GIS has really helped bring geography to life.”

St. Michaels then worked with ESRI Canada to organize a two-day GIS training event that was attended by 29 geography, social science, earth and environmental science and history teachers from 5 different schools in British Columbia. This intensive training event gave teachers an opportunity to gain hands on experience with the technology and ultimately, enhance their own classrooms with GIS.

In addition, the school has spearheaded an ongoing experiential learning program that enables grade 10 students to visit Mount Tolmie Park, a threatened Garry Oak ecosystem located behind the school, and gather data using GPS units. Students are taught skills such as collecting way points to obtain the latitude and longitude of the ecological resources in the park. Students then collectively build a GIS map that represents the ecosystem, and create hyperlinked datasheets on the natural elements that they have identified. Looking forward, St. Michaels University School is working on a three year plan to roll GIS out to younger students.

“GIS is an essential tool for the 21st century geographer”, explains Kirsten Davel, “if students are able to become comfortable with the technology as early as grade 4, then by the time they reach grades 11-12, they can apply their higher order thinking skills to effectively explore global issues.”

For more information on St. Michaels University School, please visit:

About ESRI Canada

Established in 1984, ESRI Canada is a Canadian owned company specializing in geographic information systems (GIS) solutions. ESRI Canada distributes the world's leading GIS software including solutions from ESRI Inc., Miner and Miner, I.S.M. International Systemap Corp. and Azteca. In order to provide organizations with complete industry-specific solutions ESRI Canada has established an extensive business partner program that includes more than 130 Canadian organizations. ESRI Canada also provides professional services including consulting, training, technical support, and enterprise GIS implementation. ESRI Canada is a leader in providing world-class enterprise GIS solutions for many industries including public works, land management, utilities, defence, public safety, business demographics, education, natural resources and transportation. ESRI Canada has fifteen regional offices across the country, with headquarters in Toronto, Ontario. For more information, please visit or call 1-800-447-9778.

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