Ian Lockwood


Archive for November 2014

GIS Developments at OSC in 2014

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Colombo Area Landsat map.

Colombo Area Landsat map.

The teaching of Geographic Information Systems (GIS) skills is in the midst of completing its 5th year as a part of the secondary school curriculum at the Overseas School of Colombo (OSC). The program was launched in 2009 when the school (then under the leadership of OSC Head Laurie McClellan and Secondary Principal Oli Tooher Hancock) made an investment in licensed software from ESRI. Since then DP and MYP Geography classes have been exposed to basic skills and used GIS to support field work and studies at a variety of scales. Today students are exposed to GIS skills at an early stage through their Individuals and Societies (formerly Humanities) classes. We start in MYP 1 (Grade 6), have a unit in MYP 5 (Grade 10) and then use the skills in the DP Geography. Eventually I would like to see a full vertical scope and sequence of GIS skills throughout the whole MYP. The goal of these efforts is to support the MYP and DP curriculums and give the students additional skills that are transferable in a wide variety of disciplines and university study programs. GIS is a great tool for conceptual learning in the humanities and sciences – something that several examples in OSC’s MYP and DP programs highlight.

Using Google Earth Pro in the IB Diploma

Area and perimeter exercise using Google Earth Pro.

Area and perimeter exercise using Google Earth Pro.

For the past three years OSC has applied for and received the Google Education grant that has enabled us to access several licenses of Google Earth Pro. This has allowed us to perform several more advanced spatial processing jobs and to download higher resolution imagery of some of our study areas. A short exercise that we recently used Google Earth Pro for was to make an accurate calculation of the OSC campus perimeter and area on behalf of the MYP1 (Grade 6) Math and I&S classes. You can draw polygons in Google Earth but you need the ‘Pro” version to get an accurate measurement of the area and perimeter.

To make a comparison of the Google Earth Imagery and ArcMap’s free online “World Imagery” base layer I ran a comparison of the two methods. I imported the Google Earth polygon as a KMZ file into ArcGIS and overlaid it on the Global Imagery layer. This free web-based imagery is not nearly as detailed or up-to-date as the Google Earth imagery as the two contrasting maps show here (2nd image coming soon). There are slight differences in the estimated area and perimeter, presumably a result of differences in the Datum used in each of the maps.

ArcMap view of OSC

ArcMap view of OSC

MYP 1 and DP1 Collaborative Work

Creating a basic Sri Lanka map with GIS. Screen shots from a tutorial made in house for the MYP 1 class.

Creating a basic Sri Lanka map with GIS. Screen shots from a tutorial made in house for the MYP 1 class.

The MYP1 class is working on an introductory mapping Sri Lanka tutorial that I created with my wife Raina two years ago. The map that they create is built on SL Survey Department data and highlights a chosen Sri Lankan spatial theme (tourism, tea & spices, wildlife, heritage, beach locations etc.). This year it is a truly interdisciplinary project with a strong research component worked in and inputs from the IT department. Raina who teaches both of OSC’s Grade 6 Humanities (I&S) batches, has led the class though a research project cycle that has them investigating spatial themes in Sri Lanka. Initially they worked with the math department to better understand concepts of scale and area in maps (see above). Maria Jose, OSC’s tech integrator, is helping with guiding the students on how to use Adobe InDesign to create an illustrated booklet. I normally spend a block or two with each of the classes to help them learn the basic GIS skills that they will need to create a map focusing on the theme of their project.  This year my DP1 Geography students, fresh from their own GIS work on demographic patterns, helped to teach these classes. They used a short in-house booklet that takes them step-by-step through the project. We had the first collaborative sessions today and the results have been positive and gratifying. The older students demonstrated that they are caring and knowledgeable GIS instructors.

OSC's DP1 Geography students assisting and guiding MYP1 students with their first GIS assignment.

OSC’s DP1 Geography students Kai, Charlie and Arnold assisting and guiding MYP1 students with their first GIS assignment. Photo courtesy Raina Lockwood


DP Environmental Systems (ES&S) & GIS

Screen shots of reflectance booklet for OSC ES&S students.

Screen shots of reflectance booklet for OSC ES&S students.

The DP Environmental Systems students are using the ALTA II Spectrometer to look at the spectral signatures of a variety of surfaces. Spectrometry is a topic that has fascinated me since my father Merrick helped me build a spectroscope for a project in Hal Strom’s Grade 9 science class at AIS/D. At OSC students first used the ALTA II in a Group IV project in 2013. I have updated this as a full internal assessment practical related to ES&S 2.2 (investigating abiotic factors of an ecosystems). Part of the fun of this exercise has been creating a small tutorial/booklet on reflectance and how we can use remotely sensed data to study and analyze land cover patterns in space and time. The student work coincides my own investigations of spectral signatures and land cover data that can be derived from Landsat imagery. The opening image in this post is now in the midst of being taken apart and analyzed to detect patterns of reflectance that will help me understand, quantify and delineate land cover. I hope to transfer learning from the Colombo exercises to conservation sites such as Peak Wilderness, Sinharaja and locations in the Western Ghats. I am using Kathryn Keranen and Robert Kolvoord’s Using GIS and Remote Sensing workbook to guide me through the process.

OSC’s DP students choosing to do a Geography (or subject area) extended essay (EE) continue to use ArcGIS to create original maps to support their studies. Some of these are straightforward locational maps while others map health and demographic variables at a district levels (we can do it a district, or GN level if needed). There is untapped potential for OSC students to investigate GIS/RS options for future EEs and MYP Personal Projects.

Increasingly GIS is moving into cloud-based solutions. At the moment we don’t seem to have the bandwidth to use these options reliably. Instead OSC continues to rely on a server we have built up using data from a wide variety of sources. OSC enjoys a unique advantage in that several Colombo-based organizations where OSC parents work have dynamic GIS programs. Our school program has been able to benefit from professional guidance from these organizations and they have shared public spatial data for our students to use. At OSC we look forward to studying and helping students to address a variety of local and global issues using sate-of-the art geo-spatial tools. The software and data hat we are privileged to have access to has widespread application in a number of diverse fields. GIS and RS skills can be technically challenging to learn at first but OSC’s students have shown the ability to learn and apply the skills to analyze and address an array of global issues.



Clarke, Keith. Getting Started with Geographic Information Systems, 5th Edition. Upper Saddle River, Pearson Prentice Hall, 2011. Print.Companion website (password required)

Heywood, Ian, Sarah Cornelius and Steve Carver. An Introduction to Geographic Information Systems, 4th Edition. Essex,Pearson Prentice Hall, 2011. Print. Companion website. Instructor’s Resources.

Horning, Ned et al. Remote Sensing for Ecology & Conservation. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2010. Print.

Jensen, John R. Remote Sensing of the Environment: An Earth Resource Perspective. Upper Saddle River, Pearson Prentice Hall, 2007. Print.

Kimerling, A. Jon. et al. Map Use, Sixth Edition. Redlands, ESRI Press, 2009. Print. Review of book.

Keranen, Kathryn and Robert Kolvoord. Using GIS and Remote Sensing: A Workbook. Redlands, CA: ESRI Press Academic, 2014. Print. Web link.

O’Connor, Peter. GIS for A-Level Geography. United Kingdom: ESRI UK & Geographical Association, 2008. Print.

Palmer, Anita et al. Mapping Our World Using GIS: Our World GIS Education. Redlands, ESRI Press, 2009. Print.

Written by ianlockwood

2014-11-26 at 5:04 pm