HM - Jan. 2016 - Bunin

Classroom Resources


GeoInquiries for US History
Five Questions and Answers

By Chris Bunin
Albemarle High School,
Charlottesville, VA

“I do not have any maps that are as interactive as these!”

“Maps in my textbook are not as interactive as these nor do they allow me to add or take away layers. The ability to add layers is fantastic! It opens up so many more ideas for discussion and for students to ask questions. Adding layers can also help promote unintended cause and effect questions.” 

“My students easily understood the strategies the Union used to divide the South. It was far more interactive than simply using the maps in the textbook. It was also better than other interactive map activities that I have done in the classroom on the Civil War.”

Using interactive WebGIS maps in the history classroom just became a whole lot easier.  The classroom teachers quoted above helped field test the recently released US History GeoInquiries, all of which are currently available and ready to use.

Here are five common questions and answers about GeoInquiries that we hope will help you better understand what GeoInquires are and how they can blend neatly with your current classroom practice.

Question 1 – What are GeoInquiries for US History and what topics are covered?

GeoInquiries for US History is a collection of fifteen fast and easy-to-use instructional resources that incorporate advanced web-mapping technology. Each 15-minute activity in the collection contains a teacher’s guide with questions and answers and a professionally designed WebGIS map.  The activities are intended to be presented by the instructor from a single computer/projector classroom arrangement. No installation, fees, or logins are necessary to use these materials and software.

The collection focuses on many of the benchmark events and episodes taught during a typical US history course. Below is the list topics:

•    The Great Exchange (The Columbian Exchange)
•    The 13 Colonies - 1700s
•    The War Before Independence (The American Revolution)
•    The War of 1812
•    Westward, Ho! (Trails west)
•    The Underground Railroad
•    From Compromise to Conflict
•    A Nation Divided: The Civil War
•    Native American Lands
•    Steel and the Birth of a City (natural resources)
•    World War I
•    Dust Bowl
•    A Day that Lived in Infamy (Pearl Harbor)
•    Operation Overlord - D-Day
•    Hot Spots in the Cold War

To access any of the GeoInquiries for US History visit:

Question 2 – How are the maps in the GeoInquiries different from other maps I use in my classroom?

GeoInquiries for US History utilize Esri’s ArcGIS Online software, which provides live maps in which the data, map layers, and map features can be manipulated on “the fly.”  This in turn, allows for a very interactive experience by you and your students.  To better understand this interactivity, let’s consider these examples from the “Operation Overlord D-Day” GeoInquiry:

•    GeoInquiry Maps are layered so you can reveal or remove information as needed.

Figure 1. Map Layers - This screen capture shows the opening extent of the “Operation Overlord: D-Day” map.  Notice that the map shows the situation in Europe as of May, 1944. During the activity you can check or uncheck boxes next to each layer to change the information presented (image courtesy of Esri and

  • GeoInquiry Maps include Bookmarks and Map Notes so you can zoom in and out to specific map extents very easily and embed information and images.

Figure 2. Bookmarks and Map Notes - This screen capture shows the Calais “Bookmark” of the Operation Overlord D-Day GeoInquiry.  Notice that the bookmarked extent was selected from the drop-down menu of Bookmarked Places. The map also includes a Map Note that contains a description and primary source image about Germany’s Atlantic Wall.  To see a full-size version of the image you simply click on the image. (map image courtesy of Esri and; The Atlantic Wall image courtesy of German Federal Archives and available for Creative Commons)
  • GeoInquiry Maps include interactive data tables.  With the data tables readily available, you can sort and filter map features based on their attributes (such as Name, Chronology, and/or Casualties).  

Figure 3. Data Tables - This screen capture shows the “D-Day Landings” extent of the Operation Overlord D-Day GeoInquiry.  You can sort information in the table and obtain statistics from information contained in the data tables.  Also, notice the pop-up information for Sword Beach.  All features on this map contain information that “pops-up” when you click on the feature (map image courtesy of Esri and
  • GeoInquiry Maps include animated map layers so you can press “play” to show how events chronologically unfolded.

Figure 4. Animated Layers - This screen capture shows the “After D-Day” animated layer of the Operation Overlord D-Day GeoInquiry.  Notice the play bar at the bottom of the map. When you push “play” the layer becomes animated and reveals chronologically the amount of land Allies gained control of following the D-Day invasion.  The map above shows the amount of land gained as of September 6, 1944 (map image courtesy of Esri and

The complete Operation Overlord D-Day GeoInquiry is available at:

Question 3 – Are the US History ArcGIS Online maps limited to the GeoInquiries?
No.  That is one of the great things about these interactive maps.  You can use them with the GeoInquiry teacher guide or you can use them in ways that fit your instruction and your students.   Of course, be sure to complete the GeoInquiry first so you understand how the layers and data were intended. 

Take for instance “The War before the Revolution” GeoInquiry. The activity analyzes the events and geographic nature of the American Revolution before the colonies declared independence from England.  One part of the activity shows Paul Revere’s famous ride to warn the colonists that the “Regulars are coming.”  While this extent of the map is part of the GeoInquiry it may also prove valuable as a map that complements your lecture/discussion about the Battles of Lexington and Concord and “The Shot Heard around the World.”

Figure 5. The Regulars are Coming! -  This screen capture shows the “First Shots” bookmarked extent from “The War before Independence” GeoInquiry with the ArcGIS Online measure tool open and measuring the distance between Boston and Concord. (Map image courtesy of Esri and  To access this map go to:

Question 4 – How much experience do I need using ArcGIS Online before using GeoInquiries in my class?
None!  All maps and teacher guides are built, field tested, and ready to go.  Each teacher guide also includes a map tips section that explains how to use some of the tools in the activity (like using the measure tool or opening the data table). We recommend that you test drive activities a couple of times on your own before taking them live with your students.

Question 5 – Can my students and I make our own ArcGIS Online maps?
Yes you can!  The ArcGIS Online software that you will be using in GeoInquiries is a part of Esri commitment to the White House ConnectED initiative.  As a result, school-wide organizational accounts are available at no cost to all US K-12 schools for instructional use; a teacher or administrator needs only fill out the request form at  A school ArcGIS Online account allows up to 500 students and teachers to have an account, make and share maps and data – including Story Maps (
In addition to GeoInquiries for US History, you will find Esri has also created GeoInquiries for Earth Systems Science and advanced Human Geography.  Award-winning one-to-one materials for elementary and middle school world geography classrooms are also available now.  During 2016, Esri has more new collections planned.  Share these materials with your colleagues to increase your success with digital maps across your school.  Explore all these materials and request your copy of ArcGIS Online at

Chris Bunin teaches A.P. Human Geography, World History, and Geospatial Technologies at Albemarle High School in Charlottesville, Virginia.  During the past decade he has collaborated on a number of projects focused on creating data sets and instructional resources that utilize geospatial technologies in the classroom.  Some of his projects include: “The Virginia Experiment” Teaching American History Project; the “America on the World Stage” Teaching American History Project; the iSTEM Teacher Scholars Program: An Applied Geospatial Curriculum for Middle Schools; and the award-winning workbook, Jamestown to Appomattox: Mapping US History using GIS (Carte Diem Press).  He is also Assistant Professor of Geography at Piedmont Virginia Community College and co-chairs the Geospatial Technologies Committee for the Virginia Geographic Alliance. Follow Chris on Twitter @mapperdude  
If you liked this article you may be interested in Joseph Kerski's November 2015 piece; "Connecting Time, Place, and Space Through Dynamic Web Mapping."