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Winning the ArcGIS School Competition - 10 Tips to Keep in Mind

For those intrigued by the dynamic interplay of data, maps, and storytelling, the ArcGIS Online School Competition offers a thrilling expedition into the world of spatial exploration. Research intersects with various scientific realms and this competition is where spatial data analysis meets creativity, connecting dots and narratives through captivating maps. Using a technology driven tool known as ArcGIS, you can learn more about your community through a bird’s eye view offered by mapping technology. 


This blog is a deep dive into the ArcGIS school competition, as well as 10 tips that can help you win it!


What is the ArcGIS competition about? 

Here’s some interesting background…

ArcGIS, developed by Esri, is a powerful geographic information system (GIS) software for mapping, analyzing, and visualizing spatial data. It allows users to create, manage, and analyze geographic information by integrating data layers from various sources such as satellite imagery, maps, GPS, and more. ArcGIS offers tools for geospatial analysis, cartography, and creating interactive maps, enabling users in various fields like urban planning, environmental science, government, and business to make informed decisions based on spatial data.


Based on this, the ArcGIS Online School Competition 2024 is a mapping competition open to K-12 students based in the US. This mapping competition, backed by Esri, presents an excellent chance to involve students in exploring a subject of interest through Geographic Information Systems (GIS). Participants get to craft compelling narratives for a global audience without coding. Instead, students will fashion customizable applications using their content, showcasing their research and engaging storytelling skills. Students delve into a topic they choose related to their state and construct a narrative map encapsulating their research findings.


What are the eligibility requirements? 

  1. Eligibility for participation requires pre-collegiate students enrolled in grades 4-12, without a high school diploma or equivalent, from any public, non-public, online, or home school within the United States or its territories

  2. The participation encompasses 50 states, the District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, American Samoa, Guam, the Northern Mariana Islands, the US Virgin Islands, and Department of Defense Education Activity schools. Students can enter individually or in pairs, with grade classification determining entry-level (grades 4-8 for middle school, 9-12 for high school). 

  3. Teams comprising middle and high school students are considered high school entries. 

  4. Submission must occur through the primary school of record, regardless of multiple activity locations. 

  5. Online students participate based on their state of residence, and each school or home school can submit a maximum of five entries, encompassing both middle and high school submissions.


How is the ArcGIS competition structured?


Structure of the ArcGIS student competition
Image source: https://storymaps.arcgis.com/stories/b40051db54ea47579f9177215d695cb4


  1. Students can collaborate individually or in pairs, but each participant or team can submit only one entry. In cases where one student belongs to middle school (grades 4-8) and the other to high school (grades 9-12), the entry falls under the high school category. The highest grade level of the team determines the entry-level.

  2.  If two students from different schools form a team, they must submit their entry through only one school. 

  3. Participants may engage through schools, clubs, educational pods, or independently. Still, entries must be submitted to the state through their primary school of record, regardless of involvement in activities at multiple locations. 

  4. Each team will be responsible for creating an ArcGIS StoryMap that focuses on content confined within the state's boundaries. States can narrow this focus even more, but the project's geographic scope must remain within the state. 

  5. While the project can use data from outside the state for contextual purposes, it cannot expand the study's focus beyond its borders. For instance, broader trends in environmental traits or population shifts may be mentioned for context, but the primary emphasis must remain on phenomena occurring within the state.

Based on the projects submitted, participating states will select up to five high school and middle school projects that will receive a monetary prize; from there, a single winner between the high school and middle school competitors will be selected to be submitted to the national level to be judged by Esri. 


What are the affiliated costs? 

Because this is a group-based contest, the only affiliated costs are paired with registration and potential purchase of the GIS program. However, the website states that Esri provides a free ArcGIS School Bundle for every US K-12 school and club so students can have their logins to work on their data. More information on this can be found here.


What criteria are considered for the project design? 

  1. Original work created during the 2023-24 academic year by submitting student(s) is required, excluding class or teacher-directed projects. 

  2. Visuals beyond maps are limited: a maximum of 60 seconds of video, specific image allowances, and URL submissions are outlined. 

  3. The scoring criteria prioritize a clear focus, quality data, effective analysis, cartography, presentation, and comprehensive documentation. Emphasis on map-centric, analytical content is encouraged, urging interactive maps over static images. Viewer engagement and ease of understanding geographical focus are key, stressing the importance of well-designed maps and informative popups. 

  4. Thorough documentation and project balance are critical, ensuring a holistic approach to content creation. You can find more details on the project design at this link


What are the important dates and deadlines for the competition? 

  1. Register with the State Leadership team by March 6, 2024, and indicate if you need mentoring from a GIS professional. 

  2. Submit projects for an Early Review between March 7 and April 12, 2024, for feedback. Final submissions to the State of Washington Leadership Team are due by 5:00 PM Pacific Time on April 19, 2024, accompanied by the Project Submission Form. 

  3. State awards will be announced by May 3, 2024. First-place winners at Middle and High School levels must return signed Permission and Release Forms for Esri's national contest by May 10, 2024. 

  4. Esri will announce the National Awards by May 31, 2024, at 5:00 PM Pacific Time.


What are the prizes you can win in ArcGIS?

$100 prizes will be granted to a maximum of five high school and five middle school projects in participating states, with the national winners being revealed on Tuesday, May 28, 2024.


Is ArcGISprestigious?

The ArcGIS program is considered a prestigious program due to its mission and selection of winners during the competition. While this program maintains a competitive edge, it also promotes learning about your community and it enlists critical thinking skills that are aimed to be displayed through the creativity, personability, and applicability of your personalized project. 


Ten tips for being successful in the ArcGIS competition

1. Leverage official resources 

Take full advantage of the ArcGIS School Bundle, which offers a suite of tools for creating, managing, and analyzing geographic information. If this is your first time working with GIS, take a few days to familiarize yourself with the platform and notice where it's used in everyday life! 


2. Study past winners' submissions

 Review previous winning projects to understand what makes a standout entry and gain insights into effective strategies. Some former winners of the ArcGIS StoryMaps competition include a project done on USAID preparation for Hurricane Season. The winners created a map tracking the intensity of hurricanes and the storms' paths over time to establish a pattern among natural disasters and how humanitarian aid could be structured. 


3. Choose a captivating topic

Select a compelling subject related to your state that allows for in-depth exploration and a captivating narrative. Based on your community, notice areas or regions of your home that could be supported with a system such as GIS. 


4. Embrace collaborative efforts

 Collaborate effectively within your team, leveraging each member's strengths to create a cohesive and comprehensive entry. Selecting a team based on your skills is an important facet of academic skills you can take into university!


5. Focus on geographic context

Keep the primary focus of your project within the state's boundaries, emphasizing phenomena occurring within that area. For example:

  • Urban planning efforts in empty lots

  • Healthcare coverage by region

  • Food deserts in your city 


6. Craft engaging narrative maps

Utilize the ArcGIS StoryMap to construct a compelling and visually appealing narrative that encapsulates your research findings effectively. Creativity along the lines of design and graphing are skills that are useful to students beyond high school, especially for students interested in coding, mapping, graphic design, and mathematics. 


7. Prioritize originality and creativity

Ensure your project is original and developed during the academic year, emphasizing unique insights and approaches. Part of creating a winning project is based on your own experiences tied to your work. Dig deep and consider ways in which you connect to this competition. 


8. Balance visuals and content

Use visuals judiciously, balancing maps, images, and videos to enhance understanding without overwhelming the viewer. One tip for this can be to look at the outlines of maps across large cities such as New York City or Chicago and consider how urban planning, voting registration, and food access are mapped using GIS. Though a bulk of information is provided, researchers can consolidate and portray information comprehensively. Check out some examples at Columbia University's GIS and Spatial Data website!


9. Thoroughly create comprehensive documentation

Thoroughly document your project, including sources of data, methodologies used, and any reused content from previous entries.


10. Adhere to deadlines and stay organized 

Stay on track with competition timelines, ensuring timely registration, submission for feedback, and final project submissions to maximize your chances of success. Make sure to map out a timeline that covers all the bases regarding project planning, conduct, and completion. 


These tips can guide your approach to crafting a winning entry for the ArcGIS School Competition!


Our Thoughts

Overall, it's essential to enjoy the process of creating your project with ArcGIS. While it's a competition, the organizers prioritize the joy of discovery and creation among participants. GIS is a riveting new technology that has just scratched the research surface. And to be involved and be rewarded for your work is a wonderful opportunity to partake in! 

Whether you win or not, the experience and knowledge gained from working with GIS will be a reward in itself. 


One other option – the Lumiere Research Scholar Program

If you are interested in STEM research, consider applying to the Lumiere Research Scholar Program, a selective online high school program for students founded with researchers at Harvard and Oxford. Last year, we had over 4000 students apply for 500 spots in the program! You can find the application form here.


Also check out the Lumiere Research Inclusion Foundation, a non-profit research program for talented, low-income students.


Tenzing Dolma is a Masters student specializing in research following the Nechung Oracle and the historical, religious, and cognitive approaches to its presence. She has a bachelors in Neuroscience from Loyola University Chicago and is currently completing her graduate studies at Columbia University. She hopes to help students find their passions through access to programs and organizations the same way she found hers!


Image Source: ArcGIS logo

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