A concerned class of Grade 7 students in Durham Region, Ontario, Canada saved a protected wetland. They built a storytelling map to garner enough public opposition to the Provincial government’s development plans for the Duffins Creek wetland that the plans were scrapped.
Teacher Alison Ellwood of DDSB@Home Elementary was looking for a way to engage her online Grade 7 class by researching a local development issue. In October 2020, the class read an article about how the Government of Ontario was using special orders to allow development on protected wetlands in order to create warehouse jobs.
The students researched the ecological importance of wetlands, the zoning process, and the need for warehouse developments. They wrote letters and conducted interviews with elected officials as well as an urban planner, indigenous leader, and environmental defender. After deciding they opposed the warehouse development, they decided to share their concerns to raise awareness and start a petition to stop the wetland destruction.
To tell the story of the wetland and their research, the students chose to build a storytelling map, with help from Esri GIS Ambassador volunteer Connor Houston.
“After speaking with the teacher and getting to know the students’ skills, a few had coding experience and wanted to learn more, we chose to use Mapbox for the storytelling map.” - Connor Houston, Esri GIS Ambassador
Together, Connor and the students worked on the map design and code using the Mapbox Storytelling solution and jsfiddle, hosting their final map on GitHub pages. The team downloaded open data from the Ontario Geo Hub and used QGIS to clip the data to the area of interest. Then they uploaded the data into Mapbox Studio as custom layers for their visualization. The students and Connor spent time discussing the various basemap options and reached consensus on Mapbox Satellite with a slight custom tint to green for a more vibrant background.
As the class presented the map to other students, parents, and the public, interest grew. Through word of mouth, the map was shared widely enough that the students’ petition to the government to collect sufficient signatures to have their petition read at the Ontario Legislative Assembly. A spokesperson from Amazon announced that they would not build a warehouse on a provincially significant wetland and the warehouse developer promised not to develop the area. Finally, the public pressure led to the Ontario government withdrawing their special order, saving the wetland.
“Mapbox tools helped the students make a strong connection to the issue and their community. It helped them share their story in an engaging and inspiring way.” - Alison Ellwood, DDSB@Home Elementary
Alison and her class plan to continue learning about local water issues, using location tools to explore their place within the stories and connect to their environment in a unique way, including collaboration with the Mississaugas of Scugog Island First Nation using data from Native Land to further understand the history and meaning of Treaty relationships.
“Let students drive the inquiry and use maps to help them draw connections to where they live. Choosing a local issue to explore kept students motivated and engaged. They also love to see their own homes and schools represented on the maps.” - Connor Houston, Esri GIS Ambassador
If you’re an educator in Canada, connect with a GIS Ambassador to help navigate geospatial technologies and learn along with the students.