Official Government Website

GIS Online Competition for Idaho Students

ESRI’s 2024 online GIS competition for High School and Middle School students is kicking off!

We are looking for students, teachers, and schools to take advantage of ESRI’s free GIS software for schools and to create innovated and engaging GIS projects and Story Maps to compete with peers around the state for recognition and prizes…and an opportunity to represent Idaho at the national level.

Thanks to the Northwest GIS User Group for the excellent overview video about the competition!

Want to know more…?

What does GIS stand for and how is GIS used?

GIS stands for Geographic Information System.

Information systems use data to synthesize knowledge and gain insights from the data they use. Data usually tell us about something…the “what”. For example, most students and schools use a learning management system (LMS) that uses data about students, classes, teachers, schedules, class content, tests, assignments, and a host of other data to determine what grades a student has, what classes they have taken, if they have met the requirements for graduation, what their GPA is, as well as more general analyses like how many students graduate, which programs work (or do not work), trends in enrollment, and many other decision-supporting analytics.

GIS refers to information systems which use data that have “spatial” components that tell us “where” the data apply to like latitude and longitude, address, altitude, and other data points to analyze and visualize data in different, and spatially meaningful, ways. A good example is the recent pandemic. It has been very important to know how many people have contracted Covid-19, how old they are, if they have other illnesses, and how many ended up on the hospital, and how many have died from the disease. However, knowing where they live, where they work, where they have come into contact with others, where they have travelled…all spatially relevant data…has helped to track effectiveness of treatments, how the virus has moved around the globe, and where vaccines are having the most positive effects. Usually data tells us the “what”. Spatial data tell us the “where”, with which the “what” takes on an added dimension of usefulness and context.

Who can enter the competition?

The contest is open to all students registered in grades 4-12 at the time of project submission, from public schools or non-public schools including online schools or home schools, who have not yet received a high school diploma or equivalent.

  • The competitive divisions are Middle School (grades 4-8) and High School (grades 9-12).
  • Entrants must reside and be in school in the United States…in this case in Idaho.
  • Students can work singly or in a team of two, but can participate in only one entry.
    • Teams with one student in middle school (gr.4-8) and one in high school (gr.9-12) must be considered as high school.
    • Entry level is determined by student’s grade (MS = gr. 4-8, HS = gr. 9-12), not by school name (e.g Lincoln Junior High School students in gr.7-8 participate in the MS competition while the gr. 9 participants are in the HS competition).
    • A team of two students from different schools can submit an entry to one school only.
  • Each school can have as many teams as they want for the local (school) competition.
  • Any school or home school program can submit to the state a maximum of five (5) entries total, counting the sum of middle school and high school entries.

How does the competition work?

How does judging work?

Teachers at each school will judge their own school’s entries for submission to the state competition. Each school can have no more than five (5) teams/entries submitted to the state for the state level competition.

A panel of GIS professionals and University educators from across Idaho will judge all school submissions to determine one High School winner and one Middle School winner.

The state will submit the entries of the two winning teams to ESRI to represent the state of Idaho in the national competition.

Are there prizes?

The state will identify up to five entries in each category (High School and Middle School) in the state competition to receive a $100 prize. Individual schools may decide to provide prizes for their local competitions if they so choose, but are not obligated to do so.

Schools are encouraged to take advantage of the free GIS software made available by ESRI for education.

The state reserves the right to announce additional prizes during the competition, but is not obligated to do so.

What are the deadlines for the competition?

The deadline for schools to apply to participate is December 31, 2023. Complete this submission form to apply.

Schools may determine their own deadlines for submission of entries at the school level. The winners of the school level competitions must be submitted to the state no later than 6pm Mountain Time on Tuesday April 30, 2024.

The Idaho winners will be announced on May 15, 2024 and national winners will be announced on May 30, 2024 (this date is subject to change)

What is to be submitted as an entry?

Entries must be in the form of a single ArcGIS StoryMap (must be the “new” template, not one of the “classic” templates).

Entries must be “original work by the students,” conceived, created, and completed entirely by the student(s) submitting the entry. Class projects turned into an entry by one student, and teacher-directed projects, are not acceptable. Projects may use data generated by outside persons or institutions, within guidelines of “fair use.” (Students are encouraged to use appropriate professionally generated GIS data, but these must be documented, and the integration, treatment, and presentation must be original.) Entries must represent the students’ work from the current academic year, 2021-2022. If incorporating content from a previous year’s entry, there must be work that is substantively beyond the previous entry, and the documentation must clarify what previously created content is being re-used; for instance, a student working on a project in Year 1 might re-use some data in a somewhat similar project in Year 3 but expand significantly on the data, change the project focus, improve the analysis, and document what has been re-used.

Entries must focus on content within the state borders. States may choose to refine the focus further, but the geographic scope of the project must be within the state. The project may reference data outside the state “for context,” but may not extend the focus of the study beyond the state borders. For example, broader patterns of environmental characteristics or demographic movements may be referenced for context, but the focus must be on phenomena within the state.

See this website for ideas about what you can do with a story map.

Are there competition resources for students and teachers?


Several publicly visible webinars from the recent past can help teachers and students plan for participation in the competition. (Some require registration to view.)


  • 2020 “Mapping Hour” video series; see Episodes listing. All 20 episodes are useful for skills and background: video series
  • 2019 ArcGIS Online Competition Winner Interviews, on-site at 2019 Esri User Conference: YouTube video


Multiple blogs can give important guidance to teachers and students when thinking about participating in the Competition.

StoryMaps & Collections

It’s always valuable to learn techniques for designing a viewer’s experience and improving communication.
  • Review the latest guidelines for elements to emphasize, include, and exclude. Pay close attention to Design/Judging Criteria.
  • See the national winners from 2021 and the synopsis of state winners from 2020; these reflect the most recent project design guidelines. See also the national winners from 2019, 2018, 2017 for high quality presentations under the original guidelines.
  • See the rich collection of ArcGIS StoryMaps Resources to learn about general design elements and explore skills for making effective use of special capabilities
  • See another rich collection of example ArcGIS StoryMap Stories to consider specific examples of above design elements and techniques implemented
  • The 2021 ArcGIS StoryMap Challenge for Oceans webinar (August 2021) included an excellent 28-min step-by-step demo (YouTube video segment, 41:30-1:09:15) Making an ArcGIS StoryMap
  • The StoryMap Team’s YouTube Channel has a bank of videos, including extended presentations and deep dives into topics, but also short, focused, tool-centered how-to movies.
  • The Get to Know ArcGIS StoryMaps pathway on the Learn ArcGIS site has a modest series of items that include some longer and some shorter presentations or lessons about assembling an ArcGIS StoryMap.


There are many choices to think about for data, but they fall into a few classes. For broad collections and the state and local collections, one way to start is to visit your desired group’s website and use their search tool to seek “GIS” or “data.” Alternatively, do a standard internet search using as keywords [your topic] [your state] [GIS data]. Data created by professionals can be very valuable, but may not address your question closely enough, while data generated by you may be on topic, but not up to professional standards. You may find data that is ready to add to your map (e.g. a “web feature service”) or that needs some work by you (e.g. a PDF table, or a zipped shapefile).
  • Broad collections of professional data:
    • Esri Living Atlas – try the “Browse” tab
    • Federal agencies (e.g. USGS, NOAA, Census, etc)
    • National or regional nonprofit groups (e.g. Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Appalachian Regional Commission, etc)
  • State and local collections of professional data
    • Governmental agencies (state, county, city, municipality, school district, etc)
    • Nonprofit groups (watershed groups, community groups)
  • Data you generate
    • You can collect data using Survey123 or FieldMaps or QuickCapture
    • You can set up data collection instruments, such as a survey, to be filled in by other people

Software Instruction

There are excellent options for instruction about how to use the software of the ArcGIS School Bundle, available free to K12 schools for instructional use.
  • For an educator just getting started, a good ramped and scaffolded intro is Getting Started for Educators.
  • The 2020 MappingHour video series was produced at the onset of COVID-19 lockdown, built for educators and parents. See the episode list.
  • The K12 ArcGIS Online Organization‘s section “01.Instruction Docs” includes links to useful resources.
  • See this summary of Smart Mapping strategies, within a collection of Story Maps.
  • The Learn ArcGIS collection of lessons and paths teaches use of many parts of the ArcGIS family of products in a scenario-based approach. (Lessons relying on ArcGIS Online can be used with School Bundle logins; students under 18 should not seek logins through Learn ArcGIS.)
  • Esri Training offers software instruction on all of Esri’s products. Save for the “Secondary Students” learning plan, users must be signed in with username with “Esri access enabled,” which School Bundle admins can set up for any/all Org members, and which will open up “Maintenance required” instruction. Because they are signed in, users can build a training history.
  • Esri Press offers both hardcopy and digital version books.

Where can I get more information?

Where do schools get free ESRI software?

Esri offers to all K12 schools (public, nonpublic, and homeschools), districts, and formal youth-serving clubs the ArcGIS School Bundle for free for instructional use, around the world.

The bundle is anchored by an ArcGIS Online Organization, and includes a fleet of supporting tools. Schools in US should see for more info.

ver: 3.5.2 | last updated: