image text

The 2013 National Science Experiment, 4-H Maps & Apps, explores

how geography and geographic information systems (GIS) help

people make smart decisions that improve lives, respect our natural

resources, and make a positive impact in our world.

4-H, the largest youth development organization, is a community of seven million

young people around the world learning leadership, citizenship, and life skills.

National 4-H Council is the private sector, non-profit partner of 4-H National Headquarters

located at the National Institute for Food and Agriculture (NIFA) within USDA.

In the U.S., 4-H programs are implemented by the 109 land grant universities and

the Cooperative Extension System through their 3,100 local Extension offices

across the country. Overseas, 4-H programs operate throughout more than 50 countries.

Let's get started.

If you are going through Maps & Apps for the first time

we suggest you learn more about GIS before playing the game.

Why GIS?

For thousands of years, humans have created maps in order to document, explain, or describe their physical space. Whether on cave walls, stones, silk, wood or paper, our ancestors used maps to convey information about their surroundings.

With the development of sophisticated spatial technologies, including geographic information systems (GIS), remote sensing (RS), and the global positioning system (GPS), we can now view our world and document what we observe in tremendously exciting and complex ways.

GIS enables us to take any kind of spatial data — any information that has a location associated with it — and overlay it on top of base maps with other data layers. Layering spatial data enables us to see patterns, do analyses, and solve problems in very powerful ways.

Exposing young people of all ages to GIS through science projects such as the 4-H Maps and Apps, can help them experience first-hand how this incredible technology can be used to solve real-world problems. It can help them discover new interests and career options, plus give them a taste of how geography impacts human life and our communities — today and in the future.


The Experiment

The 2013 National Science Experiment is an engaging geography experiment that provides an opportunity to “explore space” with the help of geographic information systems (GIS). In two separate activities, you will apply geospatial thinking and use GIS to gather data, make maps, and analyze the “whys of where” as you investigate real-world problems that are relevant to your own community.

The Geographic Inquiry Process

Think Like a Geospatial Scientist:

When solving problems with GIS, it’s helpful to have a framework in which to work. The geographic inquiry process provides the necessary framework. It’s what geospatial scientists use to solve problems every day. The geographic inquiry process features five, basic steps:
  • Ask a geographic question

    Think about a place or topic and think of interesting “where and why” questions about it. Why was our town built in this location? Why are there so many traffic accidents at this intersection? Why is there more garbage in some parts of our playground and not others?

  • Acquire Geographic Resources

    Gather relevant information, data and base maps. Collect historical maps of your town. Analyze statistics and create a layer that illustrates the number of traffic accidents in your area over time. Map the location of trash on your playground.

  • Explore Geographic Data

    Turn your data into tables or charts and incorporate it into your maps. Look for similarities and differences and patterns among different places. What natural features are closest to your town’s oldest buildings? Do more car accidents take place on corners without traffic lights or stop signs? How many trashcans are there in the area where you find the most garbage?

  • Analyze Geographic Information

    Focus on the maps and layers that seem to be related to your questions and use what you observe to draw conclusions that help answer your question. Are most of your town’s original buildings placed next to a body of water or a railroad line? Do you see any patterns in where car accidents occur? Does your map offer any evidence as to why trash accumulates in certain places?

  • Act Upon Geographic Knowledge

    Now that you have geographic pictures that illustrate your information it becomes easier to make and support conclusions. Use what you’ve learned to address the issue or problem. Why do YOU think your town is located where it is? Would a traffic light at a certain intersection help reduce car crashes? Do you think providing more trash cans in areas that collect the most garbage could make a difference?

GIS: A Different Way To See the World

A geographic information system (GIS) is a system designed to organize, analyze, display, and share all types of geographic data. It uses hardware (computers), software (programs), spatial data (information) and a curious mind (you!) to collect information, identify patterns, and gain new insights about the world and human activity.

Spatial data, or geographically-referenced information, is any information that can be associated with a location and placed on a map. For example, spatial data could be an area’s population density, its frequency of earthquakes, the median income of its residents, types of trees, and the location of recycling centers.

The ”and” in the last sentence is important. One of the most powerful features of GIS is that it allows a variety of different types of spatial data to be incorporated and analyzed on the same map.

Most GIS maps begin with an existing base map. A base map is a map that provides background reference information—such as roads, political boundaries, or landforms. It shows the underlying geography of the region being studied and provides a platform upon which all of your other data can rest.

On top of the base map, you can add additional layers that contain information about different kinds of features associated with that area. Features that are related can be grouped together and mapped as a layer. For example, all of the parks in your community might be one layer and all public buildings might be another.

Layers can be placed on top of each other to reveal relationships that might not be easily visible or even noticed otherwise. Here are some layer types you can add to a map

Layer is called
Roads and Walkways


Walking paths, highways and sidewalks all occupy the same park layer.

Occurs on
Multiple Layers

Land Use

Are you using the park for a baseball field, a pool or maybe a walking trail?

Multiple Layers
Could House Admins

Admin Areas

What areas that you don't see go into making your park run?

Look for
Hydrography Layer


Which way does your water flow? How close is the water table?

Look for
Natural Vegetation Layer


Elevation is part of all layers but usually refers to natural landscapes

Occurs on
Man-Made Layers


Pictures of actual items will comprise multiple layers of your park

As long as your data is spatial, in other words, related to a place—for example, using latitude and longitude or associated with a specific city or state—it can be layered with other spatial data from the same area.

The Project

Why are natural features, for example, rivers or deserts, where they are? How do people decide where to put roads, signs, or playgrounds? These are questions that require geospatial thinking. In this activity, you will become a “community designer” and create a GIS map that illustrates your team’s own unique vision of a park that makes your community a better place to live.

Your community has just acquired a vacant lot about 8 acres in size with a small hill. Your Community Planner wants to repurpose the lot into a park that everyone can enjoy. She wants to involve citizens in the planning process and has invited community members to submit their vision of a park they feel would do a great job meeting your local needs. Your team has decided to submit a plan. However, in order to share your vision with your community, you must create a GIS map of your idea.

Step 1
Divide & Design!

Divide & Design!

Your team is going to make a model GIS map using a solid base map and 8 clear sheets that will become your feature layers. Tape your base map to the wall or lay it on a table so that the whole group can gather around it as you work. Notice the scale bar. Each inch on your grid represents 20 feet.


Choose a “head planner” for your team to lead your discussions. Have each team member select a feature layer card for which they will lead the planning and design process. The 8 feature layers for this activity are:

  • Natural feature - hydrology
  • Natural feature - vegetation
  • Human-made: Polygon features - Recreation
  • Human-made: Polygon features - Structures
  • Human-made: Polygon features - Other
  • Human-made: Line features
  • Human-made: Point features - Recreation
  • Natural Features Added by Humans: Point or Polygon

  • Step 2
    Design With The End in Mind

    Design with the end in mind

    As designers, it is important that you think carefully about your concept, the general goal or theme for your park. This is often referred to "beginning with the end in mind." As a team, discuss and decide what you want your park to do for your community. Brainstorm and record a list of things you think a park with these goals should have.

    Step 3
    Determine Order

    Determine Order

    To make your GIS model, you will need to work the way GIS software does, by creating layers of related features and placing them on top of each other.

    Your base map already includes contour lines. What do these represent? How high and steep is the hill?

    What design opportunities and challenges does it pose?

    Does your park have any naturally occurring water features like a pond or stream? Would the location of the hill tell you anything about the location of the water? Will trees depend on the location of water?

    Next discuss the human-made feature layers. Would the location of a parking lot be decided after you know where the road is going to be?

    Step 4
    How The Web App Works

    How the web app works

    Soon you will be ready to start the 2013 National 4-H Youth Science Day GIS project. The first thing you will notice about the web app is the tools and map imagery are all on the left-hand side and the eight layers are all represented on the right side. Whether you are working alone or with a group, you will have to be watchful of what layer you are actively working on. Here is what the web app looks like with descriptions of the Layers and Map Elements:

    Creating a path, road, river, stream or lake requires the usage of the polygon tool. If the active layer is allowed to show polygon shapes you will see the polygon tool which looks like a shark fin. Once you have selected this tool then place your first point on the drawing and drag multiple points of it until you have your lake or other shape. To make a curve you simply drag your mouse after making the second (or third, or fourth...) click while holding down on the mouse. At the end of your drawing it is important to always get your point back to the first point you clicked as that will complete your shape. Once you have that done you can change the border (stroke) color or width or change the fill color. If you don't like what you have created, just right click on the drawing you just did and select Delete.

    Once you and your team have completed the design of the park it is time to share it with the world. Simply click the Save to National Gallery button at the bottom and follow the instructions to see how your design stacks up with others around the country and your state.

    Now that you understand GIS and the basics of the GIS web app it is time to get started!

    Maps & Apps is Made Possible By