2022 North Carolina GIS Competition for Grades 4-12

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North Carolina Map Contest for 2022

night view of city from overhead

Photo by NASA on Unsplash

The North Carolina Map Contest is open to North Carolina high school (gr.9-12) and middle school (gr.4-8) students who can analyze, interpret, and present data about North Carolina via an ArcGIS Online web app or story map. 

Ten equal prizes of $100 will go to the five best high schools and five best middle school projects in North Carolina. 

One high school project and one middle school project will be entered into a national contest, the Esri ArcGIS Online U.S. School Competition.

Sponsors: North Carolina 4-H Youth Development and Esri

What:  An online GIS map making contest


April 22, 2022 – Recommended deadline for North Carolina school level competition submissions for review at the school level to select top five for submission to the State Committee (tbray@ncsu.edu).

May 4, 2022 – Schools must submit up to five school level winners to State Committee for competition judging by 5 p.m.

May 18, 2022 – State Panel will submit top five middle schools (grades 4 – 8) and top five high schools (grades 9 – 12) winners to Esri by 5 p.m.

May 31, 2022 – Esri will announce top national submission for middle school (grades 4 – 8) and high school (grades 9 – 12).

June 16, 2022- Esri will hold a live webinar to celebrate the competition. At the middle and high school levels, the national winners are encouraged to present their story map (8-9 p.m. EST). 


Permission and Release Form

Student team to school entries

State competition entries

Who is eligible:  North Carolina public, private, or homeschooled students are eligible to enter the contest. Maps can be submitted individually or as a team of two students. Limit of one entry per student or team.

  • Entrants must be pre-collegiate students, registered in grades 4-12 at the time of project submission, from public schools or non-public schools, including home schools, who have not yet received a high school diploma or equivalent.
  • Entrants must reside and be in school in the United States, including districts or territories, or attending a Department of Defense Education Association school: 50 states, District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, Guam, Northern Mariana Islands, US Virgin Islands, American Samoa, and DODEA sites. (Thus, “state” in this document means one of these 57 units.)
  • 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.
  • Entrants may work on the challenge through school, via a club, or independently, but entries must be submitted to the state from a recognized school or home school, their primary school of record in case of engaging in activities at more that one school.
  • 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.

Challenge: Your challenge is to create an original North Carolina based map on a topic of interest or concern to you and connected to your school curriculum in some way. The area mapped can range from the entire state to a smaller area, like a county or city.

ArcGIS Online Requirement: 

Entries must be from an ArcGIS  Organization account (not a “public account”)

Any K12 school (public, non-public, or home school) or formal youth club can request for free an ArcGIS School/Club Bundle (includes an ArcGIS Organization account).


  1. Entry forms (student/s to school, school to state, state to Esri) will be on this site (//nc4h.ces.ncsu.edu) during the Spring of 2022 once available.
  2. Entries must be from an ArcGIS Online Organization account (not a “public account”). Any K12 school (public, non-public, or homeschool) or formal youth club can request for free an ArcGIS School/Club Bundle (includes an ArcGIS Organization account).
  3. Entries must be in the form of a StoryMap (“new” template), or a Story Map (any of the “classic” templates), or an ArcGIS web app (via template or builder).
  4. Entries must focus on content within North Carolina borders. The project may reference data outside of NC “for context,” but may not extend the focus of the study beyond NC borders. For example, broader patterns of environmental characteristics or demographic movements may be referenced for context, but the focus must be on phenomena within NC.
  5. Schools must announce their own internal deadlines, in time to complete judging and provide information to NC contact (tbray@ncsu.edu) by 5 p.m. Eastern on Wednesday, May 4, 2022. North Carolina must submit data to Esri no later than 5 p.m. on Wed May 18, 2022.

Prizes:  The five maps judged the best in each division will be awarded a $100 prize and will move to national level judging. 

Middle School Division – grades 4 – 8

Senior High Division – grades 9 – 12

Note: Teams spanning grade levels will be entered in the division of the student at the upper grade. Award-winning maps will remain visible to the public for one year.

Design/Judging Criteria

  1. Account: Entries must be from an ArcGIS Online Organization account, not a “public account.” This can be an Organization (“Org”) operated by, e.g., the student’s school or club, the district, the state GIS Education Team, or a similar group. The entry must remain visible publicly without login through at least June 2023 (one year past the close of this event), ideally longer.
  2. Login/Sharing: Entries must be visible without requiring a login. Entries engaging “premium data” (login required, such as Living Atlas) must set the display to permit access without needing a login. See helpful note.
  3. Originality: Entries must be “original work by 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 Year1 might re-use some data in a somewhat similar project in Year3 but expand significantly on the data, change the project focus, improve the analysis, and document what has been re-used.
  4. Visual Supports: Because this is meant to be a “map-centric” exploration, analysis, and presentation of a geographic phenomenon, “non-map visuals” (images and videos) are limited to
    1. total of no more than 60 seconds of video, which must be created by the project author (animated images count as a video; time-enabled map layers do not count as a video)
    2. total up to two images not created by the project author (e.g. 1 historic portrait photo plus 1 historic landscape photo), and
    3. total up to five images created by the project author (replication of project maps as smaller/thumbnail images, and items visible as popups within interactive maps, do not count against these limits).
  5. Short URL: Entries must provide to the school/ state/ Esri three pieces of URL data: the URL prefix for the Org hosting the entry, and two links in “short form” (e.g. https;//arcg.is/1a2b3c). Short URLs can be generated at bitly.com. Any “bit.ly” link going to an arcgis.com address can be shared as an “arcg.is” link instead. ALWAYS test links in a “private/incognito” browser window before submitting. The three items needed are:
  1. The “Org URL prefix,” which is the set of characters between “https://” and “.maps.arcgis.com” distinguishing this Org from all other Orgs, for example, the “XYZ” in “https;//XYZ.maps.arcgis.com.”
  2. A short URL of the StoryMap link goes to the publicly visible ArcGIS StoryMap, i.e. leading to “https;//storymaps.arcgis.com/stories/{32_character_code}”.
  3. A short URL going to the item details “Overview” page (metadata page) for the publicly visible storymap. In generating the short URL, ALL ENTRIES should set their item details address in the form “https;//www.arcgis.com/home/item.html?id={32_character_code}”, i.e. swapping “www” in place of “{OrgURLprefix}.maps” to ensure that the item details page is accessible publicly. And, of course, the 32-character codes must match. (For more info on the item details page, see also https://doc.arcgis.com/en/arcgis-online/share-maps/link-to-items.htm)
  1. Scoring: 

The state can vary this, and even use different systems for HS and MS, but must apply the same system to all entries in a single grade band, and the system must be clarified for the entrants at the start. The national competition will use this system, and recommends it or something similar at the state and school levels: “We look for a clear focus/topic/question/story, good and appropriate data, effective analysis, good cartography, effective presentation, and complete documentation. The element by element analysis in the 2021 national results presents good examples of what is sought in a project.” 

  1. Project Tips:
    1. Look at previous national winners and honorable mention projects, and especially the 2020 results. This is a “map competition.” Entries should address an identified issue/ puzzle/ challenge, not just documenting what’s where, but looking at “why it’s there, and so what.” Entries should be analytical in nature, map-centric rather than photo-centric, or relying on too much text. The use of videos or static images generated by anyone other than the team members must be carefully documented, and such media should be used sparingly; outside content generally detracts from national judging. The project must emphasize student work; professionally generated GIS data generally does not detract from national scores this way. A good way to judge project balance quickly is to identify the amount of time a viewer would spend consuming the entire project; map-based time and attention should be at least two-thirds.
    2. Good projects gently help even a viewer unfamiliar with the region know quickly the location of the project focus. Requiring a viewer to Zoom out several times to determine the region of focus detracts from the viewing experience. (Pretend the viewer is from a different part of the country or a different country.)
    3. Maps should invite interactive exploration by the viewer, not be static (“images”). The presentation should hold the attention of the viewer from start to finish.
    4. Maps should demonstrate “the science of where” — the importance of location, patterns, and relationships between layers. There is an art to map design; too much data may feel cluttered, but showing viewers only one layer at a time may limit the viewers’ easy grasp of relationships.
    5. Care should be taken to make “popups” useful, limited to just the relevant information. They should add important information, and be formatted to make the most critical information easily consumable. These popups can include formatted text, key links, images, data presented in charts, and so forth.
    6. Document the project thoroughly. The 2020 awardees highlighted for documentation, and preceding national winners, show good documentation: organized and thorough.
    7. See the “Project Design” section on the Resources page

Personally Identifiable Information (PII)

  1. Schools should consider issues around exposing PII. See https://esriurl.com/agoorgsforschools for strategies for minimizing PII. Teachers and club leaders should help students minimize exposure of their own PII and that of others, including in maps, images, and text.
  2. States must help potential entrants understand the level of PII required. Entries submitted to Esri for the top national prize (i.e. each state’s 1HS+1MS) must agree in advance to expose student names along with the school names, and school city/state (homeschool students would be identified to the closest city/town name). States must secure a signed permission form from the families of 1HS+1MS awardees to have the names made publicly visible.
  3. State 1HS+1MS awardees are invited to share with Esri a video of up to 3 minutes in length. This is entirely optional, and submissions will be visible to the public along with the awardees’ StoryMap. Parents should guide what PII (name, face, location, personal details) is shared by the student within the video. A video will not be accepted by Esri without the accompanying permission form available from the state. (See Part III #2 for more.)
  4. Esri does not seek, collect, or accept student names for any entrants other than the national prize entrants (each state’s 1HS+1MS). These and only these will have names exposed by Esri.

Questions? Reach out to Dr. Thomas Ray at tbray@ncsu.edu.