2024 North Carolina GIS Competition for Grades 4-12

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The North Carolina GIS Map Making Competition 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 competition, the Esri ArcGIS Online U.S. School Competition.

GIS map making contest

Sponsors: North Carolina 4-H Youth Development, The Center for Geospatial Analytics at NCSU, and Esri

What:  An online GIS map making competition


April 19, 2024 – Recommended deadline for North Carolina school-level competition submissions for review at the school level to select the top five for submission to the State Committee (tbray@ncsu.edu).

May 3, 2024 – Schools must submit up to five school-level winners to the State Committee for competition judging by 5 p.m.

May 13, 2024 – The State Panel will submit the top five middle schools (grades 4 – 8) and top five high schools (grades 9 – 12) winners to Esri by 5 p.m.

May 28, 2024 – Esri will announce top national submissions for middle school (grades 4 – 8) and high school (grades 9 – 12).

June 20, 2024– 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.


Esri_AGO_Comp2024_Stage1_StuTeamToSchool (1)

Esri_AGO_Comp2024_Stage2_SchoolToState (1)



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 online schools or 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 Activity school: 50 states, District of Columbia, Puerto Rico, American Samoa, Guam, Northern Mariana Islands, US Virgin Islands, and DODEA sites. (Thus, “state” in this document means one of these 57 units.) The state must be officially a “participating state” (i.e., a state leadership team has officially registered; see Part VII).

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.

Entrants may work on the challenge through a school, a club, an “educational pod,” or independently, but entries must be submitted to the state from their primary school of record (a recognized school or home school), regardless of engaging in activities at more than one location.

The student’s school determines the state of eligibility. A student living in State A but physically attending a school in State B can participate if and only if State B is participating, regardless of whether State A is participating. A student attending a fully online school can participate if the student’s state of residence is participating.

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 the NC 4-H Site during the Spring of 2024 once available.
  2. Student entries must be from an ArcGIS School Bundle license’s ArcGIS Online Organization (not a “public account”, Developer license, Personal Use license, StoryMaps.com license, higher ed license, or other license). Any K12 school (public, non-public, or homeschool) or formal youth club can request for free an ArcGIS School Bundle (includes an ArcGIS Online Organization).
  3. Entries must be an ArcGIS StoryMap (must use a current template [standard or “Briefing”], not one of the “classic” templates), using an address of “storymaps.arcgis.com” (not “storymaps.com”), and be a single ArcGIS StoryMap (not a Collection, nor a story that launches other stories as integral parts of the project).
  4. 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.

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 the ArcGIS Online Organization of an ArcGIS School Bundle license. This license can be operated by, e.g., the student’s school or club, the district, the state GIS Education Team, or a similar group. The entry must be able to remain visible publicly without login through at least June 2025 (one year past the close of this event), ideally longer.
  2. Login/Sharing: Entries must be shared with the public, visible without requiring a login. Entries engaging “premium data” (login required, such as premium content from Living Atlas) must set the display to permit access without needing a login. See helpful note.
  3. Originality: Entries must be “current original work by the students,” conceived, created, and completed during the 2023-24 academic year by the student(s) submitting the entry. Class projects turned into an entry by one student, and teacher-directed projects, are not acceptable. Use of “generative artificial intelligence” is not permitted; basic spell-check and grammar-check tools are permitted. 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 as to source, and the integration, treatment, and presentation must be original. Entries must represent the students’ work from the current academic year, 2023-24. Incorporating data (layers or maps) from a previous year’s entry is permitted for historical reference, but the focus must be on current work that is substantively beyond the previous content, 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 must expand substantively 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, permission to use of “non-map visuals” (images and videos) is very limited. Exceeding the limits means a “progressive reduction in judged score.” The limits are:
    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 of up to two images not created by the project author (e.g., 1 historic portrait photo plus 1 historic landscape photo)
    3. Total of up to five images created by the project author (replication of project maps as smaller/thumbnail images and items visible in popups within interactive maps do not count against these limits; icons used to help delineate organization within the entry do not count against these limits).
  5. URLs: 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). 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 going to the publicly visible ArcGIS StoryMap, i.e. leading to “https;//storymaps.arcgis.com/stories/{32_character_code}”. This can be generated by clicking the “Share” button at top right of the published ArcGIS StoryMap and choosing “Copy Link”.
    3. A short URL of the item details “Overview” page (metadata page) for the publicly visible storymap.
      1. User should log in and ensure the storymap is shared publicly
      2. In the URL bar, erase all text preceding the storymap’s 32-character code.
      3. In front of the 32-character code, paste the text shown here between the quote marks: “https://www.arcgis.com/home/item.html?id=”
      4. Click “Enter.” The window should show the metadata page, with a “public URL” format.
      5. Partway down the page, below the “ID: [32-character-code]”, click the “Share” button and a “ShortURL” window appears. Copy the short URL.
      6. (For more info on the item details page, see the ArcGIS docs)
  6. 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, thoughtful presentation, and complete documentation. The element by element analysis in the 2020 national results, and the 2021, 2022, and 2023 national winner entries present good examples of what is sought in a project.”
  7. Project Tips:
    1. Look at previous national winners and honorable mention projects, and the 2020 results. This is above all a “map competition.” Entries should address an identified issue/ puzzle/ challenge, not just document what’s where, but look 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. Use of videos or static images generated by anyone other than the team members must be carefully documented, and such media should be used very sparingly; links to external content generally detracts in national judging. The project must emphasize student work, though using professionally generated GIS data is encouraged and does not detract from national scores. 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 more than half.
    2. Good projects 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 from 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 too little data 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. Long lists of unformatted attributes generally detract, especially if they include data with meaning and relevance not immediately clear.
    6. Document the project thoroughly. National winners, and the 2020 awardees highlighted for documentation, show good documentation: organized and thorough.
    7. See the “Project Design” section in the Resources page

Personally Identifiable Information (PII)

  1. Schools should consider issues around exposing PII. See ArcGIS Online
    Organizations for Schools & Clubs
     for strategies to minimize use of PII in ArcGIS Online. Teachers and club leaders should help students minimize exposure of their own PII and that of others, including in map, image, 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 closest city/town name). States must secure and share with Esri 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 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 1+1 will have names exposed by Esri.