The Story Behind the Map: 2020 Virginia AGO Map Competition


High School

First Place: Rylie Adams, Virginia’s Power Plants
                   Fairfax High School (teacher Jason Smolinski)

Second Place: Renee Ritchey, Deserts From the Tidewater to Appalachia
                   Fairfax High School(teacher: Jason Smolinski)

Runners-Up: Heather Wall, Exploring the Problem of Internet Access in Albemarle County                           Albermarle High School (teacher: Chris Bunin)

Maureen Howard, Water Quality Analysis of Six Streams in Fairfax, VA                                                       Fairfax High School (teacher: Jason Smolinski)

Benjamin Anderson, Radford Army Ammunition Plant
                   Blacksburg High School (teacher: Veronica Spradlin)

Middle School

First Place: Jeremiah Adams and Ryan Meredith, A Closer Look At Mining In Our Home: Virginia,
                    William Wetsel Middle School, Madison (teacher: Kimberly Adams)

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An overview of the competition and 2020 Full Results can be found at:



Overview: In collaboration with Esri (Environmental Systems Research Institute) Education, the Virginia Geographic Alliance is coordinating the 2019-2020 Virginia Map contest based on the theme, “How has the use of resources impacted the lives of Virginians?” Showcase the work of your students as they use the resources of an Esri Organizational Account to create a Story Map Journal or Web App to communicate their interpretation of the theme.

Who: Students in public, non-public, and home schools within Virginia


  • Pre-collegiate registered in grade 4 -12
  • Entries must come from a recognized school or homeschool even if the students work on the entries in an out-of-school club
  • Students can work as individuals or in teams of two
  • Each school can submit up to five (5) entries total

In Virginia, there will be two levels of competition: Middle School (grades 4 -8) or High School Grades (9 -12). If a middle school student and a high school student collaborate on an entry, it will be classified as a high school submission.

Virginia Competition Theme

The organizing question for this year’s competition is “How has the use of resources impacted the lives of Virginians?” Employing the definition of resources as anything people consider useful, natural, human, and capital resources are the focus of this year’s Story Map competition. Students may choose to focus on only one type of resource or a combination. From a social studies perspective, entries could address historical events such as the role of tobacco in the development of the Virginia colonial economy, or the effects of coal mining on the physical and cultural landscape of Virginia. Using the scientific perspective, entries could highlight renewable and nonrenewable energy resources and the consequences of their use.

Students can explore the theme at the local or state scale of geography. The theme of the Story Map competition is broad and could be approached from a variety of perspectives including the personal. Loosely defined, the “environment” can be viewed in both physical and human contexts. Entries could address pollution, pollution mitigation, environmental issues, and case studies such as the dumping of kepone into the James River and current efforts to use oysters to improve water quality.

Entries must be from an ArcGIS Organizational account and must be in the form of a Story Map (“new” template), or a Story Map (any of the “classic” templates), or an ArcGIS web app (via template or builder). Entries should go beyond the descriptive and analyze, interpret, and present data via an ArcGIS web app or story map. Student-created story maps or web apps, must focus on content aligned with the theme and located within the Commonwealth of Virginia. Entries should be analytical in nature, map-centric rather than photo-centric or relying on too much text.

Entry Requirements

  1. Competition registration. See details in Next Steps. Registration for the competition provides the committee with a rough estimate of the number of entries that will need to be judged.
  2. Entries must be from an ArcGIS Online Organizational account. (Any US K-12 school can request a free online organizational account from Esri request for free and ArcGIS School/Club Bundle.
  3. Entries must be an ArcGIS Online web app or story map (classic) or story map (new).
  4. Entries must be aligned with the competition theme of resources and focus on the natural, human, or capital resources within today’s borders of the Commonwealth of Virginia.
  5. Completed entry form for each product must be submitted by midnight Friday,  May 8, 2020. Entries received after the deadline will not be judged. (The entry form will be available on the VGA website late January.)



Winners of the Virginia Competition

  • An award of $100 to the top five middle school teams and the top five high school teams.
  • The winning teams will be notified by Monday, May 18, 2020.
  • Only one team from each division will be submitted to the national competition.

Winners of the National Competition

Esri will provide a travel grant to one high school team and one middle school team, each team consisting of the student(s) and at least one parent/guardian (could be teacher/rep). Awardee teams must agree to attend the Esri Education GIS Conference (“EdUC”), arriving by 10 am PT Sat July 11, and staying through at least 4 pm PT Tue July 14, 2020. Awardees will be responsible for handling any tax implications, be personally identified including name and photograph, and post a graphic in the Esri User Conference (“UC”) Map Gallery on Monday. Awardees will be recognized at EdUC on Sat and UC Map Gallery on Monday, and likely have additional attention.

Design/Judging Criteria

  1. Account: Entries must be from an ArcGIS Online Organization account.
  2. Login: Entries must be visible without requiring a login. Entries using “premium data” (log-in required such as the Living Atlas) must set up the display to permit access without needing a log in. See procedures here.
  3. Originality: Entries must be “original work by students,” but may use data generated by outside persons or institutions with guidelines of “fair use.” Students are encouraged to use appropriate professionally generated data, but the integration, treatment, and presentation must be original.
  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
  • total up to 60 seconds of video, and
  • total up to two images not created by the project author (e.g. 1 historic portrait photo plus 1 historic landscape photo), and
  • 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).
  1. Short URL: Entries must provide two links in “short URL” format (e.g.,

a. One link to the “display” page, (story map or web app)

b. The other link opens the “item details” page. A link to the item details page will require will require a login if the Org does not permit anonymous access and the link uses the form :<my_org>;” to work around this, change the link to the form to “” before creating a short URL. Ad hoc short URLS can be generated at

 Project Tip

  • Look at previous national winners and honorable mention projects. This is a “map competition.” 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 sparingly; outside content generally detracts in 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.
  • 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.)
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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 be easily consumed. These popups can include formatted text, key links, images, data presented in charts, and so forth.

Scoring: Virginia will use a rubric that includes the criteria and weighting of the national rubric that follows. Overall, we look are a clear focus/topic/question/story, good and appropriate data, effective analysis, good cartography, effective presentation, and complete documentation.

(Point Value) Criteria

(5) Topic clearly identified Topic focuses on state theme. Featured content is within Virginia borders
(10) Presentation Overall presentation within the map product is effective in informing about the topic
(20) Effective cartography Cartography is effective in composition, visualization, and interplay of layers (display scale, transparency, classification, symbolization, popups, charts, tables, labels, filtering legend appearance) facilitates the viewer’s grasp of individual elements of the topic and story
(20) Data Data used is appropriate—engages and adequate volume and array of clearly significant elements. 5 points are reserved for reward creation, documentation, and inclusion of one’s own data (0 = none, 1 = little/weak, 2 =some/modest, 3 = satisfactory, 4 = much/good, 5 = most/excellent)
New this year “non-map visuals” (images and videos) are limited to

  • total up to 60 seconds of video, and
  • total up to two images not created by the project author (e.g. 1 historic portrait photo plus 1 historic landscape photo), and
  • 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)
(20) geographic analysis Geographic analysis (classification, filtering, geoanalysis) is evident, appropriate, and effective. The product includes more than uniform dots/lines/areas. The product includes more than pictures.
(25) Documentation in the item details page is clear and complete All non-original content (including images) in the product are appropriately referenced and/or linked so their sources are clear Original content is described and/or linked Identifies processes used to analyze the content Any persons who assisted in the product are specified, including stating no one provided help.


Personally Identifiable Information (PII)

  1. Schools should consider issues around exposing PII. See for strategies for minimizing PII. Teachers should help students minimize exposure of their own PII and that of others, including in map, image, and text.
  2. For the state competition each school will submit the entry using only the first name and last initial of the students. Judges will see only the finished product without identifying student information. The information will be kept confidential by the state competition committee administrators.
  3. The winners of the state competition will be notified and provide authorization to disclose the information as stated below.
  4. States must help potential entrants understand the level of PII required. Entries submitted to Esri for the top national prize (i.e. 1-HS and 1-MS) must agree in advance to expose student names, school names, and school city/state (homeschool students would be identified to closest city/town name).
  5. Esri will not seek, collect, or accept student names for any entrants other than the national prize entrants (1-HS and 1-MS per state). These and only these will have names exposed by Esri. State winners will need to submit a permission form to the Virginia competition committee.

Next Step: Register

  1. Registration is requested so that the VGA can determine the number of entries anticipated.
  2. Complete the registration document at
  3. Submission of registration form does not obligate your school’s participation. Absence of registration does not preclude your school from entering the competition.
  4. Registration forms are due by midnight February 29, 2020.
  5. Should you have questions or need further information send email to Expect to receive a response within two business days.

Early Mentoring

Early mentoring is again available this year. This process provides an opportunity for the judges to provide feedback and advice on the product’s content and presentation. The judges will not score the entry during this initial review. Feedback will be provided to the teacher. Students can then choose whether or not to modify their projects based on the judge’s recommendations. The feedback will be sent to the teacher who may then advise student revisions as appropriate.

The form for submitting entries for early mentoring will be available in mid-February, 2020. Entries requesting early mentoring review must be submitted by Tuesday, March 10, 2020 and feedback will be provided to the requesting teacher by March 20, 2020.


A series of Webinars will be conducted for teachers in order to provide updates to

  • December 5, 2019: Tips for Creating Quality Story Maps
  • January 9, 2020: Tips for Creating Quality Web Apps
  • January 30,2020: Using Analysis Tools
  • February 20, 2020: Participant Driven Questions Galore and More

Webinars will be conducted via Zoom in early evening hours. Teachers who pre-registered their schools will receive notification via email when the dates for the webinars are close. Social media will be used to advertise the event to the greater GIS community.

Email questions and suggestions to

 Participating Virginia Schools

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