Directions Lesson

Lesson 5: Teaching Directions, Maps, and Coordinates

Learn to navigate nature and the greater biosphere with your students by teaching them some fundamental and more complex directional skills. This lesson begins by instructing students on the fundamentals of navigation and mapping techniques and then progresses to the use of latitude and longitude coordinates and global positioning system (GPS) units.

Lesson Objectives and Materials


learn how to read cardinal directions
Map reading is something you should practice.
Learn how to navigate with a compass.
Make use of a GPS unit and become familiar with latitude and longitude coordinates.
Form for collecting data on NM
Field guides or animal fact sheets are useful resources.
Wheel with a compass
Maps of varying complexity
Journals in the field (bound scientific notebooks)
The following materials: A 4-foot-square piece of colored paper Transparent tape
Notecards are a great way to keep track of things.
GPS navigation device with a globe

Maps and directions are provided.
Teach your students about the cardinal directions, as well as how to use a compass and maps, in two separate lessons. The lesson will include activities that take place outside.
Take the following steps:

Part 1: Getting Started
1. Form a circle of people outside and sit in it. Inquire with students

Where has the Sun gone?
In which direction does the Sunshine?
Which direction is north?
2. Use an object, such as a branch, to represent the direction of the compass needle. Use a mnemonic device to help students remember the other cardinal directions, such as the sentence “Never eat soggy Wheaties,” to aid in their retention of the information.

Encourage students to use materials available in the area to denote the other directions on the map.

4. Describe what a compass is and how it works in simple terms.

5. Using a compass, check the accuracy of where students placed objects to mark directions in step 3 and make any necessary corrections if necessary.

Say the different directions out loud and have students point to where the direction is on a compass wheel or a makeshift wheel outside where the direction is located. As an alternative, you can hand out cards with instructions for students to place on the wheel. Using more specific directions such as northwest or southeast, ask older students to determine their own.

7. Go into the classroom and instruct students on how to find north and other directions in the room.

Instructions: 8. Have the students create direction markers and hang them up around the classroom. The location should be double-checked with a compass.

Part 2: Geographical Indications

1. Demonstrate to students how to navigate using maps. Draw and demonstrate several different types of maps, including topographic maps, city maps, and state maps.

2. Ask students to make a list of the types of information they can obtain from a map, such as driving directions, landmarks, and construction sites.

3. Instruct students to collaborate to determine which map would be the most effective in navigating through the following scenarios:

Going from your home to a downtown library is a long walk (city map)
Going from your home to a higher elevation is a challenge (topographic map)
Leaving your home and traveling to a different country (world map)
From the school to the airport is a long journey (road map)

Practical Experience and Evaluation

Use a practical exercise to assess your students’ understanding of directions and mapping. Take them outside and ask them to point or position cards by the directions you say out loud (such as east, west, or southeast).

How did your students fare in their assessments? Here are some methods for assessing your students’ comprehension that is appropriate for their grade level.

In addition to meeting or exceeding the standard on eight occasions, the student was able to point or place cards in the correct direction on the eighth occasion.
Students correctly pointed or placed cards in the correct direction seven out of eight times, which satisfies the requirement.
Student performed below standard when he or she was unable to point or place cards in the correct direction more than seven times out of eight.

GPS (Global Positioning System) Units

Students will learn how to map latitude and longitude lines with the help of GPS units. The following lesson is divided into three sections. The first part of the lesson focuses on the activity of mapping the schoolyard to engage students, the second part introduces GPS units and how to use them, and the final part brings everything together by having students pinpoint specific locations on the schoolyard map, which ties everything together.

Take the following steps:

Part 1: Creating a Geographical Map of the Schoolyard

Preparation for the lesson: Create a rough diagram of your schoolyard on a piece of colored paper that is 4 feet square in size. Later on, you will include landmarks and other points of interest.

1. Display your diagram of the schoolyard to the students and discuss its layout.

On our school grounds, which direction is north?
Are there any additional features that we could implement to make it easier for new students to navigate their way around our campus? Make a list of everything.
2. Instruct students to draw a map of the schoolyard in their field journals, noting important landmarks and geographical information.

3. They should come up with a list of different elements they’d like to see on the map, such as flagpoles, swings, and trees, as well as baseball diamonds and street lights.

4. Using note cards, write down the points of interest you’ve come up with and distribute one to each student.

5. On small pieces of paper, each student will draw the object that is listed on his or her notecard. They will include these in the diagram of the schoolyard.

6. Instruct students to attach each item to the diagram in the location that they believe it belongs. Transparent tape should be used so that students can easily move the objects around in the following section.

Part 2: Latitude and longitude lines, as well as the use of GPS devices
1. Inquire with students about how they can verify the location of objects that were previously placed on the diagram in the previous activity. Make a list of possible responses.

Reference the New Mexico data-collection form, specifically the section on taking latitude and longitude measurements.

3. Hand out a globe to the students and explain to them what the lines of latitude and longitude mean.

Located north and south, lines of latitude run horizontally and are represented by positive and negative numbers, respectively, with the north represented by a positive number and the south represented by a negative number.
Longitude lines run vertically and provide information about locations east and west.
Explain that each number represents a specific location measured in degrees, minutes, and seconds, respectively. A number such as 47 15′ 25″ is read as “47 degrees, 15 minutes, and 25 seconds,” for example.
It is possible to write a coordinate in a variety of ways to accurately express a location on the planet. In the example above, you could write “47.256944” or “47.15.416666′” instead of “47.256944”.
Each degree of latitude corresponds to 69 miles, each minute corresponds to 1.15 miles, and each second corresponds to 0.022 miles.
The length of degrees of longitude varies in size, with the length of degrees of longitude decreasing as one move in both directions toward the poles.
4. Follow the instructions in the NM lesson on how to use a GPS device.

5. Assign students to groups of two and provide each group with a GPS unit. Make it clear to the students that one student will read the unit while the other student records readings in his or her field journal.

Sixth, instruct students to walk around the schoolyard from south to north, stopping every 50 feet to write latitude numbers as directed.

7. Repeat the step for writing longitude numbers from east to west.

8. Return to the classroom and ask students what they noticed, as well as whether they noticed any patterns in the numbers.

9. Review the reasons why the numbers increase and decrease using a globe or a map.

10. Discuss satellites and demonstrate how they function.

Map-making on the schoolyard with GPS units (Part 3)
Inform students that they will be using the GPS unit to determine the accuracy of objects that have been placed on the schoolyard map.

2. Take latitude and longitude numbers (as a group) around different points of the schoolyard — at the corners and around the perimeter every 10 feet or so.

3. Ask students to take GPS readings of their objects in the schoolyard.

4. Record all numbers on the large schoolyard map, and move the objects to the correct location as needed.

Customization Tips
Is the lesson too simple or advanced for your students? Here are some ways to customize the lesson based on grade level:

Grade K: Help students create and post objects on the map.
Grade 1: Create symbols for students to place on the map.
Grade 2: Give students more independence to make symbols and to use a map key.
Grades 3-6: Encourage students to map the schoolyard using GPS locations as they learn latitude and longitude coordinates.
Grades 7 and up Challenge students to convert GPS and map locations from degrees and minutes into decimal degrees. Scale drawings of the school should be done on grid paper.

Practical Experience and Evaluation
Practical: Test your students’ understanding of GPS units and latitude and longitude readings. Place Popsicle sticks in different locations around school grounds. Students should use their GPS units to record the latitude and longitude of each stick using the instructions provided.

How did your students fare in their assessments? Here are some ways to assess your students’ comprehension of the material, reflective of grade level.

Exceeds standard (4): The student was able to identify the correct latitude and longitude coordinates ten out of ten times.
Meets standard (3): The student was able to identify the correct latitude and longitude coordinates nine out of ten times.
Below standard (2): The student was able to identify the correct latitude and longitude coordinates eight out of ten times.

Teacher Tips
Don’t have a GPS unit? Try using Google Earth or other online programs to pinpoint different longitude and latitude coordinates. Alternatively, a globe or a military map can be used to make approximate estimates.

Throughout this and other NatureMapping lessons, we will use the following vocabulary words:

North, south, east, and west are the four cardinal directions.
Latitude line: Horizontal line on the globe that shows the angular distance, in degrees, minutes, and seconds, of a point north or south of the equator. Parallels are lines of latitude that run from east to west and are often referred to as lines of longitude.
Longitude line: Vertical line on the globe that shows the angular distance, in degrees, minutes, and seconds, of a point east or west of the prime meridian. Lines of longitude are often referred to as meridians; they run from north to south.
An acronym for Global Positioning System (GPS), which is a network of satellites, computers, and receivers that can determine the latitude and longitude of a receiver on Earth by calculating the time difference between signals from different satellites that arrive at the receiver at the same time.