Apr 21st, 2016 — Biology • Earth Science • Engineering • Environmental Science

Introduction to GPS-eometry

With the advent of GPS, folded maps have become obsolete. With that advancement, unfortunately, students are less likely to understand the significance of latitude and longitude. But with geo-tagging becoming increasingly popular, helping students understand how location data is collected and displayed is an important first step in understanding spatially related data.

This quick spring activity helps students understand the function and application of GPS sensors & practice some coordinate geometry all while getting some fresh air. All you need is a GPS Sensor, a wireless interface like our Airlink, and mobile device (phone, tablet, SPARK) with SPARKvue software installed and a wide open space – sports fields work great.

Get the sensors connected and ask students to walk the perimeter of the field where they’ll be collecting location data. This will set the boundaries, orientate them to the space, and establish a scale for their next task. When they’re finished, they should open SPARKvue and create a graph display of longitude vs. latitude.


Next, using the prediction tool, students should draw a shape or pattern on the graph display that they will then re-create using their GPS coordinates. Keep them grounded— remind them to stay within the outline traced in their first run of data.


To put their planning and coordinate mapping skills to the test, ask them to trace the shape or pattern without looking at the screen as they walk. Students can apply dead reckoning or use the field markers to help them navigate. This might take them a few tries, so if they’re having trouble suggest they write out the instructions and use step counting and available landmarks for orientation.


When they’re finished students can compare their path to the prediction tool and see how close they were able to get. With this experience plotting location students can move on to mapping sensor data and understand how the measurements map into the world.

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