We’ve Got the World on a String

When you start mentioning “GPS,” most people seem to think about the app on their phone that gives directions to an address or a restaurant. As scientists, we use a slightly different sort of GPS that allows us to find our specific latitude and longitude. Marking our scientific data with an exact location is very important. It allows people who use our data to know where it came from, and it allows us to repeat data collections in a particular spot.

This week we introduced the concepts of latitude and longitude to our 4th and 5th grade students at Chama Elementary by creating our own globes!


Each student got a balloon as their “world”

We discussed how we could figure out where we are on this “world,” which led to the introduction of the concepts of latitude and longitude.

Students began by adding an Equator to their “world”.



We discussed the Equator, the Prime Meridian, and lines of latitude and longitude. One by one students added lines to their globes.



Once everybody had a globe with latitude and longitude lines, we practiced finding different locations.

We did have one apocalyptic event.

After a little more practice finding latitude and longitude coordinates on a paper map the real fun began. We pulled out our GPS units and showed students how to find their current latitude and longitude.



Students walked the length of the playground and watched their coordinates change.


With this newfound knowledge of coordinates, latitude, and longitude, these students are prepared to begin attaching an exact location to their water quality data and benthic macroinvertebrate surveys. We can’t wait to get back out in the field so they can test their skills!

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