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GPS Receivers

GPS receivers are relatively inexpensive. A basic model is about $100. The unit should include these features: a base map, 12 channel receiver, approximately 20 hours of battery life, computer connection cable, carrying strap, and waterproof. Other features to consider are mapping options, additional memory, compass, altimeter, and color screen. These additions will cost more, but may better meet your individual needs.




Map trails, find treasure caches, and solve problems by using a Global Positing System (GPS) with your students. GPS technology is made possible by twenty-four U.S. military satellites orbiting the earth that transmit signals to a receiver. This data provides the location and the current time for each of the satellites. The receiver calculates its position based on where the satellites intersect. Data from at least three satellites is necessary to find a two dimensional position and from four satellites for a three dimensional location.

Build a foundation of knowledge with latitude and longitude concepts. Then, read about GPS and tap into some great lessons. Finally, hide treasure boxes around the schoolyard and have your students use GPS receivers to find them or take a field trip to locate a cache in your community. Learning about geography with GPS can lead your students to loads of cache.

Background Information

GPS: A New Constellation

Learn about the history and uses of GPS from the Smithsonian. Concise descriptions and illustrations help tell the story that began in 1978 when the first Navstar Global Positioning System satellite was launched. Older students will find this site a good starting point.

Find Your Declination

For those who need to know the difference between magnetic North and True North for a specific location, this site provides step-by-step instructions on how to fill-in the form at NOAA’s National Geophysical Data Center. Once you have your declination value, another page gives information about how to use it. Advanced users will find this site very valuable for learning how to adjust bearings and chart maps.



Encourage students to explore the world around them through Earthcaching. Use latitude and longitude to find locations and see how the earth has been shaped through geological processes. Find early photos of geographical locations and post them to the Web. The Geological Society of America promotes educational forums that undertake a particular task. Small grants are available to qualified individuals for Earthcaching projects in National Parks or public lands. Hunt for NGS survey markers in your community. As you track from place to place share your stories in Groundspeak Travel Bugs. .


Visit the premiere Website on geocaching where you can locate a variety of caches in your area by typing in your zip code, record your finds by setting up a free account, and participate in online forums. Learn about travel bugs, surveyor’s benchmarks, the history of geocaching, and the latest news. There is also a guide to purchasing a GPS unit. This site will become a mainstay in your GPS adventures.


A waymark is a physical location that contains unique information. Waymarking categorizes these locations and gives them “a voice.” For instance, you might locate historical markers and post information about them along with photographs. Or you could locate the local library and include a map with hours of operation. Waymarking makes it easier to search by topic. Some of the categories are Capitol Buildings, Historical Markers, and First of its Kind. When you arrive at the site, click on Getting Started. Instructions for creating or finding waymarks along with FAQ sheets, glossary, and other valuable resources are provided. Contribute to the growing database by locating interesting markers in your home town.

Interactive Games

Find Your Longitude Game

PBS provides information about John Harrison and how he solved the navigation problem of sailing the open seas. Compare the challenges of the 1700s to the challenges of today. Read what scientists believe are our greatest challenges. Set sail and find your longitude as you travel the seas.

Project Examples

Degree of Confluence

The goal of the project is to visit each of the latitude and longitude integer degree intersections in the world, and to take pictures at each location. The pictures and stories are posted on the Website. This is a great place to see the lay of the land from the lens of people around the globe.

The Globe Program

GLOBE (Global Learning and Observations to Benefit the Environment) is a worldwide hands-on, primary and secondary school-based education and science program. A wealth of information, resources, and activities on mapping and charting can be obtained through membership in the program. An excellent GPS investigation with teacher guide and student worksheets is available from the site. Teachers and other educators who wish to lead students in GLOBE need to attend special workshops in order to fully participate in the program.

Lessons and Activities

Geocaching with Kids

This is a great place for teachers, kids, and families to gather ideas. What you will need, where to go to find information, and favorite caches highlight this Website.

GIS2GPS Portal

Educators and students can benefit from the vast resources found on this site. It provides information on how to take advantage of the technologies of the Geographical Information System and the Global Positioning System. Links, lesson plans, and classroom resources may be found through taking online courses and viewing projects that have already been field tested and used by educators. The educational portal and discussion board provides information to teachers regarding in-service opportunities. Register and share information with teachers using GIS and GPS.

GPS Hide and Seek (pdf)

GPS Hide and Seek is a complete lesson to use with students. Print the PDF file that includes a student worksheet and complete directions for assisting students in finding waypoints and latitude and longitude.

USGS and Science Education

The US Geological Survey provides scientific information and online resources that include lesson plans, maps, and data to help educate about natural resources, natural hazards, and geospatial data. Educational resources are organized by grade level. Lessons include the GIS Lab and GPS Class. The U.S. Department of Interior and the U.S. Geological Survey have provided a wealth of information and resources.

Using GPS in the Classroom

Using GPS in the Classroom is a forty minute lesson that includes teaching the applications of using GPS, global scientific collaborations that use GPS, using the Internet, a global mapping experiment, and a worksheet for students.


National Geography Standards

Standard 1: How to use maps and other geographic representations, tools, and technologies to acquire, process, and report information from a spatial perspective

Standard 2: How to use mental maps to organize information about people, places and environments in a spatial context

National Technology Standards

Standard 1: Basic operations and concepts

• Students demonstrate a sound understanding of the nature and operation of technology systems

Standard 5: Technology research tools

• Students use technology tools to process data and report results

Standard 6: Technology problem-solving and decision-making tools

• Students use technology resources for solving problems and making informed decisions

Originally Published Nov/Dec 2006

Updated January 5, 2019
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