Geography students at Brighton Elementary School in Island Pond visited Northwoods Stewardship Center on Oct. 16 to learn all about GPS, or as the students found out, a Global Positioning System.
Students in grades 5-8 were first prepped by Northwoods staff members Maria Young and Anika Klem Young, and University of Vermont Extension staffer Geoff Whitchurch, at Brighton. They participated in geocaching to find "hidden treasure." Students learned the basic operations of a GPS. They learned how to record waypoints and how to problem solve when the GPS unit only got them close enough to find the "treasure" with their eyes. According to one student, "I learned that the GPS only worked while moving and it only got you close to the treasure, it didn't find it for you."
The fun continued when students visited Northwoods and hiked the Living History Trail. Students marked important waypoints in their GPS units as they went. Waypoints included signs on the trail, unnatural, household objects hidden by Northwoods staffers, or points of interest such as certain trees or water crossings. According to one sixth grader, "I learned that there was a red pine plantation along the trail." Students learned things about old Vermont life, local ecology, and botany as they walked the trail with their GPS units.
After hiking the trail, students plugged their GPS units into laptops and were instructed on how to upload their GPS data on to Google Earth. Geoff Whitchurch, an expert on using GPS data in Google Earth, coached kids through uploading their data, editing waypoints, and changing different representations on the path that they traveled. A student who enjoyed this said, "Changing the waypoints was fun and we even got to see the trail that we walked."
Once all of the data was uploaded, students were instructed how to manipulate their data by changing the symbols and color that represented the waypoints they marked. They could also change the lines that represented the path that they had just traveled.
When students were asked if they would like to do something similar in the future the answer was a resounding "Yes!" The value of hands-on, outdoor education cannot be over stated. Giving adolescents experiences with GPS and other technology will prepare them for the occupations of the 21st century, and if you can have fun doing it, it's a win for educators and students alike.
Submitted by Tyler Willis, Social Studies teacher at Brighton Elementary School.