5-8 Activities

5-8 Activities

These activities for Navigation were updated in late 2008 and early 2009, along with the Learning Results.

Ideas to try....

Career and Education Development

Skills and concepts used in navigation, and learned in this module, are very interdisciplinary. This is true, too, of many career directions; consider what careers use many of the same interdisciplinary skills used in the practice of navigation.

English Language Arts

Read Latham’s Carry On, Mr. Bowditch, to see an historical fictional account of one of this country’s most important mathematicians. Discuss what parts of the book might be fictional and what parts might be fact. Was the ability to navigate ships an important skill two hundred years ago? Is it important today?

Science, Technology, and Math

Review the instruments used by navigators over the past few hundred years and suggest spin-offs that occurred, resulting in technological developments not necessarily related to navigation. One surprising spin-off was the microwave oven from the development of radar.

Use a globe, a bright light, and other balls to model the solar system. Alternatively, use students to act as different bodies in the solar system to show the changing relationships between these bodies and to show how knowing their motion can help navigation at sea. Note how eclipses occur. Learn about the constellations and the bright stars that help navigators, making drawings of the constellations. Show how the tilt of the earth results in seasons, long days, short days, and where the sun rises and sets. Express size and distance information of stars and planets in tabular or graphic form for different parts of the earth.

For centuries, people thought the earth was at the center of the universe, and that the sun went around the earth. How did people come to that conclusion? Describe the motions of the sun, moon, and planets that made astronomers like Copernicus think the sun, instead, was at the center of the universe (or at least of our solar system). Study the advantages and difficulties with Copernicus’s hypothesis, and how Keplar’s and Newton’s research were valuable to improve Copernicus’s hypothesis. How is this knowledge important in navigation?

Describe an ellipse and how it is similar to a circle. Discuss the elliptical orbit of the earth around the sun and how that affects the length of a solar day (equation of time). Compare the distances between the sun and earth, earth and moon, earth and other planets, and earth and the nearest stars and galaxies. Determine the speed of the earth around the sun, the moon around the earth, and the speed of rotation of the earth at the equator. Discuss how these might affect navigation.

Research the history of determining one’s longitude accurately. Because so many ships were lost with incomplete navigational tools up to the eighteenth century, there were international competitions to invent better ways to determine longitude. How did different countries approach this challenge? Note how technological inventions, such as the chronometer, were originally built with great artistry.


Compare the routes used by Columbus crossing the Atlantic with those of nineteenth-century sailing ships and modern powered ships, plotting the courses on a map or globe. Why were they different? How have technological developments in navigation impacted transportation and communications history?