Getting it Straight with Latitude and Longitude Skills

Teachers can help students learn latitude and longitude skills using games and other motivating activities.

By Marie Carney Hossfeld

Latitude and Longitude lessons

The world has become a smaller place. We connect with people all over the world on a regular basis, whether it is through the Internet, or while talking to a customer service representative located on another continent. We've started to travel more freely, and we’ve become dependent on devices, such as the Global Positioning System (GPS), to help us find our way. But this wasn't the way it used to be. Mariners who lived centuries ago needed to be able to pinpoint their way, and they didn't have any of our modern devices. Thus lines of latitude and longitude, and nautical devices, were devised to help them find their way. Students can benefit from an understanding of why latitude and longitude skills are valuable, and how this knowledge can be a benefit in their daily lives.

Before embarking on a study of latitude and longitude, students should be exposed to both the study of maps, and computer generated searches/simulations based on this topic. Students seem to enjoy playing latitude and longitude games where participants search for destinations, or find what is located at a particular location. Teachers can also talk about how latitude and longitude can effect population growth. Students can discuss what causes large or small populations at certain latitudes.

Bringing the International Dateline into perspective is an excellent way to engage students in a Socratic style debate. Ask students to hypothesize on why the whole world uses this arbitrarily set line as a central coordinate, and how it defined the power structure at the time of its creation. They can also discuss the evolution of its effects. It’s a perfect illustration of how power and ingenuity influence culture.

Most lessons that you’ll find emphasize how to use longitude and latitude, so you’ll need to get your creative juices flowing if you want to highlight other aspects. Here are some of the best I’ve found.

Latitude and Longitude Skills:

Where in the World?  Understanding Latitude and Longitude

This lesson has students find locations using a game modeled after Battleship. This allows students to familiarize themselves with the concept of using grids. Later, students give their partners clues so that they can find their location, allowing them to apply the concept to a real search. The lesson illuminates the use of minutes and seconds, and gives students options to write in a journal about their experience. This lesson offers resources on mapping and other related topics, such as migration. While designed for intermediate students, this lesson can be adapted for older students.

Latitude, Longitude and Time

This is a high school lesson plan that uses an interdisciplinary approach with both social studies and science as a natural tie-in. The goal is to be able to understand latitude and longitude, to use the coordinates to find locations and relate time, and identify information with the International Date Line and longitude.

Giving Students a Little Latitude

In this lesson younger students find places on a map using longitude and latitude, and then answer questions about those locations. Students also describe and create their own destinations and questions. Participants can demonstrate their knowledge about the geography of the world, and can come up with questions that test this knowledge.

Where in the World

This lesson is based on a 1999 crossword puzzle created by Frank A Longo and Will Shortz.  The lesson is an excellent activity and will take some time (a perfect lesson for a substitute). The downside is that the puzzle is dated, and students may not get cultural inferences that are specific to this time period. Also there is no key, so you have to rely on your crossword skills in order to grade the assignment.