It can be done!
I’ve taught a lot of map and compass skills in my time. I’ve even taught teachers how to teach map and compass – boldly insisting that it could be accomplished within an elementary school class. But to be honest, this spring with Mr. Slonim’s Technology class was the first time I’ve actually attempted the 45-minute-feat. Fortunately, I can report that it can be done (phew)!
In April 2010, I worked with all of the Hemingway 5th graders via Mr. Slonim’s class to teach them basic navigation skills. This was done as a part of a larger unit they were exploring on navigation technology. We explored how understanding a compass is integral to understanding GPS, and situations in which compass is still a vital and critical tool (ever watch your flashlight beam fade to nothing on a dark night? Ever had the same thing happen with a GPS miles into off-trail wilderness?).
The next step was to learn the parts of a compass and how it works. One of the biggest hurdles is getting the participants to understand that while “Red Fred” always points North, we don’t have to. Once we made that leap, we were off to the ball field, where they put their newly acquired skills to the test by navigating a set of coordinates. If executed perfectly, they arrived at their starting point; if not, well… Mr. Slonim can let you know what happens if not! (I think he was happy to have a couple class periods to perfect his technique!)