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Latitude/Longitude: Recess Treasure Hunting


Why teach latitude and longitude using paper and pencil when technology allows you to do so much more?  With a simple GPS device, turn your budding archaeologists into treasure hunters during their recess time.  The only requirement would be an understanding of latitude and longitude on your students’ parts, and one GPS device for your room.

Before Heading Outdoors

Beyond the traditional methods of teaching latitude and longitude, here are some of the resources we used to help build the fundamentals:

Visuals: Brainpop has a great clip on latitude and longitude that includes an introduction to degrees, minutes, and seconds. We stopped this clip frequently to discuss and support the concepts covered. Brainpop requires a subscription, so if you are looking for a free alternative try downloading Google Earth. Google Earth can help you demonstrate the usefulness of full latitude and longitude marks. For example, N 35°W 086°will lead you to Murfreesboro, Tennessee, but N 35°47.348  W 086°24.525 will lead you, not only to our classroom, but to our chair in the meeting area. Google Earth is a great tool all around.

Songs: Mr. Duey and Teacher and the Rockbots both have a song on latitude and longitude. The Teacher and the Rockbot's song (Globe) addresses prime meridian and the hemispheres, which are helpful terms to know when teaching latitude and longitude. And, although this is not a song, we created a chant on latitude being 0-90° and longitude being 0-180°.

Movement: With a map projected on our TV, we imagined latitude lines as ladders climbing up the world.  We mimicked climbing up the ladder for latitude and physically moved our hands vertically to represent the western and eastern hemisphere.  Using a map, we discussed how our latitude is always N and W for the United States and focused on how numbers change from the prime meridian and the equator.

N 35°47.348  W 086°24.525 Marks the Spot!

My Introduction to "Treasure Hunting": With the development of technology, many Americans use GPS navigation on a daily basis. A few have hand-held devices for hiking and traveling. A few years back, while I was traveling in Japan, a friend introduced me to geo-caching. Heard of it before? If not, in summary, people hide small “treasures” in hidden containers all around the world. The person who hides it marks the latitude and longitude on-line at www.geocaching.com. From there, people search for these items using a GPS device and a little luck.  I had a total blast "treasure" hunting with my friend and remember the excitement I had when we found our first "treasure" hidden in a tree. I knew right then that I would have to introduce this to my students back in America.   

Give a Mini-Lesson on GPS Reading: Assuming the basic fundamentals have been taught, I introduced how the GPS device works, how to read the digital compass, accuracy limitations (usually 10-25 feet), and how to mark specific locations. I also showed the site www.geocaching.com to let students see how many hidden spots were hidden around us. From here, students were put into groups of 3-4 and given a clipboard. The assignment?  Students were asked to go on the playground to record "landmark" locations. This included benches, trees, and electrical boxes, to name a few.

Practice Treasure Hunting: With students working in small groups, time was alloted to record 3-4 locations around the playground area.  Upon return to the room, these numbers were compared and discussed. Where did the numbers go up? Where did they go down? Did we come up with different results?   

Now Comes the Fun and Learning: After this, the challenge begins. Each week, I use a magnetic key box to hide a “treasure” on the playground. I record the location coordinates and post it on our main board.  Using a rotating schedule, students are allowed to search for the "treasure" during recess time. Groups usually range from 3-5 students and takes most of the recess, if not more. Owning just one simple GPS device (purchased at Toys R Us), we have a rotating schedule for various students to use the GPS during recess time.

The Student Finds the Treasure. Now What? After a student finds a hidden location, I take a photo with the student and post it on our site.  A small trinket is also given to resemble the real-life version being played out around the world.

Why It Matters: My first geo-cache find (after Japan) was in a parking lot of Bonefish Grill. The "treasure" was a coin from a fair of some sort. I didn't care. I was excited to find something. I now offer the same thing for our class. Meanwhile, we are learning latitude and longitude throughout the school year and making use of our recess time.


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Angela Bunyi


The ones featured in the photos above were borrowed from a teacher friend at my son's school. I am not sure of the brand, but she got those through a grant and they were very simple GPS navigators. I used her class set to teach latitude/longitude whole group.

The one I have that gets rotated during recess is a Magellan Explorist 100. You can find one on Craigslist for less than 20 dollars. Any of the Magellan GPS devices will do the job (so you might find something even cheaper). The one I have allows you to see your path, latitude and longitude, mark spots, and has a digital compass.

Hope that helps. Feel free to give me a specific brand, and I'll give you some feedback on that as well.


Sondra Trainor

So, Angela, what brand of GPS do you use? Or do all GPS's have latitude and longitude capability. I am intrigued with this lesson but don't want to invest in something that won't meet my needs. thanks!

Angela Bunyi


Great. I forgot to mention in the blog that if you are looking for a GPS device, you can purchase one used on www.craigslist.com. I bet you could find one for less than 30 dollars utilizing that route. Another idea is using Donors Choose, which a lot of teachers are using right now for class supplies. I had several items funded very quickly last year.



Angela, this is a very engaging and critical thinking lesson! What a way to inspire your class with real world hands-on activities. I teach 5th grade and have been looking for a more fun way to teach map skills. This is something I will look into and hopefully use. Have a wonderful rest of this school year! Carolyn

Comments are closed. Please see Classroom Solutions, our new blog for the 2009-2010 school year. And stay tuned for Teaching Matters with Angela Bunyi and Beth Newingham.

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